Today’s column by Paul Krugman exactly mirrors my thoughts about how government officials must be held accountable for their wrongdoings in order to deter their successors from doing the same things. Without checks on our elected officials, especially in the Executive Branch, we cannot preserve our democracy.
From the column:
By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?
Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?
One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?
During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.
Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.
And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.
I’d planned on writing some more of my own thoughts about this, but I ended up in an email exchange with N.J. Barnes (another harikari editor) about it, so I’m just going to post the emails and call it an open forum.
N.J. Barnes: I’d love to see an investigation but it has to avoid any suggestion of partisanship. Independent commission(s) empowered to examine the whole issue of torture decisions and illegal wiretapping and all the rest (and recommend whether laws were actually broken) should be established headed by a respected retired federal judge.
I should add that we just had an example of how difficult it is to bring charges. The Bush Justice Dept hack who blatantly lied to Congress under oath by saying he didn’t let ideology or politics influence his hiring practices. Now the Justice IG has said he clearly did. Yet federal prosecutors refrain from prosecuting for reasons that are not clear to me. When it’s that blatant and they won’t do anything, what chance is there on issues where the line between law-breaking and executive prerogatives is blurred?
Brad: They are untouchables.
George Washington, in his farewell address, warned about these types of assholes and the damage they would do to our democracy.
Judges have already ruled that the wiretaps were illegal and that members of our military and/or intelligence agencies did in fact TORTURE people. Again, laws broken both national and international.
perhaps we must wait for international courts to step in.
N.J. Barnes: With all due respect, the courts have mostly deferred to the Bush administration on this issue and so has Congress, to its everlasting shame. And this is not an issue that gets most Americans excited either. Most of them would say they’d rather be safe than free of government intrusion. That’s even worse news.
Brad: It all started with the politicization of the Justice Department. Politicizing it is against the law. That’s where this all began, and that is where the investigations, if there are to be any, must begin.
Obama appointed Dawn Johnsen as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, and she has been a consistent critic of Bush’s Justice Department and a staunch defender of The Constitution. After she’s taken over and had some time to review what her predecessors had been doing, she may find things that Obama cannot ignore. And lets remember, he too has been a harsh critic and is a constitutional lawyer. Maybe, just maybe… some of this will see the light of day.
As for checks and balances, they are built in to our system of government. The problem falls mainly on Congress – a Republican Congress that was in control for six of the worst eight years our country has ever seen. They were the initial problem. They followed King George’s orders and never “checked” him even though some of them KNEW he was breaking laws and had grabbed too much power. That power grab started with Cheney and his remaking of the VP office that had executive control over the Justice Dept (no longer independent) through his ideological appointments.
R’s in Congress kept their mouths shut for fear of political reprisal: They would be taken off committees, lose funding for state projects, and lose of campaign funds, etc.
All in all it was a despicable period in our nation’s history that nobody in Congress can be proud of.
I salute those who did open their mouths once and while. Too bad their voices weren’t heard by a public cowed into fearing for their lives by the false rhetoric of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/et. al. and echoed by a compliant press corps.
N.J. Barnes: All that may be true but in the end it comes to the same thing: when the people who are supposed to do the people’s business whether its lawyers in the Justice Dept or senators in the US Congress fail in their duty to protect and uphold the Constitution by fettering a rogue, ideology and power-driven executive branch, there is little or no accountability.
It will all be defended as “we did what we thought was right to defend the American people from attack after 9/11” and that misleading and deceptive phrase will protect them from legal sanction. The best we can hope for is that they will be shamed by independently constituted examinations of what occurred – although I doubt even that is possible.
I totally agree that the wrong doing spread across every facet of government, not least in environmental policy.
Let’s hope we can avoid another nightmare like this one.
Hey you other harikari editors, join in the discussion!
It’s open to readers too. Leave some comments… let us know you are out there.