Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Senior Bush Figures Could Be Prosecuted For Torture, Says Obama


Senior Bush Figures Could Be Prosecuted For Torture, Says Obama


Senior Bush Figures Could Be Prosecuted For Torture, Says Obama

President says use of waterboarding showed US had 'lost moral bearings' as Dick Cheney says CIA memos showed torture delivered 'good' intelligence

Senior members of the Bush administration who approved the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation measures could face prosecution, President Obama disclosed today .

He said the use of torture reflected America "losing our moral bearings".

He said his attorney general, Eric Holder, was conducting an investigation and the decision rested with him. Obama last week ruled out prosecution of CIA agents who carried out the interrogation of suspected al-Qaida members at Guantánamo and secret prisons around the world.

But for the first time today he opened up the possibility that those in the administration who gave the go-ahead for the use of waterboarding could be prosecuted.

The revelation will enrage senior Bush administration figures such as the former vice-president Dick Cheney.

The Obama administration views the use of waterboarding as torture, while Cheney claims it is not.

Obama, taking questions from the press during a visit by King Abdullah of Jordan, reiterated he did not believe in prosecution of those CIA agents who carried out the interrogations within the guidelines set down for them. But "with respect to shoe who formulated'' the policies, "that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws". He added: "I don't want to prejudge that."

He also opened the way for a Congressional inquiry into the issue.

Meanwhile the former US vice-president Dick Cheney has called for the disclosure of CIA memos which reveal the "success" of torture techniques, including waterboarding, used on al-Qaida suspects under the Bush administration.

Cheney said that, according to secret documents he has seen, the interrogation techniques, which the Obama administration now accepts amounted to torture, delivered "good" intelligence. He hinted that it had significant consequences for US security.

Cheney was speaking out in response to the release by Barack Obama of four Bush administration memos detailing the agency's interrogation methods used against al-Qaida suspects.

"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," Cheney said in an appearance on Fox News.

"I haven't talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country.

"I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was."

Obama yesterday visited CIA headquarters to defend the publication of the internal documents. The row gathered further momentum yesterday when it emerged that one detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had been subjected to waterboarding 183 times and another, Abu Zubaydah, 83 times.

Obama is keen to try to put the row behind him, reluctant to see prosecutions that could be politically divisive and distract attention from his heavy domestic and foreign agenda.

In a speech to about 1,000 staff aimed at restoring CIA morale, Obama, who promised last week that CIA operatives would not be prosecuted, reiterated that he would stand by them.

"Don't be discouraged by what's happened in the last few weeks," Obama said. "Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn."

At a private meeting with 50 rank-and-file CIA members at their headquarters in Langley, Virginia, before his speech, Obama heard "understandable anxiety and concern" from agents fearful of prosecution.

The CIA's director during the Bush administration, Michael Hayden, who criticised the release of the memos, warned on Sunday that agents could be vulnerable because of the memos, facing civil lawsuits or congressional inquiries.

Sensitive details were blacked out in the memos seen by most of the media on Thursday but over the weekend Marcy Wheeler, of the Emptywheel blog, found a copy in which crucial details were not masked.

That copy showed that Mohammed had been subjected to waterboarding – which simulates drowning – 183 times in March 2003. He had been arrested in Pakistan at the start of that month. Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi captured in Pakistan in March 2002, was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in August 2002.

Mohammed had admitted to involvement in terrorist actions before his capture but, after being interrogated, confessed to a list of incidents and plots that included the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, as well as a plot to attack Heathrow, Big Ben and Canary Wharf, the beheading of the US journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Bali bombing.

Abu Zubaydah denied involvement with al-Qaida.

Obama, defending himself against those in the CIA who argued that he should not have released the memos, said legally he had no grounds for blocking a freedom of information request from the US human rightsgroup, the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I acted primarily because of the exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was public," Obama said.

Standing in front of a wall with 89 stars, each depicting an officer killed in action, Obama praised the CIA as the "tip of the spear" in protecting the US from its enemies.

Obama said he understood that intelligence officials must sometimes feel that they are working with one hand tied behind their backs. But, rebutting Hayden, he said: "What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy, even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when its expedient to do so.

"So yes, you've got a harder job and so do I, and that's OK. And over the long term, that is why I believe we will defeat our enemies, because we're on the better side of history."

Hayden had argued that the harsher interrogation techniques had provided valuable information and said that the techniques did not amount to torture.

Human rights lawyers question the credibility of the confessions because they were obtained under duress.

The White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, when asked yesterday why Bush administration lawyers could not be prosecuted, said: "The president is focusing on looking forward."




Obama Open to Inquiry in Interrogation Abuses



Published: April 21, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday left open the door to creating a bipartisan commission that would investigate the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects, and he did not rule out taking action against the lawyers who fashioned the legal guidelines for the interrogations.

