Obama: Existing U.S. Institutions Can ‘Work Through And Punish’ Bush’s ‘Violations Of Our Laws’

President Obama has repeatedly discussed the need to “look forward” when it comes to examining the Bush administration’s torture program. But in March, he did not rule out prosecutions of the Bush lawyers who authorized enhanced interrogations, saying he would leave prosecutions up to the discretion of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Today, during his much-anticipated speech on national security policy at the National Archives, Obama addressed lingering questions about his views on a truth commission and torture accountability. Obama said that instead of a 9/11-style commission, he favors an investigation of “abuses of our values” done through Congress. Most notably, the President reiterated his view that the DOJ “and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws”:

That is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to the actions of the last eight years, some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November. And I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission.

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

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In his confirmation hearings, Holder flatly said that “no one is above the law. … There are obligations that we have as a result of treaties that we have signed — obligations, obviously, in the Constitution.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee is already pursuing an investigation into interrogation of detainees, having examined the treatment of two “high value” detainees. “We have adopted a scope of work; we have hired independent staff. They are intelligence professionals and we will be doing this look back, which will probably take 6, 8 months,” Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said.