Will Obama's AG Prosecute Bush Team for War Crimes?

The president-elect is leaving himself some wiggle room

Here is a fun game: take a handful of Democrats and a handful of Republicans, lock them in a room (with some food, if you must), and show them a video of George Stephanopoulos's weekend interview with Barack Obama.

Unlock the room, make sure nobody has been murdered or cannibalized, and ask them whether they think Barack Obama's attorney general will prosecute Bush administration members for authorizing torture and assorted war crimes.

The case against is ably laid out here. So let's play "read the tea leaves" and examine Obama's quotes for evidence that Eric Holder is absolutely, without a doubt, going to nail these crooks to the wall.

First: Dick Cheney supports waterboarding, which Barack Obama thinks is torture.

OBAMA: I think if Vice President Cheney were here, he and I would have some significant disagreements on some things that have happened.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You would say for example?

OBAMA: For example, Vice President Cheney I think continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures when it comes to interrogations and from my view waterboarding is torture. I have said that under my administration we will not torture.

Second: Obama does what every incoming President does, which is to swear up and down that his attorney general will be separate and independent, not swayed by politics, the people's lawyer, and blah blah blah.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, let me just press that one more time. You're not ruling out prosecution, but you will tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence wherever it leads?

OBAMA: What I -- I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is he is the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to 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, we have to focus on getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.

Of course, every attorney general is a freewheeling crusader for justice right up until the time that they start acting like a political appointee. So square this circle: On the one hand, Barack Obama fully supports "moving forward" and "not looking back" and so on, suggesting he has no interest in Holder prosecuting anyone. But on the other hand, Obama thinks people in the outgoing administration supported torture, and that the attorney general is free to wander down whatever legal paths he thinks would benefit the American people.

This sounds at least a little bit like Obama's putting some distance between himself and his future AG so that Holder can prosecute whoever he wants -- meaning whoever Obama wants -- while at the same time maintaining at least the appearance of impartiality.

Or is this all just wishful thinking?

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