Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Truth Commission?

I’ve been off for a few days gardening, celebrating the Fourth, and a trip to attend the first worship service led by a good friend after a leukemia diagnosis a year ago and a successful stem cell transplant in November. What a celebration it was!

Catching up on some of the issues I’ve been following, several things caught my eye. I’ll be writing briefly about some of them in the next few days. One of them was Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed column in Sunday’s New York Times. If you read it, I wonder what you thought about it. If you didn’t read it I encourage you to do so and then let me know what you think.

called for a “Truth Commission.”
“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated abuses in Iraq, declares in a powerful new report on American torture from Physicians for Human Rights. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

The first step of accountability isn’t prosecutions. Rather, we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing.

That was what South Africa did after apartheid, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it is what the United States did with the Kerner Commission on race and the 1980s commission that examined the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Today, we need a similar Truth Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of 9/11.
I heartily agree with Kristof that a “process of soul searching and national cleansing” is required for what we have been through over these last seven years and to guide us in the future to prevent it from happening again. But Michael English
spelled out some of the difficulties with a “Truth Commission.”
There are several profound difficulties with the idea of a US version of South Africa’s truth commission.

First, a non-partisan version of a truth commission would not work here because, quite simply, it would get nowhere. The whole reason why we have had a government willing and able to commit war crimes in these past eight years is that, while Democrats tried to act “bipartisan” or “nonpartian”, Republicans paid lip service to the idea whenever it helped to get everything they wanted out of Democrats, then marched in lock-step with party ideology whenever it was necessary to get what they wanted by force. I can pretty much guarantee you that any member of such a commission who is or was a Republican politician or in the employ of a Republican politician in the past eight years will do everything he can to stonewall such a commission.

The second problem with such a commission is that, while South Africa had a majority of its newly-enfranchised government (elected by the previously disenfranchised black majority) seeking reconciliation with its former oppressors from a position of strength, any US version would operate in an environment in which slightly less than 50% of the government was still in the grip of the same group of quasi-fanatics who committed war crimes, and who still have something to hide.

Such men do not walk willingly into the light. It is only through the full and relentless use of investigations and prosecution (this time led by a Democratic executive branch) that such criminals can be exposed and brought to justice. Moreover, it is only by relentlessly prosecuting the leaders of the Bush Administration that such men (who are, by their nature, pathologically unrepentant) will ever be sufficiently humbled to prevent them from doing further damage in another Republican Administration.
There is still the option of impeachment. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
said he’s not going to let his effort to impeach President Bush die a quiet death in committee.
He said Wednesday that he’ll bring his resolution back in 30 days if the Judiciary Committee, to which it was referred Wednesday, doesn’t act on it.

This one’s coming back from the dead in 30 days,” Kucinich said after the referral vote Wednesday. “In 30 days, I’ll be joined by many more” members, he said.
Asked who those members were, he replied, “You’ll see.”

Democratic House leaders have been fending off impeachment efforts from Kucinich and left-wing activists since taking office more than a year ago. Republicans suffered politically from the impeachment of President Clinton, and Democratic leaders say they don’t want to be bogged down in messy impeachment proceedings.

Kucinich also has a resolution to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney, which has been bottled up in committee since May 2007. The measure had 27 co-sponsors.
I think we may forever regret
not instituting impeachment proceedings against President Bush, but I realize that some of the same reasons English says would prevent a “Truth Commission” from working here would also have compromised the results of an impeachment proceeding.

I think this nation needs a process of “soul searching and national cleansing” beyond the election of another administration? What form should it take? What do you think?

- Milo

No comments: