Obama’s torture memo two-step
The administration might want to move on from the issue, but there's pressure from progressive groups and congressional Democrats for further investigation.
The debate over the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terror suspects during the Bush years has left the Obama administration looking, well, a little bit tortured.Skip to next paragraph
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On the one hand, President Obama insists “we should be looking forward and not backwards.” But in taking the unusual step of releasing last Thursday memos that provided graphic detail on how CIA interrogations were conducted, the president has invited a serious look back.
On Wednesday, press secretary Robert Gibbs maintained that the release of the memos provides “a moment of reflection, not of retribution.” And he insisted that the media had it wrong in concluding that Mr. Obama had opened the door to prosecution of those who wrote the interrogation guidelines or to a 9/11-style commission that would examine the issues raised by these interrogations.
The president, Mr. Gibbs noted, does not determine who broke the law. That’s up to law enforcement. And on the possible formation of an investigatory panel, he repeated Obama’s own assertion that he’s “not proposing this.” But in the context of not making a proposal, Gibbs repeated Obama’s stated desire that, if a panel were set up, it should be done outside the realm of politics.
What happened between last weekend, when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ruled out prosecution of the lawyers who drafted the so-called torture memos, and Tuesday, when Obama handed the question of possible prosecutions over to his friend, Attorney General Eric Holder, is anybody’s guess.
But one thing is certain: Left-wing groups, such as Moveon.org, are not letting go. They were furious that the Obama administration had appeared to shut the door on prosecutions, or what Moveon calls “accountability.” And while Obama has in the past often been willing to go against the desires of the left, it may be that in this case, he decided he could not.
“It either means they didn’t think it out well to begin with or it wasn’t vetted properly. He’s trying to navigate between the left and his party and the opposition party…. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to reopen this can of worms. But now he’s stuck.”
Calls for prosecution
Moveon is not standing pat on the issue. The group is releasing an ad that calls on Attorney General Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation tactics – and consider going as high as former Vice President Dick Cheney.
“If you torture an individual detainee, you might go to jail,” the narrator in the ad intones, over a picture of former Army reservist Lynndie England, who was convicted for abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. “But if you authorize an entire secret torture program, you get off scot-free?”
Three faces appear on the screen: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Mr. Cheney. Mr. Yoo was the lead author of the 2002 interrogation memos, drafted during his time in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Mr. Bybee oversaw the OLC at the time, and he approved the interrogation techniques. He and Yoo are under investigation by the Justice Department’s ethics office for their work on the interrogation policy.