Following the chain of command

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KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark. This is the World. An investigation is under way into alleged CIA abuses terrorism suspects. We're still a long way from finding out whether the probe will produce any indictments, but the following question is already out there. How high up the chain of command will the investigation go? So far President Obama has appeared reluctant to start a process that could lead to his predecessor. Here's more from The World's, Matthew Bell.

MATTHEW BELL: Newly unclassified documents from the CIA show that the aggressive techniques used during the interrogations of terrorists suspects were closely monitored by officials back in Washington. These do not appear to have been the actions of a few rogue agents acting on their own. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has said as much. He has repeatedly defended so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. But President Obama disagrees. He has banned coercive interrogations. Back in April, the President was asked if he believes that the Bush administration sanctioned torture by green lighting the practice of water boarding which has long been considered an act of torture under international and U.S. law. The President began his answer with a heavy sigh. "What I've said and I will repeat is that water boarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture." Boil it down and what the President was saying there was that people broke the law, but Mr. Obama went on to show how reluctant he is to open up an investigation that has the possibility of bringing criminal charges against a former president. "I believe that water boarding was torture, and I think that the � whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake." In other words, the President seemed to suggest mistakes are things to be forgiven, not investigated. "There is no good reason not to launch an investigation." Steven Waltz of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard says President Obama's unwillingness has everything to do with politics. "Obama has lots of alligators to wrestle with right now, and any investigation is going to be you know, politically very charged. But the whole reason you have a criminal justice system and that you have the rule of law is precisely to prevent politics from interfering with the process of justice. You don't want crimes to go uninvestigation or unprosecuted for purely political reasons because once you open that door you can drive an enormous amount of wrongdoing right through it." There are two conflicting impulses at work here, says political scientist Robert Gervais of Columbia University. One is the principle that no one, not even a former president is above the law and the other, Gervais says is the idea that American leaders who made tough, on the spot decisions during wartime should not be second guessed years later. "You want to literally shot through. You don't even want the public debating and discussing this. It not only weakens our resolve if we have to face you know, terrible situations in the future, but it sort of weakens the body politic � it implicates the whole country in crimes and you don't want that. You want leaders who will take if you will the guilt on themselves." Gervais says it's not entirely Machiavellian to believe that bad things happen during wars and there's a danger of creating paralysis by investigating mistakes of the past. Presidential historian Robert Dalleck says there's another tradition in American politics that adds to the pressure on Mr. Obama to back away from investigating his predecessor. "As soon as a president leaves office, to some degree there's a halo over his head and the incumbent president is very reluctant to point the finger at a former president and perhaps the most striking example of that was when John Ford excused Richard Nixon's violations of the law in the Watergate scandal." But there is no small amount of pressure to do more about torture allegations than just going after low-level officials. David Cole is a professor of law at Georgetown. "If we don't acknowledge in some official way that what was done was wrong and illegal and not just a mistake and a policy difference, then torture becomes a policy option." Cole says this might be accomplished with something less than a full blown criminal investigation. He suggests creating a 9/11 commission style panel to conduct an official enquiry and come up with recommendations for the future. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.