If Democrats insist on probing the Bush administration's program of detainee torture, they'd better be careful, a senior Senate Republican said Tuesday, because they might find blood on their own hands as well.
"To sit quietly and to let this happen and then to come back later and say people ought to be prosecuted criminally, not just here in the United States but perhaps internationally, to me is inconsistent, to say the least," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
"If people are going to start looking for responsibility and accountability, I think you'd also have to look at the members of Congress who were in those classified settings who approved those same interrogation techniques," Cornyn told reporters.
President Obama is open to investigations of senior Bush administration officials involved in torture, he said Tuesday, but only if the investigations are bipartisan. Senate Republicans gave every indication that he can forget about that idea.
"What happened to him talking about not looking backward, but looking forward? I would ask that question," said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).
"I think it's a huge mistake," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) "If we start criminalizing legal advice given to a past president, advice you might disagree with, that's on the margins of legal thought in your opinion, you've really harmed the presidency. The last thing in the world we want to do is retroactively go after a bunch of lawyers who were motivated by trying to protect the country. I disagree with their analysis, but I don't think you should go to jail because I disagree with you. That would be the most chilling thing I could imagine."
Graham offered the president some advice. "There'll be no points gained with the public and it'll hurt the president," he said.
Cornyn's warning went further, encompassing Democratic leaders who received classified briefings.
"I happen to believe these were novel legal questions in a time of great danger to our country and I don't believe we should be looking backward to point the finger of blame. I think we ought to do, as the president said, look forward," he said.
But, if questions are going to be asked, let them be asked broadly. "I think you'd also have to call into question the chair of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate who were briefed on these interrogations techniques and question their judgment," he said.
Cornyn said he wasn't necessarily suggesting that Democrats should have spoken out publicly, because the briefings were classified, but that they should have been more forceful in private meetings with the president.
"There is a certain responsibility to speak up if you object," he said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), meanwhile, hailed Obama's openness as a step in the right direction. "I agree with President Obama: an examination into these Bush-Cheney era national security policies must be nonpartisan. This is in line with what I have proposed through an independent Commission of Inquiry," he said. "Unfortunately, Republicans have shown no interest in a nonpartisan review. Nonetheless, the consensus to review these policies is growing, and I will continue to develop this proposal."