ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Obama Promises to Defend Interrogators, But No Promise on the Bush Lawyers Who Signed Off

 This afternoon the Obama administration released lightly redacted versions of four previously classified legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department approving CIA interrogation techniques now widely catalogued and condemned by many to have constituted torture. To continue withholding them in the face of a multi-year ACLU lawsuit to win their release, said President Barack Obama in a statement, "would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time." Shortly after taking office, Obama ordered the abusive interrogation techniques abandoned.

Early press reports are focusing on the administration’s promise not to prosecute any CIA employee who reasonably relied on the memos to carry out interrogations. The government has also said it will defend employees in U.S. or foreign courts and before Congress.

But the administration was silent on its allegiance – or lack thereof – to the former administration lawyers, from the Office of Legal Counsel, who authored or signed off on the memos. It’s the lawyers who may face prosecution before a Spanish court and who’ve long been the subject of calls from U.S. civil liberties advocates for further investigation.

In two parting memos, outgoing Bush OLC supervisor Steven Bradbury repudiated a slew of counterterrorism-related legal opinions while defending the professional conduct of their authors.

We asked about the administration’s stance on the conduct of those who wrote today’s released memos. Justice Department spokesperson Tracy Schmaler said that, because an internal Office of Professional Responsibility investigation is ongoing, "We can’t comment."

Today’s memos help flesh out the remarkable legal story behind the previous administration’s so-called war on terror – a story you can follow by exploring our chart of more than 50 related memos, listed by date, author and topic. Our continuing coverage of the battle to win release of some 30 still-secret memos can be found here.

The four newly public memos about interrogation are:

I honestly cried when I read:

“In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carrying out their duties relying in good faith upon the legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution,” the White House statement said.

I am so proud of our country, and of our leadership.  I certainly would not object to holding the former Department of Justice leadership responsible, but I honestly feel for those who only executed its orders.  Obama’s message of compassion and humanity could not have come soon enough.

“Just following orders” is known as the Nuremberg Defence.  It didn’t work then and it ought not work now. 

Recall that more than mere torture was perpetrated, there were many many deaths arising from the torture sessions, what some would call murder.

Granting immunity for murder with impunity will invite home again those same chickens that came home to roost on 911, and we’ll have President Obama to thank for the consequences.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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The Detention Dilemma

The government remains uncertain what to do with its prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

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