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Finding the Truth About the War on Terror

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Last week, I discussed the PBS documentary on the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War.

I referred to it as one of the "dark moments in U.S. history." I also stated projects such as the My Lai documentary were necessary to assist us as a nation to self-reflect honestly, to avoid any unrealistic vision of itself, and to possibly avoid engaging in the cyclical process of justifying the debauchery.

Those specific teachable moments in the maturation process of the nation may have passed America, at least as it relates to the vaunted and oftentimes nebulous "war on terror."

The London Times reported that former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent individuals were sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp because officials feared that releasing them would harm their rationale for invading Iraq and the overall war on terror polices.

The Times' key source was Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell, who served as Bush's secretary of state.

Wilkerson's claims were in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a former Guantanamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush administration.

The signed declaration was in support of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese man who was held at Guantanamo Bay from March 2003 until December 2007. Hamad claims he was tortured by U.S. agents while in custody and filed a damages action against several American officials. He was repatriated to Sudan without any charges filed.

Accusations of torture by the previous administration are not necessarily newsworthy, but to have these charges substantiated by a career military officer who served as chief of staff to the former secretary of state lends credibility to them.

As more information trickles out from the declassification of government documents, it is becoming increasingly clear that it was more than a case of bad intelligence, as the popular institutional yarn holds. Rather it was a systematic approach to a policy rooted in malevolence.

What other secrets are lurking behind those yet-to-be declassified documents? Are there others who worked with the previous administration who have a story to tell that counters the prevailing public myth about the war on terror, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and, of course, the inception to the invasion and occupation of Iraq?

Though understandable that many would find Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney as the primary perpetrators, can we include President Barack Obama as having acted an accessory after the fact?

I realize the president inherited this quagmire, but does that allow him to sweep one of the country's great moral infractions under the rug in perpetuity? The statute of limitations has long passed for Iraq and Afghanistan to still be considered Bush's wars.

As a presidential candidate, Obama stated that he was not interested in looking in the past, which meant there would be no investigation as to how our political leaders could be so dreadfully wrong, particularly in Iraq.

I'm certain that focus-group-tested response played well with those on the fence about Obama as a candidate, but the past is where the truth lies.

I have never wanted an investigation for the purpose of sending individuals to jail. I have maintained that ascertaining the truth is far more important to the nation going forward because it will put on full display the damage, such as torture, that can happen when the Constitution becomes a secondary consideration.

But the president seems content to allow bits and pieces of what happened to trickle out, allowing for pundits on both sides of the political aisle to serve as arbitrators of the information.

After I wrote my column on the My Lai Massacre, several readers responded with what I could only classify as "another perspective" as to how 547 unarmed civilian citizens could be murdered. This is more than I can say for the war on terror.

The so-called war on terror and its prize pupil, Iraq, remains largely in conjecture phase of public discourse because the country does not have a collective truth that it can agree on nor does it seem to possess the will to find out.

And this latter dilemma cannot be blamed on George W. Bush.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site byronspeaks.com