Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Should We Investigate?

Until now, I have generally been opposed to an investigation of the Bush administration, but a man I respect, Paul Krugman, and a man who makes my skin crawl, Keith Olbermann made strong cases for pulling back the curtain and taking a look at the Bush years.



From Paul Krugman:

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years – and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t – this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.


Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

And here is Keith Olbermann’s “Eight Years in Eight Minutes” (actually nine minutes and 27 seconds):

Whether he lied or not, the intelligence was there and we went to war.  To put this all on Bush is intellectually dishonest.  But this isn’t just about the war.  It’s about crony politics.  It’s great that Alberto Gonzalez resigned as Attorney General, but if the accusations against him were true, that he fired attorneys because they prosecuted Republicans (or refused to prosecute Democrats), that is an abuse of power and a resignation is not enough.

Beyond that, we can’t reform our government to prevent these abuses from happening again if we don’t know what happened.  In a compelling Op-ed in the Washington Post, Rep. John Conyers put it best:

We cannot rebuild the appropriate balance between the branches of government without fully understanding how that relationship has been distorted. Likewise, we cannot set an appropriate baseline for future presidential conduct without documenting and correcting the presidential excesses that have just occurred. After the Nixon imperial presidency, critical reviews such as the Church and Pike committees led to fundamental reforms that have served our nation well. Comparable steps are needed to begin the process of reining in the legacy of the Bush imperial presidency.


Some day, there is bound to be another national security crisis in America. A future president will face the same fear and uncertainty that we did after Sept. 11, 2001, and will feel the same temptation to believe that the ends justify the means — temptation that drew our nation over to the “dark side” under the leadership of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. If those temptations are to be resisted — if we are to face new threats in a manner that keeps faith with our values and strengthens rather than diminishes our authority around the world — we must fully learn the lessons of our recent past.

I think that a legitimate case can be made for investigating certain events in the Bush administration.  Unfortunately, it seems like the loudest voices on the left are those calling forimpeachment or war crimes indictments.  As Paul Krugman, Rep. Conyers, and Keith Olbermann point out, this isn’t just about the war.  It’s about a whole lot more.

What do you think?  Do we bury the past or face it?

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  1. The problem is first, what’s the goal, and second, where’s the evidence and how would the new administration find it?  If the goal is to punish the Bushies for their likely crimes due to an abstract sense of justice–as in, there’s an imbalance in the world when crimes remain unpunished–then fine, I guess. I’ve been outraged at the expansion of the executive under Bush/Cheney (more the latter than the former) and the admin’s blithe attitude toward civil liberties, torture, etc.  It would warm my heart to see their misdeeds exposed to the cold light of day.

    The problem is, though, that ‘justice’ probably wouldn’t be the goal.  There’s a strong tendency among Democrats, I think, not to just oppose or roll back or fix the Bush years but to actively undo them, to wipe the slate clean and make it as if 2000-2008 never happened. (I think it’s rooted in the bitter pill of the 2000 loss.)  I saw this for years in people’s attitudes toward the Iraq War: they didn’t just want to change the way it was being run, they wanted to withdraw completely and return to pre-invasion square one.

    Unfortunately time runs forwards, things can’t be undone, the invasion happened (of course, one of the reasons it was such a terrible decision in the first place was that it left us in the position where withdrawal would only add to the upheaval) and the Bush administration did commit its legally questionable acts.  I think Obama’s likely to conclude that hearings into the Bush misdeeds–where the constitutional and legal questions will be hotly contested–is the kind of backward-looking exercise he’ll want to avoid.  He’s got a lot on his plate, and engaging in a seemingly partisan witch-hunt against the former ruling party won’t help him do any of those things–many of which will require at least some cooperation from Republicans on the Hill.

    If there were a smoking gun of clear illegality–which I don’t believe there is–or if the crimes were political in nature, as opposed to constitutional, I might think different.  But it’s hard to argue that the Bushies did these things for monetary or political purposes–they did them in a misguided (or flatly wrong) belief that they’d help the country.  I don’t think anyone wants to start a cycle of new administrations putting the former one on trial.  Or rather, given the absurd and deeply unpopular impeachment of Clinton, we should break that cycle!

