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Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama Needs to Seek Justice for Bush's Crimes

In the wake of Sen. Patrick Leahy's (somewhat) surprising and determined call for a Truth Commission to investigate the abuses of the Bush-Cheney administration, the Obama administration has been -- to many progressives and those on the left of center -- disturbingly silent. It's safe to say that the president's less-than-forceful position on the issue has been a source of intense criticism and skepticism from the left about the president's sincerity regarding his claims to promote a new era of transparency and accountability in American politics.

These concerns reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the president's perspective as well as his role. A Truth Commission is a serious matter. In societies overcoming severe oppression or wrongdoing, Truth (or Truth and Reconciliation) Commissions can serve a critical role in healing the wounds wrought by the injustices and can promote much-needed trust, goodwill and reconciliation between the various parties. Peru, South Africa, Morocco and East Timor are just a few of the places where TRCs have helped their societies heal and have facilitated reform by acknowledging past wrongs and ensuring that the horrors of history will not be repeated.

As Americans and democratic citizens, we have an obligation to acknowledge the truth about our recent shared past and its present consequences. But this can only legitimately be done by those whose job it is to hold leaders accountable in a democratic society -- the people. And it can only justly be motivated by a genuine desire to adhere to the rule of law, not by a desire to seek political retaliation. Otherwise, our collective hope for evolution beyond the stains of our recent past is nothing more than a facade for our complicity in politics as usual.


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