WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and human rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration.
Two Obama advisers said there's little _ if any _ chance that the incoming president's Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.
I can't say I am surprised. I have never thought the rule of law was Obama's bag.
Sure he talks a good game about change, but my hope to see the rule of law restored never found its way to faith in Mr. Obama.
I wish he had the wisdom to understand that past is prologue and precedent matters. As a lawyer and one-time law teacher Obama should be expected to know this.
Additionally, the question of whether to prosecute may never become an issue if Bush issues pre-emptive pardons to protect those involved.
Obama has committed to reviewing interrogations on al-Qaida and other terror suspects. After he takes office in January, Obama is expected to create a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission to study interrogations, including those using waterboarding and other tactics that critics call torture. The panel's findings would be used to ensure that future interrogations are undisputedly legal.
[NOTE - Here we go with a favorite issue-ducking vehicle : a do-nothing, go-nowhere commission/panel/task-force/study group.]
"I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture, [Oh, but it does and it did, Barack.] and I'm going to make sure that we don't torture," Obama said Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." "Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."
Obama's most ardent supporters are split on whether he should prosecute Bush officials.
Asked this weekend during a Vermont Public Radio interview if Bush administration officials would face war crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy flatly said, "In the United States, no."
"These things are not going to happen," said Leahy, D-Vt.
Leahy belies himself a typical establishment politician more interested in shielding the military-industrial-intelligence complex from real change than manning up to his many vocal condemnations. Leahy appears to have been little more than a media grandstander back when his own party wasn't in the power seat. He and Specter share the same flaccidity.
Leahy's unequivocal capitulation pretty much confirms that this will be Obama's policy. But hey, Obama could prove me wrong by being an actual change agent from the past practice of sweeping official crimes under the rug, once you get power yourself.
Robert Litt, a former top Clinton administration Justice Department prosecutor, said Obama should focus on moving forward with anti-torture policy instead of looking back.
"Both for policy and political reasons, it would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time hauling people up before Congress or before grand juries and going over what went on," Litt said at a Brookings Institution discussion about Obama's legal policy. "To as great of an extent we can say, the last eight years are over, now we can move forward _ that would be beneficial both to the country and the president, politically."
But Michael Ratner, a professor at Columbia Law School and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said prosecuting Bush officials is necessary to set future anti-torture policy.
"The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it," Ratner said. "I don't see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable."
The premise behind such a cynical reversal, namely that torture is not a crime but merely a transient policy mistake to be corrected, is perhaps the most insidious harbinger of where this administration is headed.