Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2009

SUPPORT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY.... It seems likely that some Democratic policymakers are reluctant to investigate Bush administration wrongdoing because they fear a public backlash. There's a perception that Americans don't want officials to look "backwards," so the majority party, the argument goes, doesn't want to get sidetracked from its forward-thinking agenda.

But if fear of public attitudes is a principal concern, those who would prefer to sidestep accountability appear to have lost a talking point.

Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither.

This has taken on added significance of late, with the chairmen of both Judiciary Committees -- Pat Leahy in the Senate and John Conyers in the House -- expressing support for some kind of legal review of alleged misconduct and/or criminal behavior in the previous administration.

We'll see if a poll like this one gives their effort a little momentum.

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

Congratulations and thanks to Sam Stein over at the Huffington Post for bringing this issue up at Obama's press conference.

Posted by: CJ on February 12, 2009 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

We simply can't let the Bush Administration crimes go! Too much is at stake. Ideals that have sustained us are on the line. The rule of law is at a crossroads. The past 8 years need to be exposed through our legal means, and any person found to have violated our laws needs to be prosecuted - then we will have the end of the story! Until then, we risk our entire Constitutional heritage. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 12, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Gerald Ford set the gold standard on how to deal with past alleged wrongdoings. He pardoned Richard Nixon to avoid a debate that would pull the country apart when it needed to heal. Ford paid the price for his statesmanship.

We should have a similar policy of "forgive and forget" now. But if we are to pursue past wrongs, we should have a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission also look at the Clinton years. There are many unanswered questions there.

Posted by: Al on February 12, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges

Does this mean the same as "independent panel"? It sounds more like we want to know who committed the crimes and why. But regardless of what we find, we don't want to subject anyone to punishment.

BTW, what's the chance there would ever be an "independent panel"? I don't see a mechanism for anyone creating one unless politicians do, and then it will not be independent. It will be half Dem and half Rep. I would argue that the reason the 911 Commission never mentioned the third tower, was that it was convenient to neither party.

Posted by: Danp on February 12, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

I love Al. I hate when good parodies get moderated.

In the coming months, we are going to hear more and more about Bushco wrongdoings we didn't, with all our supported-by-experience skepticism, even suspect. Meanwhile, citizens are getting poorer, hungrier, sicker, more desperate and angrier about the people who made this mess. The public appetite for investigation is likely to get stronger, not weaker.

Posted by: shortstop on February 12, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Prediction: It won't matter. Hundreds of economists, broad public support, and historical evidence all point to putting money into food stamps and public infrastructure, and they're still pushing personal and corporate tax breaks. Personal tax breaks aren't useless, but far from helpful. Corporate tax breaks are actually a loosing proposition for economic stimulus. And still, the Senate Democratic Caucus fears upsetting some reality-impaired "centrist" democrats. You really think there's a chance of serious investigations into the criminals who just left office?

I was recently contacted by the DNC, hoping to squeeze me for a donation for the 2010 cycle. I flat out told them that I wouldn't support them monetarily unless I saw some action that supported progressive principles, I then listed specific things I wanted to see: investigations into the Bush administration's interrogation tactics, investigations into the lies that got us involved in Iraq, and some work to support individuals who were hurt by the economy, rather than just the corporate pirates who got us into the mess. I encourage anyone else to do the same.

Posted by: Diogenes on February 12, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

I think there need to be investigations and prosecutions. Mostly so that the judicial branch finally gets to see and rule on the most outrageous violations.

The Bush administration stayed ahead of the courts in some cases by moving detainees between jurisdictions, or selectively dropping charges just before a case was to be reviewed. It seemed they did not want their actions to actually get before a court where they might be told, publicly, that they were breaking the law.

Posted by: Wapiti on February 12, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, the talking heads / villagers are the only ones heard, not real people.

Posted by: Obama on February 12, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Al arote: Gerald Ford set the gold standard on how to deal with past alleged wrongdoings. He pardoned Richard Nixon to avoid a debate that would pull the country apart when it needed to heal. Ford paid the price for his statesmanship.

And the country paid the price for such misguided "forgive and forget" policies when veterans of tainted Republican administrations, including bad actors from the Iran-Cotnra scandals, went on to continue their corrupt and incompetent ways in the Bush Administration.

The reason Watergate would have "pulled the country apart" would have been by forcing Republicans to confront their own corruption. Al is an enthusiastic supporter, but it's high time -- after more than 30 years of Republican criminality and malfeasance -- that the nation is finally allowed to heal by purging itself of the poisons of Republican mendacity, corruption and incomepetence.

Posted by: Gregory on February 12, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

At least mandate that the signing statements were illegal and are now null and void.

Posted by: SteveA on February 12, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

This is a country of law. If crimes were committed, those who committed them must be identified and punished, regardless of who they are. To do anything else betrays and weakens the country. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: ericfree on February 12, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Sure Al. So long as no fellatio is involved, all should be forgiven, right? No, scratch that - the existence of Newt negates that theory...so what could it be? Oh. Right. IOKIYAR. Got it.

