Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has written a letter to our new president. Most of it’s about economics, and to the extent I understand what he’s saying on that subject, I agree with him.
But he runs right off the rails of justice and decency with this:
There is, however, one area where I feel the need to break discipline. I’m an economist, but I’m also an American citizen — and like many citizens, I spent the past eight years watching in horror as the Bush administration betrayed the nation’s ideals. And I don’t believe we can put those terrible years behind us unless we have a full accounting of what really happened. I know that most of the inside-the-Beltway crowd is urging you to let bygones be bygones, just as they urged Bill Clinton to let the truth about scandals from the Reagan-Bush years, in particular the Iran-Contra affair, remain hidden. But we know how that turned out: The same people who abused power in the name of national security 20 years ago returned as part of the team that, under the second George Bush, did it all over again, on a much larger scale. It was an object lesson in the truth of George Santayana’s dictum: Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
That’s why this time we need a full accounting. Not a witch hunt, maybe not even prosecutions, but something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped South Africa come to terms with what happened under apartheid. … The White House created a climate in which abuse became commonplace, and in many cases probably took the lead in instigating these abuses. But it’s not enough to leave this reality in the realm of things “everybody knows” — because soon enough they’ll be denied or forgotten, and the cycle of abuse will begin again. The whole sordid tale needs to be brought out into the sunlight.
We do not need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What we need is to use the institutions we have. We have a justice system that is perfectly capable of both exposing and punishing the crimes against humanity that have been committed by the Bush administration, and putting that system to work on those crimes is absolutely essential to the future of the rule of law and therefore of this country. Congressional investigations are worthwhile only to the extent that they lead to criminal prosecutions.
Senior officials up and including our outgoing president have admitted to crimes including torture. They must be prosecuted. Getting the whole story out isn’t enough, although we must do that. We also must show the world that in our system, no one, no one, is above the law. If we don’t do that, we make a mockery of everything this country stands for. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died to make Nuremberg possible. If we don’t prosecute these crimes, which certainly differ in scale, but differ not at all in type, from some of the crimes for which we hanged Nazis, then Nuremberg, and the sacrifices that made it possible, will have been in vain. Rod Blagojevich is prosecuted while these people walk free? That’s unspeakable.
That’s not the country I want to live in. That’s not America. We’re better than that. We owe it to the people we have wronged, we owe it to our friends — and adversaries — around the world and we owe it to ourselves to prove it.
Investigate them. Arrest them. Indict them. Try them. And when they’re found guilty — and they will be; the evidence is simply too great — punish them to the full extent of the law, even if that means the gallows.