07/13/2009 05:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Investigating War Crimes Is Never Convenient

President Obama's argument that investigation of Bush administration torture, war crimes, and illegal surveillance would be a distraction from his agenda -- a looking backwards instead of forwards -- could have been made equally in any historical situation in which such crimes have been investigated. Germany and Japan after World War II, South Africa after apartheid, Chile after Pinochet, Argentina after the dictatorship, east Germany after Communism -- the list goes on and on. There is always pressure to simply move on. There are always things that need urgently to be done, economies to rebuild, alliances to heal, urgent priority competing with urgent priority. The past is always a distraction, the future always a pressing problem. There is never anything convenient about rehashing the past.

To argue that the Bush administration should not be investigated for starting a phony war of incalculable human suffering, reinstating torture as American state policy, and surveilling its own citizens, is to argue that the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina should have "moved on" from the memories of their children, that the Jewish victims of the Holocaust should have "moved on" from never forgetting, that the South Africa Truth Commissions (recognized around the world as a model for reconciliation) should have never happened.

Fortunately, in all these situations, the voices of truth and justice won out over those of convenience.