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Whitehouse: we must also look back

 

One of the repudiations of the Bush administration in Obama's inaugural address was his assertion "[that we] reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

In the same theme, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, in a floor speech last night, asserted that we must look back even as the nation moves forward.

Our new President has said, “America needs to look forward.”  I agree.

Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences.  I agree.

And I hope we can all agree that summoning young sacrificial lambs to prosecute, as we did after the Abu Ghraib disaster, would be reprehensible. 

But consider the pervasive, deliberate, and systematic damage the Bush Administration did to America, to her finest traditions and institutions, to her reputation and integrity.  ....

I submit that when America’s light shines brightly, when honesty, freedom, justice and compassion glow from our institutions, it attracts those hopes, those dreams; and the force of those 7 billion hopes and dreams, the confidence of those 7 billion souls in our lively experiment, is, I believe, the strongest power in our national arsenal – stronger than atom bombs.  We risk it at our peril.

 And of course when our own faith is diminished at home, this vital light only dims further, again at incalculable cost.

So when an administration rigs the intelligence process and produces false evidence to send our country to war;

When an administration descends to interrogation techniques of the Inquisition, of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge – descends to techniques that we have prosecuted as crimes in military tribunals and federal courts;

When institutions as noble as the Department of Justice and as vital as the Environmental Protection Agency are systematically and deliberately twisted from their missions by odious means of institutional sabotage;

When the integrity of our markets and the fiscal security of our budget are opened wide to the frenzied greed of corporations, speculators and contractors; ....

When a government turns the guns of official secrecy against its own people to mislead, confuse and propagandize them; ....

As we look forward, as we begin the task of rebuilding this nation, we have an abiding duty to determine how great the damage is.  I say this in no spirit of vindictiveness or revenge.  I say it because the thing that was sullied is so, so precious; and I say it because the past bears upon the future.  If people have been planted in government in violation of our civil service laws to serve their party and their ideology instead of serving the public, the past will bear upon the future.  If procedures and institutions of government have been corrupted and are not put right, that past will assuredly bear on the future.  In an ongoing enterprise like government, the door cannot be so conveniently closed on the closets of the past. The past always bears on the future. 

Moreover, a democracy is not just a static institution, it is a living education – an ongoing education in freedom of a people.  As Harry Truman said addressing a joint session of Congress back in 1947, ”One of the chief virtues of a democracy is that its defects are always visible, and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.”  ....

If we blind ourselves to this history, if we pull an invisibility cloak over it, we will deny ourselves its lessons.  Those lessons came at too painful a cost to ignore.  Those lessons merit discovery, disclosure and discussion.  Indeed, disclosure and discussion is the difference between a valuable lesson for the bright upward forces of our democracy, and a blueprint for darker forces to return and do it all over again. ....

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