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Will We Get Accountability? Obama’s Reply to Blogger Bob Fertik’s Special Prosecutor Question

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A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White

As Bush gives his final press conference today, lamenting the “mistakes” of his presidency, some are wondering if he and other members of his administration will get a chance to tell such tales to a special prosecutor.

“History will look back,” he told reporters, most likely hoping the next administration’s Justice Department will solely look forward. Judging from the most recent comments from his successor, that may very well be the case.

It all started when Bob Fertik, progressive writer and co-founder of Democrats.com, posed this question to President-elect Barack Obama:

“Will you appoint a special prosecutor — ideally Patrick Fitzgerald — to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”

Fertik submitted the question to Change.gov, the official transition Web site for the incoming Obama Administration. The site has a forum called “Open for Questions” where people can post items of particular concern for the Obama team to review. Fertik’s question got so much attention and approval from other users on the site that it made its way to the top of the Change.gov list and onto the Sunday talk shows, finally garnering this response from Obama when George Stephanopoulos asked the question directly:

“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 also signaled a degree of independence for Eric Holder, his nominee for attorney general, saying that “his job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he’s going to be making some calls.”

Fertik said the popularity of the question he posted did not surprise him. In a phone interview with BuzzFlash, he said that while “there has not been a lot of passion for accountability on some of the bigger blogs,” it is “ordinary citizens who have been waiting for” this issue to come to the fore.

Fertik has seen the interest in prosecuting Bush Administration officials for various crimes grow recently. His site hosts a petition addressed to Holder calling for investigation and prosecution of Bush Administration officials. Holder responded to the hundreds of e-mails generated by the petition, writing to the group, “I hear you.”

Part of the recent public outrage surrounding this issue has been that White House officials have been talking openly about their violating the law.

“It’s been an open secret. George Bush admits that he authorized torture. Dick Cheney admits that he authorized torture,” Fertik said. Obama, however, has been less forthright on the subject. Fertik was frustrated by the president-elect’s response on ABC’s This Week.

“It was a dodge. It was evasive,” Fertik said. He said that, judging from what Obama said, the best case scenario is that Obama will let Holder make the decision of whether or not to appoint a special prosecutor. The worse case scenario, he said, is that Obama will pull Holder aside and tell him not to pursue the issue.

While some progressives may be holding out hope that Obama is simply waiting until he gets into the Oval Office to declare his support for the appointment of a special prosecutor, Fertik says people can take Obama at his word.

“Obama does not play poker; that’s not his leadership style,” Fertik said. “If you want to know what Obama will do, look carefully at what he says. He has no intention of appointing a special prosecutor, but he might let Eric Holder do so.”

Obama said in his interview with Stephanopoulos that he feared an investigation may make some in the CIA “feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” Fertik has an idea of a good way to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“Start at the top. The people who are most deserving of prosecution — Bush and Cheney — will not be working in the CIA after Jan. 20th,” he said. “[An investigation] will not interfere with the CIA… all the professionals within the CIA do not want to work alongside torturers.”

Without a declaration from either Holder or Obama on the subject, some are looking at the incoming White House staff for a clue. Some progressives refer to the appointment of Dawn Johnsen as head of the Office of Legal Council as a positive sign for this movement. Earlier this year, Johnsen wrote this on the topic, “How do we restore our nation’s honor?” for Slate.com:

“We must resist Bush Administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists… We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.”

Fertik said he is heartened by Obama’s pick of Johnsen, but said that “it’s offset by other appointments,” namely John Brennan, whom Obama has chosen as his top counterterrorism advisor. Brennan has been the target of criticism for his support for forced rendition and other controversial CIA tactics.

Obama’s final word to Fertik (via Stephanopoulos) was this:

“When it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

All this talk of looking forward warrants a look back. In the last-minute pardon scramble of President George H.W. Bush’s final weeks in office, some saw an opportunity for a reemergence of justice by calling for accountability in the White House. Others, including incoming President Bill Clinton, saw an opportunity for bipartisanship. The GOP, of course, shared neither view.

“Bill Clinton’s decision not to pursue the Iran-Contra scandal did not help him achieve the support of the Republicans. They were at his throat from the day he took office,” Fertik said. “That’s the danger; that’s the precedent that all of us are focused on.”

By focusing on lessons from the past, Fertik says, they are looking to the future.

“These people who committed these crimes will come back in the next Republican administration,” Fertik warned. “We’re the ones who are looking forward by demanding prosecution.”

What will it take to get Democrats to listen to calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor? Join the discussion here, and/or share your ideas with Bob Fertik and the rest of the team at Democrats.com.

Source URL: http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/analysis/576