The Value of the Rear-View Mirror
Remember back in the 1980s when some cars only had one side rear-view mirror? Remember how that was later made illegal, and cars were required to have mirrors on both sides as a matter of safety?
On Friday, Gen. David Petraeus was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “It is time to take the rear-view mirrors off the bus with respect to certain actions out there.” Now, I remember driver education, and I remember the video showing just how large buses’ blind spots are and just how necessary their mirrors are. As any 16-year old in drivers’ ed can tell you, rear-view mirrors — and the ability to see behind yourself — are paramount to safety on the road.
Of course, Gen. Petraeus wasn’t talking about actually driving a bus; he was discussing the Durham investigation into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody overseas, and the “bus” to which he referred is the CIA. That’s exactly what makes it even more important to look behind, not just ahead, especially for the man who was just confirmed to lead the agency starting in September.
By now, there is no doubt that detainees were tortured in U.S. custody: at multiple black sites while in CIA custody and at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo while in military custody. On Thursday, June 30, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department is launching a “full criminal investigation” into the deaths of two detainees in U.S. custody — and closing the rest of the cases in Durham’s purview. While we welcome these investigations, they are not enough.
Durham’s mandate, which focused solely on interrogators who disobeyed orders, was far too narrow. The real issue — and the only way to make sure torture is never again committed in our names — lies with the senior Bush administration officials, who conceived of, crafted, and approved the torture program.
Until we train the rear-view mirror on the architects of the torture program, to find out what went wrong and, yes, to hold them accountable, we will not be able to move forward as a nation that respects the rule of law and upholds human rights, nor will we be able to re-establish the credibility of our justice system.
While we have no intention of dwelling entirely in the past, like any good driver, we understand that you need to know what’s behind you in order to successfully and safely move forward. If we take the rear-view mirrors off the bus, we run the risk of the old adage — “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
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