Obama won't investigate terror interrogators

Strike another hope of the Left from the incoming Barack Obama administration.  Associated Press reports that Obama will not pursue criminal investigations into the interrogations of terrorist detainees once in office.  He plans instead a forward-looking panel to return recommendations for future policy rather than pursue a potentially divisive prosecutorial policy:

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. …

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.

As the AP points out, Bush could pre-empt any investigation simply by issuing pardons to those involved in interrogations.  In fact, Bush is likely to do just that, and he may start soon.  Now that the elections have concluded (except in Georgia), the political risk is nil, and it would protect the people on whom he relied to keep the nation safe.  The only person Bush couldn’t pardon would be himself, and the spectacle of a President prosecuting his predecessor would explode partisan passions in Washington, bringing the capital to a halt for years.

As Patrick Leahy bluntly put it, that’s simply not going to happen. Obama needs to demonstrate that he can move forward with his own agenda.  He’ll be satisfied to generate a finding that gives Bush a historical black mark, if even that much.  The latest signals seem to indicate that Obama may not have that much interest in the issue and could relegate it to a low-profile, pro forma effort.

How would that play politically?  The MoveOn/Code Pink wing of his support will be outraged, but they live in perpetual outrage, and they’ll get over it … eventually.  Putting aside a divisive effort targeting the outgoing administration might win Obama some good will from the Republicans, at least in the initial months of his administration.  When George Bush leaves office, a great deal of the focus on him will also depart, which will make any attempt to prosecute intel agents who relied on Justice findings of legality both unwelcome and unwise.

I think a careful review of interrogation policy, with a non-partisan and credible panel using an open mind cognizant of the dangers we face, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea.  We do have a responsibility to set rational policies for national security, and that should involve periodic oversight of how those policies get implemented in the field.  I’m not certain that we can actually get a non-partisan panel with an open mind, but at the least we should support an attempt to do so.