The conundrum Obama faces ought to be understood from several perspectives.
Political. The question here is whether investigations of the Bush regime would make it more difficult for the new administration to pursue and achieve its policy goals by adding to partisanship and diverting bandwidth, resources and goodwill. Regardless of whether the central investigating body is an independent panel, congressional or in the Justice Department, at some point it would be likely to take center political stage. It will not help to create jobs, cut deficits or insure children.
Advocates of investigating say they aren't interested in witch hunts and floggings. For some that is disingenuous; regardless, modern investigations take on a life of their own as they gain notoriety, momentum and passion.
Politically, Obama's instinct is smart — no surprise.
Moral. The moral issues related to torture are not a slam-dunk.
Now they tell us.
Stephen Hicks wrote about this rather convenient rhetorical tactic in Explaining Postmodernism. (page 184):
Using contradictory discourses as a political strategy
In postmodern discourse, truth is rejected explicitly and consisteny can be a rare phenomenon. Consider the following pairs of claims. - On the one hand, all truth is relative; on the other hand, postmodernism tells it like it really is.
- On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely destructive and bad.
- Values are subjective--but sexism and racism are really evil
- Technology is bad and destructive--and it is unfair that some people have more technology than others.
- Tolerance is good and dominance is bad--but when postmodernists come to power, political correctness follows.
There is a common pattern here: Subjectivism and relativism in one breath, dogmatic absolutism in the next.
In other words--don't waste your time looking for any sense or consistency in the contradictory demands and rhetoric of the political postmodern demagogues. They will say whatever they need to say in order to obtain and keep power.
Watch for some dramatic reversals (we've already begun to see the pattern) on key issues over the next months. There will be an attempt to make it look like Obama is following along the lines of the absolutist campaign rhetoric--and the media will be helpful in giving that impression--but the actual behavior, i.e., the reality, will be quite different. Suddenly there will be the nuanced discussion that somehow never was able to get started during the Bush Administration. The same policies that Bush was castigated for, will miraculously become virtuous and proper when the left's Messiah implements them. The postmodern conundrum? There isn't one!
When you have no real principles except the desire for power over others, all moral conundrums are easy to resolve.