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Shall we use the office of Special Prosecutor to look into past administrations? I'd say it's high time.

To Investigate or Not to Investigate – That is the Question!

The recent controversy surrounding the release of the CIA “torture memos” has become the number one issue on American political scene – far surpassing the much debated stimulus package, Mr. Obama’s controversial “good will” tour, or even the recent furor over the authenticity and the true meaning of the “tea-parties.” And understandably so, for there has been a lot of gear–shifting of late and changing of minds since the decision was first reached to make these memos public.

Indeed, the initial assurances that no one will be charged – least of all, the underlings – have given way to the possibility that some of the lawyers and the ex-president’s legal advisors might, not to mention the ex-president himself and his closest staff. This would seem to fly in the face of Mr. Obama’s assurances that he wasn’t going to engage in divisive politics but look instead to the future, not to mention the possibility that he just might be influenced in the matter of the unfolding scandal by the polls, or public sentiment, or the growing pressure from the radical Left – just as he was, some would say, in the matter of the AIG bonuses.

This wouldn’t bode well for the new president, so the argument goes, who ought to be nothing but desirous of securing as much good will and public support as he possibly can (especially in light of the economic crisis and other urgent matters facing us). In short, he’s only shooting himself in the foot, and more, by this sudden reversal or at least by entertaining the possibility of future prosecution.

This is the gist of a Wall Street Journal editorial, “Presidential Poison,” April 23, online edition.

The editors argue that there is nothing to be gained from pursuing this matter any further, and among the reasons they cite are such disparate things as possible damage to the CIA morale at the time when we need them the most, the members of the Congress who have seemingly approved of the questionable interrogative tactics, the Madame Speaker included, not to mention Mr. Obama himself who would only be squandering his immense popularity and political capital, which thus far surpass his unpopular polices, were he to engage in any course of action that would even smack of retaliation for sins past. In fact, they go as far as say that doing that would put us on the level of such “lawless” countries as Argentina, Malaysia or Peru, “where law is treated merely as an extension of political power.” And as a measure of common sense and what they deem as reasonable policy, they suggest that the president should rest content with the recent policy changes at Guantanamo and other interrogation facilities and leave it at that. Why dig into the past and risk the spirit of bi-partisanship, they wonder?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become particularly sensitive of late to signs and symbols – the markers – which usually foretell whether something is a political tract or not. And the typical ploy is to make you believe that the author’s intentions are none other than to express his or her concern for the party in power – usually the opposition – and “for the good of the whole,” I might add (whereas, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth). Well, the opinion piece in question comes awfully close, I’d say. And the surprising thing is, it’s featured on the front page of the WSJ, a respectable publication (albeit on the conservative side).

Have they all come to believe that the American public can no longer tell truth from fiction, or the difference between objective analysis and propaganda?

Far more disturbing, I’d say, because it’s not anonymous, is an op-ed piece by Dorothy Rabinowitz on the very same day. (Ms. Rabinovitz, I should add, is a respected member of the WSJ’s editorial board since May 1996 and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.) Although Ms. Rabinowitz couches the entire debate concerning Mr. Obama’s perceived inadequacies in a larger context – to include her rather dim view of Mr. Obama’s recent diplomatic trip – the very same message as regards the intention to look into the possibility of potential abuses or violations of the law in our treatment of the detainees rings loud and clear: let it alone or suffer the consequences.

To her discredit, Ms. Rabinowitz faults Mr. Obama for having doubts regarding Pres. Truman’s decision to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasake. And she rounds her discussion by saying that this admission of possible guilt – “Obama Blames America” is the article’s title – is only going to haunt him: the average American is not going to take kindly to this kind of talk, she reassures us. And so again, the impression lingers that Ms. Rabinowitz’s piece is just another political tract. The intent seems to be that the predominant concern is to keep the present administration within the straight and narrow whereas the true motive is anything but – in short, to discredit it.

But never mind that! Ms. Rabinowitz’ overall intent to couch the discussion of our treatment of detainees within a larger framework – to include the events of 1945 – appears no other than to pile up on Mr. Obama’s list of sins – namely, that if he’s liable to make a major mistake as regards the latter, then no other kind of decision or pronouncement emanating from the White House, any reasonable person would conclude, is apt to be credible as well (including the issue at hand); and that since he’s wrong on this one count, he’s liable to be wrong across the board.

What’s sad about this whole thing is that a person of Ms Rabinowitz’s position and sta-ture would stoop so low as to resort to this kind of underhanded argument. But I guess it tells of the level to which our political discussion had deteriorated these days. Even the brightest lights, it would seem, are more intent on spewing out propaganda and political bias than getting at the truth.

In response, I have only one thing to say: disclosure is always good. If it weren’t for the in-your-face kind of investigative reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we would have never learned of the Watergate; and the same goes for Bill Clinton’s sex scandal or the abuses at Abu Ghraib – any real or apparent violation, in fact, that for lack of publicity (and the ensuing public outrage) would have gone by unnoticed. And I don’t care now what the lawyers say, appealing as they might to our sense of justice and due process. There is too much disinformation about this scandal, too much that is still unknown, the new details coming out daily even as we speak, to warrant an independent investigation (especially in light of the Bush’s administration questionable practices in virtually every area of public trust, from the EPA law-enforcement to all manner of possible abuses of the executive privilege). Enough said!

Perhaps the best way to close this argument is to point to the value of transparency in government. And in this connection, I can do no better than to refer you to JFK’s famous speech on “secret societies and the freedom of the press” (see the video). Have we all but forgotten?

Instead, we hear of witch hunts and fishing expeditions – see Mr. Nalle’s recent article, for example – and all manner of calls and appellations to keep this thing under wraps. But why? I ask. And what purpose would it serve other than protecting the potential violators – the likes of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld?

And so I say, let the truth come out!

PS: I’m being told that the office of Special Prosecutor has never been used to investigate past administrations, and that to do so would set a dangerous precedent. My response is that perhaps it’s high time to extend its powers in accord with the statue of limitations. Why should public officials, past or present, enjoy greater immunity than the average citizen?

If you go to the ACLU website you can sign a petition to the Attorney General authorizing the appointment of an independent prosecutor to look into possible violations.

Let your conscience be your guide.

About Roger Nowosielski

I'm a free lance writer. Areas of expertise: philosophy, sociology, liberal arts, and literature. An academic at a fringe, you might say, and I like it that way.

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