What is the end goal of the battle against Wall Street fraudsters, government officials on the take, insane torturers and other other bad guys we are fighting against? Is it to see the perpetrators tried for their crimes, and then sentenced to life in jail? Or executed?
I think that’s aiming too low. That’s not going far enough.
Why? Because the people who have done these criminal acts will likely be replaced by some other corrupt, ruthless folks in the future.
Meet the new boss … same as the old boss.
If all we do is punish the perpetrators, the spin will be it was just a “handful of bad apples”. This is the same angle that was used on the grunts at Abu Ghraib, even though we now know that the orders for torture in Iraq came from the very top.
Further, many American military, intelligence, financial and political folks are afraid to expose what they know for fear that it will plunge the country into chaos. As someone wrote anonymously in response to an essay I wrote:
“I think this is the key question. What would happen if this great crime were exposed and justice meted out to the many involved? How would the system be rebuilt and who would keep the broken pieces together during the healing process? Without some thought along these lines, many people will see exposing [these crimes] as stepping into the abyss.”
So unless we can provide a way to obtain truth and justice and save our country, many people with inside knowledge or who are in positions of power will hinder rather than help us.
Finally, even if the criminal masterminds are prosecuted, other countries will just blame it on the “crazy Americans”. Who cares about other countries? Well, countries all over the world have problems with crime and corruption. So even if the American criminals are brought to justice, it is likely that the true lesson will not be learned by others.
A Different Strategy
There is an alternative strategy: a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
As you may recall, South Africa set up a truth and reconciliation commission. The Commission granted amnesty to the people who committed brutal acts of murder and torture under the apartheid regime. I wasn’t in South Africa at the time, but my impression is that the Commission helped South Africa heal its incredibly deep wounds quickly. Not only did the victims have a chance to tell their stories, but the people who carried out these horrible acts had a chance to confess in public.
Would the same work with current crimes? Maybe so.
What if the perpetrators of the financial, military, torture, and other crimes and their assistants were granted amnesty from prosecution on the condition that they fully explain how and why the crimes happened? And anyone caught consciously lying would automatically go to jail? The following might occur:
• Lower-level conspirators would probably be more likely to come forward and tell what they know
• When they come forward, they are more likely to point their finger at the real masterminds
• Seeing a way to support the truth without destroying the country, others who have knowledge of the true facts — even if they were not direct participants — would be more likely to work publicly for truth and justice, instead of hindering us
• People in other countries will hear the true facts, so that the same types of crimes will be somewhat less likely to be used in their countries
Less is More
Does this sound like I’m being soft on the criminals? Well, initially a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not grant amnesty to anyone who failed to fully confess. So let’s say higher-level people did not admit their role in the crimes: they would be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.
Moreover, sometimes less is more.
Remember those Chinese finger cuffs you played with as a kid? If you tried to pull your finger out quickly, you got trapped … but if you patiently pushed the ends towards the middle, you could free your finger.
Well, the current criminal situation we face in America today may be like Chinese finger cuffs. If we insist on jailing or executing all of the perpetrators, the resistance might be so great that we stay “trapped” in the current “cuff” of immobilization and resistance to the truth and magnitude of the crimes.
But if we are a little more patient and a bit more intelligent in our approach, we might be able to “free” the forces of truth and justice, and free ourselves from the nightmare in which we are currently trapped.
We need to be fierce and unrelenting in our push for truth and justice. And — though it may seem paradoxical — with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an end-game, I believe we might get there a lot quicker than if we demand the heads of all those involved in the crimes.
I am not talking about going easy on the bad guys. They’ve got to come totally clean or they get life in prison or worse. But I am talking about doing something that actually might work.
I’m also, frankly, talking about turning lemons into lemonade. Financial fraud and manipulation, starting the Iraq war based on false pretenses, torture, spying etc. are all acts of tremendous evil and deceit. But through the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we might be able to use these crimes to wake up America and the world to the secret history of what’s been happening behind closed doors, the true nature of governments and manipulation, and the possibilities for a better society.
We might be able to confess our sins as a nation, and to — perhaps for the first time ever — truly start living up to the ideals expressed by the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Note: Senator Leahy has proposed a truth and reconciliation commission, but it is limited to crimes under the Bush administration, and it does not include financial crimes. I believe that a T & R commission must investigate whoever broke the law – republicans or democrats – and include financial crimes, which are some of the worst crimes as far as their harm to the greatest number of people.