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It’s not that long now until we have a new president, and many on the left and some others are salivating because here’s their chance to get George W. Bush, to put him on trial for war crimes, and if doing so tears this nation apart, so what? That’s what justice demands, they say.
But of course it’s not what justice demands, just what their hatred demands. At the end of the day, it is not enough for them to feel validated in their arguments by the election of Barack Obama, by Congress enacting at least some laws they hoped for or by the courts ruling in favor of some of their positions. Such sissy, civil, democratic stuff won’t do when they have a chance for something bloody.
And therefore you get a distraught diatribe in The New York Review of Books by Berkeley journalism professor Mark Danner, or more noteworthy, a letter by 56 House Democrats requesting a Justice Department probe of whether President Bush and others in the administration have violated the War Crimes Act. Then one day an acquaintance leans your way and asks whether Bush will contrive to pardon himself and his buddies before leaving office.
You are tempted to answer that you hope he will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in those pardons, seeing as how she once got briefed on a favored topic of the new-Nuremberg encouragers — waterboarding — and raised no objections. But then, you might add, waterboarding has been used by the United States no more than three times that we know of, despite an endlessly expressed anxiety that would make you think it was used on thousands.
Mentioning such things — or the points of some others that the waterboarding might have saved lives, had been ruled legal by the Justice Department and is at this point clearly illegal — isn’t the same as embracing its use. It’s just placing things in a context that ought to rule out criminal prosecution — there was consultation with congressional leaders, there was an effort to discern the legality of the act.
It’s true there are many other "crimes" giving the left heart palpitations, among them one that Danner brings up — Bush lied us into war. He didn’t, or if he did, let’s list the others who also told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Joe Biden, still other liberals in the Senate and officials in intelligence agencies of such countries as the United States, France and Britain.
Bush did make mistakes. But it’s hardly necessary to be a fan of all his tactics to understand that they were no worse than all kinds of transgressions by Congress and past presidents, that they came in the midst of a time that was very frightening, that the perils of some of them have been vastly exaggerated and that the worst have been softened or are gone. Safety has in fact ensued from certain of these measures, although this we should know: We are not out of trouble yet.
A bipartisan commission recently warned that terrorists would likely employ biological or nuclear weapons sometime between now and 2013 in the absence of still more preventive efforts by governments, and there are indications our next president is prepared to do what he thinks is needed. A New York Times report says Obama is considering a preventive detention law for some of the clearly dangerous men at Guantanamo who just might escape guilty verdicts in a trial.. Maybe he should someday worry about a war-crime trial, too?
Obviously not, and just as obviously, for the sake of real justice but also for the sake of avoiding catastrophic political collisions in the land, Bush shouldn’t, either.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)