President-elect Barack Obama appears to be signaling that he is not inclined to investigate crimes committed by the Bush Administration. In an interview with ABC News program “This Week With George Stephanopoulos”, he picked up on the recent Democratic spin that we should all “look to the future and not the past” even if the past happens to contain war crimes committed by his predecessor. I just finished an interview on Talk of the Nation on which I debated the issue with Harvard Professor and former solicitor general Charles Fried. I also discussed the issue on MSNBC Countdown.
Many civil libertarians are concerned that this will be another flip-flop from Obama after he surprised many by voting in favor of telecom immunity. During the campaign, he made it clear that he believed that waterboarding is torture, an inescapable position. Yet, the deductive reasoning is inescapable. If waterboarding is torture and torture is a war crime, then the Bush Administration committed war crimes. Yet, it appears that once again practicalities have proven the enemy of principle. With many insisting that such an investigation would be a distraction. It is the latest spin from democrats. Democrats first insisted that they could do nothing about criminal programs like the torture and surveillance programs because they did not control Congress. Then, when they controlled Congress, they insisted that there was not enough time left in the Administration to investigate and that we would have to wait for the next Administration. Now that they have been given the White House, they are insisting that we need to look forward and not behind.
The latest theme seemed to be what Obama was raising in the interview. When asked about his position, he immediately stated his “belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” He then defended those who committed the torture: “And part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the C.I.A., you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”
No one seriously expects the torturers to be prosecuted, though I have far less sympathy for people who commit torture. In a nation committed to the rule of law, people should be looking over their shoulder when they are contemplating a war crime.
For the interview, click here.
For the full story, click here.