Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tony Blair and Accountability: A Model for the United States

The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is currently the subject of an investigation over Great Britain's involvement in the Iraqi War. As Great Britain's leader in 2002 and 2003, when the decision was made to invade Iraq, Tony Blair now faces responsibility for his affirmative vote in this intervention. In other words, the current British leadership wants to know precisely why Mr. Blair decided to join in with former President Bush and the so-called Coalition of the Willing, which sent thousands of troops into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein's regime. Mr. Blair so far has been adamant about the righteousness of his decision. Nonetheless, even if his decision is ultimately approved in the present investigation, the existence itself of the inquiry poses an interesting question and represents a good model for the Obama administration. No president should be immune from questioning after the end of his or her reign. The presidential office of any country should not signal impunity and should not shield its former holders from inquisition into their actions.
President Obama has struggled with the idea of accountability for top level officials of the Bush administration. Even those arguably most responsible for the prisoner abuses that took place in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo live freely and hold professorships and judgeships, without facing any accountability for their reproachable actions. While I understand President Obama's desire to bring closure to past abuses and to move forward in a spirit of unity and bipartisanship, some offenses are simply too grave to be overlooked. For example, invading a foreign country over false accusations of having weapons of mass destruction is more than serious. Moreover, arguing that Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees do not deserve any Geneva Convention protections is not just legally wrong; it is criminally reprehensible. Finally, redrafting the definition of torture so that its authors almost never face criminal liability is almost as bad as torturing someone and certainly deserves some sanctions. It appears that Great Britain has understood the importance of the above point, but that the United States is still short of reaching the same goal. President Obama should look overseas for guidance from the Brits on investigation, accountability, and the audacity to question prior leaders. If American officials committed abuses, they should be appropriately punished, no matter which president they served under and no matter how important their position used to be. Justice should be blind for all.