Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Democrats seek criminal probe of Bush 'abuses'

WASHINGTON (AP) - The incoming Obama administration should launch a criminal investigation of Bush administration officials to see whether they broke the law in the name of national security, a House Democratic report said Tuesday. President-elect Barack Obama has been more cautious on the issue and has not endorsed such a recommendation.
Along with the criminal probe, the report called for a Sept. 11-style commission with subpoena power, to gather facts and make recommendations on preventing misuse of power, according to the report by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee.

The report covers Bush administration policies that Democrats have protested for some time. Among them: interrogation of foreign detainees, warrantless wiretaps, retribution against critics, manipulation of intelligence and political dismissals of U.S. attorneys.

The White House was asked for comment on the report Tuesday, but did not immediately respond.

However, in an interview this month with The Associated Press, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "I can't speak for everybody in the administration, but my view would be that the people who carried out that program—intelligence surveillance program, the enhanced interrogation program, with respect to al Qaeda captives—in fact were authorized to do what they did ... ."

Cheney said legal opinions supported the officials.

"And I believe they followed those legal opinions and I don't have any reason to believe that they did anything wrong or inappropriate," the vice president said.

Obama said last week in a television interview, "We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions and so forth. 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."

Obama said intelligence officials were "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."

Obama said he has not made a final decision about a Sept. 11-type commission.

The criminal probe may need a special prosecutor named by the attorney general, the report said.

An alternative would be expansion of an existing investigation into the CIA's alleged destruction of a tape or tapes showing harsh interrogation methods against a prisoner.

The criminal investigation would include issues apart from national security, such as whether laws were violated in the politically inspired firing of U.S. attorneys.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said his staff has met with the Obama transition officials on the report. The president-elect's transition team has not endorsed it.

The congressionally appointed commission should have subpoena power, the report said. It suggested the new president order "full cooperation by all present and past federal employees with requests for information."

Conyers already has introduced legislation to form the commission.

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