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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Galston on Torture Investigations

Earlier today J.P. Green did a fine post on the furor over investigation of torture practices in the Bush administration, defending their necessity as a matter of justice, while fearing they might overshadow the Obama agenda if undertaken too quickly.
But we also want to draw attention to an essay at The New Republic by TDS Co-Editor William Galston, whose own “measured approach” promotes a very thorough investigation that explores the moral as well as legal implications of torture, but also suggests a withdrawal of the threat of prosecution as a way to ensure full disclosure of Bush administration practices. Galston offers this especially interesting observation about pleas to simply change interrogation policies without a good clear look at what it being changed:

More broadly, “turning the page and moving forward” on the torture issue simply reflects a too narrow view of moral and political life. We cannot hope to learn from experience unless we reflect on it as systematically as we can. But more than that: part of what makes us human is a sense of justice, and justice has to be backward-looking to some extent. We cannot make sound judgments about what individuals (or nations) deserve unless we reflect on what they have done. By contrast, looking forward involves deliberation on expected results and invites a kind of utilitarian calculus of costs and benefits. President Obama has demonstrated his capacity to engage in such a calculus, coolly and deliberately. But while he has rightly cautioned against governing in anger, he has yet to show that he viscerally understands anger, which is a core moral and political passion, one that can be used for productive purposes.

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