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Obama Says Bush Officials Behind Interrogation Policy Could Be Prosecuted
Concern about the intense political feelings surrounding the issue shadowed White House deliberations about how to handle the interrogation memos. The idea of a "9/11-style" commission appointed with the president's imprimatur was broadly discussed in the weeks leading up to the release of the memos, according to senior White House officials who participated in the discussions.
But the idea was quashed by Obama, who said that such a panel would provide a forum for a renewed national argument over torture and the broader question about the fight against terrorism.
"His concern was that would ratchet the whole thing up," a senior White House official said. "His whole thing is: I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don't need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this."
In the private discussions, Obama acknowledged that Congress might pursue such a course, aides said. But the president was clear: He did not want to put his stamp of approval on a commission.
That, coupled with Emanuel's statement Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that the president thought those who devised the interrogation policy should not be prosecuted, made Obama's comments yesterday surprising.
The Bush Justice Department wrote three of the memos in 2005 in response to a request from John A. Rizzo, senior deputy general counsel at the CIA, who wanted to ensure the agency's interrogation procedures complied with laws and international treaties. The memos were prepared by Steven G. Bradbury, who led the department's Office of Legal Counsel. A fourth was drafted with the help of Jay S. Bybee, who served in the OLC before Bush named him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and John C. Yoo, who became a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Telephone messages left for the three were not immediately returned, and a CIA spokesman said Rizzo declined to comment.
One memo said the agency had used waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning, 183 times on detainee Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, known as Abu Zubaida, was waterboarded 83 times, the memo stated.
"The department's Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting an ongoing review into OLC memos on interrogation techniques to determine whether they were consistent with the professional standards that apply to department attorneys," said Justice Department spokesman Matthew A. Miller. "We have no comment at this time on the outcome of that review or on other possible investigations."
Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.