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Rachel Maddow, Dahlia Lithwick On Obama And War Crimes (VIDEO)

First Posted: 12/26/08 05:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 01:55 PM ET

Maddow And Lithwick

On last night's Rachel Maddow show, Maddow engaged Slate's Dahlia Lithwick in a discussion on how Barack Obama might tend to some of the more morally troubling aspects of the outgoing Bush administration -- issues like torture and detention and rendition. Initially, Lithwick says, she was optimistic that an Obama administration would follow through on promises to close Gitmo and bring a halt to the practice of torture. But there's been some hedging.

"I've been waiting for war crimes tribunals to get sexy," Lithwick quipped,. "For folks like me, who have been covering Padilla and covering Moussaoui, covering Gitmo, covering waterboarding for years, we were waiting for this moment for [Obama] to say, as he said, days after the election...we're closing Guantanamo...and within hours, they kind of pulled back on it a little bit." Lithwick noted that the camp is taking a "turn the page" line on potential prosecutions, that it wasn't a matter the Obama team "wanted to expend capital on." "My feeling is," Lithwick said, "if you don't want to expend capital on war crimes, what do you want to spend it on?"

I've long been a fan of Lithwick's, and my heart on the matter is very much in alignment with hers -- torturers should be punished. Abrogations of legal rights must not be tolerated. Nevertheless, I get the distinct impression that the Obama camp has always been of the mind that they could either jump out on January 20, 2009 and start repairing the damage of the Bush administration or set out on a broad campaign of investigations and hearings to elucidate and punish wrongdoing, but that they could not do both, and so were going to follow the former path.

Moreover, while I feel pretty strongly about loudly holding Obama to his promise to end these evil practices and close Guantanamo Bay, I don't recall the campaign promising anything about prosecutions or war crimes tribunals. There's always been a strong, undercurrent theme of reconciliation in Obama's rhetoric. On balance, I'm satisfied with reconciliation playing a part in future governance, but as someone who's long been convinced that the nation was dragged into a moral cesspool by men like David Addington and John Yoo, I'll admit it's a bitter pill.

Lithwick is more bullish on the choice of Eric Holder as Attorney General. "He's been a lifer at Justice, he really cares about the Department. I think it broke his heart, what happened to the Department under Alberto Gonzales, and I have the sense that he's going to fight the good fight."

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