Monday, June 28, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

Senator Robert Byrd has died. I grew up across the river from West Virginia, and his name, up until this morning, probably has been the living political name I have known longest. He began his tenure as a senator 10 months before I was born. I don't have strong feelings one way or the other about the guy; sometimes I agreed with him, other times not, though I have to admit in recent years when he has come to my attention it has more often been with a vigorous nod of agreement. The thing I haven't seen pointed out (yet) is his sheer eloquence. His voice wasn't that of James Earl Jones, or Morgan Freeman, but his choices of wording, phrasing and delivery at its best could be breathtaking. I always admired his oratory, and I will miss him.

Followup: Jill of Brilliant at Breakfast offers a much more fitting and poignant eulogy, along with some extended quotes, that illustrates the magnitude of our loss. On the subject of US torture policy, he said:
The rule of law is not just a lofty concept to which we should aspire only when convenient. It is a fundamental principal upon which our Republic was founded, and it is the foundation of our free society. I understand the desire to look forward and to forge a new path on high ground instead of on the low road of the past eight years. But to use the need to move on as a reason not to investigate basic human rights violations is unacceptable. Excusing individuals at the highest levels of government from adhering to the rule of law, whether in wartime or not, is a dangerous precedent, for it undercuts the principle of accountability which permeates representative democracy.

Sadly, the world will discover more and more about the acts committed at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, and elsewhere around the world. There is no avoiding that eventuality. It is our choice as a nation whether to pursue the path of truth ourselves, or leave the details of the abuse to be painfully revealed by others. Releasing the OLC memos was a courageous and admirable first step. But we must not stop there.

Whether it is through an independent investigation, a "Truth Commission," a Congressional investigation, or a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice, action must be taken. As long as those who condoned and approved these despicable acts are permitted to escape the consequences, we allow our moral standing in the world to be severely compromised. September 11 did not suddenly legalize torture, nor did it exonerate those who authorized such a heinous deviation from the rule of law. How we address these abuses will shape the image of the United States for decades. In order to truly clear our good name and put the past behind us, the United States must strive to be sure that this dark period of sick and secretive torture schemes receives the scrutiny it deserves.
Followup 2: The Guardian knows how to do a good biographical obituary. Fascinating man. One quote in particular shows how Byrd didn't fit with the Dixiecrats:
His attitude changed irrevocably in 1982, after a teenage grandson was killed in a road accident: "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think. I came to realise that black people love their children as much as I do mine."
I don't think this simple, humane thought ever crossed Strom Thurmond's mind.

1 comment:

Mary Seelhorst said...

AND he was the only fiddle player in the Senate. From one fiddler to another, rosin the bow, Senator.