In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, just prior to taking office in 2009, President Obama made clear his belief that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards." This statement set the tone even to the present--the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq--for not holding accountable for torture the perpetrators of an illegal preemptive war in Iraq, and for continuing the policy of illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens. Essentially, Obama's position has allowed criminals to go freely about their lives, to have no fear of being held accountable, and even to enjoy rehabilitation in the eyes of the public.
I and many of my fellow Americans are appalled by the failure of three leading Bush administration figures, Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush himself, to express regret for their role in promoting the Iraq war. That failure is egregious, in light of the clear evidence that the intelligence on which the war was based was "cooked," that lies were told, and that Congress was seriously misled.
Richard Perle, a purveyor of lies and innuendo as he beat the drums for war in Iraq, responded this way to a question posed on National Public Radio (NPR) about whether the war turned out to be worth its human cost: "What we did at the time was done with the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation," he said. "You can't a decade later go back and say we shouldn't have done that."
In a Showtime documentary, Dick Cheney asserted: "I did what I did. It's all on the public record, and I feel very good about it. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it in a minute."
And President Bush, in responding to Matt Lauer's question about apologizing to the American people, said: "I mean apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. And I don't believe it was the wrong decision."
Despite overwhelming contrary evidence, these three men, along with Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other members of the Bush administration, have all been able to hold their heads high and defend their actions. For the fact that no legal challenges have been brought that would publicly demonstrate how wrong their actions actually were, I hold President Obama accountable.
Another example of the President's willingness to let even criminal bygones be bygones is the recent confirmation of John Brennan to head the CIA. Here is a man who was deeply involved in torture programs, extraordinary renditions, and enhanced interrogation techniques while serving in the Bush administration. In the Obama administration, he has promoted targeted assassinations by drones in Pakistan and elsewhere, and has had the audacity to claim that not a "single collateral death" has resulted. Are no abuses of power disqualifying?!
During my involvement in the campaign to impeach Bush/Cheney, I came to realize that the most important argument for impeachment is to prevent future presidents from breaching the Constitution and further enhancing an imperial presidency.
Unfortunately, Bush and Cheney were not impeached, and President Obama, in refusing to hold them accountable, has continued to both exercise and further empower an imperial presidency. Perhaps the most extreme interpretation of what such power entails is embodied in a recent statement by Attorney General Holder, who held, in effect, that the President, at his discretion, can not only order the indefinite detainment of American citizens, but even their assassination. Shades of Richard Nixon: "If the President does it, that means it's not illegal."
Now, a Process for Truth and Reconciliation.
The tenth anniversary of the war and occupation in Iraq is a time for reflection. But it is also a time for action. While it seems that the President does not have any inclination to hold members of the Bush administration--or his own administration--accountable for illegal acts and war crimes, he still has an opportunity to redeem himself.
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich has recommended the establishment of a process of Truth and Reconciliation to re-examine the Iraq war in a way that would fill in historical gaps with facts, and create a reliable record by which to guide future administrations. In this process, "those who were responsible for taking us to war [would be] brought forth in an officially sanctioned setting, and, under oath, testify to what they knew.
The process envisioned also has an important moral dimension: "The American people must know the truth about the grave decision made by our government to go to war.... We must know the truth. Truth and Reconciliation is the process. It has worked in other countries struggling with their past. It can work in America."
I urge President Obama to do the right thing and support the Truth and Reconciliation process. It's our best chance now to get back on the path to a democratic government, a healed nation, and Peace.