Obama open to probe, prosecution of top officials over interrogations

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Speaking to reporters today following a meeting, President Obama defended his decision to release memos in which senior Bush administration officials approved interrogation techniques that have been widely denounced as torture. He said the memos "reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings," adding, "That's why I've discontinued those enhanced interrogation programs." Obama Open to Probe, Prosecutions of Top Officials Over Interrogations

"For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it's appropriate for them to be prosecuted," Obama said.

"With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that," he said. "I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there."

As a general proposition, Obama said, "I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."

He suggested that if Congress feels the need for "a further accounting" of the interrogation program, it ought to be done "in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines." He said that "to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take."

He stressed that he is not calling for a commission along those lines. "But I'm saying, if you've got a choice, I think it's very important for the American people to feel as if this is not being dealt with to provide one side or another political advantage, but rather is being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward in an effective way."

Obama stated accurately that any determination as to whether a law was broken would rightly be made not by the president, but by the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is completing its investigation into the authorship of the torture memos.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), himself a former prosecutor, said in an interview on the Rachel Maddow Show last night that the report's release "can't be more than a few weeks away," and that he has "every reason to believe it will be a devastating opinion."

If the Senator is correct, the Attorney General should appoint a special prosecutor to examine the evidence and to determine whether anyone should be prosecuted. Republicans will, of course, dismiss this as a partisan witch hunt, as they are wont to do.

Since this involves crimes of torture — a war crime, I would recommend rather that Congress look to the Nuremberg Tribunals as the appropriate model to conduct an investigation and prosecution of war crimes. Appoint a bi-partisan panel of emminently qualified jurists to sit in judgment of the evidence. A bi-partisan tribunal should depoliticize what will be a most extraordinary event in American history.

Congressional investigations by oversight committees should continue; that is their function. I do not, however, have a favorable opinion of recent commissions like the 9-11 Commission. Recent commissions have proven to be ineffectual and even counter-productive. With all due respect to Senator Patrick Leahy, I do not believe his idea for a "Truth Commission," similar to what was done in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid, is appropriate. Congress could authorize a true investigative commission that has subpoena power and the power to either bring charges or to refer charges to an independent counsel for prosecution.

Keep in mind that all signatories to the torture conventions not only have the right but the duty to investigate and to prosecute crimes of torture. Judges in Spain are currently considering whether to issue warrants for several Bush administration officials.

My view is that we do not want nor need a foreign court, or the World Court in the Hague, pursuing prosecutions of American citizens for torture. The U.S. is a signatory to the torture conventions. The U.S. was one of the principal authors. We have the duty to investigate and to prosecute crimes of torture. We should demonstrate to the world that we really do mean what we say and that we have the moral conviction to clean up our own house. Actions speak louder than words. It is a critical first step to restoring our national honor and our moral high ground with the rest of the world.

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