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Move On - or Learn From Experience

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Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it

George Santayana in The Life of Reason, Vol. I, 1905

, every breach ... of the fundamental laws, impairs that sacred reverence that ought to be maintained in the breasts of rulers towards the Constitution of a country, and forms a precedent for other breaches ...

Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 25

In order to "Move On" to a more democratic America, we should stop moving on from our mistakes and our acts of heroism. This article describes two mistakes from which we have, unfortunately, "moved on". One of these mistakes also involves acts of heroism. We should not move on from either our mistakes or our acts of heroism. Instead, we should keep them in our consciousness -- learning from them to avoid similar mistakes ourselves and to emulate the acts of heroism, should (great or small) occasions calling for heroism arise in our own lives. It is through refusing to move on that we learn from history.

"Moving on" is a bi-partisan and tri-branch failing. While our political parties have somewhat different views on the efficacy of various public policies, there is little to choose between them when it comes to their fondness for "moving on." The following two example of our tendency to "move on" are summarized here and described in more detail in Part I of Reversing America's Decline- Jefferson's Remedy.

The 2001 Kennedy Profiles of Courage Award.

In 1974 Gerald Ford illegally pardoned Richard Nixon. This act was, itself,a mindless attack upon our Constitution. However, the most tragic event of the Nixon saga occurred in 2001 twenty-seven years later. The prestigious Kennedy Profiles of Courage Committee "moved on" from Ford's illegal pardon. It announced that he was to receive its annual award for political courage. The act of "courage" being recognized was Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, a violation of Article II, Section 2, of our Constitution. Section 2 gives the president the power to grant pardons "for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment."

The debates of 1787 made the intent of Section 2 clear. For example, James Iredell said " ... if the president had the power of pardoning in such a case (impeachment), this great check upon high officers of state would lose much of its influence."[1] Later, James Monroe called the impeachment provisions the " pivot" of our government. He wrote that, if the impeachment provisions were " preserved in ... full vigor ... every branch will perform its duty ... [2]" Our forefathers relied on the deterrent effect of the impeachment provisions to prevent corruption in government. The disgrace of being impeached, convicted, removed from office and, most important, being disqualified from any further " office of honor" was being relied upon to keep our civil officers honest.[3]

Mr. Ford did not have the power to pardon Nixon, but pardoned him nevertheless. His attack upon the Constitution was no doubt innocent. In a 2004 CBS interview, he told Cokie Roberts there had been "no deal" with Mr. Nixon. He said he had pardoned Nixon because too much of his (Ford's) time was being taken up attending to Nixon's private affairs. However innocent Ford's pardon may have been, the Profiles of Courage committee not only weakened the deterrent effect of Section 2. It also weakened the entire Constitution. The members of the Kennedy committee were not content to simply " move on." The committee honored unconstitutional and destructive behavior.

Obama's 2012 statement on torture

In late 2012, President Obama said we should "move on" from our torturing of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, we had already "moved on." Paragraph 501 of Army Field Manual 27-10 states that a commander is legally responsible "if he has actual knowledge, or should have knowledge, ... that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish violators thereof." There were seven commissioned officers in the chain of command that fixed legal responsibility for the torturing at Abu Ghraib.

The military "buck" stopped with Gen. Tommy Frank, who commanded all military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. He reported to the Secretary of Defense. Had Gen. Frank reminded Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, military commander in Iraq, that torturing detainees is a war crime, the torturing would very likely not have occurred. Had Sanchez told Brig. General Janis Karpinski, commander of Iraq detention centers, that she would be court-marshaled if any torturing occurred "during her watch," it is not probable that she would have ignored his warning. Had Brig. Gen. Karpinski pointed out the relevance of Paragraph 501 to Lt. Col. Stephen Jordan, facility commander of El Gharib, Col. Thomas Pappas, MI commander and Lt. Col. Jerry Phillabaum, MP commander -- they might have collectively persuaded Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, MP Company Commander, to make the prevention of torturing a priority.

Of these seven legally responsible officers, only Lt. Col. Jordan was court-marshaled. He was convicted, but his conviction was overturned on appeal by reserve Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe. It was the legal responsibility of each one of these officers to prevent torturing from occurring in his or her command. Since nine enlisted personnel were imprisoned for their roles in the Abu Ghraib torturing, one of the consequences of this "moving on" has been to suggest to all enlisted military personnel that the Uniform Code of Military Justice is producing neither uniformity nor justice. A larger consequence has been to suggest to us (and to the international community) that America is in moral decline. The military person with the ultimate legal responsibility for the torturing at Abu Ghraib, Gen. Tommy Frank, was never even reprimanded.

Abu Ghraib also produced two heroes, Spec. Joseph M. Darby of Jenners, PA, and Sgt. Samuel Provance of Uniontown, PA. The following paragraph is an extract from Chapter 1 of Reversing America's Decline.

Yet the public became aware of the torturing at Abu Ghraib only because of the foolishness of the torturers in taking photos of themselves in the act of torturing and because of the heroism of Spec. Joseph M. Darby of Jenners, PA and Sgt. Samuel Provance of Uniontown, PA. In April of 2001, Darby, from the 372nd M.P. Company, gave testimony to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and provided it with some of the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. Sgt. Provance was the only Military Intelligence (M.I.) soldier to give testimony in General Taguba's 2002 investigation. He was later demoted for talking to ABC.[4] None of the other M.I. soldiers "broke ranks."

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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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