One might almost be inclined to feel sorry for still-my-president if one could only forget what a horrific mess he's made of things. Reading the transcript of his last press conference was bad enough -- seeing the still pictures or the video of the clueless guy struggling to present his administration in a positive light was truly painful. Jon Stewart said, "He really doesn't know why we're mad at him!" I think that might be true. He's been living in an even thicker bubble than I'd imagined.
His petulant defenses of his interrogation procedures ("Do you remember what it was like right after 9/11?") are particularly gruesome when they're followed just a day or two later by the assessment of a senior administration official that she couldn't bring a certain Guantanamo case to trial because "His treatment met the legal definition of torture."
I admit to being of two minds as to how strenuously the Obama administration should investigate and attempt to charge senior administration officials for war crimes. The country is in such serious shape that I really don't want their attention diverted in that direction. It's also clear that, unlike his predecessor, Obama really is trying hard to be a uniter (note his unannounced dinner the other night with several prominent conservative columnists), and any attempt to address the torture and civil liberties issues now would severely damage that effort.
But the damage that's been done to the country has been so severe that I'm loathe to let it go altogether. If you read the comments to the various news stories on the torture angle it is clear that there are plenty of people who now feel that the administration is completely justified in doing whatever they feel is necessary and that concerns about torturing terrorists are just more namby-pamby left wing liberal hand-wringing.
Thank god we've had Bush, they say. He kept us safe. Actually, he didn't. You can't prove a negative in the first place, but if one wants to run with that argument, then it was Clinton who kept us safe and Bush who screwed up and allowed 9/11 to happen. There were plenty of warnings. The evidence is now clear and it was pretty obvious at the time. Remember Condi Rice saying that nobody could have imagined that terrorists would fly airplanes into buildings? The report from the Rudman-Hart Commission suggesting just that possibility had been on her desk for months. I never could understand why she was not only allowed to keep her job as NSA, but was eventually promoted to Secretary of State.
When I was growing up, and was learning about the United States of America, I learned that its heroes were the people who were willing to die in defense of its liberties. Young men and women went off to war to protect, not just the lives of those at home, but their right to free speech, to free assembly, to freely practice one's own religion, to be free from excessive government control and surveillance. I grew up believing that our system of government and our way of life was a beacon to the world showing how a free people were willing to put their lives on the line rather than compromise those precious freedoms. I grew up believing that protecting our principles was more important than just protecting my personal safety.
That's what Bush took away from me. And I want it back.
I don't care what happens to him. I don't feel any need to see him punished. I wish that Congress had had the guts to impeach him years ago, when it might have made a difference. That doesn't matter now. But we, as a nation, still have to come to terms with what went terribly wrong. If we are going to be able to get back to the country that I grew up believing in, we've got to be able to acknowledge to the world that the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz vision of the country was a terrible wrong turn, and that we will do everything possible to see that we don't go down that road again.
In that last press conference, Bush said, "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be damaged amongst some of the elite, but people still understand America stands for freedom, that America is a country that provides such great hope."
Wrong again, George. But I think we still have a chance to get it back. I still believe in the best of my country that much.
UPDATE: At this morning's confirmation hearing for Obama's pick for Attorney General, Eric Holder said what no Bush administration official has been willing to say: "Waterboarding is torture."