Monday, January 12, 2009

justice, what a hassle

"It is a hallmark of a sane and moderate society that when it changes leaders and regimes, those left behind should be abandoned to the judgment of history," writes Harvard's Charles Fried in Saturday's NYT op-ed. "It is in savage societies that the defeat of a ruling faction entails its humiliation, exile and murder."

While it remains to be seen if Erik "
Money Folder" Holder will sentence Donald Rumsfeld to death, it does appear that Mr. Fried is protesting a bit too much. He is not the first to trot out the shibboleth that punishing those responsible for the Bush administration's various humiliations of the law would do little more than establish a pattern of retribution against outgoing administrations. Leave aside the obvious point that an exiting Obama team guilty of such egregious assaults on the law would be prosecuted on day one (rightfully, albeit not without sanctimony or a moment's hesitation from the GOP and media). The easily elided point here is that we would need not fear this pattern, were an independent Justice department in existence and already in pursuit of those at the heart of the policies. Those perpetrators would have been put on trial in late '06, rather than the rotten fruit they bore.

Curiously, Fried goes on to imagine the horror of an American populace needlessly exposed to a concept he terms a "trial." Protracted, he claims this would be. He threatens our senses with something called a "stupefying spectacle". Phony legal scholars, merely existing in the hypothetical at present, would appear on TV to bear false witness. Our otherwise upstanding mass media would be distracted from their diligent work parsing the challenges of universal healthcare by something truly alien and strange: a courtroom drama!

Fried is welcome to whichever logical platitude allows him to consider our society sane. He just so happens to be complicit in the Bush administration's clever construct (at work as well in its pretzelly Gitmo endgame, its Katrina overflights, its de-ownership of the Ownership Society, et...alas...cetera) in which their total abdication of responsibility both enables their disastrous policies and precludes their punitive rejection. Also, about that comparison between Stalin and Rumsfeld? Just a small matter of

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