Democrat should not criminalize political differences with Bush

Mort Kondracke:

For the sake of national security and national unity, President-elect Barack Obama should put a stop to efforts to investigate or prosecute Bush administration officials for anti-terror "war crimes."

The motive behind such efforts is not - as claimed - "truth" or "justice," but political vengeance.

Republicans hated President Clinton and a GOP-dominated House impeached him. Many Democrats hate George W. Bush with equal or even greater passion, but they demurred on the idea of impeachment - mainly because the action against Mr. Clinton hurt the GOP more than it hurt Mr. Clinton.

But now Bush-haters are calling for the Obama administration to investigate Bush officials for alleged war crimes and other misdeeds connected with the war on terror.

Mr. Obama should make it clear right now that he opposes such action - and also that he opposes the "compromise" idea of a "truth commission" to investigate alleged Bush-era wrongdoing.

The main reason has less to do with "turning the page," uniting the country and letting bygones be bygones - all good Obama impulses - than with preserving the morale of intelligence professionals in wartime.

Were a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate possible criminality involved in detainee interrogations, "extraordinary renditions" or terrorist surveillance, it's not only Bush-era top officials who would have to hire lawyers to defend themselves but lower-down intelligence operatives as well.

The same would be true if Congress created a "truth commission" with subpoena power to report on Bush-era policies. The operatives wouldn't have to fear prosecution, but they would still have to worry about their reputations.

And, when President Obama calls on the CIA to undertake a dangerous mission - perhaps a terrorist "snatch" in the tribal areas of Pakistan or the assassination of Osama bin Laden - any agent directed to undertake it would justifiably demand a legal opinion first.

...

There is more.

This type of prosecution would undermine national security and roil the politics of the US. I think the Democrats would find out just how unpopular their terrorist rights agenda is. If they tried this stunt the Democrats would face significant rejection in 2010.

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