Obama: Closing Gitmo a “Challenge”

Barack Obama suggested he's not likely to actively pursue criminal charges against national security officials who were directly involved in unlawful interrogations or wire-tapping, and said it would be difficult to quickly close down Guantanamo Bay.

On Guantanamo — which he repeatedly promised to shutter during the campaign — Obama, in an interview on Sunday with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week," reiterated his intent to do just that but also sounded a pragmatic note.

"That's a challenge," the president-elect said about the prospect of closing down to the detainee facility within the first 100 days of taking office. "I think it's going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do.

On the question of prosecuting crimes that may have been committed during the Bush presidency in the course of the war on terror, Obama continued the theme of "looking forward as opposed to backwards" he took on the campaign trail and reaffirmed since winning the presidency last November.

While aimed at attracting consensus from a broader electorate, the position is not exactly what many in the liberal base of his party would prefer.

As Stephanopoulos noted, the most asked question on Obama's own transition website relates to investigating the "crimes" of the Bush administration.

Asked if he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate such matters as warrantless wire-tapping and torture, Obama demurred.

"We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth," he said. "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. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got 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."

Pressed, Obama said twice more that he wanted to get "things right in the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past."

Asked specifically about the idea of a "9/11 Commission with independent subpoena power" to look at torture and warrantless wiretapping during the Bush years, Obama said, "We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."

Obama also reiterated his desire for a "new approach" to Iran — something he frequently mentioned during the Democratic primary — but was quick to add a stick to go with the carrot.

Asked if U.S. relations with Tehran would include a "new emphasis on respect," Obama replied: "Well, I think a new emphasis on respect and a new emphasis on being willing to talk, but also a clarity about what our bottom lines are."

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