Obama won't rule out some prosecutions for interrogations

The president said again that CIA agents who acted in "good faith" won't be prosecuted, but left the door open to investigations of people who formulated the policies.

Published April 21, 2009 5:05PM (EDT)

Speaking with reporters after a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday, President Obama reiterated his promise that CIA officials and agents who acted "within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House" won't face criminal prosecution. But, at the same time, he didn't foreclose on the possibility that the people responsible for drawing up those legal opinions could be sanctioned in some way, even prosecuted.

"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. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there," Obama said.

This comports with what I reported last week, after the Obama administration released memos outlining the Bush administration's legal justification for CIA interrogation methods including waterboarding. The administration hasn't yet come to a decision about what to do regarding the authors of those memos, and is awaiting the conclusions of a report being prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility about those attorneys' conduct. It's unlikely the OPR report would recommend prosecution, but it is possible; other options include professional sanctions like disbarment.

Though he maintained his standard posture about "looking forward and not backwards," the president also signaled on Tuesday that he wouldn't reject offhand a Congressional investigation into torture during the Bush administration.

"I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively... And so if and when there needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period, I think for Congress to examine ways that it can be done in a bipartisan fashion... that would probably be a more sensible approach to take," Obama said. "I'm not suggesting that that should be done, but I'm saying, if you've got a choice, I think it's very important for the American people to feel as if this is not being dealt with to provide one side or another political advantage but rather is being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward in an effective way."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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