President Barack Obama, when asked about investigating possible misdeeds by members of the George W. Bush Administration, has indicated several times that he would rather look to the future than to the past. His most recent such response came during a press conference on Monday evening.
Obama almost certainly does not intend for such answers to be offensive. But they are--particularly for victims of political and legal injustice under the Bush administration.
I know, because I am one of those victims. As regular readers of this blog know, my wife and I have been through an ordeal that no American should have to go through. And it's all because of people with direct connections to the Bush Justice Department.
Corrupt judges and lawyers took unlawful actions in Alabama state courts that cost us--and taxpayers--tens of thousands of dollars. Prosecutors ignored evidence I sent them of federal crimes and intentionally sent the material to the wrong agency for investigation, an agency that does not have jurisdiction in such matters. When I began to write a blog about my experiences, forces with ties to the Bush DOJ jumped into action in an effort to shut me up. They conducted an unlawful auction of our house, so that we no longer have sole ownership of our own home. When that didn't keep me from telling the truth on an open forum, they went after my job, pressuring my employer to fire me. My employer of 19 years, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), caved in and terminated me without cause, violating multiple federal laws in the process.
Perhaps the best known victim of the Bush DOJ is former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. And he spoke eloquently about the need to look backward--and forward--following Obama's press conference on Monday night. In a message to Sam Stein of Huffington Post, Siegelman said:
"For the country to safely move forward, we must repair the damage done to the foundations of our democracy. . . .
"Restoring justice and preserving our democracy requires nothing less, and that would in itself be a great legacy for our new president."
Throughout his run to the White House, Obama has shown a remarkable knack for addressing issues with the right substance and the right tone. But on matters of justice--and crimes committed by the Bush administration--Obama is off base and out of tune. And for those who have been victimized by "loyal Bushies," the new president is downright insulting.
I'm just a regular citizen, but I know of at least four political prisoners in the United States at this moment. They are Richard Scrushy, Siegelman's codefendant in Alabama, and a lawyer and two former state judges from Mississippi--Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield. Siegelman was released pending appeal, but if he loses that appeal, he could be a fifth political prisoner.
I do not use the term "political prisoner" loosely. We have examined the Siegelman and Minor cases in exhaustive detail here at Legal Schnauzer, and the facts and the law in both cases show that these men were wrongfully convicted and never should have been prosecuted.
Are there other political prisoners out there that I don't know about? I feel certain the answer to that question is yes.
So here is a question for President Obama: If a citizen has wrongfully been sent to prison because of people connected to the Bush administration, how is he supposed to look forward? If you have been financially ruined from defending yourself against bogus criminal or civil charges, how are you supposed to look forward? If you have been cheated out of your job and full ownership of your home, how are you supposed to look forward?
Three heavyweight social and legal commentators--Jonathan Turley of Georgetown University, Scott Horton of Columbia and Harper's magazine, and Paul Krugman of Princeton and The New York Times--have said it is essential that corrupt Bush officials be held accountable.
Obama is new to the job, so perhaps he doesn't fully understand the role he is in. If that's the case, he needs to listen to these words from Paul Krugman, written just before Obama was inaugurated:
If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we'll guarantee that they will happen again. Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it's probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he's going to swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." That's not a conditional oath to be honored only when it's convenient.
And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable.
So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that's not a decision he has the right to make.
As for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's proposal for a "truth commission" regarding possible crimes by the Bush administration, Turley told Keith Olbermann last night that the idea is a bad one. And while Turley said he admires Obama, he says the new president needs to show some resolve.
"You cannot say you believe no one is above the law and then block investigation of war crimes by your predecessor," Turley said. "That's a position without principle. And by simply saying you will do a special commission, you are doing special justice. . . . Those crimes of President Bush become our crimes; his shame becomes our collective shame."