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McCain Urges Obama Against Prosecuting Over Interrogation Memos

Updated: April 23, 12:01 p.m.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) penned a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday urging him not to prosecute government officials who provided legal advice on detainee interrogations.

“Pursuing such prosecutions would, we believe, have serious negative effects on the candor with which officials in any administration provide their best advice, and would take our country in a backward-looking direction at a time when our detainee-related challenges demand that we look forward,— the letter warned.

The Senate trio is just the latest on Capitol Hill to weigh in on the issue of whether the Obama administration should prosecute officials who — during former President George W. Bush’s administration — used harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist detainees. The Senate Armed Services Committee released a report late Tuesday offering graphic details on the treatment of those detainees.

McCain, who for five years was a tortured prisoner during the Vietnam War, sponsored legislation in 2005 — that was signed into law by Bush — that banned “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment— of prisoners. Graham was included as a co-sponsor of the bill. McCain, Lieberman and Graham have regularly aligned on foreign policy matters and were the Arizona Republican’s most ardent Senate backer’s during the 2008 presidential campaign.

While Wednesday’s letter to Obama underscored the Senators’ anti-torture stance, the trio maintained that legal analysis on interrogation tactics should not be a prosecutable offense.

“Moving in such a direction would have a deeply chilling effect on the ability of lawyers in any administration to provide their client — the U.S. Government — with their best legal advice,— the Senators said.

The letter followed Obama’s suggestion Tuesday that legal advisers to the Defense Department during the Bush administration could face charges for authoring a series of memos — released last week by the Office of Legal Counsel — that sanctioned harsh interrogation techniques against terrorism detainees.

That was a modified position for the administration, which had earlier pledged not to charge Bush administration interrogators who followed orders.

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Kit Bond (R-Mo.) decried Obama’s mixed messages on the torture issue as a “lack of strategy to address the terrorist threat.—

“When it comes to the policies and people needed to keep our nation safe President Obama has found himself caught between campaign rhetoric and national security realities,— Bond said in a statement. “That’s the only explanation for the President’s recent flip-flops on the treatment of our terror fighters.—

Yet other Senators rallied behind Obama. Many Democrats urged Obama against turning the other cheek on the Bush administration officials who carried out the interrogation policies.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) urged the administration against ruling out prosecutions until the Intelligence Committee has completed a review of the Defense Department’s interrogation program. He requested a full investigation from the Justice Department.

“If we are to ensure that this dark chapter in our history is never repeated, it is critical that the facts are provided to the public, a process you have begun with the declassification of the OLC memos,— Feingold’s letter stated.

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