The Breakfast Table

Before We Reboot

Greetings, everyone, and thanks for joining in on this discussion.

Emily and Stuart, under each of your posts lurk really interesting questions about how the Obama administration might move forward while still acknowledging what’s happened before. Emily, you ask how the new DoJ should handle the sins of the old one. Stuart, you argue against a big criminal proceeding against the architects of the Bush administration’s interrogation policy, in part because “such investigations and prosecutions would tear the country apart and blow up Obama’s hopes of lifting us out of our multiple crises.” David and Joe, I am sure, will have thoughts on the extent to which the solution to the myriad legal sins of the past eight years will be to hit “control + alt + delete” and just start up the Rule of Law over again. I do understand the appeal of rebooting the whole system, as Stuart suggests. There is a slightly crazed tone to some of the efforts to avenge the wrongs of the past eight years. (See, for instance, the Berkeley City Council’s efforts to micromanage John Yoo’s employers at the University of California-Berkeley.) Like Stuart, and probably Eric Holder, I see the benefits of just acknowledging that mistakes were made, but usually in good faith by people who believed themselves to be following the law.

I am less certain than Stuart, however, that the country will explode under the weight of a truth commission. And I am really quite certain that some Americans are going to find it awfully hard to just get over everything from warrantless wiretapping to Abu Ghraib to the U.S. attorney purge to partisan hiring at the Justice Department, all in the spirit of moving on. I am not sure anyone can ever move forward without accountability for the past. I guess the whole purpose of this conversation is to try to tease out some nuanced solution between these poles.

To that end, I’d be curious as to what David and Joe think about the morale problem at the DoJ. Sometimes I hear from readers that claims about a demoralized department are hugely overblown. Other folks tell me it’s even worse there than we have heard. And I also wonder—do you all think the solution is to just bring in new leadership or whether fixing the department will require a scrub brush, a firehouse, more investigations, and even, if warranted, some sanctions?

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