Once again, in the United States political expediency is in conflict with the logic of the law. For political reasons, President Obama would rather highlight the practices of the CIA during the war on terror. He can do without conflict with the Republicans over the recent past and the likelihood of further party polarization in his attempt to guide the country through the economic crisis while putting forth some much needed reforms.
Conversely, a nation based on the rule of law, like the U.S., cannot go along with the systematic violation of the law, especially when it is violated by public servants. According to a report from the Inspector General of the CIA dating from 2004, the Department of Justice, after appropriate public insistence, had to make public the fact that CIA interrogators repeatedly used methods that, even under the broad rules of the Bush administration, were illegal. Detainees were subject to forms of abuse that a civilized country cannot tolerate.
Actually, the previous head of the Justice Department drew these conclusions and should have conducted a further investigation. Apparently, he complied with the vision of the Bush administration, which, at that time, saw justification for a very liberal interpretation of the law.
The current attorney general, Eric Holder, had to follow the president's lead and look forward instead of backward. But he also has his own responsibility to the American system, and he has not forsaken it.
Unfortunately this is not the end of the conflict. Holder appointed a special investigator who must determine whether a number of flagrant violations of prison rules are eligible for criminal prosecution.
The investigation of bad practices under Bush is inevitable.
This is a fairly limited and clear mandate. Part of the American public will find this exercise, nevertheless, as going too far, and with the anticipation that the entirety of intelligence work will become discredited. On the other side, some fear that only very few low-level CIA agents will receive punishment while those at the top, who condoned the bad interrogation practices and gave the impression that certain standards were not very relevant at the time, will remain untouched.
Maybe the special investigator, to succeed in this minefield, will find a path that will prevent damage to himself and the Obama administration. The chance of disappointment and indignation is great. This is especially the case in regards to Congress, where Obama's reconciliation rhetoric is not well received by Democrats, some of whom are pressuring the president to broaden the investigation into illegal behavior within the previous government. Given the desire to face serious missteps and to know the full truth, the broadening of the investigation is fully justified. Obama is not wrong in noting that the truth is best served when the search for it is not seen as just party payback.