After Bush: Truth and Reconciliation
by Michael I. Niman
I think historians eventually will mark the effective start of the George W. Bush presidency as September 12, 2001. Up until that point, the only historically distinguishing feature of the Bush reign was W.’s record-setting vacation time at his ranch. Until the morning of September 11, the whole neo-con cabal was pretty much stuck in the mud, wheels spinning with the agenda splattering on the back fender. After September 11, just as after the bombing of the Reichstag, it was another story.
So let’s go back to that fateful week, when America as we knew it began to end. There were two big unfolding stories pre-9/11 that just sort of disappeared. One was the completion of the first full recount of the disputed 2000 Florida presidential election—which Al Gore won, albeit by a hair. This would have put the nail in the coffin for a president selected by Fox News and the Supreme Court, who had otherwise demonstrated no presidential abilities and established no real legitimacy in the eyes of the American people or the world. The second, possibly larger story, was the scheduled declassification of the first batch of sealed records from the Reagan/Bush White House. Those records promised to further document massive crimes against both humanity and the Constitution, as well as treason committed by our leader’s father and the now revered Ronald Reagan.
Historians expected that among the 68,000 documents scheduled for release in 2001 would be further evidence of Reagan administration support for and coordination of terrorist attacks aimed at destabilizing the economy and democratically elected popular government of Nicaragua, not to mention support for death squads in El Salvador, Columbia and Honduras (Battalion 316), and genocide in Guatemala. Juicier still, given the current situation in Iraq, would be additional data about Reagan/Bush support for Saddam Hussein’s government at a time when it was gassing its own citizens (allegedly with US supplied materials), and support for the mullahs in Iran, who, it turns out, the Reagan administration covertly supplied with arms (remember Ollie North?), allegedly in exchange for the continued imprisonment of the American embassy staff in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election. The incident left US President Jimmy Carter appearing impotent, leading to the Reagan/Bush victory, which was immediately followed by the release of the hostages and US arms shipments to Iran’s criminal regime. Throw in a draconian domestic agenda and we would have been looking at an interesting read.
George W. Bush spent most of 2001 using legal maneuvers to delay the release of records that would likely have incriminated key members of his administration as well as his father in crimes that took place two decades earlier. Once the nation moved into the post-9/11 era, the political opening emerged for W. to issue an unquestioned executive order (Exec. Order 13233) on November 1, 2001, quietly thwarting the release of the Reagan/Bush papers in the name of “national security.”
Fast-forward to the crimes of the current Bush junta in the years following the 2001 attacks. These would include crimes against the American electoral system, crimes against the US Constitution, war crimes, environmental crimes, crimes against humanity from New Orleans to Abu Ghraib, and collusion with corporate corruption on a historically unprecedented scale. There are also acts and policies that, while not necessarily illegal, have fundamentally changed our country and our lives. These would include the imposition of a security state and an emerging police state, the bankrupting of the US economy, seemingly irreversible environmental destruction, and support of criminal regimes around the world. Most of this has been documented over the years in this column.
Let’s assume for the moment that this reign ends on January 20, 2009—an assumption that could only become reality if the American people stand up and actively defend our embattled democracy. The question then becomes, what’s next?
The problem is that during the course of this administration, government as we know it, on all levels, has lost whatever credibility it has had with the American people. We have a generation of college students, for example, that has lived their entire adult life under President George W. Bush. We are now hiring police officers from a demographic cohort that has grown up with “indefinite detention,” “coercive interrogation,” “preemptive” violence, “free speech zones,” and a comatose Bill of Rights. We have a new generation of voters that take as normal warrantless wiretaps and surveillance cameras at the end of their streets. Our journalists have become a spineless pack of mortgage-saddled career stenographers living under the thumb of a military entertainment complex, seduced by consumerism and terrified of jail. As a society we’ve come to value civic sterility more than civic engagement.
Think about it. Think about what 2009 looks like, even without Bush.
To return to the American values we once cherished requires following the path of other societies that have emerged from under the domination of corrupt repressive reactionary regimes. We’re now number 48 globally when it comes to freedom of the press, according to Reporters Without Borders. That puts us behind countries such as Romania, Croatia and Cape Verde. We’re number 30 in life expectancy and, according to the World Health Organization, our health care system now ranks as number 37, behind countries such as Costa Rica, Morocco, and Colombia.
We are number one, however, in incarceration and national debt. No one else can even come close. Add it all up. Put simply, this ain’t your grandpappy’s America.
We need to be humbled by all of these numbers and recognize the reality that they illustrate. We’re no better than any other nation that has lost its way or allowed its national priorities to get hijacked. On the other hand, I think that we can be at least as good as any other nation that found itself run into the ground by a corrupt militaristic regime, but with the will to persevere. In our case, we have a long history and traditions of democracy and greatness that few other nations that find themselves in this position have ever had. We can emerge from this dark period, but it will take work.
The first step is to recognize where we are. Then we have to look at what other nations in similar positions have done to recover. We have to abandon the notion that we are somehow better than any other nation that lost control of its sensibilities for a generation. And we need to examine the established paths these nations have moved as they struggled in recovery.
The first step is to restore the reign of truth—to return meaning to language and return credibility to government. This is done with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. More than 30 countries have convened various forms of such commissions in places ranging from South Africa and Rwanda to East Timor. The idea is that first comes truth, even sometimes at the cost of immunity from prosecution. Only with truth reestablished can a nation have reconciliation, and with its history in order, move forward into the future.
In the case of the Bush administration, there will be many questions to be answered. These will probably need to start with well documented electoral irregularities and widespread conspiracies to suppress voting in both the 2000 and 2004 elections, the latter of which has already resulted in criminal prosecutions in the election-deciding state of Ohio. If it turns out that one or both elections were corrupted, then we’ll have difficult questions to face regarding the legitimacy of enduring institutions such as the Supreme Court, which may have been affected by appointments put in place by an illegal government. Or maybe not. These are the kind of questions such a commission needs to sort out.
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