President Obama demonstrates his wisdom. He is reluctant to pursue charges against Bush administration officials for possible war crimes conducted during their ‘war on terror.’ Justice is a funny thing – and the Constitutional Lawyer in Barack Obama speaks to him of justice – but his maturity speaks to him of the bitterness of vengeance. The fundamental question we should ask is this: Do we want justice – or are we after vengeance, after retribution, after punishment? We have to clear our heads – are we really angry about the state of our economy and want someone to flog? Are Democrats wanting to drive the final nail in the Republican coffin? Our motive must be pure – and even then justice often dictates that no one wins.
The examples are all around us. Every day the 24/7 cable news has another story about some atrocity. A Sunday School teacher kidnaps and kills a child. A medical student lures women from Craig’s List to seedy hotels to rob and murder. Another boyfriend is accused of assault and murder of his girlfriend’s child. Some errant meth-head shakes a baby to death. A psychotic break causes a student to wantonly murder 32 fellow classmates at Virginia Tech. In every case we seek justice.
Certainly we are not suggesting that any Bush administration official would do any of these atrocious acts. We have advocated the indictment of George Bush and Dick Cheney for war crimes. But we are conflicted. Our respect for President Obama has caused us to reflect on his motives – he seems reluctant to pursue any criminal charges against Bush administration officials. Why, we ask? Is he a wimp? Is he trying to pacify someone so he can be reelected? Does he want to set a precedent so he can do anything he wants as President? No, No, and No. President Obama recognizes the two edged sword of justice.
The Sunday School teacher will be found guilty of the murder of the child. She will be sentenced to either death, life in prison, or the eternity of an asylum buried in the dark forests of insanity. The family and friends of the murdered child will walk out of the courtroom with a sense of frustrated vengeance and retribution. They are unsatisfied. Family members are not allowed to sit on a jury for a reason. There is no punishment to fit the crime. The child will not be resurrected by courtroom justice. This is a case where everyone loses. There are no winners.
We seek justice for two fundamental reasons: We must stop the person – they must not be allowed to commit another hideous crime. And we want to send a message to others – if you commit a crime you will be brought to justice. Justice in a court of law is the only means of regulating a civilized society. The very definition of civilization rests in the rule of law, of prescribed order, of clarity of the rules.
The terrorists killed three thousand people on September, 11, 2001. We want justice – and rightly so. We will capture, have a fair trial, and punish the terrorists. Will that bring any of the three thousand back? No. So what are we after? The same two reasons mentioned above apply, stop the behavior and send a message.
America is unique in the history of nations. We are governed by a Constitution, including a Bill of Rights. These documents define our nation, our society, our sense of justice, our sense of order. The Bill of Rights is specifically designed to protect the individual from an abusive government. The process is frustrating for those seeking justice against an individual – but by respecting the rights of others we respect ourselves and our government. We respect law. We respect an ordered society.
It seems to me that President Obama would rather not flavor his Presidency with vengeance and retribution. He is acutely aware of the spectacle of a circus atmosphere in our courts. In the circus of a court, documented in real time by modern technology, we see the pain of family members seeking truth and justice. These spectacles are very difficult for everyone. Justice is not easy.
We have come full circle – we return to the issue of indicting Bush officials for war crimes. The Nuremburg trials were not easy. Past atrocities were resurrected every day. Many people relived the torture of the Nazi death camps. Twenty-two people were charged, eighteen convicted, eleven hung. Was this a satisfying conclusion? Not very much. But it did send a message: If you commit war crimes you will be brought to justice.
We respect President Obama for wanting to protect our country from the pain of a vengeanceful trial. But justice is not always easy – and is seldom without pain. Investigations should be conducted. Identified crimes should be presented before a court. A jury should measure the evidence. If convicted, circumstances should be considered when imposing sentence.
If the investigation does not reveal a crime then that outcome should be clearly stated. Justice does not mean that someone goes to jail – it means that we took an honest look at the circumstances and made a mature decision. Justice is honest. Justice preserves righteousness.
Justice should be blind to political party affiliation. We are at one of those moments in our history when we are faced with looking at ourselves in the mirror. We ask, what is fundamental to the preservation of our great country?
The answer: Justice.