Posted by: Blue Girl on February 12, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

In the 80s we had Iran-Contra, a bizarre plot to sell weapons and parts to Iran to get money to fund right-wing death squads in Central America. A number of people in the Reagan administration were obviously guilty of crimes. Oliver North and Elliot Abrams were actually convicted of obstruction of justice, but their convictions were overturned (by the kind of legal technicality that Republicans shriek about when it's used by someone who is poor or who has dark skin). Casper Weinberger and V.P. George H.W. Busch lied under oath, but were never charged.

In the end, no on was punished and everyone went on to live happy lives.

Twenty years later, the crimes committed by the Bush administration dwarfed the crimes of the Reagan administration. Every single department of the Executive branch was tainted by corruption. We barely survived the Dubya years with the country and Constitution intact. If there isn't some justice and some retribution, the crimes of the next Republican administration and their contempt for law could very well destroy the country.

Obama swore an oath to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States". The only way to do that is to demonstrate that those who use the oval office to undermine the Constitution can not get away with it.

Posted by: SteveT on February 12, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

...There's a perception that Americans don't want officials to look "backwards," so the majority party, the argument goes, doesn't want to get sidetracked from its forward-thinking agenda.

Total horseshit argument. We have enough resources to do both. We need answers about what has gone on the past eight years, and those who broke laws should pay the price, whether it's small-timers like Goodling or Bush himself.

And Al is right, while we're at it, we should take a look at the Taft administration.

Posted by: Noam Sane on February 12, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

In order to move forward and create our future history, we must remember our past history, and rectify the possibility of having it repeat itself. We cannot, as a Republic, embrace the mantra of "Never Again" if we do not first establish what it is that we do not wish to repeat. To do anything else will allow the hatemongers of talk radio to begin laying the groundwork today for another Bushist tomorrow. Beyond this, to ignore the violations of Bush43 while simultaneously ranting about the myriad violations of other nations does nothing but further isolate the United States from the world stage, placing us---in the world's eyes---in the position of "rogue nation."

"America---pariah of the West."

Is this nation in the position to be boycotted by the rest of the world? Could we afford to have the governments of other nations order our assets seized, or to refrain from shipping components that have military potential?

Could America survive if the rest of the world limited its exports into our ports to "basic humanitarian needs" only?

I should think not....

Posted by: Steve W. on February 12, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

You know what the Democrats don't understand? We feel like we've been mugged.

At least that's what the last 8 years feels like to me, and I'm assuming the same for a hell of a lot of other people. As a nation we have had our deepest dignities violated and we all have less money in our pockets, except for the very few at the top. What is so frustrating about Obama's/Dems reluctance to "look backwards" is that we know exactly who did the mugging, the evidence of their criminality is overwhelming.

Come on, Obama, don't let the goons and thugs that did this to us get away!

Posted by: Badass4Peace on February 12, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I've thought for a while that pressing criminal cases was going to cost Obama and the Democrats too much, and would likely not result in convictions for the people who really deserve to be convicted. But I'm starting to think, well, screw it. There's no possible tradeoff. There's no possibility of Obama gaining advantage. Republican thinking, via the media, is going to be seen as the center, the default, regardless of what Obama and the Dems do. So they may as well just say the hell with it and use what power they have while they still have it.

Posted by: Steve M. on February 12, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

...and a majority of voters wanted the final results of any investigations to be strongly worded letters. NOT!!

Posted by: Marko on February 12, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Gregory, great insight. Frankly I never thought of it that way. In fact, I was just looking at some photos from August 1974 of me and my best friends on the way back from Florida, cruising down I-95 when Nixon's resignation speech was aired. People on the interstate honking wildly, hanging out car windows, waving peace signs. A truly magnificent day. I recall everyone was damned glad it was over by then. I don't remember wanting anything more than for the bastard to just leave.

Posted by: MissMudd on February 12, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I think it would be a very practical thing to look back to explain why we are bankrupt. It would also go a long way to explaining why we can't afford to keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over the world. I mean, we can do that, but we're going to collapse. The dollar will be worth nothing as the Chinese are now "diversifying," which means they are pulling money out of our debt.

If we look at what Bush did, people might understand how he ruined the economy, why it's such a mess, WHY it may simply collapse, why the measures they're doing now may or may not help, why inflation may just run rampant (and look at prices already? I see NO deflation.... food just keeps going up! All this talk about hotels not having visitors? I phoned locally and Marriott charges $259/night and is doing "fine." Lots of business travellers who stay there are write off the expense.

SO, yes, I think it would be valuable. I think people will feel BETTER if they feel there is some justice in this country.

And if hte currency is to collapse, which people don't want to talk about since we are printing money night and day, let's at least get health care in place-- just simply expand Medicare and abolish Part D, which covers nothing anybody needs and is a huge expense (passed under Bush for the drug and insurance companies).

My 2 cents.

Posted by: clem on February 12, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

There's a perception that Americans don't want officials to look "backwards," so the majority party, the argument goes, doesn't want to get sidetracked from its forward-thinking agenda.

