Having said that, I also believe as the president has indicated that those individuals who operated pursuant to a legal opinion that indicated that that was proper and legal ought not be prosecuted or investigated and that they acted pursuant to the law as it was presented to them by the attorney general.
If that doesn't smack of the Nixonian maxim that "it's not illegal if the president does it", I don't know what does.
What Panetta is saying is that even though the legal opinion that allowed Buscho to sanction torture may have been unconstitutional, the law was the law was the law at that time. In effect, the torturers were only following orders. Well, that defense didn't fly at Nuremberg and it surely should not be used by this administration in any form to absolve torturers.
Not only that, Panetta (who stated that he's agreeing with Obama's beliefs on this matter, you'll note) does not even believe these torturers should be investigated. And that might be all right - if the US was a dictatorship.
But, I suppose this is all moot anyway considering that the Military Commissions Act not only provided cover for torturers but granted CIA agents retroactive immunity.
Let's face it, Bush and his torturers will never be brought to justice in a US court. There is no will for it in government. The Democrats are busily "looking ahead" so they can avoid assigning responsibility for the crimes of the past - believing that somehow that will assuage the Republicans and make them more amenable to deal with. (Or perhaps they're covering up their own complicity in those crimes.)
I can't imagine that it's comforting for Dem party supporters to know that Obama and Panetta both believe that if a president orders an unconstitutional law, those who carry it out get a free pass.
Or maybe it is. I don't know. I'm not a Democrat or an Obama supporter...