- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A look at the White House’s shifting rhetoric on the possibility of prosecutions stemming from CIA interrogation techniques against terror suspects.


In a written statement, Obama says that withholding the Justice Department memos “could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past.” He says CIA operatives who carried out interrogations based on legal advice “will not be subject to prosecution.” He adds, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution” and “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”


Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel says in a television interview that those who “devised policy” relating to the interrogation methods during the Bush administration “should not be prosecuted either.” White House aides say later he was referring to CIA superiors who ordered the interrogations, not the Justice Department officials who wrote the legal memos allowing them.


Obama goes to CIA headquarters and tells 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 CIA.”


Obama restates his view that CIA officers who conducted the harsh interrogations should not be prosecuted, but he seems to depart from Emanuel’s remarks about the status of former Bush administration officials who devised the policies.

“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 perimeters of various laws,” the president tells reporters in the Oval Office. “And I don’t want to prejudge that.”

Obama says he was not recommending that Congress investigate the interrogation issue more deeply. But it if does, he says, he would prefer it to “be done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down” into partisan sniping. He says he would prefer “independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility.”


Spokesman Robert Gibbs says the White House had not changed its policy, but he struggles to reconcile the president’s latest remarks with those of Emanuel on Sunday. Asked if Emanuel misspoke, Gibbs replies: “Whether or not anybody was confused or misspoke, I would take what the president said” as the administration’s policy.

Gibbs says he did not know if Obama sees a legal distinction between Bush administration lawyers who wrote legal defenses of the harsh interrogation methods, and other officials who reviewed the legal arguments and approved the methods.

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