What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can’t prejudge that because we don’t have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You’re also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.
So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment — I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General — having pursued, having looked at what’s out there right now — are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it’s important– one of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law — and I think that’s roughly how I would look at it.
Emphasis mine. I think this is an excellent precedent to be set, and one that should have been set more comprehensively after Watergate, had Ford’s pardon not interfered. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of high-ranking cabinet members in the Bush administration’s first term were acting in ways closer to those of politicians who get tried by the ICC or the ICTFY than those who have served in American cabinets in the past. As Obama says, this is fundamentally about the rule of law.
But it would have international benefits too, especially if Obama allows people like John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, etc. to be extradited to the ICC. One of the more compelling points Matt Yglesias makes in Heads in the Sand is that America’s attempts to constrain the behavior of other states are only as powerful as our willingness to accept those constraints ourselves. By handing over Bush administration vets to the courts, Obama would show international leaders that we don’t consider ourselves above the standards of international justice to which we hold them. It’d be a powerful message, and it would go a long way toward repairing the damage to our reputation that’s been inflicted over the past eight years.