I’m trying to get my head around the fact that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and a small host of others may never be brought to justice for the war crimes they committed during the eight-year Bush Administration.
I’ve read all the arguments. Mr. Obama wants to look ahead, not back. He wants to move Congress, and America, toward bipartisanship and unity. Prosecuting the previous administration will only push Americans further apart, not bring them together. Mr. Obama has a full Thanksgiving turkey platter loaded with hot smoking crises in front of him, not least of which is an economy that’s in the dumpster and is rushing willy-nilly toward the landfill of history. Prosecuting the main players in the Bush Administration would take his attention, and that of Congress, away from critical issues that affect all Americans today, right now.
I read. I attempt to grok. But this disturbs me deeply.
This issue – the prosecution of Bush and his cronies as war criminals – is one I believe needs serious and sober attention very soon, and it haunts me. No, it’s not an unhealthy obsession. I go whole spans of hours without thinking of the crimes BushCo has committed against America, her citizens and the world. Nevertheless, each day it comes up. Each day I’m reminded. And each day I read, somewhere or other, that Mr. Obama isn’t interested in bringing these despicable criminals to justice.
That worries me. What does this dismissive attitude say about America? What does it say about us as Americans? What does the world think of us? What will it think of us if all we do, in the end, is pay lip-service to our war crimes without taking honest action?
In 1945 the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France, having just won World War II, conducted the Nuremburg Trials in Nuremberg, Germany, at the Palace of Justice. The point was to publicly air the war crimes committed by high-ranking (and not so high-ranking) Nazis and try them fairly in a court of law. The trials lasted until 1949.
There were those, notably Sen. Robert Taft, who condemned
the trials as “victor’s justice.” He had a point, just as those today who would prefer not to prosecute the Bush Administration, have a point. And yet, as a moral people, can Americans really just shrug off the actions of Bush and his cronies as if they weren’t all that important and blindly move on?
After all, we’re not talking about your basic, everyday petty crimes, here. These were huge crimes, monstrous crimes, committed against not just us as Americans, but against the people and governments of many other countries around the world. I say “were,” but in fact, the crimes are still being commited and will continue to be commited until January 20, 2009, the day Bush steps down as President and Barack Obama steps up.
There must be a reckoning. In the illegal war in Iraq alone, we’ve lost more than 4,200 American soldiers. That’s 1,200 or so more than lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack by al Qaida jihadists on U.S. soil. Iraq had nothing to do with it, but Bush lied America into war by implying that it did.
Far worse is the fact that more than a million Iraqis have also been killed because of America’s invasion of their country. The maimed and injured on both sides, totaled together, are in the many millions. Their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, have been altered forever.
When WWII ended in 1945, the Allies conducted the Nuremberg Trials because the Nazis had not only attempted to invade, occupy and take over the world, killing and wounding thousands and thousands of soldiers and civilians everywhere, but they also attempted coldblooded genocide. They tried to annihilate the European Jews, persecuting and murdering some 6 million men, women and children through a systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored program of imprisonment, torture and death. Other groups were included in the massacre as well, including the Roma, Soviet civilians and prisoners of war, the disabled, gay men, and political and religious opponents.
In all, an estimated 9 million to 11 million people lost their lives to the evil that was Nazism. It was important to the Allies and to the world that the men and women who perpetrated such a horrendous and inexcusable crime against humanity be made to face their victims, be fairly judged and be punished appropriately. Only then could the world attempt to move on and rebuild what was lost and destroyed in the war. Only then could the world recover its morality.
And yet America, it seems, may not undertake such an action in regard to its own war criminals – not for the sake of their victims, or for the sake a shocked and disgusted world. We may not prosecute Bush and his cronies even for our own sake, for our own morality and peace of mind. It’s as if our leaders would rather let the war criminals who ran the country for eight years just fade away into private life, continuing to profit from their crimes while their successors try, desperately, to clean up after and whitewash the disaster and the horrors they left behind.
Implicit in their non-prosecution is the sanguine acceptance of the damage they did to America and her credibility and standing in the world; of the fact that the direct consequences of their actions were the maiming and deaths of millions of people, most of whom were innocent of any wrongdoing; of their sneering disregard for the laws America was built upon; and for the international laws put in place since WWII to protect all the people of the world.
If we, as moral Americans, don’t insist upon a thorough investigation and fair, serious prosecution of the men and women who perpetrated these war crimes against us and the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries in the world, we are, ourselves, willing accessories to the crimes. I understand that we have huge problems ahead of us which must be solved – many of which also can be traced directly to these same villains – but to ignore their crimes against humanity makes all Americans complicit. Those crimes will haunt us forever.
Doing the right thing will be extremely difficult. It will hurt and embarrass us. Doing the right thing – prosecuting our war criminals – may bring up ferocious new problems, and it may rock America to her foundations. But if we, as Americans, really care about freedom, human and civil rights, equality, our Constitution and our country, and the world at large, then we must do it.
Turning away from it, trying to forget it, letting the war criminals slip away without facing justice is craven and cowardly. It will be a disaster of far greater proportions than anything we’ve faced as a nation to this point in our history. I believe that Barack Obama is an honest, intelligent, good man. He’s surrounding himself with others like him as he prepares to take on the monumental job of President of the United States. I hope he realizes that America stands, here and now, on the edge of a historical precipice. It’s will be up to him to decide whether we step back from it or close our eyes and fall in.
We’re depending on him to do the right thing.