Senior members of the Bush administration who approved the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation measures could face prosecution, Barack Obama said today, in a surprise about-turn by the president.
He said his attorney general, Eric Holder, was conducting an investigation and the final decision rested with him.
Obama cited four Bush administration memos he released last week detailing CIA interrogation measures, saying they “reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings”. The revelation of possible prosecutions amounts to a turnaround by Obama, who had been resisting a prolonged and divisive partisan row that could distract from his heavy domestic and foreign agenda.
He also lifted his opposition to a separate congressional inquiry today. The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the president would like to see the inquiry modelled on the 9/11 commission. Obama reiterated that there would be no prosecutions 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 he opened up the possibility that those in the Bush administration who gave the go-ahead for the use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques could be prosecuted.
“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 did not name any individuals. Those in the frame could be George Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, or, lower down the chain, justice department lawyers. …
Does the fact that you are following orders take away the blame? That’s a can of worms. Also, I’ve read that the 9/11 committee was a joke according to some of its members. Is Obama saying that we need a whitewash here too?