Obama Says Prosecutions Possible Over Torture Memos

Posted April 21, 2009 at 12:18pm

President Barack Obama on Tuesday opened the door to prosecutions of officials involved in crafting President George W. Bush’s policies on interrogations, saying that while he generally supports “looking forward and not looking backward,— he will allow the attorney general to decide whether charges are warranted.

White House officials, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, over the past two days have strongly downplayed the possibility of prosecutions against the memos’ authors.

But Obama’s comments come a day after Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to the president asking that administration officials withhold such comments until her panel has completed its review “of the conditions and interrogations of certain high-value detainees.—

She wrote that the study should be completed within six to eight months.

Feinstein said Monday that she has also asked Attorney General Eric Holder to withhold judgment about possible prosecutions.

Obama, who spoke in response to a question following a White House meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, stressed that those who conducted the interrogations “within the four corners— of Bush laws or policies did not deserve prosecution.

The president also said he would acquiesce to some type of Congressional move to investigate the Bush interrogation policies, which many Democrats believe allowed torture.

But he cautioned that any kind of panel would have to include “independent participants above reproach— and that neither Republicans nor Democrats should seek to gain partisan advantage from the proceedings. It was not clear if the president was talking about an independent panel or one comprised of lawmakers.

Obama noted that he was not necessarily suggesting that such an inquiry should go forward, only that he was hoping to help tailor it to be apolitical if it did.