Hoyer: Obama unlikely to investigate torture

The House majority leader tells Salon he doesn't think the new administration will engage in much review of its predecessor's actions.

By Christopher M. Matthews

Published January 22, 2009 10:45PM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- The second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House signaled to Salon Thursday that he thinks President Obama is unlikely to order an investigation of torture during the Bush administration.

"I think looking at what has been done is necessary," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said during a press conference, in response to a question from Salon. "That does not mean I think the Obama administration has the intent to revisit all of these issues. I think he's more intent on what should be done and on moving forward on what we're going to have as a practice for our country."

Experts in international law have heatedly debated whether the new administration should, or legally must, investigate torture allegations for possible prosecution. Obama advisors previously floated the idea of a commission with subpoena power and at least a fact-finding mandate to explore torture. But Hoyer suggested Thursday that the Obama White House might not have the stomach for any retrospective review. 

Earlier in the day, President Obama signed a series of executive orders concerning detainees. One establishes a taskforce, co-chaired by the defense secretary and attorney general, charged with evaluating detainee policy. A fact sheet sent out by the White House clarifies that the review would only include policy "going forward."

During the campaign, Obama said he favored investigating torture. "If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," he told an interviewer last April. Then he softened his comment, adding: "I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems to solve."

In his remarks Thursday, Hoyer did not mention that congressional Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, might have their own reasons for being reluctant to turn over every stone. A December 2007 Washington Post article noted that four members of Congress, including Pelosi, received a briefing on the CIA's detention and interrogation techniques in September 2002. A discussion of waterboarding was included in the briefing. Rather than objecting to the techniques, the lawmakers reportedly asked whether the program was tough enough.

Christopher M. Matthews

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