A dilemma for our times
April 22, 2009 | The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The truth of that old saw is almost undeniable, and we should think twice before following another old saw, Let sleeping dogs lie.
Last Thursday the US Department of Justice released the memos written in the wake of 9/11 to justify ("excuse" or "provide cover for" might be more accurate terms) the use "enhanced interrogation techniques" on terrorist suspects, the plain-speaking term for which is "torture." They are memos the Marquis de Sade might have written, had he been a lawyer.
For the purposes of discussion, let's stipulate that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al meant well. The nation suffered a horrific attack and they were determined not to let it happen again. It's unnecessary to believe they were motivated by evil intent. Let's just say they lost their moral compass. But should good intentions let them off the hook?
President Obama, understandably, doesn't want to go there, and who could blame him? I'm afraid it may be necessary.
The impulse to "let sleeping dogs lie" is strong. What's done is done and can't be undone. Reconstructing our nation is more important. Look forward, not backward. We don't need the bitter conflict that would ensue. Etcetera.
Also strong, however, is the impulse to serve up just deserts. As a nation, we pride ourselves on being a "nation of laws" and believe that no one is above the law. Why shouldn't those responsible for our walk on the "dark side" be held accountable? Isn't what led to Abu Ghraib, "extraordinary rendition," "enhanced interrogation techniques," and all the other abuses the conceit that laws are for other people, that the president's powers are unlimited?
Dick Cheney reacted to the release of the DOJ memos by giving interviews whining that "they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort." Sure, Dick, just like Saddam had nuclear weapons and the insurgency was in its "last throes."
We've been down this path before. After Richard Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford declared "our long national nightmare" was over, and he issued Nixon a pardon rather than face the turmoil and division that would result from letting justice take its course. And we see how well that worked out. Instead of cutting out the cancer, it metastasized in the form of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their enablers in the Justice Department.
If we really want to be a nation of laws, it's time to walk the talk. On the face of it, much of what was done in the name of the "War on Terror" was against US and international law. Bring them to justice. If we don't, it will happen again.
Last updated on Apr 13, 2018