  2. spacemanspiff

    … to save taxpayer funds, Cheney and Bush can share a cell.  If we have enough money left after the impact of the Bush-Cheney monetary policy of the last 8 years, then we might want to consider feeding them.  Occasionally, and only if their heavy water-boarding schedules permit.

    Of course, this is if the Chump in Chief is found mentally competent to stand trial.  While a moron like Bush might qualify for death row back in Texas, other jurisdictions (particularly thos European folks over at the War Crimes Court at The Hague) are far more progressive and thus less inclined to jail Bush.  For Cheney and the rest of them, that’s another story.

  3. creamer

     But as Krugman said,

    And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

    I think we need to get away from policy and appointments for political gain. I also am diminished as an American by this Presidents behavior in regards to war, torture and indefinate detentions.

    President Obama should allow the justice department to investigate and gather evidence. If charges follow that so be it. If this ended in some kind of “finding” of wrongdoing short of crime, thats fine too.  

  4. No one is above the law of the land, especially Government.  We have no Monarchy and no Theocracy for this reason.  Accountability to the voters and the Constitution is not an obstacle to government, but instead it is the core of its existence.


  5. HappyinVT

    not as being done by Obama or the Obama administration, but by the DOJ, which I assume is who would actually be in charge of such investigations.

    Justice is supposed to be an independent body as we were reminded during the Holder hearings.  It has lost that independence in the last 8 years but Congress and Holder (presumably Obama as well) seem determined to see that it regains its separateness.

    If that is the case, Holder can reasonably make the argument that he is doing the job he was hired to do especially in light of recent events (i.e., the judge saying Qhatani was tortured).  One of the guests on either Keith’s or Rachel’s show this week said that there are folks at Justice who will be more than happy to cooperate with any investigation, and Cheney’s own words, trying to burnish his legacy, may be able to be used against him.

    Having said all that, I think we do need to investigate.  Get it all out in the open, see where the checks and balances feel apart, and use the findings to try to make sure such abuses to not happen again. Bush and/or Cheney and/or Rumsfeld and/or Tenet and/or Ashcroft/Gonzalez/Mukasey in jail wouldn’t break my heart.

  6. nrafter530

    is that we got the votes of many people who think torturing is ok, warrantless wiretapping is just fine, and we should bomb Iran.

    To drag Bush and his entourage through a public trial, put them in jail, etc (which I don’t even think is even possible) may backfire on us. I’ve heard a lot of people ask me during the campaign if this what Democrats are going to do?

    “Are they going to solve our problems or are they looking for vengence?”

    The truth is most Americans don’t like Bush is a criminal, just an incompetent moron and doing this might only be perceived as seeking revenge and not protecting civil liberities or upholding the rule of law.

    Americans couldn’t give a shit about the rule of law.  

  7. fogiv

    …political risk in pursuing Bush (or Administration) on their myriad crimes, I do think there ought to be a full and independent investigation, particularly on the issue of torture.  It would be to our long term detriment to ignore crimes that so seriously erode our image and lessen the effectiveness of our diplomatic muscle.  Our nation was founded to oppose tyranny, not espouse it.

    I think there’s pobably a certain amount of “lawlessness” that we let slide with every Administration’s passing, from pardons to turning a blind eye, but war crimes for fuck’s sake?  We just cannot let that go.

  8. If it smelled even 0.1% like the Kenneth Starr Inquisition:


    You can’t put out a fire by fanning the flames.  Whatever legal ramifications there may be need to be a million miles removed from the new President or the Democratic Party.

  9. Michelle

    Even if nothing is likely to come of it, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  And how can we possibly know all that we need to fix if we don’t investigate?  And what’s more, we need transparency in government.  So many things got shoved under the rug in this ultra-powerful administration, that we need to bring it to light, even if they never rot in jail.

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