Sunday, November 23, 2008

Truth and Reconciliation?

I just read Michael Isikoff in Newsweek who reports that Obama might implement a 9/11-style commission to "investigate counterterrorism policies and make public as many details as possible" but will not launch a criminal investigation. I'm largely in agreement with Kevin Drum here:
I find myself surprisingly torn by all this. My instinctive reaction is to turn over every last shred of paper in open court and mercilessly toss into jail anyone associated in any way with this stuff. But I suspect Obama is reacting more wisely than me in this matter. Not only would trials and jail sentences set off a firestorm of protest, but in the end they might not accomplish much either. That's discouraging as hell to write, but at bottom we still have a public opinion problem here: like it or not, half the country still seems to think that torturing al-Qaeda suspects was perfectly acceptable.

So in the end, perhaps we'll get half of a Truth and Reconciliation commission: we'll get the truth, but not the reconciliation, since I doubt that any of the perpetrators of this stuff are inclined to show the slightest remorse for what they did. I suppose that here in the real world this might be the most we can expect, but I don't have to like it. And I don't. -Kevin Drum

The problem is that the crimes committed under the Bush administration are broadly supported in America. Bush became unpopular because the wars dragged on (costing American life), because of his attempts to privatize Social Security and because of the disastrous management of Katrina, but not because of Guantanamo or the use of torture. There is a broad, bipartisan consensus regarding the killing of non Americans under the pretense of national security, as has been pointed by Andrew Bacevich in his latest book. An example taken from his book is Madeleine Albright's answer when she was asked to comment on a UNICEF report that claimed that up to 500 000 Iraqis children had died due to U. S. sanctions: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.". There was widespread, bipartisan consensus for the sanctions despite the heavy and well known human cost and the very limited results of the sanctions. The difference between torture under Bush and sanction-linked famine under Clinton is one of process. But the end goal, supported de facto by the population, was the same: fight "them" over there so we don't have to suffer or limit our consumption over here.

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