Democrats are having a civil but heated debate about the proper tone to adopt while investigating the likely misdeeds of the Bush administration. Nancy Pelosi, who famously took "impeachment off the table" during her initial historic tenure as Speaker, has developed, apparently, some steel, and recently assured Rachel Maddow of her fear that a commission approach, much favored and actively promoted by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, will wind up giving too much immunity to too many malefactors. In his turn, Leahy, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argues, as it would appear does President Obama, that vengeance should give way to full disclosure, so that what happened will not happen again. Looking forward, not back. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island's new Senator, who has made a notable debut as a quintessential prosecutor and serves on both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, agrees, but seems more concerned than Leahy that the "commission" approach could lead to inefficiency and unintended consequences. In a move that could take some of the political heat off the new Obama administration, he says he can and will pursue an independent inquiry, with or without the administration's enthusiastic support. Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, with the patience of Job, issues deadly rational statements describing the wrongdoing, and, finally, issues subpoenas to back them up. Non-elected observers, namely law professor Jonathan Turley and commentator Glenn Greenwald take the politically uncomfortable but otherwise hard to refute position that if criminal activity occurred, the law demands, not allows, prosecution (see here and here). Americans who take the view that governmental abuses of the scale alleged here need to be taken seriously are standing in the spiritual company of some pretty impressive predecessors, the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The parallels between the event that occasioned America's most patriotic annual celebration and today's intra party discussion far exceed the coincidence that both were in reaction to an imperial personage named "George." It's useful to remember that the signers felt obligated to provide an explanation of their action in deference to "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," words difficult to imagine from the mouth of our recent vice president. Here are some of the issues they felt passionately enough about to risk their lives and reputations.
Signing Statements: "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
Bogus Department of Justice Legal Opinions: "He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation."
Rendition: "For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences."
Obstructive use of veto: "He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them."
Undue Deference to Military Opinion: "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power."
Habeas Corpus: "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury."
Parallels are only that, and Americans endured the ideological excesses of the Bush era with the knowledge that it would end, and with some confidence that this George, unlike the other one, would accede to the will of the majority when they finally renounced him and his autocratic administration. But exposure is not the same thing as accountability; law must be honored, and our national reputation must be restored. Every July 4 we celebrate the actions of those who pledged to each other "Our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." We owe them some accountability.