Truth and reconciliation for the US

Paul Krugman makes a powerful appeal in Rolling Stone:

I’m an economist, but I’m also an American citizen — and like many citizens, I spent the past eight years watching in horror as the Bush administration betrayed the nation’s ideals. And I don’t believe we can put those terrible years behind us unless we have a full accounting of what really happened. I know that most of the inside-the-Beltway crowd is urging you to let bygones be bygones, just as they urged Bill Clinton to let the truth about scandals from the Reagan-Bush years, in particular the Iran-Contra affair, remain hidden. But we know how that turned out: The same people who abused power in the name of national security 20 years ago returned as part of the team that, under the second George Bush, did it all over again, on a much larger scale. It was an object lesson in the truth of George Santayana’s dictum: Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

That’s why this time we need a full accounting. Not a witch hunt, maybe not even prosecutions, but something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped South Africa come to terms with what happened under apartheid. We need to know how America ended up fighting a war to eliminate nonexistent weapons, how torture became a routine instrument of U.S. policy, how the Justice Department became an instrument of political persecution, how brazen corruption flourished not only in Iraq, but throughout Congress and the administration. We know that these evils were not, whatever the apologists say, the result of honest error or a few bad apples: The White House created a climate in which abuse became commonplace, and in many cases probably took the lead in instigating these abuses. But it’s not enough to leave this reality in the realm of things “everybody knows” — because soon enough they’ll be denied or forgotten, and the cycle of abuse will begin again. The whole sordid tale needs to be brought out into the sunlight.

One note, however. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak has already said that prosecutions must be a part of the equation — as it was in the South Africa example Krugman cites.

“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation,” he told German television yesterday. The US has ratified the UN convention on torture, which requires “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it. “We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld.”