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White House Releases Torture Memos, Won't Pursue Prosecutions

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Dana Priest
Washington Post National Security Reporter
Friday, April 17, 2009; 11:30 AM

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest was online Friday, April 17 at 11:30 p.m. ET to discuss the release of memos that outline the legal foundations for the Bush administration's interrogation techniques, and the decision by the Obama administration not to pursue prosecutions of CIA officers who employed the techniques.

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Dana Priest: Hello out there! Thanks for joining me. Big news to discuss. Let's begin.

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Washington, D.C.: Former vice president Cheney argues that the secret prisons and rough treatment of prisoners made us safer. Is there any evidence that torture produced actionable intelligence that actually saved lives?

Dana Priest: There is no public evidence to support that claim. It is possible that this type of proof is still classified. My gut feeling is that, if it were clear-cut, we already would have seen it. But I'm not certain.

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Germantown, Md.: Does the average person in the US really care about this issue? I doubt it. Time for all those "Bush haters" to find a new whipping boy. Time to "Move On" shall we say. Obama has lots to work on.

Dana Priest: That's certainly one view. The other is that how the US behaves on this issue actually does affect the outcome of the larger fight against terrorism. Does it help to have techniques like this available for the reason supporters say (to get actionable intel) or does it hurt our efforts because young Muslims become anti-American and willing to join the fight against us, and we loose our standing in the wider world which makes it difficult to achieve our goals elsewhere .

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Oceanside, Calif.: What are your thoughts on the viability, possibility, or desirability on prosecuting those that developed the legal justifications for torture in the Bush administration? Is there anything in the memos that stands out as indefensible legal reasoning?

Dana Priest: It is a certainty that this question is being pondered right now at the Dept. of Justice, on the hill, probably at the American Bar Association, and within civil rights groups willing to consider further legal action. the indefensible reasoning would go back to the original definition of torture in the Aug. 2002, that it needs to be so grave as to cause lasting, permanent physical or mental impairment, organ failure or death.

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Albany, N.Y.: My understanding is that the OLC Memos grant the CIA officers who participated in invasive interrogation immunity from prosecution on the grounds that they were following established law, as the OLC defined it. Does this protection extend to those who ordered or authorized waterboarding, etc., in the first place?

Dana Priest: The OLC can't do that. It doesn't have the power to do that. The Detainee Treatment Act, spearheaded by Sen. McCain, did that. But it also left open the possibility that in cases where the legal advice appears clearly illegal, than it would be the duty of the officer not to act according to it.

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Richmond, Va.: If there is another attack in the continental United States, do you see these techniques being reinstated?

Dana Priest: Not necessarily. Since it's not clear there was much of value gained from these, I would think the FBI, CIA and others have had lots more time to figure out what actually works better.

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Jackson, Miss.: Dana,

Thanks for these chats. You're one of my journalistic heroes! How did folks at the CIA feel about the release of the torture memos? I've read how they were quite upset, but don't at least some agency people feel good about the White House's role in this whole affair coming to light? How did the CIA rank & file feel about the "enhanced interrogation techniques" in general?

Dana Priest: CIA employees worry about being viewed as rogue operators off on their own doing waterboard, etc. That is clearly not the case. There are those who worry about the agency's reputation, but others in the CIA and elsewhere in the intelligence community and the military who see the value of making a clear break from these practices -- and who didn't agree with them when they were first disclosed anyway.

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Anonymous: What do you think the chances are that there will be an investigation into those policy makers who devised the legal justifications for torture?

Dana Priest: I'm certain the intel committees will be taking this up very soon.

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Prescott, Ariz.: When the President said they didn't intend to prosecute CIA officials who did this torture, do you think he was talking about doctors and psychologists who were in on this stuff?

I cannot see how the hippocratic oath could ever be twisted to where these people could act as professional torture mediators.

Dana Priest: I interpreted that to mean doctors and psychologists would be immune. But that would not make them immune from what their profession might decide to do.

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Shippensburg, Pa.: So did the Obama administration actually call anything in these memo's torture? Holder seemed to skirt the issue yesterday.

Dana Priest: Holder has previously called waterboarding torture

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"Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" or...?: Will the Post now start using the word "torture" to describe these techniques?

Dana Priest: probably not since there are some techniques there that would not amount to torture...but I agree we should find a more accurate description than "enhanced." I usually try to use "harsh" and then the actual techniques.

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West Chester, Pa.: If we let the officials who authorized these programs to get away with it, aren't we setting a precedent for the next president to secretly do the same if the U.S. is attacked again?

Dana Priest: That would be the case whether or not they are prosecuted.

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New York, NY: I've read that according to most experts torture only works to elicit false confessions. Is there any evidence in these memos (or elsewhere) to point to these methods being used for that purpose? Is there any evidence that these methods resulted in any false confessions or led the U.S. to imprison and torture others who might have been innocent of any crimes?

