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William Murchison / January 13, 2009

Those Poor, Poor Terrorists

Just what we need right now – war crimes trials for top Bush officials. Don Rumsfeld, say, or even Dick Cheney. Stick ‘em in the dock. Make 'em confess the awful things they did to protect America. Slather on the tar and throw a bag of feathers their way. Just what’s needed to launch a new administration pledged to bring Americans together.

Sigh. They just don’t get it, over on the political left, whence issues the cry for vengeance against any who authorized or participated in “illegal” offenses directed at routing out post-9/11 terrorists and thwarting their ability to harm us.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, an editor for the Financial Times can’t see why there’s any problem with showing how moral we are by going after those connected with the waterboarding of terrorists. Congressman John Conyers of New York, chairman of the House Rules Committee, is whomping up an inquiry into the Bush administration’s interrogation and confinement policies for terrorists. Michael Ratner, president of something called the Center for Constitutional Rights, is the party who says he has evidence for war crimes trials.

What fun – show the world what a nutty place America really is: executive and congressional power changes hands, and it’s off to the courthouse to put away the losers in a nice quiet place. Nothing, huh, like showing your country’s enemies how much your human side sympathizes with them! The wonders that this approach to abstract justice would do for the economy and national unity are almost indescribable.

Barack Obama, displaying a maturity larger than his campaign rhetoric sometimes suggested, told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” that he isn’t much in favor of the lynch party’s aspirations, preferring as he does “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Indeed. Why, he asked, would he want CIA agents “to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders”? Why – an equally central, if on this occasion unremarked concern – would America want to make atonement before its enemies did? To what end? That they might call off the whole jihad?

Obama indicated, further, he wasn’t even going to rush out and padlock the Guantanamo Bay detention center, springing, in one way or another, “a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial and have not gone through some adjudication.”

Barack Obama, only a few days away from taking over the White House, is impressing conservatives more than he is some of those barely able to acknowledge George W. Bush’s membership in the human race. You almost wonder if he planned this month as a good-cop, bad-cop routine: Work with me, Republicans, or I’ll throw you to the loonies!

We probably may assume no Bush administration official is going on trial for Jack Bauer-like zeal in defense of the country: one reason being the admiration that hard-nosed, Bauer-like attitudes toward bad guys command in the real America.

That conservatives would yearn to beat terrorists within an inch of their lives is high-grade malarkey. It’s indisputable that they make room in their worldview for certain harsh necessities – killing enemies, for instance – in defense of life and limb. By contrast, liberal ideologues like Michael Ratner live, to all appearances, in Never-Never Land. First they seem to suppose no malign consequences from accommodating enemies. Second, they seem to suppose normal Americans, as they watched those accommodations take shape, would smile patriotically and nod.

The times are out of joint, and not just economically. Who would have supposed, after 9/11, that the hunters of terrorists would command, in some quarters of American life, less concern than the poor, persecuted lambs they hunted to the ends of the earth?

Barack Obama’s contribution to American history could consist in saving us from ourselves, and some of our grosser stupidities. On which view he’d better get started. There’s a heap of saving out there to be done.


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