I watched the inauguration the other day and wept. I wept for joy that we, the American people, have finally elected an African American, and a Democrat committed to Democratic values, to the presidency of this gravely wounded country. And I wept in grief that we have allowed ourselves to have been so wounded by the very men who were elected to serve us as leaders.
After the long dark night of the past 8 years comes the start of a new era, one I hope will be characterized by more truth and humanity than so-called “compassionate conservatism.” That of course was only window dressing to conceal Bush’s robbing of the national coffers on behalf of his cronies and his wholesale, deliberate abrogation of our essential rights, both democratic and human. Contrary to what Mr. Cheney asserted in his final interview, the administration did torture, did wage illegal wars and did despoil the air, land and oceans for corporate gain. “On-message” lies repeated over and over do not make the opposite true, however well-honed the practice.
From the secret energy cabal assembled by Cheney to our shameful lack of preparation for 9/11 (but once and for all, just how did the WTC towers and a third building at the site come down in a manner virtually identical to controlled implosions?), from the lies that permitted the vote for the Iraq war to the gutting or disempowering of so many regulatory agencies, OSHA to EPA — the administration now past is guilty of what could possibly be dismissed as political misdeeds. But to write off Bush’s deliberate breaking the FISA law and his decision to ignore the Geneva Convention and rewrite laws to permit torture is to collude with him and essentially to agree that he was right to do what he did.
No, I do not believe we can or should just “get on with things,” or let Bush get away with scot-free. I do not mean that we need to get revenge, though my angry heart harbors, I admit, some impulse towards schadenfreud. I think there is a difference between political misdeeds and crimes for which even presidents ought to be held accountable. And I believe that if we ourselves do not hold Bush to account for such issues as torture, the rest of the world would be justified in charging him with crimes against humanity.
I thank god that Bush cannot in fact issue himself or Cheney or anyone else a “blanket pardon” — not because he wouldn’t wish to, but simply because no one can be pardoned for a crime with which he has not been charged. It is this fact, that we did not impeach Bush while in office, that will permit charges to be brought against him in the future. I know that people have a tendency to want to move on, to forget (if not forgive) a past they cannot change, because it is easier than dealing with the messiness and difficulty involved in bringing someone like a former president to trial. But I believe it must and should be done. Too many have been grievously harmed and too many continue to suffer the consequences of Bush’s crimes. We do not have the right simply to “forget” them, victims or perpetrators, simply because it is easier on our stomachs.