Huffington Post- Sam Stein
January 11, 2009 11:10 AM
Responding to the most popular inquiry on the “Open for Questions” feature of his website, Barack Obama said on Sunday that he is “evaluating” whether or not to investigate potential crimes of the Bush administration, but that he was inclined to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
The answer was delivered during an interview to This Week With George Stephanopoulos. But the question itself has been weeks in the work.
The Obama transition team, as part of its efforts to open up the political process, had allowed web users to vote on questions for the incoming administration to field. To the top rose a query from Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com and a former Clinton White House technology official, asking whether the incoming administration would appoint a special prosecutor to “independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.”
On Obama’s website, a December statement from Vice President-elect Joe Biden on the topic was offered as a response (similar older statements were used to address several other national security-related questions, which the transition team has avoided discussing). But Stephanopoulos made the matter moot by posing the question directly to the president-elect.
“We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth,” said Obama. “And obviously we’re going to look at past practices. And I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, 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 to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.”
Pressed a bit — was he ruling out prosecution? — the president-elect suggested that decision would be that of his attorney general.
“I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is that he’s the people’s lawyer. Eric Holder’s been nominated,” said Obama. “His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not 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 to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”