After all, among the committee’s conclusions was that “On Feb. 7, 2002, Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for human treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.
“Following the president’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity and stress positions, used in [U.S.] training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
But there’s no need to investigate whether Mr. Bush - or Mr. Cheney - authorized the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques or warrantless terrorist wiretapping or renditions (“snatching”) of terrorist suspects. They have admitted it and defended it as being necessary to defend the nation in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - and justified it by pointing out that the homeland has not been attacked since.
In an interview with The Washington Times on Dec. 17, Mr. Cheney said, “There were a total of about 33 [persons] who were subjected to enhanced interrogation. Only three of those who were subjected to waterboarding,” including Sept. 11’s top planner, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Intelligence officials claim his subjection to simulated drowning produced important information about the al Qaeda organization and future plans.
And, they say, the House and Senate Intelligence committees - as well as top congressional leaders - have been fully briefed about and approved of all major U.S. covert operations, terrorist surveillance and interrogation methods.
What Mr. Obama plans to do about proposals for investigation or prosecution of Bush officials remains uncertain.
On one hand, Mr. Obama has said if he found “that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws [and] engaged in cover-ups of those crimes… then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody [is] above the law.”
And Mr. Obama’s attorney general designate, Eric Holder, has alleged that top Bush officials “authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance of American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law… and authorized use of procedures that both violate international law and the U.S. Constitution.”
On the other hand, Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail in April 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 to solve.”
Mr. Obama should find an opportunity soon to reiterate that position. If he did so, he could eliminate the unseemly possibility that Mr. Bush, on his way out of office, would issue a blanket pardon to everyone in his administration who participated in the war on terror.
The fact is, Mr. Obama does have “many problems to solve.” Among them is the possibility raised by a congressionally mandated commission - that terrorists will use a nuclear or biological weapon somewhere in the world by 2013.
To prevent that catastrophe, Mr. Obama might well want to order an “enhanced interrogation,” wiretap a terrorist or even kill one. If he issues the order, he will want someone to carry it out.
Morton Kondracke is a nationally syndicated columnist.