Obama suggested he's not likely to actively pursue criminal charges
against national security officials who were directly involved in
unlawful interrogations or wire-tapping, and said it would be difficult
to quickly close down Guantanamo Bay.
On Guantanamo — which he repeatedly promised to shutter during the
campaign — Obama, in an interview on Sunday with George Stephanopolous
on ABC's "This Week," reiterated his intent to do just that but also
sounded a pragmatic note.
"That's a challenge," the president-elect said about the prospect of
closing down to the detainee facility within the first 100 days of
taking office. "I think it's going to take some time and our legal
teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus
as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do.
On the question of prosecuting crimes that may have been committed
during the Bush presidency in the course of the war on terror, Obama
continued the theme of "looking forward as opposed to backwards" he
took on the campaign trail and reaffirmed since winning the presidency
While aimed at attracting consensus from a broader electorate, the
position is not exactly what many in the liberal base of his party
As Stephanopolous noted, the most asked question on Obama's own
transition website relates to investigating the "crimes" of the Bush
Asked if he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate such
matters as warrant-less wire-tapping and torture, Obama demurred.
"We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of
interrogations, detentions, and so forth," he said. "And obviously
we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that
anybody is above the law.
"On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as
opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that
for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who
are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to
suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over
their shoulders and lawyering."
Pressed, Obama said twice more that he wanted to get "things right in
the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past."
Asked specifically about the idea of a "9/11 commission with
Independence subpoena power" to look at torture and warrantless
wiretapping during the Bush years, Obama said that "We have not made
final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make
sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't
mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above
the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."
Obama also reiterated his desire for a "new approach" to Iran —
something he frequently mentioned during the Democratic primary—but was
quick to add a stick to go with the carrot.
Asked if U.S. relations with Tehran would include a "new emphasis on
respect," Obama replied: "Well, I think a new emphasis on respect and a
new emphasis on being willing to talk, but also a clarity about what
our bottom lines are."