Sunday, January 04, 2009

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges

As the Bush Presidency winds down, the debate raging among folks, is if the President or his underlings should face prosecution for using torture. During the Christmas holiday, Mort Kondracke stated that for the sake of national unity, President-elect Obama should pass on prosecuting or investigating the Bush Adminstration for "war crimes" done in the name of the war on terror. His reasoning is that such activities are not done in the name of "justice" but in reality, done in the name of political vengance.

Kondracke says:

Republicans hated President Clinton and a GOP House impeached him. Many Democrats hate George W. Bush with equal or even greater passion, but they demurred on the idea of impeachment -- mainly because the action against Clinton hurt the GOP more than it hurt Clinton.

But now Bush haters are calling for the Obama administration to investigate Bush officials for alleged war crimes and other misdeeds connected with the war on terror.

Obama should make it clear right now that he opposes such action -- and also that he opposes the "compromise" idea of a "truth commission" to investigate alleged Bush-era wrongdoing.

The main reason has less to do with "turning the page," uniting the country and letting bygones be bygones -- all good Obama impulses -- than with preserving the morale of intelligence professionals in wartime.

He then goes on to say that any investigation or "truth commission" would case interrogators to be too cautious in the future.

I both agree and disagree with Kondracke on this issue. On the one hand, the calls for seeing Dick Cheney in chains are politically motivated, in my opinion. I'm not saying that Cheney isn't responsible for allowing the US to venture down a road it shouldn't have gone. I think he's a bad apple. But I also believe that those who are calling for arrests and the like are not as interested in righting the stain that torture has created on America's reputation, than they are in scoring partisan points. Many of those people never liked Bush and hated him with a passion. Any action that would seek to bring the President down would be seen by many as nothing more than taking down a Republican, and it would tear the nation apart.

But I disagree with Kondracke that we should not hold investigations or commissions to learn what went on. While Kondracke says this isn't about letting bygones be bygones, that's just what would happen if Obama allowed to happen. It would allow a future President to understand they could get by international law and other agreements all for the sake of national security.

The phrase "Inter arma enim silent leges" is a latin phrase that roughly translates to "In times of war, the law falls silent." The question for Obama and for all Americans is if this phrase is true. Does the law fall silent in times of war? Should it?

I can understand that it isn't easy to try to protect the nation from threats. But the values that make this nation great, can't simply be silent during times of stress. They have to mean something.

I think that we do need to have some sort of truth telling, to find out what happened, and to figure out ways to prevent such abuses from happening again. That's what matters, not seeing George Bush or Dick Cheney in chains.

Is it still a gamble? I guess. But to me Kondracke's gamble is bigger:it would cost America its soul.

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