Dana Priest: There is some evidence in the third memo that they got false information from these sessions. We know that separately too from previous reporting.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dana, the president and attorney general took what I believe to be an eminently reasonable position on not prosecuting civil servants and soldiers who followed the letter of memos out of the Bush Office of Legal Cousel. Does this, in combination with the guarantee to pay for legal counsel for officers in congressional inquiries and the like, assuage the fears of those in the intel community? Does it damage the perception of Leon Panetta at CIA? Thanks.

Dana Priest: I'm sure it goes along way in making them feel at ease, but not entirely since Congress is still intent on delving deeper and it's likely the spotlight will continue to be on the actions of both those who crafted the program and those who carried it out.

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previous Congressional oversight: Did anyone in Congress ever see these particular memos previously or were they kept secret to them as well?

Dana Priest: I'm not sure at this point. trying to find out.

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Boston: Hassan Ghul is mentioned in one of the torture memos. He wasn't on the list of high value detainees moved out of the "Black sites." Is he still at a "Black site" or is he dead?

Dana Priest: His whereabouts are unknown to us.

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What's worse?: That people all over America are adding "waterboard" and "waterboarding" to their spell-check dictionaries, or that so many already have done so in the years since 2002? Pretty sad when your word processor is more naive and optimistic about the world than you are. I keep expecting that annoying Microsoft paperclip guy to pop up and say "you appear to be writing about torture, which must be wrong because it's 2009, not 1009."

Dana Priest: hahaha

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New York: Dana, thanks for chatting -- on Friday! I've heard the Spanish legal attack on the six Bush officials referred to as a grandstanding move, while others are urging these officials not to leave the U.S. How serious is this situation? I know the Spanish Attorney General is against prosecuting them for CIA torture, but what is the real likelihood these guys will end up as defendents?

Dana Priest: Zero. They won't travel to Europe probably. But, just like in Italy, it's very likely that a Spanish court will, at some point, throw it out on national security grounds. In other words, that continuing with the prosecution would damage Spain's national security (because, theoretically, it weakens its relationship with the US, or US intel cooperation, or something like that).

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Washington: I have the definate feeling that other civilized nations across the world are using every one of these techniques, and often much worse. There undoubtedly are dictators around the globe laughing at our handwringing about these techniques. I mean, putting a bug near someone? For goodness sake, add a few cases of beer and the list sounds like a fraternity hazing.

Dana Priest: I take it you have not read the memos. I suggest you do. It's far from hazing. Also, do you really want to have this great country compared to a dictatorship where torture is okay?

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Washington: Ms. Priest, perhaps the caterpillar in the confined box was the CIA's attempt at a metaphor -- just like the little caterpillar emerging from detainment as a beautiful butterfly, so too would this rehabilitation transform the hardened mujaheddin into a peace-loving global citizen? Or is that too poetic for these guys?

Dana Priest: yeah. no way. they supposedly told him it was a stinging insect, which is what he was afraid of.

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Washington: Hi Dana. Jay Bybee, the author of the 2002 memo approving the insect box and the waterboard, is a Federal Circuit Court judge now. Do you see the release of these memos as having any effect on his position?

Dana Priest: That's a possibility if DOJ or the American Bar Association decided to develop a legal or ethical case against him.

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Washington, DC: Is it true that most of these techniques are used on our own armed forces in training exercises?

Dana Priest: Some of them derived from the Air Force SERE training which teachs elite fighers/airmen, etc, how to resist during captivity.

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Old Blue in exile: Is John Yoo's tenure at Boalt Hall (Cal's law school in Berkeley) endangered by his torture memos? Ward Churchill just won his free speech/academic freedom lawsuit against Colorado, which stripped him of tenure and fired him.

Dana Priest: Not necessarily. If he were to be prosecuted, and it's not clear this will happen, then maybe. On the other hand, if he were to be disbarred, he could still teach.

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Rockville: I assisted with interrogations in Vietnam with the Army and as a civilian and found no reason to use harsh techniques. I am no against keeping someone awake for a while, but never have done it. YOU can hurt someone, but the objective is information not revenge.

On the other hand, this smacks of retribution and the people in Congress being angry that we did not quit when they gave up on the war. I agree with President Obama. Stop it, but let the past go.

One last item, the harsh efforts are not torture and many want to blur the line to say we were as bad as it gets. Not even close.

Dana Priest: passing along

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Chicago: I prefer starting with the administration hunchos who gave the orders, then to the members of the Justice Department who approved them and then to the people who executed them. Do you think it is fair to start with the people who executed the orders? Perhaps that's why our president doesn't want to go there. What are the chances of bringing Cheney and gang up on charges first?

Dana Priest: Cheney was definitely briefed on all these techniques, in fact his legal counsel, David Addington, had a hand in creating some of them. Congress may proceed in this direction, it's too early to tell.

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Anonymous: Enhance is a terrible choice of words. It implies that it is a better, or even more accurate form of interrogation.

Dana Priest: I agree

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Richmond, Va.: Did you read Gen. Hayden and Mr. Mukasey's Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today and if so did you find it persuasive?

washingtonpost.com: The President Ties His Own Hands on Terror

Dana Priest: I read it and I would find it persuasive if they gave a little more evidence to support their claim.

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Dana Priest: Thanks for joining me. And stay tuned. I'm sure this is not the end of this subject!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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