Many Questions Left in Bush Scandals

Key concern is what role top administration officials played.

ByABC News
December 23, 2008, 3:11 PM

December 29, 2008— -- As the clock winds down on the Bush administration, historians and critics are coming to grips with how little they know about some of the scandals which helped make the president one of the least popular leaders in modern U.S. history.

From the secret wiretapping program to the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" to the firing of a number of U.S. Attorneys, the question remains of how high up administration officials were involved in authorizing many of these scandals.

"The biggest question in all of these scandals is what is the source," said Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University and authority of "White Protestant Nation: Rise of the American Conservative Movement." "We don't know how systematic it was at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Where did the orders come from? How systematic were they? And were these disparate areas tied together?"

High among those is the question of who authorized the coercive – many say torturous – interrogation techniques and whether they yielded important information.

"I think it's essential to ensure that America doesn't repeat this chapter, that someone tells the story of putting together all the pieces -- the question of what was actually obtained through these tactics, could the information have been obtained elsewhere, did it ultimately make America safer and what were the side effects of America's torture," said Jennifer Daskal, chief counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch.

The Bush administration has long said it never tortured anyone and that the abuses of Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were the result of bad apples, not systematic policy.

But a recent report by the Senate Armed Services Committee went a long way documenting the role of top Defense Department and military officials in signing off on the use of the coercive interrogation techniques. "Senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees," the report found.