On Nervousness and Gnats
by Mark Chmiel
pros•e•cute (pròs¹î-ky¡t´) verb pros•e•cut•ed, pros•e•cut•ing, pros•e•cutes verb, transitive 1. Law. a. To initiate civil or criminal court action against. b. To seek to obtain or enforce by legal action. 2.a. To pursue (an undertaking, for example) until completion; follow to the very end. b. To chase or pursue (a vessel): “He held a dispatch saying that [they] had prosecuted and probably killed an Echo-class missile submarine” (Tom Clancy). 3. To carry on, engage in, or practice.
—American Heritage Dictionary
“This whole thing about punishing people in past administrations reminds me more of a banana republic than the United States of America.
We don’t criminally prosecute people we disagree with when we change office.
There are lots of questions that could have been asked of the Clinton administration failing to recognize the war on terror. They did not. The Bush administration went forward and that’s the way our country should.
The president said he was going to be forward looking. Now he has opened up a stab in the back.
I am saying that those who want to have public hearings and show trials in the United States Congress, such as may be in the House, would be following tactics that are more appropriate for a banana republic.
I don’t think the Obama administration wants to say the next time the Republicans get in control they will have show hearings-trials and try to institute criminal prosecutions against people who carried out orders of the Obama administration.
So I don’t think that the president or anybody in the administration wants to be caught in that action, and I think there must be a number of leaders and former leaders of Congress who are pretty nervous about having their authorizations and appropriations questioned as violating the law.”
—Missouri Senator Kit Bond, in an interview with Andrea Mitchell, 4.23.2009
The above response by Senator Bond is remarkable for its impromptu bluntness.
We don’t criminally prosecute people with whom we disagree; however, we have a responsibility to prosecute people who have committed crimes. For instance, torturing human beings.
Like any student of 20th century European history, Senator Bond surely must know that stating one was following orders constitutes no justification for committing crimes.
Bond’s rhetoric is a case study in defensiveness: “banana republic,” “stab in the back,” and “show trials.” Like “a number of leaders and former leaders of Congress,” Bond appears nervous about where all this could lead. This is worth noting.
“I have to turn down your summons to duty. I won’t come along to squeeze the trigger on your behalf. Of course, I have no illusions. To you I am a buzzing gnat that you will swat and try to crush before striding on. You’ll find yourself another gunner, more obedient and gifted than me. There’s no shortage. Your tank will rumble on. One single gnat can’t halt a tank, certainly not a column of tanks, certainly not the entire march of folly. But the gnat can buzz, irritate, infuriate, occasionally even sting. Ultimately, more and more gunners, drivers and commanders, who will see more and more aimless killing, will also start thinking and buzzing. There are already many hundreds of us. Ultimately our buzzing will ascend into a deafening outcry that will echo in your years and the ears of your children, and on the pages of history for many generations.”
—Israeli Yigal Bronner, from his letter to an Israeli general on his refusal to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories
President Obama said, “No one is above the law.” Those are easy words in the abstract. But one must apply those words to our particular context. Thus, to be specific, former president Bush is not above the law.
What does it say to our own youth as well as people around the world, that because a person is powerful, he or she need not be accountable when they violate the law?
For any American who believes in justice, Senator Bond has unwittingly alerted us to the task ahead. For starters, we, the people, must push for prosecution of those high officials who instigated a policy of torture.
One or two gnats won’t bother Senator Bond and his past and present colleagues.
But it could be hard to ignore a hundred that “buzz, irritate, infuriate, occasionally even sting.”
A thousand could “ascend into a deafening outcry.”