In yesterday’s NY Times, Nobel prize laureate Paul Krugman makes a case that Obama should launch an investigation into crimes that were likely committed by the Bush administration over the last eight years. His rationale is essentially that if the people involved are not punished, then there will be no disincentive for a future administration to repeat the abuses of America.
On the one hand, I’m inclined to agree. It feels right that the perpetrators should be taught a lesson, but I’m unsure that this will be a deterrent moving forward. I don’t believe the people involved felt they were getting away with anything. They didn’t (and still don’t) believe they did anything wrong. Whether this stemmed from an erroneous but genuine belief that they were protecting America from itself, or whether this was just a feeling of righteous entitlement is irrelevant. If you don’t think what you’re doing is wrong, no amount of punishment of previous wrong-doers will be a useful deterrent. Still, this was the administration of self proclaimed high morals, ethics, and frontier justice. It only seems fair to measure them by their own yardstick and then beat them with it. There would be an undeniable satisfaction to seeing Cheney led away in cuffs.
Yet there is an aspect of this which says that the last thing the country needs right now is to be embroiled in federal investigations and trials for a couple of years while this all gets sorted out. While that might be emotionally satisfying, it’s hard to argue that would be in the best interest of the country in terms of getting us back on a healthy track. I find I can rationalize the view, “Thank goodness it’s finally over. Let’s move on.” Nonetheless, I’d feel better with some assurance that this was less likely to happen again in the future. Maybe that assurance is the simple reality of this being a generational wake-up call that it really does matter who we elect. That the government is not simply a juggernaut that is a helpless slave to its own momentum. Things can change, for the better or for the worse. And it is incumbent on us, the people whom this is a government of, by, and for, to mind its helm.
Still, maybe just before Obama dismantles all the Bush era “anti-terror” policies, he could arrange for one last plane load of extraordinary renditions of key outgoing officials to some obscure Bulgarian prison camp. You know, for the sake of keeping us safe and all. I’m pretty sure Cheney would see the sound justice of it, but the irony might escape him.