All the King’s Men
By John S. Hatch
Amidst the somewhat hysterical euphoria of the Obama win is the fact that he has some very sober decisions to make, and his choice of Chief of Staff (Rahm Emanuel has already had to apologise for remarks by his once-terrorist father) does not auger well. Why choose someone who has served in Israel’s brutal IDF and who is rabidly anti-Palestinian? Is this ‘Change’? Also disturbing is talk of retaining Secretary of Defense Robert Gates with all his Iran-Contra baggage. Or Madeleine Albright who insanely stated that the undisputed deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children (under the age of five) during the (ineffectual to Saddam) sanctions following Gulf War I were ‘worth it’. Or possibly appointing Paul Volker to head Treasury. Change? This sounds like Business As Usual.
But his biggest challenge will be in how he chooses to deal with the crimes of the previous Administration. Crimes such as kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, torture (including perhaps hundreds of torture deaths for which no one has been held to account), assassination, illegal invasions, the use of prohibited weapons such as white phosphorous, the wrongful deaths of up to 1.2 million Iraqi and Afghan civilians, illegal domestic spying, and probably a host of other things as yet undisclosed.
Will an Obama Administration seek to restore justice?
Or will it indulge in the familiar American proclivity to retreat into self-delusional denial? And please note that we’re not just talking about President Bush here, but a huge number of enablers from the top right down to the actual torturer or sniper or pilot dropping white phosphorous on living human beings, including children. It’s Ashcroft and Rice and Rumsfeld and all their minions. It’s John Yoo and a bunch of law-breaking lawyers. It’s generals and colonels and functionaries and aides. America sees fit to put Osama’s chauffeur on trial. So why not those who drove America along such a long low road? In Hitler’s Germany Adolph wasn’t the only sadistic maniac committing war crimes. This was recognized at the Nuremburg trials. Even if Bush and Cheney express contempt for Nuremburg (as well as Geneva conventions and habeas corpus), most civilized people and nations consider it as a template with which to judge human conduct in wartime.
It seems to me that given the scope of the illegal acts and indeed crimes against humanity (by any standards) the latter course would be a great mistake. America paid (and still pays) a high price for failing to properly come to terms with its disastrous and morally monstrous use of slavery. So much malfeasance on the part of the Bush Administration has rendered America ill of spirit and heartsick. Pretending that it isn’t is not a cure. At the very least a Truth & Reconciliation process along the lines of what South Africa or Chile (and other nations) did is essential. Criminal charges would be a better reminder to all Americans that the saying ‘No one is above the law’ is not just empty rhetoric, like some campaign slogans. ‘Change!’ If the criminals of the dark Bush era are to be given a pass (and what a further blow to American credibility and prestige abroad) then the doors to all the prisons in that most incarcerated nation on earth should swing open wide and all Americans can perceive and admit that they live in a jungle after all. Let the banksters rob the banks.
There has been and there will be more talk that a new Administration must avoid ‘politicizing bad decisions’. This is a huge cop-out.
As if torturing people to death is a mere bad decision.
As if imprisoning children and sodomizing them is a mere bad decision.
As if knowingly dropping white phosphorous on civilians is a mere bad decision.
As if employing snipers against a civilian population (Fallujah and elsewhere) is a mere bad decision.
The list goes on.
Either America is a nation of laws, or it is not.
For all the goodwill Mr. Obama now enjoys, it’s possible that if he tries to ignore the crimes of the last eight years, he will reap a whirlwind of outrage exacerbated by the befalling economic disaster, another Bush legacy. He risks becoming a one-term President, replaced in the ever more desperate hope of real change.
As a boy, Mr. Bush tortured animals for pleasure. As a man, as a President who claims to be a confidant of God Himself, Mr. Bush tortures human beings to death for no reason that is remotely rational. President Obama will either deal with the matter, or he will ask Americans and the world to pretend that it never happened while descending America one more level down the rabbit hole. It’s his choice, and for the world to judge.