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Power and Accountability April 26, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, politics.
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The Washington pundits are falling over themselves trying to explain why there should be no prosecution of Bush Administration officials who authorized torture.

Roger Cohen opined:

I don’t think this recovery would be served by prosecutions, either of C.I.A. operatives or those who gave them legal advice. Such legal action, if initiated, would split the intelligence services and the military in paralyzing ways at a time when two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are still being fought. The country would be lacerated.

And the erstwhile David Broder, in coming to a similar conclusion, writes:

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places — the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department — by the proper officials.

One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has — thankfully — made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

The rush to deflect responsibility is an endlessly repeated exercise these days. The Wall St. bankers who got us into our economic mess resent efforts to curb their outrageous compensation packages despite their failure to do their job.

Although it seems to have fallen from public consciousness, no one high in the Bush Administration has ever been held responsible for the lies that got us into Iraq, the politicization of the Justice Department, the illegal surveillance of American citizens, or the myriad other abuses of power that have come to light.

The same journalists who are demanding that we not seek accountability for the torture policies were key players in covering up the other crimes of the Bush Administration.

It is telling that the only people held responsible for torture were Lynndie England and her merry band of sadistic, low-level recruits at Abu Ghraib, largely hailing from poor or middle-class families.

In this country, we have this strange belief that the wealthy and powerful are just better people because they are wealthy and powerful. Their wrongdoing or incompetence is a forgettable aberration from an otherwise worthy character. After all, they look like us and are kind to their pets. When they break the law or engage in careless or negligent behavior, we should just look the other way.

By contrast, when someone of more modest means makes a bad decision, standing up for personal responsibility means they must suffer the full consequences of their decision, whether that be jail time, or economic devastation. They are the “other” and we need to show them that there are rules and expectations to be upheld.

Our moral framework is upside down. Until we learn to hold the powerful accountable, our democracy will be at best incomplete and at worst the kind of brute, mutant colossus we became under Bush.