Move forward, not backward, on torture

The blogosphere is abuzz with reports that the Obama administration will be only minimally interested in prosecuting members of the outgoing administration who are suspected of war crimes in the Iraq war and the fight against terrorism.  Instead, President Obama will likely call for an independent fact-finding commission to air the truth of how the American government has tortured and indefinitely detained thousands of people, some of whom were innocent of any wrongdoing against the US.

This strikes the right balance to me.  Like many, I am appalled by state-sponsored torture and the suspension of habeas corpus, two policies that strike at the heart of democracy itself.  That said, I don’t want the nation’s political energies devoted for the next several years to a divisive prosecution of accused war criminals.  Obama should reserve the right to prosecute the worst offenders at a later date; but the best thing he can do as president next year, and the best thing we can do as a nation, is to repudiate the post-9/11 excesses without being punitive.

The Democrats have had ample opportunity to curtail or perhaps even prevent some of the atrocities of the last eight years.  If now is the time for them to suddenly find the backbone of their principles, they should apply it to leading by example, not prosecuting mistakes of the past in which they were complicit.  Except in the most egregious cases, the judgment of history may be a harsh enough punishment — for those on both sides of the aisle.

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