We have an entire department of the federal government that's pretty much devoted to "looking backwards" -- it's called the Department of Justice. I'm sure they can get busy with investigating Bush regime crimes while other departments, such as Treasury, State, Commerce, etc., move ahead with their forward-thinking agenda.

Posted by: Stefan on February 12, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

so the republicans and the pundits want congress to 'look' forward, not backwards.

Except of course when it comes to vetting nominees...
then republican congress critters want to know every single detail surrounding Rich, Shiavo, taxes, judicial memo's, personal opinions, etc... Because these were VERY horrible things to be involved in, and might make you unfit to serve in the government.

Double standard anyone?

Posted by: bruno on February 12, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

To 'simple' people like Al... IF the Bush Administration would have cooperated just a little tiny fraction of how the Clinton Administration cooperated with congress' investigations.... We would have no need to have these discussions, because everything would already have been on the table and in the light of day.

Can YOU, Al, explain to us WHY it is that Republicans should be forgiven, but Democrats need to be investigated at all costs?

Posted by: bruno on February 12, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the disinclination to prosecute Bush crimes has to do with public reaction, I think it has to do with fear of Republican reaction. Obama remembers all too well the Republican vendetta against Clinton and if her were to "attack" the Republicans' "saint George" the Republicans would come after him with a venom that would make the Clinton attack look like a Hempstead House tea party.

Posted by: Bill Heffner on February 12, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the disinclination to prosecute Bush crimes has to do with public reaction, I think it has to do with fear of Republican reaction.

That's why I thought Obama's approach was right, but now I'm thinking, well, how much worse can they treat him? Is he getting anything from them because he's backing off? In the court of public opinion, is he reducing Republicans to pariahs? No -- they're "back"; he's "struggling." So maybe there's no point.

Posted by: Steve M. on February 12, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Al wrote: if we are to pursue past wrongs, we should have a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission also look at the Clinton years.

Two words, jackass: Ken Starr.

Posted by: Gregory on February 12, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to be counted amongst those in the public at large who call for investigations. The Obama administration's claims to be more open, more ethical and accountable haven't a leg to stand on until the myriad ways in which the Bush administration abused its power- against the constitution, against the rules of both national and international law, against laws of war- have been clearly defined, acknowledged and all violations made right. How else are we ever to trust that any administration from hereon in wouldn't do this again?

Like a festering sore that hasn't come to a head, all of this unaddressed material will continue to sap vitality from the entire system in ways we can't even begin to understand. Already we're witnessing how it informs the process of negotiating the stimulus package. The Republicans act as though they had no part in the current list of crises and arrogantly continue to display a profound disdain for the American public.

Posted by: Mujiba Cabugos on February 12, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

This is a pretty simple issue. If someone robs a bank, they get prosecuted. It doesn't matter what opinion polls say about it. Legal officers don't have a choice to not prosecute, it's a crime. The same applies here. If there is clear evidence of crimes committed, which I think there is, prosecutions must occur. It doesn't really matter who wants to ignore it.

Posted by: charlie on February 12, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Congressional Dems aren't reluctant to investigate and/or seek prosecution of Bush era criminality because they're afraid of a public backlash! They're afraid of investigations because they will bring to light the Conmgressional Dems complicity in Bush's crimes.

Nope, ain't nobody in DC interested in doing anything but pretending that none of that stuff ever happened.

Posted by: Chesire11 on February 12, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Chesire11 your'e enirely correct.

Posted by: charlie on February 12, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Al, if you project equivalency between Bush of the last 8 years and the Clinton Administration you are miserabliy disoriented morally, legally, and historically! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 12, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Obama will not pursue any retribution against President Bush. Obama knows (or at least those in his administration who, unlike him, know) that all administrations engage in questionable decisions when the national security is involved. Obama doesn't want the specter of charges against him to be forever hanging over his own head.

Posted by: froggie on February 12, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

It might be true that "all administrations engage in questionable decisions when the national security is involved."

It is not true that the Bush administration's actions in the field of authorizing and facilitating torture are questionable. The only question is whether it is possible to prove the culpability of specific individuals to the standard required in a court of law. The government certainly should try to do so, and certainly should make as public an inquiry as possible into exactly what happened if criminal charges turn out to be impossible.

I also happen to think that the administration also crossed the line into criminality with warrantless wiretapping, the use of federal law enforcement and intelligence assets to spy on peaceful domestic political groups and the blatant politicization of the DOJ among other things. However, I acknowledge that there is more room to disagree over these issues. There still needs to be a very thorough investigation and criminal charges should not be ruled out until the investigation is complete. Criminal penalties should definitely apply to anyone continuing to obstruct such investigations (i.e. Rove better respond to the Congressional subpoenas.)

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 12, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

"...Close to 2/3's...said there should be investigations...almost 40% favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges..."
Any odds on the "25 percenters" being Republicans?
Once investigations are begun and more and more information comes out about the criminal conduct of the Bush Administration, you will see that 40% increase dramatically (see: Watergate, 1972-74).

Posted by: Doug on February 12, 2009 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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