Sunday, April 19, 2009

Following through on our obligations

The phrase "Equal justice under law" is carved into the front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, and it sums up an ideal that -- though we often fall short -- most Americans would, I think, agree that we should always strive for. President Obama's decision to release the CIA torture memos was the right thing to do. It might have created some waves, but sometimes the right thing is the most difficult option and sometimes it takes a confident leader to take that step. Obama's actions signal that the principle of justice cannot be permanently pushed aside in the United States.

On the second part of the president's decision, I am open to discussion, but as I see it now, not pursuing legal action against CIA officers and others who may have tortured, within the guidelines set forth in the released memos, those in US custody seems like an acceptable course of action. However, I absolutely believe that those at the top -- those who wrote the memos and those who instructed them to do so -- should be prosecuted. We cannot allow the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions to be ignored. If these documents, and the ideas behind them, are to mean anything they must be respected by all people at all times, no matter the political fallout (which, admittedly, would be nasty).

I agree with Paul Krugman, who writes that "there is now no way to view the people who ruled us these past 8 years as anything but monsters," and with a counter-terrorism expert writing in the Daily News. Alberto Goncalves, John Yoo, David Addington, Douglas Feith and Jay Bybee cooked up arguments that supported their immoral ideology even while trampling the Constitution, and they did so under orders from Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. The whole lot of them should be put on trial.

John Adams said that we live in "a nation of laws, not men." When men, and women, at the highest levels of government ignore those laws, it is not a choice, but an obligation to follow through and bring them to justice.

Update (4/24): New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in his column today, dissects the pros and cons inherent in an investigation of the Bush Administration's torture policies -- and the march to war in Iraq -- and concludes that this needs to be done because it is "the only way we can regain our moral compass."

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