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Legal analyst suggests ‘truth commission’ to bring the US back from Trumpism

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President Donald J. Trump listens as Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks at a Medal of Valor and Heroic Commendations Ceremony Monday, Sep. 9, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“When a plane falls out of the sky, we don’t just shrug our shoulders and say, ‘gravity has consequences’” wrote legal analyst Elie Mystal in his column for “The Nation” Tuesday.

After five years of dealing with President Donald Trump, Mystal thinks that the way to bring the United States back to normal is with a kind of “truth and reconciliation commission.”

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He recalled in 2009 when former President Barack Obama came into office he was asked if he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate George W. Bush’s administration for the torture scandal and illegal detention.

“I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward, as opposed to looking backwards,” said Obama.

“Obama was wrong at the time. Many people told him so. Refusing to prosecute Bush administration officials who engaged in human rights violations may have been smart, moderate politics for a deeply divided nation, but allowing torturers and their enablers to blend seamlessly back in with decent society was a moral failure,” said Mystal.

“The depth of that failure has only grown over time,” he explained. “Many of the legal apparatchiks who made torture possible still wield power today.”

He specifically cited CIA director Gina Haspel, who ran a “black site” for torture. She was still allowed to take over the CIA. Mystal explained that she and others like her shouldn’t be anywhere near a political appointment and without holding people accountable, future abuses will happen.

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“Moreover, failing to hold those who abuse their power accountable signals to future abusers that all will be forgiven,” he wrote. “It tells people in power that they can commit atrocities while they hold office, because nobody will be coming for them when they’re on the other side. It is important to distinguish crimes against humanity from mere political policy differences, but acting like no distinction can be made is a mistake.”

He said that former Vice President Joe Biden shouldn’t make the same mistake.

“We need a form of truth and reconciliation commission precisely because our normal institutions have failed,” said Mystal. “We need to understand how that failure happened, who is responsible, and who should face justice. When a plane falls out of the sky, we don’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Gravity has consequences.” We send in a team of experts to pick through the wreckage, figure out exactly what went wrong, hold people accountable, and make recommendations for future safety.”

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He explained that there are experts sent in for disasters and to make people feel safe again, and a “reconciliation” commission could help just as much as the “truth” part.

“We still have to have a society with these Trump people, and that can’t happen until we understand what they’ve done and feel measures have been taken to protect us from them again,” Mystal said. “Toward this end, perhaps the main benefit of some kind of commission on accountability is that it would allow the American public to reckon with the abuses and violations committed not just by Trump but also by his many enablers.”

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Attorney General Bill Barr, he said, should be brought to justice for what he’s done to manipulate the Justice Department for Trump.

“Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen must be held accountable for her role in kidnapping children, sending them to concentration camps, and then lying to courts about what she was doing,” he also said.

He concluded by saying that holding the perpetrators of the Trump administration accountable is the only way to move forward and he hopes if Biden wins he won’t make the same mistake again.

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Read the full editorial at The Nation.


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