Obama torture policies slammed by critics on both sides

The president's decision not to prosecute CIA agents for torture is being criticized by right advocates.

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A top United Nations official has charged that President Obama violated international law with his decision not to prosecute Central Intelligence Agency agents who tortured detainees.

Manfred Nowak, the UN rapporteur on torture, says that in accordance with the UN Convention Against Torture, the US must try those who used harsh interrogation tactics.

Last week, Mr. Obama released four memos outlining the interrogation techniques permitted by the Bush administration – including covering detainees with insects, slapping, waterboarding, and sleep deprivation. While the president has put an end to these practices, he says, the US will not prosecute CIA agents who trusted the legal opinions of the Bush administration.

Mr. Nowak says Obama's stance on torture is a "mitigating factor," but that it does not remove guilt from those who tortured detainees, reports the BBC. Nowak has called for an independent investigation and advocates compensating victims.

"The United States, like all other states that are part of the UN convention against torture, is committed to conducting criminal investigations of torture and to bringing all persons against whom there is sound evidence to court," Nowak told the Austrian daily Der Standard. ...
"The fact that you carried out an order doesn't relieve you of your responsibility," he was quoted as saying by AP news agency.

To avoid sending CIA operatives to jail, Nowak suggested that Obama could issue an amnesty law and still conduct trials for torture suspects as something of a symbolic gesture, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur, a German news agency. Still, this may be unlikely as Obama has said that "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

Throughout the blogosphere, many have been critical of Obama's defense of those suspected of torture. On his Huffington Post blog, author and activist Mike Farrell compares these CIA operatives to "good Germans who were only following orders" during World War II and argues that Obama has effectively undone everything that was accomplished by the principles established at the Nuremberg trials.

The arrogance and cruelty of CIA officers who torture and brutalize helpless prisoners is not expunged because "they carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice." Attorney General Holder says it's "unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," but he fails to note these very CIA agents requested said authority in order to engage in what all but the most insidious parsing of legal thought recognizes as torture.

While the fate of CIA operatives suspected of torture remains unclear, some members of Congress have begun calling for those behind the policies to face charges. The Times of London reports that those at risk include Alberto Gonzales, Bush's attorney general, as well as other officials behind the torture memos, such as John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury.

John Conyers, chairman of the House of Representatives judiciary committee, said: "If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper authority, or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify torture, they should be criminally prosecuted."

Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee are already facing pressure for their involvement in creating the memos, reports Xinhua. Nearly 70 professors are demanding that Yoo, a visiting professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif., be fired and disbarred. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party issued a resolution calling for the impeachment of Bybee from his current position as a federal judge in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

As fallout continues over the memos, The Independent reports that, prior to their release, four former CIA directors – Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, and John Deutch – called the White House to voice concerns. The former directors argued that making the documents public could jeopardize CIA operations, threaten US officials, and harm relations with foreign intelligence agencies.

Gen. Hayden, who served as the director of the CIA during the last two years of Bush's presidency, told Fox News Sunday that the Obama administration's release of the memos would limit the agency's ability to pursue terrorists, reports the New York Times.

"It describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond," General Hayden said. "To me, that's very useful for our enemies, even if, as a policy matter, this president at this time had decided not to use one, any, or all of those techniques."

While Obama says he shares these concerns, he eventually decided to release the documents arguing that a pending ACLU lawsuit would likely force them to do it anyway.

The administration decided it would be better to make the release voluntarily, so as not to be seen as being forced to do so, the officials said. The only items blacked out included names of US employees or foreign services or items related to techniques still in use. Still, CIA officials needed reassurance about the decision, the officials said.
Mr. Obama took the unusual step of accompanying his decision with a personal letter to CIA employees. He also devoted a big share of his public statement to saying and repeating that he believed strongly in keeping intelligence operations secret, and operations about them classified. He said he would not apologize for doing so in the future.

In the midst of continued scrutiny, an editorial in the Boston Globe praised Obama's final decision, saying that "Americans have a right to know what their government does in their name." In moving ahead, the paper urges Obama to consider the legal precedent his actions will set as he decides how best to handle those responsible.

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