Obama fires a shot across the bow of the Bush administration's lawyers

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 15 2008 12:13 PM

Obama fires a shot across the bow of the Bush administration's lawyers

Will Bunch, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, asked Sen. Barack Obama about the question we've been batting around for the last week or two on Convictions -- whether some Bush administration officials might face a criminal investigation or prosecution for ordering certain detention and interrogation practices.  Sen. Obama has made his opposition to torture and the administration's detention regime a recurring point in his campaign speeches.  (Full disclosure: I am a volunteer adviser for the Obama campaign on defense and veterans policy.) However, this response to Mr. Blunt goes further:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated . You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.  [emphasis added]

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.

Phillip Carter is an Iraq veteran who now directs the veterans research program at the Center for a New American Security.

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