04/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bob Graham On Cheney: Lincoln Isn't Sleeping Well

One of the more respected national security voices in the Democratic Party accused Republican lawmakers of abandoning principles and ignoring their own history in an effort to smear President Obama for his handling of terrorist suspects.

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during the Bush years, told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that he saw little practical difference between the decisions President Obama and his predecessor made with regard to prosecuting prospective terrorists. Pointing to the Bush administration's use of the criminal justice system to try suspects like the infamous shoe bomber Richard Reid, he labeled the current Republican criticism of Obama's use of the exact same legal tactic a politically motivated hit job.

"I think it is a very much overblown issue. The fact is it has been handled the same way during the bush administration with generally similar outcomes," Graham said. "I think the only change is the fact that now Barack Obama is president and George Bush is retired and living in Dallas."

One of the few members of Congress with access to top national security intelligence during the immediate, post-9/11 period, Graham stressed that the information gleaned from interrogations is as good if not better when a suspect is placed through the criminal process. Discussing former vice president Dick Cheney's insistence that water boarding should have been an option when it came to interrogating the failed Christmas Day airline bomber, the Florida Democrat didn't miss a beat.

"I don't think Abraham Lincoln is sleeping very well [with comments like those]" he said, playing off the Republican Party's deep admiration for the 16th president.

In a phone interview, he told the Huffington Post that he believed it was "possible to have military tribunals that met constitutional standards" and even "desirable in some circumstances." This places him very much in line with the Obama White House and the Bush Justice Department.

What he found objectionable, among other things, was the knee-jerk politicization of the issue by Republicans once a Democrat took over the presidency. In the past few weeks, conservative lawmakers, candidates and pundits alike have called for the president to fire his chief counterterrorism adviser and scrap proposals for trying the Christmas Day bomber - going so far as to declare that the White House's handling of the terrorist's detention has placed the country at additional risk.

Asked why some of these criticisms seemed to be taking a toll on the administration, Graham insisted that Obama was suffering the residual effects of the climate of fear created during the Bush years.

"I think the Bush administration planted the seeds of doubt, apprehension and concern as to treating these people in civilian courts while at the same time that is exactly what they were doing," he said. "The irony is Obama is getting the backlash while the Bush administration slipped under the radar in terms of how he was handling these suspects."