"There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country." The New York Times lead editorial today echoes what millions of Americans must be feeling as this awful year comes to a close. It was a year of self recognition, when Americans finally realized America can no longer pretend to be a moral beacon. It is a sickening discovery.
Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.
In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.
We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.
Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.
It is a devastating indictment, and there is more, but it is only half finished. As we look into the mirror to see what our country has become, one cannot help but feel contempt for the passivity — or is it complicity — with which the "opposition party" and an indolent media acquiesced in one outrage after another. Do the leaders of the Democratic Party truly condemn the Administration’s actions? Do they feel the revulsion and disgust in the pits of their stomachs? And if so, why are they not demanding full disclosure, accountability, censure and removal from office for the most criminal regime in our history?
Glenn Greenwald reminds us the Democrats have been complicit in the Administration’s illegal spying, in waging illegal wars, in creating a CIA monster, in sanctioning torture, in destroying the 4th Amendment, in illegal kidnappings and detentions and the assault on habeas corpus, and in creating kangaroo courts. As much as the Administration’s arrogant defiance and contempt for the rule of law, the Democrat’s meek protests and their refusals time and again to stand up to these outrages dismayed their supporters and created a sense of helplessness, a feeling there is nothing our political institutions can or will do to do cure this sickness.
The most obvious remedy, the one expressly designed for this purpose, sits unused for reasons no one can credibly explain or defend. I suspect historians will look back on Nancy Pelosi’s decision to take impeachment off the table and describe it as one of the most cowardly, unprincipled and damaging statements ever uttered by a national leader. It has left America defenseless against an onslaught of lawlessness.
The Administration is destroying who America is, what it stands for, why it’s important. And with only a few exceptions like Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others, the Democrats are not vowing to save it. They’re not even acknowledging the travesty that every American can read in every day’s headlines.
Now a new set of leaders is seeking our votes. What have they done to earn our trust? They have some interesting proposals to deal with other problems, but the front runners are not speaking to the destruction of our Constitutional system, they’re not demanding accountability for the damage that has been done and a return to the rule of law. They’re playing it safe.
But this is not a time for people who lack political courage. Who among them will step up and say what must be done?