After the Obama administration released CIA torture memos last week, the US president has left open the possibility of prosecuting officials.
On Tuesday, Barack Obama (photo, from aljazeera.net) reiterated his belief that US intelligence agents and interrogators who took part in waterboarding and other interrogation methods after acting on advice from superiors who defined such practices as legal should not face prosecution.
The decision to prosecute or not lawyers under the administration of George W. Bush, Mr Obama’s predecessor, who wrote the memos approving the tactics, is up to Eric Holder, the US attorney-general.
“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 pre-judge that”, he said at a news conference with King Abdullah of Jordan in Washington on Tuesday.
“I do worry about this getting so politicised that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations.”
Last year, in his confirmation hearings for the position of attorney-general, Mr Holder said he considered waterboarding to be torture.
Justice department memos from 2002 and 2005 were part of the documents released last week. Those memos approved the CIA’s use of “waterboarding”, which simulates the sensation of drowning, sleep deprivation and other methods, which all are heavily criticised by human rights groups.
Mr Obama also said that he would support a congressional investigation over the issue if it were conducted in a bipartisan manner.
“That would probably be a more sensible approach to take”, he said.
“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 as being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward in an effective way.”
Arguing that the US must stick to the army’s fiel manual guidelines on the treatment of detainees, the US president has banned the use of waterboarding and other methods that were used under the Bush administration.
The day before Mr Obama’s comments, Dick Cheney (photo, from timeinc.net), the former US vice-president under Mr Bush, criticised the new president’s decision to release the documents.
On Fox News, Mr Cheney said that valuable information had been obtained by using such methods on so-called terror suspects following the September 11 attacks in 2001.
“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”, Mr Cheney told the channel on Monday.
“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.”
Mr Cheney added the he had made a formal request to the CIA to declassify memos in order to show the American people “what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was”.
The dispute over the release of the memos, and over the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding, intensified after the 2005 memo showed that in March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected of masterminding the September 11 attacks, had been waterboarded 183 times by the CIA interrogators.
And a 2005 justice department legal memorandum said that in August 2002, the CIA officers used waterboarding at least 83 times againts Abu Zubaydah, who has been described as a Qaeda operative. It is far more than the agency originally said.