Sheldon Whitehouse Argues for ‘Looking Back’

Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) makes an eloquent argument for why ‘looking back’ at the actions of the Bush administration is necessary for American democracy.

If we blind ourselves to this history, if we pull an invisibility cloak over it, we will deny ourselves its lessons. Those lessons came at too painful a cost to ignore. Those lessons merit discovery, disclosure and discussion. Indeed, disclosure and discussion is the difference between a valuable lesson for the bright upward forces of our democracy, and a blueprint for darker forces to return and do it all over again.

A little bright, healthy sunshine and fresh air, so that an educated population knows what was done and how, can show where the tunnels were bored, when the truth was subordinated; what institutions were subverted; how our democracy was compromised; so this grim history is not condemned to repeat itself; so a knowing public in the clarity of day can say, “Never, never, never, again;” so we can keep that light – that light that is at once America’s greatest gift and greatest strength – brightly shining. To do this, I submit, we must look back.

Unfortunately, Whitehouse agrees with a common argument against torture prosecutions.

Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences. I agree.

Some of what the Bush administration done can be considered a policy difference, their commitment to the rapine exploitation of the environment, for example. However, I don’t think that any illegal act can be considered ‘a policy difference’. Neither can acts that undermine the balance of powers and the constitution. More importantly, policy is enacted in full public view and in the legal manner. The Bush administration used secret and dubious arguments about the scope of executive authority to conduct many of their most problematic programs; programs that are so extreme that they cannot possibly be relegated to the scope of mere ‘policy differences’.

Yes, we do not prosecute policy differences. However, Attorney General-Designate Eric Holder, Senator Whitehouse, and President Obama should be more careful how they define the acceptable scope of a ‘policy debate’. Some things are beyond the pale.

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 11:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. There’s no end over the pasts’ arguments and counter arguments. To succeed, Brack Obama need not dig ‘back, he just needs to go and march ahead. Too much going back is too costly to go ahead, heal and harmonize. Best thing is to ignore and excuse Bush rather than indulging in mud throwing. No time to do that. The order and the people ‘ll take its own course of actions the ‘misdeeds and misleds’ of Bush, down the history lane. We need not speed it up.

    • Except that criminals tend to continue to take criminal actions. When Alberto Gonzales or John Yoo are brought into the next Republican administration they will regain their influence and their ability to attack fundamental principles of our democracy, just as John Poindexter was brought into the Bush administration after his involvement with Iran-Contra.

      Even ignoring the inherent moral obligation, there needs to be a compromise struck between the need to accomplish things for the future, and the need to prevent the evils of the past from reoccuring. Ignoring war crimes is not the appropriate compromise.

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