By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2009
The Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute those in the Justice Department who drafted legal memos authorizing harsh interrogations at secret CIA prisons, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said yesterday.
Some analysts and lawmakers have called for investigations and possible prosecution of those involved because they say four of the memos, disclosed last week by President Obama, illegally authorized torture. Emanuel's dismissal of the idea went beyond Obama's pledge not to prosecute CIA officers who acted on the Justice Department's legal advice.
"It's not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back" out of "any sense of anger and retribution," Emanuel said on ABC's "This Week." His remarks reflect the White House's effort to claim a middle ground after the release of the memos, which had been top secret, angered backers of the Bush administration's interrogation policy.
Emanuel disputed an assertion by Michael V. Hayden, the former CIA and National Security Agency director, that releasing the highly detailed accounts of the CIA's practices will help terrorists resist questioning in the future. Emanuel said the techniques were already known because of unofficial leaks, particularly in a lengthy report by the Red Cross summarizing how CIA detainees described their treatment.
Emanuel also echoed Obama's statement last week that the interrogation techniques had sullied the U.S. image abroad, instead of making the country safer. Senior adviser David Axelrod, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," noted that Obama had banned further use of these techniques anyway, so "there was no legal rationale for keeping them classified."
"It's one of the key tools al-Qaeda has used for recruitment," he said.
Hayden, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," said he was one of four former CIA directors who had contacted White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig and National Security Adviser James L. Jones to stop the disclosures, which were also opposed by Leon Panetta, the agency's head.
Hayden acknowledged past leaks but said that those were different from "going out there and defining in an absolutely clear way what the [interrogation] limits are." He also complained that "there will be more revelations. There will be more commissions. There will be more investigations," which he said will unsettle CIA officers.
But Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a member of the armed services and homeland security committees, said on the same program that she thinks releasing the memos helped remove a "recruitment tool" for terrorists. She said that "there probably needs to be more questions asked of the lawyers who gave this advice" and described as "scary" Bush's appointing one of them, former assistant attorney general Jay S. Bybee, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.