NO ONE IS ‘ABOVE THE LAW’ BUT…. As part of the transition team’s “Open for Questions” project, people were encouraged to submit questions for the incoming administration and vote on which inquiries were most in need of a response. The Obama team ended up steering clear of a question about whether they would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Bush Administration crimes.
George Stephanopoulos followed up on this, pressing Obama on the question in an interview for “This Week.”
Obama said that he is not ruling out prosecution for crimes committed by the Bush administration and left open the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor or commission to independently investigate abuses of power and illegal activity.
Obama’s comments came in response to the most popular question on his own website, www.change.gov, which has received 23,000 votes on the “Open for Questions” portion of the site. Bob Fertik of New York who runs the Democrats.com website asks Obama, “Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor — ideally Patrick Fitzgerald — to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”
“We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law.” Obama said. “But my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation’s going to be to move forward.”
When pressed by Stephanopoulos as to whether he will instruct his Justice Department to investigate such accusations, Obama deferred to his nominated Attorney General Eric Holder.
Specifically, Obama explained, “When it comes to my attorney general he is the people’s lawyer… His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he’s going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past.”
On a related subject, Obama wasn’t sure if he’d be able to close Guantanamo within his first 100 days, but made his position abundantly clear about what will happen to the notorious detention facility: “We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values.”
Obama also made clear his discomfort with the administration’s interrogation policies: “Vice President Cheney I think continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures when it comes to interrogations and from my view waterboarding is torture. I have said that under my administration we will not torture.”