What kind of war crimes trials does Obama plan? (updated)

Barack Obama's plan for imposing unity on the nation after he takes office apparently entails a close look at war crimes trials for Bush administration officials. He has even said so in an interview with Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

This kind of change -- putting your predecessors on trial for their conduct of policy -- may not be what most Americans really want or expect from someone with Obama's gauzy rhetoric of unity. But unity has a dark side in the hands of people who regard their opponents as criminals. America has two centuries-plus of history lacking the totalitarian practice of jailing the predecessors when a new president takes office.

This is the sort of proposal one might expect from a man steeped in Marxism at his church, from his friends like Ayers, and as a member of the Alinsky Left. But I am surprised he let this slip.

Few on the right noticed (except for Rick Moran) and became alarmed, as the interview in question appeared on a Philadelphia Daily News blog,

Obama said that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted -- but he also tread carefully on the issue, in line with his reputation for seeking to bridge the partisan divide. He worried that such a probe could be spun as "a partisan witch hunt." However, he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law."
At the time it was picked up only by the Huffington Post.

To me the terribly frightening phrase is the wish to avoid a "partisan witch hunt." When a Harvard-trained lawyer inserts a qualifier into a phrase, that is a signal of wiggle room being created. In this case, the obvious implication is that if you get Chuck Hagel or some other antiwar Republican on board, then you have cover for your "witch hunt."

Today Mark Ambinder addresses the issue at the Atlantic blog, while at Little Green Footballs there is the discovery of a campaign document

screen capture

mentioning the intention to:

Here is Obama's answer to Bunch's question on the possibility of war crimes trials, in its entirety:

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 coverups 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.

Bunch points out that some interpret discussions of waterboarding by officials as grounds for launching a probe.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky, Mark Roth

Update -- E. Levy writes:

Hasn't the "witch hunt" already begun?  
Thursday, my congressman, Rodney Alexander, asked me to watch him on C-SPAN.  I tuned in during a vote and there was a split screen showing Jay Rockefeller, et al, harshly discussing (salivating, too) the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's Phase II report on the Pentagon's prewar intelligence activities.  Kit Bond had an equally harsh response.  Both are archived on C-SPAN (http://www.c-span.org/Topics/Iraq.aspx).  Scroll down to "Recent Programs" and watch.  Grab the Maalox first, however.
If the "witch hunt" hasn't already begun, the pump certainly is being primed.
As for regarding political opponents as criminal, Scooter Libby comes to mind.  We're headed for some frightening times...