“History will judge him harshly”

Originally posted by Nonpartisan on 07/26/07

[Cross-posted at Daily Kos, My Left Wing, and TalkLeft.]

Harry Reid on Bush’s commutation of the Libby sentence:

The President’s decision to commute Mr. Libby’s sentence is disgraceful.  Libby’s conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War.  Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone.  Judge Walton correctly determined that Libby deserved to be imprisoned for lying about a matter of national security.  The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own Vice President’s Chief of Staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law. (emphasis mine)

History can do a lot of things — giving voice to the voiceless, setting right ancient wrongs, freeing the timeless truth from the confines of current events.  One thing it cannot do is serve as an acceptable substitute for contemporary justice.

Just ask Carrie Buck, the “imbecile” who was forcibly sterilized in 1927 by order of the U.S. Supreme Court.  “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” wrote Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the majority decision — even though Buck’s sterilization was unconstitutional and she was not, as Stephen Jay Gould discovered, an “imbecile” at all, only an unwed mother.  Or ask the Little Rock Nine, who faced down discrimination to change the world, and who are profiled today in Shanikka’s brilliant essay.  Or ask the Jena Six, African-American boys who were charged with second-degree murder for the crime of being black, who were profiled yesterday in Elle’s equally brilliant piece.  Or, for that matter, ask Valerie Plame, whose livelihood was ruined and life endangered because her husband dared to speak out against the Bush Administration’s lies.  Is historical vindication enough?

Is historical vindication enough for Emmitt Till?  His murder is not even comparable to the outing of Valerie Plame, yet the insufficiency of historical restitution for the crime is comparable to what Reid is suggesting.  Is historical vindication enough for the nearly 4,000 Americans who have been killed in Iraq — as John Kerry would say, the last men to die for a mistake?

Historical vindication can bring closure and even peace for the victims or survivors of an ancient crime.  What it can never bring is justice — the kind of justice that is demanded by dead soldiers and ruined lives.  That kind of justice can only be meted out by a judge and jury.  In the Lewis Libby case, that is exactly what was done — a judge found Libby guilty of a crime and sentenced him, in all justice, to a prison term for that crime.

George Bush saw fit to overturn that justice, and now the Congress sees fit to allow Bush’s crimes to stand unchallenged and unpunished.

If history teaches us anything, it is that justice must be carried out when the judged are still active and in power if it is to mean anything.  Historical judgment is small comfort to the ruined, and the widowed, and the dead.  Harry Reid should take note: justice for President Bush is in his hands and his hands alone, and no future historian looking down his long nose will be able to make up for what Reid now fails to do.

Six years of Congressional imbecility are enough.  It’s time for Congress to punish this Administration for its crimes against justice and the American people, and to pass laws so that no future Administration can commit these crimes again.  History may indeed judge President Bush harshly, but it will most certainly judge more harshly still those like Harry Reid who sat on their hands waiting for history’s judgment while the Constitution burned all around them.


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