Editorial: U.S. majority wants Bush policies out

A USA Today-Gallup poll released last week reveals that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bush administration’s violations of civil rights — from torture at Guantanamo to wiretapping U.S. citizens without warrants — was extreme enough to merit investigation.

Some 38 percent want a full criminal investigation, while about a fourth will settle for review by an independent panel.

Even more said Bush’s abuse of the Justice Department should be similarly reviewed; 40 percent want a criminal investigation and 30 percent want an independent panel.

We don’t think an impartial investigation is possible, or needed. But President Obama and Congress members should note the strong public opinion in this regard, and work to undo the Bush policies that only curtailed our rights and freedoms and did nothing to make us any safer.

Certainly, the majorities in the poll are large enough to counter any suggestions that they only reveal partisan political views. It’s obvious that even many Republicans agree the government went too far in curtailing our rights after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Remember that spineless members of Congress, fearing accusations of being “soft on terrorism,” were complicit in these curtailments. Most either said nothing or actually voiced support for the administration’s actions. Large majorities in both chambers of Congress passed so-called anti-terrorism bills that violated the very basic rights and freedoms upon which this nation was founded.

Clearly the terrorists won in this regard. Bush and Congress, eager to show they were taking steps to protect us, instead caged the American people behind restrictive laws and policies that, this poll makes clear, a majority deems punitive.

These laws did nothing to the terrorists. They only hurt loyal Americans who love, trust and are willing to defend their country — even when it abuses them.

For this reason we don’t expect any criminal action against the former president or any members of his administration. Whatever actions they might have taken, respect for the office is too high.

While it can be argued the process of an investigation would at least send a strong message to future administrations that such policies aren’t as popular as they might think, it must be noted that Congress fully approved Bush’s actions at the time, and if such an attack were to happen again, we can expect them to react the same way.

The new administration should note the poll results, however, and work to undo the damage. President Obama can rescind oppressive policies that were made by executive order or signing statement. Congress can also work to reverse oppressive portions of unnecessary laws such as REAL ID and the USA Patriot Act.

It’s becoming apparent Obama isn’t interested in taking actions directly against his predecessor, as evidenced by his reluctance to make public information about Bush’s domestic spying. And Congress members aren’t likely to admit mistakes. They could save face, however, and appear proactive by announcing the world has been made safe and there is no longer any need to deprive innocent Americans of their rights. They could then present any repeals of the previous bad bills as symbols of success rather than admissions of wrongdoing.

We don’t care. We just want our freedoms back.