- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

Several Republicans on Sunday condemned a potential Justice Department criminal investigation stemming from George W. Bush administration interrogation policies, warning that such a move could be threat to national security and one advocating a “scorched-earth policy” against the Obama administration in retaliation.

“The question is: Do we want America’s image harmed more by dragging this out further and further?” Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We don’t want to give the terrorists and the radical Islamic extremists more tools and bullets to shoot against us and help their recruiting in this ongoing struggle we’re in,” said Mr. McCain, who was tortured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and has consistently criticized U.S. abuse of detainees in the war on terrorism.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for his party to pursue a “scorched-earth policy” of refusing to cooperate with the administration if it pursues such an investigation, which he called an effort to appease Europeans and U.S. intellectuals.

“It’s a wrong and shameful criminalizing political differences,” Mr. King said during an interview with The Washington Times. “I would find it very hard to work with the administration on bipartisan issues if the attorney general and the administration start going after patriotic Americans who have dedicated their lives to protecting us.”

A Justice Department official Sunday told The Times that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is considering opening a criminal investigation into Bush administration officials involved in the aggressive tactics that critics consider torture.

Such considerations have reached a point beyond the attorney general’s previous public acknowledgment that such a probe is a possibility. A final decision is likely “in the next several weeks,” said the Justice Department source, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to disclose internal deliberations.

The attorney general’s deliberations were first reported by Newsweek magazine. The magazine, citing anonymous sources, reported that Mr. Holder is “leaning toward” appointing a special prosecutor and has asked aides to draw up a list of 10 possible prosecutors - five from within the department and five from outside.

“I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president’s agenda,” he told the magazine. “But that can’t be a part of my decision.”

Mr. Holder, speaking hypothetically in May, told Congress that potential prosecutions of Bush administration officials also could extend to members of Congress.

“We have made no decisions on investigations or prosecutions, including whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct further inquiry,” Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller said Sunday. “As the attorney general has made clear, it would be unfair to prosecute any official who acted in good faith based on legal guidance from the Justice Department.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he worried such investigations would leave intelligence officials “afraid to ask questions that can save lives.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that the reports represented “a terrible trend, and I hope that this attorney general listens to the president who says we need to look forward, not backward.”

President Obama has said several times that he would prefer to look forward instead of backward regarding Bush administration interrogation policies. But the president also said the final decision rests with Mr. Holder. The White House declined to comment Sunday.

Other Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union expressed support for a criminal investigation.

“It is time to finally confront the gross human rights abuses of the last administration. Initiating a criminal investigation is a crucial step towards restoring the moral authority of the United States abroad and restoring the rule of law at home,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s national security project.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said: “Our national law and international treaties demand” a criminal investigation and, when necessary, prosecutions.

“Our standing as a nation of laws and our reputation as a moral leader in the world require it,” Mr. Nadler said. “I am encouraged that this crucial policy decision is in the hands of our Attorney General Holder, and I am hopeful that he will now do the right thing.”

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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