Sunday, January 25, 2009

The "It's in the Past" Defense

Mark McGwire, whose apparent steroid use may keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame forever, may have an even greater legacy than prodigious home runs. When he spoke before Congress almost four years ago, McGwire, rather than testify to the issue at hand, simply said, I don't want to dwell in the past. It's every defense attorneys dream argument. "I'm sorry your honor. Though my client may have killed and eaten his victims, we prefer to move forward. Any investigation into his past serves no purpose, whatsoever."

Much discussion centers around whether Obama will prosecute perpetrators of torture. There is clearly an ambivalence voiced, both an unwillingness to "look backward" but also a nod that real crimes can't be unaddressed. At his Senatorial grilling, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder forcefully stated that water boarding is torture. With that announcement, how can this administration and its Justice Department not prosecute people who have committed, what they admit, is a crime. What would it say about equal justice under the law if Obama did not go after torturers and those who ordered those acts.

I have to say, infuriating though he is, Chris Matthews has been very serious about prosecuting. If, he postulates, we could go after the Abu Ghraib underlings, why can we not go after the men at the top who ordered these acts. Bush and Cheney left office positively boasting about ordering torture. Not investigate? It's absurd. And those who followed policy? The "just following orders" defense was not good enough at Nuremberg. If we are truly a nation of blind justice, and that is debatable, how can we afford not to stand up for that basic principle.

In an incredible moment of absurdity, Bob Woodward, who built his career on an investigation of a criminal presidency, voiced his opinion on The Chris Matthews Show that it would be unwise for Obama to prosecute. He has, after all, a country to run. How far our morality has sunk since Woodward made his bones searching for justice.

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