To his credit, President Barack Obama has rejected efforts at the CIA and National Security Council to prevent the disclosure of memos detailing torture techniques. However, the statement below appears to lay the groundwork for a decision to block any investigation into war crimes. While insisting at we are a “nation of laws,” Obama seems to refer to enforcing those laws as acts of “retribution.” It is a position that is strikingly similar to the view of pro-Taliban leaders in Pakistan who have blocked war crimes prosecutions in that country. In the meantime, Attorney General Eric Holder has promised that no CIA employee who tortured detainees will be prosecuted. I discussed the memos on this segment of Rachel Maddow.
Holder’s anouncement further shows the obstruction of any serious investigation since the threat of prosecution is a critical tool used by investigators to gain cooperation from witnesses. It is also a curious position for the Attorney General who is saying that he will not allow people to be investigated for the commission of federal crimes despite his oath to enforce those very laws without political manipulation or interference.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 16, 2009
Statement of President Barack Obama on Release of OLC Memos
The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the
Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing
court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the
interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their
release is required by the rule of law.
My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one
of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these
interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our
moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the
protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy
as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security
and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are
already a thing of the past.
But that is not what compelled the release of these legal documents
today. While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I
also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes
carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is
classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for
that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However,
after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National
Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances
surround these memos and require their release.
First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have
already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration
publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the
practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the
techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore,
withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in
the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate
accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions
about actions taken by the United States.
In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who
carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from
the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.
The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on
the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung
and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single
American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as
they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence
that they can do their jobs.
Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a
solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain
activities and information related to national security. This is an
extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is
one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political
concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these
memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for
maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do
whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong
views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark
and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges
and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and
energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in
America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values,
and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the
forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common
The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act
in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our
ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we
have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never
take place again.
The refusal to allow an investigation by a special prosecutor obstructs the enforcement of these laws, including our commitment under treaties. Obviously, Obama and Holder cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to prosecute but they are obstructing the enforcement of these laws in violation of these international agreements.