Hope I don't mess up. The reputation of my brother (who is an editor at this magazine) is at stake.
First of all, happy 90th birthday to Pete Seeger. For all of you who haven't seen it, take a look at Seeger leading the Obama inauguration crowd - and Bruce Springsteen - in a sing-a-long of "This Land Is Your Land," complete with the two oft-excised verses:
As I went walking I saw a sign there And on the sign it said "No Trespassing." But on the other side it didn't say nothing That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking Is this land made for you and me?
Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thsKDYapXz4
My favorite moment is after this link ends when Seeger - then only 89 years young - hops off the stage. Another gig. Gotta go!
What follows is a blurt (slightly longer than a blog) I started in response to a piece that David Broder wrote in the Washington Post on April 26. I should have posted it right away but I was interrupted by a sudden production trip to New Mexico for a film I am doing on Lance Armstrong.
(Here's my favorite sign from the half-hippie/half rancher culture of Gila, New Mexico):
It's a poster advertising a "Gully workshop" - a special class to learn how to build better gullies on your ranch.
Anyway, the concerns of the rant below are related to torture, the subject of a film I recently wrote and directed called "Taxi to the Dark Side." In recent days, I have been surprised - and thrilled - that this issue has not gone away. Obama had threatened to move on - looking forward, not back, as he said. But I really think that is a dangerous mistake. We can't move forward until we reckon with our past. Thanks to the ACLU and, for the moment, the Obama Administration, that reckoning is ongoing with the release of key documents. And the Senate Armed Services Committee has produced a very important report that shows ever more what many have suspected and charged: torture was not the work of a few bad apples. It was a conscious policy by the Bush Administration (though the "T-word" was never used") that, once set in motion, mutated and migrated throughout the world like a virulent virus. There has been much written by esteemed thinkers and writers about the need for a truth commission or for prosecutions. For some time, I didn't see the need to add to the ongoing commentary.
But, for some reason, when I saw the Broder piece I flew into a fury. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps because Mr. Broder is considered such a Washington sage and because his expressed view epitomized all that is pitifully shallow in the professional political culture of Washington, DC. In essence, he said that there should be no further investigation because, in essence, what the Bush Administration did was "just politics." Any further investigation would be a kind of political retribution that would just end up scapegoating a few bad apples. Therefore, said Broder, we should just drop the whole matter and move on.
Well, I have to say that kind of logic made me ill. So rather than mess up my work station with a bilious discharge, I wrote what follows.
David Broder's editorial, "Stop Scapegoating," is exactly what is wrong with Washington. He can no longer see matters of principle because his Beltway sunglasses are so dark that everything takes on the shade of partisan politics. In his piece he calls on Obama to resist the temptation to indict Bush Administration officials or even to support a truth commission on torture because in that direction lies political warfare.
Well, first of all, Obama shouldn't indict anyone. That's a job for the Department of Justice - or, perhaps better, a special prosecutor.
But Broder should look around. This is not an issue of left and right; it's an issue of right and wrong. There are many principled Republicans who have been rightly appalled by the war the Bush Administration pursued a policy of torture. But Broder would turn the issue into a partisan political one, instead of a matter of principle and law.
Also, he makes the cynical assertion that, since senior officials will never be held to account, only underlings will be convicted. So, his logic goes, rather than punish a few minnows for the crimes of bigger fish, better to let everyone off the hook.
It is true - and ironic, considering Broder's argument - that the Bush Administration did its own scapegoating: netting minnows like Lynndie England in the Abu Ghraib investigations, while consciously avoiding looking up the chain of command. But as more documents are revealed, and more investigations are conducted, we can see that Abu Ghraib was a symptom of reckless policy of torture and abuse pursued by the Bush Administration and its political appointees in the Pentagon.