Barack Obama is in a morally risky position in dealing with the blatant criminality of the Bush regime and its flunkeys. Obama has skirted the issue, saying there are too many urgent demands ahead to be dealt with to waste time looking back. It's pretty clear that he doesn't want to start a precedent of an incoming administration leaping into action to prosecute an outgoing administration. And yet there is a growing outcry for redress, for correcting the way the presidency was skewed and criminalized.
The latest voice is that of Joe Galloway, the veteran Vietnam war correspondent with McClatchey Newspapers:
...It's the attorney general's sworn duty to uphold the law and pursue criminal violations, wherever they lead. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the President of the United States and those around him are immune to criminal charges.
The Republicans ...want a Justice Department and an attorney general who will sign on to politics as usual, as it was defined in the time of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their pitiful attorneys general from John Ashcroft to Michael Mukasey.
Not since the days of John Mitchell has the office of attorney general been so degraded as it was during the tenure of Alberto Gonzales, who today has a grand jury all over him investigating whether he committed crimes large and small.
The Republicans in the Senate apparently want Holder to reprise Gonzales' role of seeing, speaking and hearing no evil, even when evil is all around him.
Mr. Holder's response must be a simple, “No, I cannot and I will not do that. I will repair and restore a Justice Department that will fulfill its duty and mission of upholding the law. I cannot begin my term by promising that I won't do my duty under the law.”
And as much as President Obama may want to focus on the urgent problems he's inherited and face the future, not the past, it would be a grievous error to turn a blind eye to the criminal behavior of the last administration.
It will fall to Mr. Holder and his renovated and reinvigorated Justice Department to plumb the depths of lawbreaking by the previous administration and its leaders and followers.
Nothing less will suffice. Nothing less will convince the American people that we live in a nation where no man is above the law.
Our farsighted forebears had reason to fear and hate the capricious rule of kings and emperors, and they sought in virtually every line of our Constitution and Bill of Rights to ensure that no man was ever above the law; that no man in America could ever appropriate absolute power for himself.
We've lived through a long national nightmare — a time when those in power played on our fears to emasculate constitutional protections and individual rights in the name of security. Taking away freedom to protect freedom is akin to that Vietnam War officer who famously said: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."
The only way we can repair all the damage they did is to confront those who led us astray, led us far from our roots and our hopes and our dreams and into a dark nether world where in order to save freedom we were willing to surrender it.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph, after all, is for good men to do nothing.