Obama Indicates That He Will Not Investigate Bush Crimes

220px-barack_obamatorture -abu ghraib 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.

103 thoughts on “Obama Indicates That He Will Not Investigate Bush Crimes”

  1. To Nancy S.

    In the event Mr. Turley cannot take time to suggest specific
    action, here’s a quote and a list of action sites.

    “Change can only happen when citizens stand together and take ownership over their government, their country, their communities and themselves. Our work does not end with a campaign, but rather
    begins with a new President, a new government.”

    Nancy, can find an list of orgs. To choose from at
    This will link you to all kinds of orgs, among them:

    Democracy for America.org
    The peoples network.org
    ACT for Change
    Common Cause ( holding power accountable)
    John Conyers Blog

    There is a lot you can do. I don’t have half the education
    of most the contributors on this blog, but it takes more than
    agreeing with a cause. It takes involvement. Democracy is a verb.
    Trust your own abilities to fight for justice with your community
    and do not rely on s ‘leader’ to guide you to action in an era where we have so much at our finger tips. We the PEOPLE. Don’t forget the
    “me” in we. ( sorry, that *was* a bit new agey)


    A. Karno

  2. Hi Jonathan- I saw you tonight as I do often on “Countdown” with Keith Olberman. I’m listening closely to your view regarding “our” war crimes and you are giving me hope.
    It seems like you and Rachel M. and Keith O. are zooming in on this critical and urgent issue which sits like an elephant in our new administration’s room.
    We must address these war crimes now, and I am wondering how this needs to happen.
    As a grassroots person is there something(s) you would recommend I do.
    Also who do you think we need to petition and how? I don’t want to sit by and watch this go under the rug and taint the hope I have for a new beginning on Jan.20th.
    Please give me your input.
    And thanks for bringing such clarity to this tremendously urgent and important issue.

  3. Way to gather Steam Prof. Turley

    Forgive and Forget?

    Published: January 15, 2009

    ( excerpt)

    Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.

    Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

  4. CCD,

    Nice post. It’s nice to see you follow Homer Simpson’s advice to Lisa after she built a perpetual motion machine. “We obey the laws of thermodynamics is this house, young lady!”

  5. CCD-

    Bravo for your patient and succinct reply to Allen.
    For the record, CCD,may I point out something about the
    distorted “eye for an eye thing”? Before Hebrew,
    the scrolls ( laws Torah et al) were written in
    Aramaic. Then, the text was translated into Hebrew-
    a fine point just simply to underscore the issue
    of semantics, meaning and laws and language and body language.

    More accurately the phrase is translated to mean:
    ” the value of an eye for the value of an eye.”

    Meaning, if you inadvertently hit and kill one of my
    milk cows with your Escalade, you must reimburse me
    for the financial worth of my cow…so I may
    buy another to replace it, or simply purchase
    something useful for the farm…like Tivo.
    But I may NOT kill your beloved Daisy, to get ‘even.’

    Revenge and bombs were never in the subtext,
    litigious activity maybe, but not justifiable murder.
    There is no right and wrong, only choices.
    I am ashamed that we made the inhuman choice.

    In addition, in pure Christian -Judeo theology
    it is a sin to rejoice in the misfortune
    of our enemies. CCD, your writing got it
    across beautifully.


  6. CCD,

    That first sentence was priceless! No End in Sight is a great documentary. Chalmers Johnson explained how the Taliban was created in the first place in his book, Blowback. Very important reading.

  7. Allan

    Bear with me, I’m about to let you into one of the dark rooms in the back of my head. In 1998 after the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist attacked two embassies in East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania). President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on Taliban sites in Afghanistan. Based on U.S. intelligence, six locations were targeted.

    I remember being in the Treasury bond pit at the CBOT reading the wire that our retaliatory attack against bin Laden failed to kill him. I remember thinking they missed the mother fucker, now they’re going to attack us back, I wonder how?

    September 2001, came the answer, Al-Qaeda hijacks four commercial flights. Turning the aircrafts into missiles. (I don’t know how the Trade Towers collapsed, or building Seven. That’s a whole other matter.)

    Allan my point is this; there is universal law which we are all taught. You reap what you sow. Whatever energy we put out, that’s what we get back. Simplistic but it can’t be any other way.

    Professor Turley provides this magnificent forum. And the competencies of the people who post regularly are brilliant. Stellar actually, (no more lists.)

    Calling you delusional for this statement (I guess you and your buddies feel that staying ignorant of potential future terrorist mass killings by following the letter of the law is preferable to using tough interrogation techniques and thereby saving lives.) is an ad hominem attack. Guilty as charged. But you’re old enough to know the universal law, so how can you logically say that?

