Thursday, May 26, 2005

Accountability for All

A hallmark of contemporary conservative rhetoric, and that of Mark Hyman in particular, is a lack of ethical consistency. Values, standards, and ethics are routinely invoked as universal and unchanging when doing so advances a particular cause, but they are just as quickly ignored when their application might cause short term political embarrassment. Conservatives, who routinely chastise anyone outside their own camp as wishy-washy proponents of “moral relativism,” are the foremost practitioners of situational ethics.

Hyman’s latest commentary is a particularly good example of this phenomenon as it applies to the concept of “accountability.” Hyman cites a recent damning report about the wastefulness and possible corruption involved at the Transportation Safety Agency. Noting the many examples of questionable expenditures and undocumented contracting and spending, Hyman is incredulous that the report looking into these practices doesn’t specifically call for anyone to be held accountable.

The TSA is a favorite target for conservatives because its creation after September 11 signaled the federalization of security duties at airports, many of which were previously held by private businesses. Despite the fact that it makes a great deal of sense to have a single consistent standard for security across the nation’s airports, the idea of taking private sector jobs and making them public sector is so philosophically nauseating to conservatives that whatever good practical sense it makes is ignored.

Having said that, there’s little doubt that in the rushed creation of the TSA bad decisions have been made, and it’s good that such matters are being looked into. And yes, any intentional wrongdoing or mismanagement that has put Americans at needless risk should be identified and punished.

But why should accountability only be limited to TSA officials? As long as we’re in agreement that it’s important to take people to task for mismanagement, let’s really do it properly. A number of examples whose impact dwarfs the TSA’s squandering of money on fake plants immediately spring to mind, all of which cry out for “accountability.”

How about holding architects of the war in Iraq accountable
for their misrepresentation of the facts? Paul Wolfowitz suggested that the war would pay for itself and that we’d be greeted as liberators. These were major talking points in the drive to war. How about holding him accountable?

What about Donald Rumsfeld? The Secretary of Defense insisted on sending barely half of the combat troops experts said would be necessary to win in Iraq and secure the nation. U.S. soldiers continue to pay the price for this “misunderestimation.”

What about the administration itself for the lapses of intelligence before September 11th? When confronted by the revelations that they ignored the possible threat of terrorism before 9/11, instead of taking responsibility, the administration and its defenders have attacked those (such as Richard Clarke) who have pointed out this mistake and attempted to
cover up any investigation into intelligence failures..

A month before the 9/11 attacks
, the president was told that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack the U.S., yet nothing was done. The president and his cabinet claim this was an “historical memo.” None have said that they made a mistake in ignoring this warning.

What about the torture at Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay?
Amnesty International now says that human rights have declined markedly in the world in the last four years, largely as the result of American actions. Yet, the administration consistently puts the blame (when it bothers to acknowledge these claims at all) on “rogue” soldiers rather than looking into and reforming the policies that led to these abuses.

What about the
utter embarrassment that is the “reconstruction” of Iraq? As long as Iraqis live in squalor, democracy is an impossibility (one consistent socio/political truth is that people will accept living under tyrants and despots as long as they think these are the only sorts of people who can provide them with daily necessities like water, electricity, and employment). Billions of dollars are unaccounted for. Seventy criminal investigations have been launched into corruption in the rebuilding process. Yet, members of the administration have not been held accountable for creating the conditions under which such corruption was allowed to flourish. In fact, we now know from the Downing Street Memo that the administration spent almost no time considering the aftermath of the war in Iraq before launching the invasion. Does this lack of planning, with its deadly results for troops on the ground, not call for accountability?

Civilian members of the Coalition Provisional Authority were
largely young, inexperienced staffers with little or not credentials other than being loyal Republicans. They were picked over plenty of more qualified candidates with experience in rebuilding war-ravaged countries because they had the proper political pedigree. Has anyone been held accountable for these twisted hiring policies?

Halliburton, the conglomerate recently headed by Vice President Dick Cheney has made monstrous profits from its participation in Iraq and has been charged with exploiting its position to boost profits. Yet no one in the administration has been held accountable for the preferential treatment Halliburton has received as they’ve profited at the expense of the troops in the field.

Of the billions earmarked by Congress for rebuilding Iraq, only a small percentage has actually been spent. Where’s the accountability?

The government’s
farming out of intelligence gathering duties to incompetent private companies contributed to the horrors at Abu Ghraib.

A recent
Voice of America news report said that $96 million for Iraq reconstruction has vanished with no documentation.

Again, where’s the accountability?

What about
Bush’s opposition to the formation of the Homeland Security Department in the first place, opposition which stalled its creation, resulting in the sort of rush that allowed exactly the sorts of situations found at TSA to occur? Shouldn’t the president be held accountable for his part in this?

What about the fact that the Bush administration has left nuclear, chemical, and other industrial sites
vulnerable to terrorism because of philosophical opposition to any regulation on businesses, even if it's for the public good?

Most importantly, we now know that
President Bush misled the country and the world about the supposed threat of Iraq. He and Colin Powell made false, unsubstantiated claims about the existence of WMDs in Iraq to the U.N. in order to win support for a war the administration already decided it wanted to fight. Investigations into this have been made, but political allies of the president have made sure he has not been held accountable for the unnecessary deaths and injuries to thousands of American soldiers, to say nothing of the untold suffering of Iraqis.

Americans have been made less safe by a number of decisions by government officials, a tiny handful of which were made at TSA. But if accountability is going to be anything more than an empty phrase, we need to be willing to apply it in a consistent and principled way.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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