Conservative backlash against President Obama, which has not ceased from the first day he was elected, has stooped so low as to claim, a la former Mayor Giuliani, that the President does not love his country. Apparently for Giuliani, the Rush-Limbaugh to judgment is that only Republicans, perhaps even certain kinds of Republicans, can love their country. This seems to be a case of misplaced tough love; Giuliani finds it tough to love someone he disagrees with. I suppose it also depends on what country there is to be loved. The country of Giuliani’s imagination is not very loving. The CIA torture authorized illegally and committed during the Bush era is not something I love. I don’t think Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine would have loved it either, if you want to get colonial about it. On Monday the New York Times took the courageous step of joining the call for criminal charges to be brought against former Vice-President Dick Cheney and those who caused, directly and indirectly, not only torture of innocent victims but death. Do I love the fact, and it is a fact, that my country violated not only its own moral principles but also the international protocol on torture? No. Does this mean I do not love my country? No. Love, tough love, is not about denial; love is about admitting mistakes and justice.

No one is calling for a firing squad. The NYT makes it clear that the issue is about not sweeping illegal acts under the rug. I understand the reluctance of President Obama to aggressively pursue criminal charges against the Bush era officials. If he were really the power-grabbing Islamist socialist his enemies paint him as, he certainly would have jumped at the opportunity. But on this issue he is wrong. Our country can survive a scandal that tarnishes, in fact has already tarnished, a former administration. The rest of the world knows that Cheney and his cronies overstepped their power in authorizing acts they knew were illegal. Beyond this, there is the khutzpah to argue that they did nothing wrong but acted out of love of their country. You do not show your love for America when you violate the basic principles that make America different.

I am willing to admit as a pragmatist that some ends justify the means. But here is a case when an ideological blindness not only caused a harm we say we hate elsewhere, but plunged the United States into a war with consequences that have been disastrous to everyone except the arms dealers and terrorists. As the Senate investigation report noted, the torture applied never yielded any useful information to thwart a terrorist attack. The idea that under torture anyone will tell the truth or reveal secrets is a myth; some may but others will say anything. It seems that under the “torture” of investigation and media coverage, former politicians will also say anything to get themselves out of trouble. We have had special prosecutors to investigate much lesser crimes, and it should be clear that torture is a crime no matter how many pretzel logic memos are produced by a White House lawyer.

The issue is not revenge, as unlikeable a person as Cheney in his public persona comes across, but a message to the American people that this is a country that loves justice, that does not sweep past mistakes under a rug or deny that they were even mistakes. As the NYT argues, “Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate‚Äôs report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.”

We should not be immune to tough love. Love is not denial.