    The U.S. could have bought Iraq in a leveraged buyout the way West Germany did East Germany and it would have been cheaper! Watch the documentary ‘No End in Sight’ we’ve completely destroyed the Iraqis society. It’s truncated, decimated leveled, for what? And the human cost to the people that serve in our military is incalculable.

    When you request, please base your replies on US law, not World Court or International Red Cross rules or Geneva Convention (which does not apply to these terrorists). You’re missing the perspective that these terrorists are human, torturing humans is immoral and finally torture is a fear based reality that brings humanity down collectively.

    Allen you knew at some level that water boarding was torture. Now we know you know, because you said so. Writing is damn maddening, verbal communication is 40% body language.
    There is no right or wrong only choices that lead to more choices. This country needs leadership committed to evolving beyond an eye for an eye, a bomb for a bomb.

  8. Allan:

    Sorry for the stern treatment but you should know that wars of ideas and beliefs have real consequences and invoke real passions. Thus the reason for the bluntness in getting your attention. It is not demeaning to the advocate to point out logical flaws or patently silly arguments. This is the essence of the Socratic method that has served Western civilization well for centuries. Mealy-mouthed defenses or assertions interest no one, and you will not find that here. As my Con Law Professor used to say, sharp minds are only caused by friction, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. A sharp wit can sting but maybe you will agree that it produced some advancement of the knowledge of the other side’s point of view, and left you with at least one vivid mental image. I know it has done so for me.

  9. Alan, I think your question of payback for these actions is something to consider.

    a. The greatest recruitment tool for al qaeda and non-affiliated terrorists has been Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, This government’s actions have made us less safe, not more safe. It’s not payback, it’s blowback that the US has to worry about. While I’m glad the U.S. hasn’t been attacked on home “soil”, I do not find the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan acceptable. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. This war was entered under false pretenses and our people, along with many Iraqi civilians have payed the price. Had we focused our attention in Afghanistan and not moved onto Iraq it is possible that we may have accomplished some good there. As is was/is we are woefully understaffed and underequipped to fight in that country. This leaves our soldiers more, not less vunerable. While soldiers may not be located on US soil, they are still American citizens and their life should mean something to us all. In short, the decisions of bush and cheney have exposed our people to great harm.

    b. By violating our Constitution this administration has taken away many of the very liberties it claims to protect. They have violated seperation of powers and many of the rights that once were guaranteed to us as citizens by the Constitution. This is not keeping the populace safe. This is a naked grab for power by the executive over the people. No true conservative would approve of this idea. Our nation is a nation of laws. To torture is a war crime. If we will not hold our leaders accountable when they break the law, we cease to be a nation of laws. We enter into a dictatorship, where the executive chooses which laws he will obey and which he will discard. No true conservative would contenance this idea.

  10. I now concede, based on the cited references, that waterboarding is considered to be torture. I appreciate the time you took to respond with citations that I researched.

    I still think it is a mistake to try to prosecute a president who sincerely tried, and largely succeeded, to provide defense against some very, very nasty enemies. This can only have a deterrent effect on future presidents who may hesitate to provide effective protection due to the possible consequences from the protected classes.

    After all, what is the payback for this course of action? Better PR with European elites? Better press from our sunshine “allies”? Ideological purity for academics? These theoretical results cannot compare to a terrorist attack on our soil.

    Finally, I point out that many of the criticisms of left wing bloogers that I hear from the right wing blogs have been proven to be true through my very short sojourn on your blog: the left bloggers attack the writer with obscene and unwarranted name-calling, adding nothing to their persuasiveness. And, no, I will not pee on your leg for fear of being accused of water torture.

  11. SWG,
    You may be on to something. Panetta was chosen, I believe, because he did not have any serious ties to the Intelligence community so that he could look into the torture situation without any bias. I am still hopeful that Obama and/or his administration and Congress will investigate the primary Bush felons.

  12. I don’t believe these are only Bush’s crimes. There is areason why Obama did not consult with Rockefeller and Finestein,when picking Panetta for the CIA

  13. Pingback: Waiting for Obama
  14. “FM34-52 relected a stong and modern commitment by the U.S. miltary to apply these international rules of law {Geneva Conventions}…It prohibited the use of force…including “physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhuman treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation’…And tho avoid any doubt, FM34-52 made it clar that the barbarity of the enemy did not justify using illegal methods.” from Torture Team by Philippe Sands.

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