Just a quick note—as I was chatting with a twenty-one year old who isn’t particularly into politics and I said something that I realized was my own thought rather than being related from some other blog. So I thought I would expose that thought here for sharpening and whatnot, because, you know, it’s a blog.
Somebody had made a connection to this young person between the current situation in the US regarding torture (and also extraordinary rendition, and some other things) and the situation in South Africa in the 90s, after apartheid was overturned. So I said that part of the goal of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, there, was to prevent gangs of vigilantes dragging random white people into the streets and beating them to death. This was also true, to a greater or lesser extent, in some other places around the world in the last two decades that have had unpopular gangs of miscreants suddenly deposed after a long period of oppression. When somebody leveled an accusation of collaboration, there was no chance of a trial by an independent judiciary; angry mobs would tear people to bits, the innocent and the guilty together.
This was particularly dangerous in South Africa, where of course the Afrikaans and English were easily spotted because of that pink skin thing. And because the decades of misrule had left the economy of the place in a position where even wiping out the guilty (and there were a lot of guilty, depending on your definition of guilt) (and there were lots of good reasons for those angry mobs to have expansive definitions of guilt) would result in increased misery for everyone down the road.
Now, it seems to me, just my own perception of the universe informing me here, that the situation in the US is not like that. We have people in the government who committed crimes (note: I don’t say who have allegedly committed crimes because I am myself alleging it, rather than simply alluding to the allegations of others), and others who collaborated and others (I’m guessing) who have been accused of collaboration who are innocent. So far, we have not had a problem with gangs of vigilantes pulling former White House operatives into the street and beating them to death. Or beating them at all.
We don’t need Reconciliation. We have a working judiciary (OK, that’s a whole different argument, but let me maintain that for the purposes we are talking about here, our judiciary works reasonably well) and I can’t see any harm in beginning prosecutions. Sure, it makes some sense to keep an eye on things, and if it gets crazy, and people are finking on each other out of spite and malice rather than legal pressure, and if the masses are being whipped up into a dangerous mob ready to tear apart any judge who shows impartiality, pull the collaborators from their cells and hang them from the willow across the way, well, I suspect we can change our path before that happens.
In the meantime, the purpose of any commission looking into crimes of the last administration should be determining who committed crimes and prosecuting those people in a court of law. That’s it. That’s how the country works. Yes, there needs to be prosecutorial discretion, the purpose of which is to better prosecute people who have violated our laws. If the Congress is looking into having that prosecution coming from outside the Justice Department, well, there are arguments for that, although I ain’t persuaded at the moment.
The argument that we need to have reconciliation rather than prosecution, though, seems to assume that we were oppressed by tyrants and have been only shakily liberated, and that fending off civil war and civil violence is the top priority. That is not the case, thank the Divine. As furious as I still am that our Federal Executive was in the hands of a secretive cabal of crooks and incompetents for eight years, I remain on the whole glad that, for instance, Irv Libby wasn’t strung up from a lamppost.
Or am I way off on this Truth and Reconciliation Commission reference that I hear people making? Do they mean something else by it altogether?
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,