Backward and Forward

08/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's a piece in the Times this morning about the so-called bind that Attorney General Eric Holder finds himself in about whether to investigate the interrogation methods of terrorist suspects after 9/11 in order to determine if some of these methods constituted crimes. On the one hand, the piece says, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that crimes were committed. Holder himself supported the release of documents earlier this year that showed that the Bush administration had authorized "head-slapping, wall-slamming, and waterboarding." On the other hand, an investigation -- even a narrow one, aimed at lower-level CIA personnel -- might develop into a full-blown inquiry that reaches to the top of the Bush White House and creates what President Obama has said he wants to avoid: a "backward-looking" distraction.

But President Obama has also said flatly that "criminal acts should be prosecuted." So I'm sorry, but there really is no bind except the one created by a political agenda. If the means that are used to accomplish the president's ends, no matter how worthy, consist partly of ignoring criminal acts, his accomplishments will be automatically less worthy. In fact, in order to elect this president in the first place, millions of Americans had to take a "backward look" at our nation's and often their own racial attitudes and history, come to terms with them, and then move forward to transcend them. With regard to the possibly -- no, probably -- heinous acts committed in terrorist interrogations by the Bush administration, there is similarly no really moving forward possible without looking backward first. So do your job, Mr. Holder. This is exactly what I'm paying you for.