Inquest Into Administration Could Lead To Reform

As the days of the Bush presidency dwindle to a few, demands are rising among critics for some sort of grand inquest into administration missteps and misdeeds.

These center on surveillance and wiretapping under the counterterrorism program and abusive interrogation of suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

The departing president and vice president are unapologetic about the use of these techniques. At his farewell news conference on Monday, Bush said that after 9/11, it was necessary to find out "what the enemy is thinking." Dick Cheney told Bob Schieffer of CBS that water-boarding was not torture and that he would make the same decisions again.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have introduced a bill to create a nine-member war-powers commission to investigate the "broad range" of Bush administration policies.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he will press for the declassification of CIA interrogation documents.

But those hoping for broad investigations are getting little support from the incoming president. Barack Obama told ABC News, "We're going to be looking at past practices ... on the other hand, we need to look forward."

It is characteristic of Obama that he would wish to concentrate on the future, especially considering his heavy agenda, starting with the crisis of the economy. But each day seems to bring new word of improprieties during the Bush tenure. Today's papers tell of Susan Crawford, a Pentagon official, who refused to bring charges against a Saudi detainee because he had been tortured. And Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor, said in a court filing that the handling of evidence on detainees was so chaotic that it was impossible to prepare a fair prosecution.

The inquests into recent administrations like Nixon and Watergate, Reagan and Iran-Contra, have long been an American tradition and have had a purgative effect, often leading to needed reforms. There is something to be said for not burying the past too soon.

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