President Obama left the door open Tuesday to prosecuting Bush administration lawyers who wrote the rules allowing tough interrogation techniques to be used on suspected terrorists.
The president said intelligence officers who were following the rules should be immune, but when it comes to the lawyers that wrote the legal memos, he will leave it up to Attorney General Eric Holder.
“I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t want to prejudge them.”
The stance contradicts Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who on Sunday said Mr. Obama didn’t want to prosecute the lawyers.
“Those who devised policy, he believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go,” Mr. Emanuel told ABC’s “This Week” program.
Almost as the president was speaking, MoveOn.org, the liberal pressure group, sent an e-mail asking supporters to sign a petition calling on Mr. Holder to take action.
Some members of Congress have also called for a truth commission to look into treatment of suspected terrorists, but Mr. Obama said “if and when” they go forward, they must find a way to do it “outside of the typical hearing process” which he said would be too partisan.
Critics, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have said releasing the memos was a mistake that endangers the country. They have called on the administration to release other memos they said would show what the interrogation program produced.
“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 Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified.”
Mr. Obama spoke to reporters as he met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The president said the debate over interrogation techniques “has been a difficult chapter in our history,” and said his decision to release four Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos outlining acceptable techniques was “one of the tougher decisions I’ve had to make as president.”
As a general view I think we should be looking forwards, not backwards,” he said.