Democrats Push For Memo Writers' Prosecution

The fallout continues from the Justice Department's release last week of four Bush Administration memos. Those previously classified documents sought to give legal cover to the CIA for severe interrogation methods widely considered torture. Pressure is growing on President Obama to prosecute those responsible for the harsh program.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And we have an update now on those Justice Department memos that dealt with harsh interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects. President Obama visited the CIA on Monday and said those who acted in good faith should not be prosecuted. But yesterday, as Congressional Democrats stepped up calls for accountability, the president made no such pledge to those who wrote the memos. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: The three Bush administration lawyers who wrote the four memos used one standard for whether an interrogation technique amounted to torture. It had to, quote, "shock the conscience." Yesterday, President Obama said those memos reflected, as he put it, us losing our moral bearings. He then opened the door to possible legal action against the authors of those memos.

President BARACK OBAMA: 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.

WELNA: Congressional Republicans pounced. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell complained the president had earlier vowed to look forward, not backward.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): The president's apparent contradiction today is a bit surprising, and we're sort of interested to know what is the policy or the position of the administration, because now it seems to be somewhat confusing.

WELNA: Congressional Democrats said those behind the interrogation policies must be held accountable. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin described a recommendation he'd made to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): That the Justice Department appoint an independent person or persons, perhaps retired federal judges, to review the massive information that exists and to make recommendations on whether or not to prosecute, and if so who.

WELNA: President Obama also called yesterday for any Congressional inquiry into detainee policies to be bipartisan and done by independent investigators. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy agreed.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): I think an accountability commission would be the best thing to do, because ultimately we've got to get all the facts out, let people know who did what.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I think the appropriate effort is ours, because we have access to the classified information.

WELNA: That's the chair of the Senate Intelligence Panel, Dianne Feinstein. She says the Bush-era memos will be scrutinized by a bipartisan staff-led probe into detainee treatment that's already underway and that her committee hopes to finish by year's end.

Senator FEINSTEIN: Those interpretations will be compared with law, with the convention against torture, with the Geneva Conventions, and it's a very important exercise, I think.

WELNA: But Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn says many Congressional Democrats demanding inquiries were briefed on these interrogation techniques years ago.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): To sit quietly and to let this happen and then come back later and say people ought to be prosecuted criminally, not just here in the United States but perhaps internationally, to me is inconsistent, to say the least.

WELNA: Cornyn, like many Congressional Republicans, opposes any probes into policies he insists have kept the country safe.

David Welna, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.