Obama should seek investigation of Bush officials
The cornerstone of any civil society is the rule of law. Laws are only effective when there are mechanisms in place to punish those who flout the law or otherwise engage in criminal behavior. Without such deterrents, the rules of civil society become impotent.
One of the greatest dramas to unfold in American history was the chain of events that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Nixon engaged in illegal spying on Democratic legislators, which culminated in five men breaking into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. This egregious abuse of public trust and power would have ultimately led to impeachment and removal from office had Nixon not resigned to spare himself the embarrassment. Aug. 8, 1974 was a day that will be remembered throughout history as one of our greatest achievements as a democracy — our highest elected official was held accountable to our laws and constitution.
Today that legal legacy is in a state of disrepair. The administration of President George W. Bush engaged in many activities that were clear violations of the letter of the law. The abuses of public trust and power have eroded American civil liberties, our ties and standing to the rest of the world, and even our national security.
The outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame emanated from the upper echelons of the executive branch. Not only is identifying a covert agent illegal, it risks the lives of all the other covert agents he or she was working with abroad. These agents must be removed from active duty thus negating much of their work and expertise, and diminishing national security.
The Bush administration misled Congress and the American public into a disastrous war in Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was sold on the notion that an imminent threat existed from Saddam Hussein and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Several years later, it is quite clear that no such weapons existed and that intelligence was manufactured to provide Bush, Cheney and Co. with material they could use to sell a war they thought would be quick and easy. It is necessary to uncover who played what part in lying to the American public and its elected representatives.
The past eight years have seen an unparalleled politicization of major departments in the federal government, most notably the Department of Justice. It seems the main criterion for being hired at the Department of Justice was loyalty to the Bush wing of the Republican Party rather than to the U.S. Constitution. The partisan atmosphere of the Department of Justice led to events such as the questionable prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, the hiring and firing of federal attorneys for purely political reasons and federal wiretapping of American citizens with neither probable cause nor warrants.
Private interests used the partisan atmosphere in the White House to draw public dollars from the government trough. Government contracts were routinely given to friends rather than to winners of an open-bidding process. It is almost impossible to tell how much money was stolen from the American public through allocations of funds to war contractors and even through the unsupervised Troubled Assets Relief Program.
The shroud of secrecy that surrounds the Bush administration's actions is remarkable. Thousands of emails sent from and received by public email accounts are missing or deleted. Bush administration officials frequently cited executive privilege when subpoenaed by federal courts over many of the issues listed above. Their argument seems to have been that since they were powerful, they ought not to be investigated and prosecuted.
For America to move beyond this chapter in our history, we must have a full accounting of what truly occurred and who conspired with whom. If we don't want such things to happen again, it is important to know what laws were broken in the past, and how this came about. If we are to have faith in our government, we must have transparency and the ability to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions.
On Jan. 20, President Obama swore to defend the Constitution, and I believe that initiating an investigation is a vital first step in upholding that promise. President Obama needs to confront Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and force them to open investigations. It is one of the many powers that Congress seems to have lost the spine to use. A proper and thorough investigation of illegal actions by the Bush administration is necessary to reveal the truth. If certain individuals are found to have broken the law, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
In America, no one is supposed to be above the law.
Alexander Draine is a Rutgers College senior majoring in economics. His column, "Draine on Society," runs on alternate Tuesdays.