Looking Backward

By Dan Froomkin
2:15 PM ET, 01/27/2009

Gary Kamiya writes for Salon that in banning torture and ordering the closure of Guantanamo last week, "Obama emphatically rejected Bush's warped vision of America, and announced the return of the confident, principled country we all believed in, and too cavalierly took for granted. With a few strokes of the pen, he began to erase the ugly ethos that dishonored us for eight years, and called upon us to stand for a braver, better America. An America that will not abandon its moral principles at the first setback. An America that knows its real power lies not in its mighty army but in its mightier ideals.

"The miasma of repressed fear that has hung over America for so long will not dissipate overnight. Right-wing pundits are shrieking that we must keep torturing to keep America safe, and claiming that if Guantánamo detainees are moved into ordinary prisons, America's cities will be the targets of terrorist attacks. These boogeymen have been effective for years, and they will not instantly disappear. But since Obama's repudiation of Bush's hide-under-the-bed-and-shoot ethos, the country already feels more like the home of the brave and less like a land of furtive torturers. . . .

"Bush confronted evil with evil. He tortured, lied and flouted the law. By so doing, he deserted posts more vital than any front-line position: He abandoned the Constitution, he fled from the moral law. And we all, collectively, let him do it."

According to a new Rasmussen survey, "44% of Democratic voters believe President Bush and senior members of his administration are guilty of war crimes. Only 28% of the nation's Democrats disagree. . . .

"Overall, among all voters, 25% believe war crimes were committed while 54% disagree."

Ross K. Baker, writing in a USA Today opinion piece, says people should let it go: "In this season of reconciliation and hope that we can rise above the corrosive polarization of recent years, a chorus of angry voices has pressed aggressively for criminal charges to be brought against former president George W. Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney and members of the intelligence community thought guilty of constitutional violations or of practicing or sanctioning torture.

"A few lonely politicians, some television talking heads and the vitriolic chorus of the blogosphere seek revenge against an administration with which they did not happen to agree on much of anything. This 'movement,' if one could call it that, makes a mockery of the spirit of generosity and compassion to which President Obama is dedicated."

Washington Post opinion columnist Richard Cohen cites "the very different country called Sept. 11, 2001" and writes that "certain people are demanding that the torturers and their enablers be dragged across the time border and brought to justice."

He argues, however, that "we have to be respectful of those who were in that Sept. 11 frame of mind, who thought they were saving lives -- and maybe were -- and who, in any case, were doing what the nation and its leaders wanted."

He endorses a proposal by David Cole of Georgetown Law School: "Writing in the Jan. 15 New York Review of Books, he proposed that either the president or Congress appoint a blue-ribbon commission, arm it with subpoena power, and turn it loose to find out what went wrong, what (if anything) went right and to report not only to Congress but to us."

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