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Obama Waffles (Again) On Prosecution of Bush officials

During President Obama’s first prime time press conference tonight, he was asked his opinion of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) proposal to start a comprehensive “truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate the conduct of the Bush administration over the last eight years. Obama skillfully waffled on his answer:

I haven’t seen the proposal so I don’t want to express an opinion on something I haven’t seen. What I have said is my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture, that we abide by the Geneva conventions, and we abide our traditions of rule of law and due process as we vigorously go after terrorists who are doing us harm.

My view is also that nobody is above the law and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing people should be prosecuted just like ordinary citizens. But generally speaking I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.

Kudos to The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein for asking the question, but unfortunately, the answer isn’t really any different from what Obama has said before. The president does acknowledge that if evidence comes out of “clear instances of wrongdoing,” — such as, for example, torture and other war crimes — then it will be very difficult for him to refuse to prosecute, or to obstruct a congressional commission.

Leahy’s call today for a commission (though it’s not clear if that commission would have any power to prosecute, or even to recommend prosecution, as Bob Fertik pointed out this afternoon) is just the latest in a growing chorus of members of Congress calling for some sort of investigation of lawbreaking by the Bush administration. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has proposed an investigatory commission in the House, which has about ten co-sponsors. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today came out in favor of Leahy’s proposal, and has made similar statements of his own in the past. And human rights and other advocacy groups have been demanding an investigation for months now; Democrats.com even won enough popular support for the question of whether Obama will appoint a special prosecutor that it topped the change.gov’s list of questions for the president by early January.

All this further ratchets up the pressure on the president to start being more forthcoming with the evidence of what exactly happened over the last eight years. But as the administration’s performance in a federal court of appeals earlier today suggests, the notion that that pressure will produce results anytime soon may be wishful thinking.

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