Olbermann Calls for Prosecution of Bush, Invokes Nazis and Slavery

On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann delivered his latest "Special Comment," in which he called on President-elect Barack Obama to prosecute President Bush and administration members on a charge of torturing prisoners, and invoked extreme examples such as slavery leading to the Civil War, and the handling of Germany after World War I leading to the rise of Nazism and World War II, to illustrate that "this country has never succeeded in moving forward without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past," and that Obama must try to prosecute Bush for the sake of the country’s future. After quoting Bush’s recent words about the interrogation techniques he authorized against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and statements by Obama expressing reluctance to pursue prosecutions against the Bush administration, Olbermann began invoking extreme examples from history.

This country has never succeeded in moving forward without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. ... We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence, and, fourscore and nine years later, we had buried 600,000 of our sons and brothers in a civil war. After that war’s ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the South. And a century later, we had not only had not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the South. We compromised with Germany in the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War. Nobody even arrested the German kaiser, let alone conducted war crimes trials then. And 19 years later, there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heartrending Second World War.

The Countdown host soon brought up more of his favorite historical subjects – McCarthyism and Watergate – and charged they had influenced Bush administration members like Dick Cheney. Olbermann: "We compromised with the Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism, and we compromised with McCarthyism and got Watergate. And we compromised with Watergate, and the junior members of the Ford administration realized how little was ultimately at risk. And they grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney."

Below is a transcript of the last three minutes of Olbermann’s nine-and-a-half minute "Special Comment" from the Monday, January 19, Countdown show on MSNBC:

Sadly, as commendable as the intention here might seem, this country has never succeeded in moving forward without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. In point of fact, every effort to merely draw a line in the sand and declare the past dead, has served to only keep the past alive, and often to strengthen it. We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence, and, fourscore and nine years later, we had buried 600,000 of our sons and brothers in a civil war. After that war’s ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the South. And a century later, we had not only had not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the South. We compromised with Germany in the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War. Nobody even arrested the German kaiser, let alone conducted war crimes trials then. And 19 years later, there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heartrending Second World War.

We compromised with the trusts of the early 1900s, and today, we have corporations too big to fail. We compromised with the Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism, and we compromised with McCarthyism and got Watergate. And we compromised with Watergate, and the junior members of the Ford administration realized how little was ultimately at risk. And they grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

But, Mr. President-elect, you are entirely correct. As you say, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past. And that means prosecuting all those involved in the Bush administration’s torture of prisoners, and starting at the top. You’re also right that you should not want your first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt. But your only other option might be to let this sit and fester indefinitely because, Mr. President-elect, some day, there will be another Republican President or even a Democrat just as blind as Mr. Bush to ethics and he will look back to what you did about Mr. Bush or what you did not do, and he will seek precedent or, as Cheney saw, he will see a not to get caught next time. Prosecute, Mr. President-elect, and even if you get not one conviction, you will still have accomplished good for generations unborn because merely by acting, you will deny Mr. Bush what he most wants, right now, without prosecutions, without this nation standing up and saying this was wrong, we will atone, Mr. Bush’s version of what happened goes into the historical record of this nation: Torture was legal. It worked. George Bush saved the country. The end.

We have tortured people. You and I, Mr. President-elect. This is a people’s democracy. We are the people. These were our elected officials. That they did not come to us and ask to act thusly in our names is unfortunate and indeed criminal, but it is almost irrelevant. They worked for us, they tortured people, and so we have tortured people. Thus, beginning tomorrow, it is up to you, not just to discontinue this, but to prevent it. At the end of his first year in office, Mr. Lincoln tried to contextualize the Civil War. For those who still wanted to compromise with the evils of secession and slavery. "The struggle of today," Lincoln wrote, "is not altogether for today. It is for a vast future also." Mr. President-elect, you have been handed the beginning of that future. Use it to protect our children and our distant descendants from anything like this ever happening again. Good night and good luck.