The White House has announced that CIA operatives, including contractors, who followed Bush guidelines for torturing prisoners will not be prosecuted for these actions, regardless of the Obama administration’s position on the legality of the techniques they used. “[I]t 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,” President Obama said in a statement released today. This seems to be part of a deal struck with the CIA over the release of several torture memos today and it is a victory for Bush administration lawyers who sought to provide legal cover for US government torture.
The Washington Post also reported:
For the first time, officials said that they would provide legal representation at no cost to CIA employees in international tribunals or U.S. congressional inquiries into alleged torture. They also said they would indemnify agency workers against any possible financial judgments.
“It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
The ACLU was quick to shoot back at Obama’s announcement. “President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable. Enforcing the nation’s laws should not be a political decision,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.
This comes as the White House released the three “Bradbury” memos, drafted in 2005, detailing CIA ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques and torture. The administration has also reportedly released a 2002 memo written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee. The New York Times described that memo as “a legal authorization for a laundry list of proposed C.I.A. interrogation techniques.”
The Bradbury memos are named for Steven Bradbury, the former acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under Bush.
The decision apparently came “after a tense internal debate,” culminating with a “final round of deliberations” Wednesday night over the release, which was fiercely opposed by the CIA, which said their release would threaten national security. The administration faced a deadline of today for the release of the documents under a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Bybee memo was put on the table April 2 as part of a negotiation between the ACLU and the White House after the Justice Department asked for a delay of two weeks to make a decision on releasing the Bradbury memos.
“These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law,” said Romero.
There has been much speculation in recent days that the White House may release redacted versions of the memos, which sparked protests from the ACLU and other civil liberties groups and activists. Refusing to release the memos was also opposed by some administration officials, including Attorney General Holder, who reportedly supported a more complete release. In releasing the documents, Obama cited “exceptional circumstances” compelling him to release them and a desire to correct “erroneous and inflammatory assumptions” about US actions.
The White House released the memos with redactions, but apparently not on a scale some in the administration—and certainly the CIA—had originally wanted. The release, therefore, appears to be a victory. But, the apparent deal not to prosecute CIA torturers makes it a very sour victory. As the ACLU’s Romero said, “There can be no more excuses for putting off criminal investigations of officials who authorized torture, lawyers who justified it and interrogators who broke the law. No one is above the law, and the law must be equally enforced. Accountability is necessary for any functioning democracy and for restoring America’s reputation at home and abroad.”