Mr. Obama, who has been saying that the nation should look ahead rather than focusing on the past, said he is “not suggesting” that a commission be established.

But in response to questions from reporters in the Oval Office, he said, “if and when there needs to be a further accounting,” he hoped that Congress would examine ways to obtain one “in a bipartisan fashion,” from people who are independent and therefore can build credibility with the public.

Mr. Obama said once again that he does not favor prosecuting C.I.A. operatives who used interrogation techniques that he has since banned. But as for lawyers or others who drew up the former policies allowing such techniques, he said it would be up to his attorney general to decide what to do, adding, “I don’t want to prejudge that.”

On Monday, aides to Mr. Obama said they were not ruling out legal sanctions against the Bush lawyers who developed the legal basis for the use of the techniques.

The president’s decision last week to release secret memorandums detailing the harsh tactics employed by the C.I.A. under his predecessor provoked a furor that continued to grow as critics on various fronts assailed his position. Among other things, the memos revealed that two captured Qaeda operatives were subjected to a form of near-drowning known as waterboarding a total of 266 times.

Some Bush administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, accused the administration on Monday of endangering the country by disclosing national secrets. Mr. Cheney went on the Fox News Channel to announce that he had asked the C.I.A. to declassify reports documenting the intelligence gained from the interrogations. Gen.Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director, has also condemned the release of the memorandums and said the harsh questioning had value.

On the other side of the spectrum, human rights activists, Congressional Democrats and international officials pressed for a fuller accounting of what happened. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, wrote Mr. Obama asking him not to rule out prosecutions until her panel completed an investigation over the next six to eight months.

Mr. Obama tried to calm the situation on Monday with his first visit to C.I.A. headquarters since taking office. Concerned about alienating the agency, Mr. Obama went out of his way to lavish praise on intelligence officers, using words like “indispensable,” “courage” and “remarkable” and promising his “support and appreciation.”

“Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened in the last few weeks,” he told employees. “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the C.I.A.”

Aides said Mr. Obama struggled for four weeks about whether to release the memos in response to a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act, consulting with advisers, experts and intelligence professionals. It was on his mind so much, they said, that he talked about it with aides late at night in his hotel room during stops on his recent European trip.

In meetings, they said, he served as “the interrogator,” as one put it, challenging people to defend their views. Advisers diverged, with some like Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.favoring the release of more information and others like Leon E. Panetta, the new C.I.A. director, urging that more be withheld. Aides said Mr. Obama worried about damaging morale at the C.I.A. and his own relationship with the agency.

In the end, aides said, Mr. Obama opted to disclose the memos because his lawyers worried that they had a weak case for withholding them and because much of the information had already been made public in The New York Review of Books, in a memoir by George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director, and even in a 2006 speech by President George W. Bush.

The decision to promise no prosecution of those who followed the legal advice of the Bush administration lawyers was easier, aides said, because it would be hard to charge someone for doing something the administration had determined was legal. The lawyers, however, are another story.

On Sunday, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said on the ABC News program “This Week” that “those who devised policy” also “should not be prosecuted.” But administration officials said Monday that Mr. Emanuel had meant the officials who ordered the policies carried out, not the lawyers who provided the legal rationale.

Three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, are the subjects of a coming report by the Justice Department’s ethics office that officials say is sharply critical of their work. The ethics office has the power to recommend disbarment or other professional penalties or, less likely, to refer cases for criminal prosecution.

The administration has also not ruled out prosecuting anyone who exceeded the legal guidelines, and officials have discussed appointing a special prosecutor. One option might be giving the job to John H. Durham, a federal prosecutor who has spent 15 months investigating the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of harsh interrogations.

As the debate escalated, Mr. Cheney weighed in, saying that if the country is to judge the methods used in the interrogations, it should have information about what was obtained from the tough tactics.

“I find it a little bit disturbing” that “they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Mr. Cheney said on Fox News. “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.”

Other investigations promise to keep the issue alive. The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to release its own report after two years of looking at the military’s use of harsh interrogation methods. And the Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees are pushing for a commission to look into the matter. At the same time, the administration faces pressure from abroad. Manfred Nowak, the United Nations’ chief official on torture, told an Austrian newspaper that as a party to the international Convention against Torture, the United States was required to investigate credible accusations of torture.

Others pushing for more investigation included Philip D. Zelikow, the former State Department counselor in the Bush administration. On his blog for Foreign Policy magazine and in an interview, Mr. Zelikow said it was not up to a president to rule out an inquiry into possible criminal activity. “If a Republican president tried to do this, people would be apoplectic,” he said.

Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., who was chief counsel to the Church Committee, the Senate panel that investigated C.I.A. abuses in the 1970s, said Mr. Obama was “courageous” to rule out prosecutions for those who followed legal advice. But he said “it’s absolutely necessary” to investigate further, “not for the purpose of setting blame but to understand how it happened.”


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