Justice

Will there be investigations into the alleged abuses of the Bush administration?:

H.R. 104 [is] a bill introduced on Tuesday by House judiciary committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and nine other lawmakers. The measure would set up a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties, with subpoena power and a reported budget of around $3 million, to investigate issues ranging from detainee treatment to waterboarding to extraordinary rendition. The panel’s members would hail from outside the government and be appointed by the president and congressional leaders of both parties.

I’m not a judge, I can’t say for sure if anyone in the Bush administration broke the law and can be held responsible.  But I think having Congress investigations into that would be a good idea.

I can understand the argument that the Bush administration is over, they can’t do any more damage and that we should just move on and focus on the problems facing our country right now. I understand, but I disagree.

If someone burns down a building, we don’t say that the damage is done so we should all just move on and that there’s no use finding the perpetrator and putting them on trial. No, if someone burns down a building we investigate, we find out who did it, we arrest them and we put them on trial.  That’s how our justice system works.

We’re a nation of laws, not men; it doesn’t matter how high of a political office you held, if you break the law you should be held responsible.  We shouldn’t treat high-level crimes differently than we would treat a simple arson.  We don’t try to forget and move on for small crimes, so it makes no sense to do the same for big crimes.

And, to be honest, without justice we can’t move on, if for no other reason than we set a precedent. If we let high-level officeholders who break the law retire without ever being held responsible, that sends a signal to future officeholders that they, too, can disregard the law and will never be held responsible.

It doesn’t matter whether your view of punishment is retributivist or consequentialist; it doesn’t matter whether we should punish lawbreakers because they deserve it or because it may prevent future abuses of power, investigating and prosecuting government abuses of power is necessary for our justice system.

Of course, the investigation would have to be fair-minded and objective, not a shameful political circus like Whitewater.  And, in all likelihood, the Democratic leadership will wind up on the “let’s just move on” side, making this bill a complete non-starter.

But the next time a high-ranking government official breaks the law and gets away with it, there will be some question as to whether we could have done something to have prevented it.

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