When Bush hands over the keys to the White House in January, he will leave behind more unanswered questions of sweeping national importance than any modern president. We still do not know how intelligence operatives, acting in the name of the United States, have interrogated suspected terrorists, and how they are interrogating them now. We do not know how many Americans' phone calls and e-mails were scanned by the National Security Agency. We do not know--although we can guess--who ordered the firings of the U.S. attorneys who didn't comply with the Bush administration's political agenda, and we do not know who may have been wrongly prosecuted by those who did. There are large gaps in our understanding of the backstories to everything from pre-war intelligence in Iraq to the censoring of scientific opinion at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior. And those are the things we know we don't know--there are also what Donald Rumsfeld might call the unknown unknowns.
The thought of revisiting this history after living through it for eight years is exhausting, and both President Barack Obama and Congress will have every political reason to just move on. But we can't--it's too important. Fortunately, an accounting of the Bush years is a less daunting prospect than it seems from the outset. If the new president and leaders on Capitol Hill act shrewdly, they can pull it off while successfully navigating the political realities and expectations they now face. A few key actions will take us much of the distance between what we know and what we need to know.