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Why Obama is Right to Not Prosecute

By John Martin - Posted on 20 April 2009

A lot of people are upset we won't be prosecuting the CIA interrogators who tortured detainees during the Bush years.  (Despite HuffPo's insistence, the New York Times doesn't appear to be in that camp.)  Much of what's contained in the CIA's torture memos is pretty shocking stuff, and we deserve to know how the nation could have sanctioned such behavior for so long.  However, pressure should be focused on the legal gymnasts in the Office of Legal Counsel who signed off on these illegal acts, instead of on people who very possibly didn't think that all they were doing constituted torture (after all, some very smart people told them it didn't). 

To a CIA operative wanting to defend his or her country after the brutal events of 9/11, I understand how the lines between what is and what is not torture can get blurred.  When you throw in the fact that many of these tactics were probably never even discussed in the pre-9/11 world, I can see how a well-written legal document from the White House could convince a lot of people that what they were doing was ok.  

Amnesty International, the ACLU and everyone else we're hearing from over this has already gotten a lot out of the Obama administration-- and with barely a fight.  I personally think it's pretty amazing for a sitting president to release previously secret documents just a few months after taking office.  As spelled out in Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas' recent Newsweek article, it's not like Obama's people were all pushing him to go the transparent route.  A lot of prominent voices within the administration were opposed to releasing the memos at all.  The CIA, of course, was also dead set against it, and the administration knows it now has to live with the inevitable lowering of morale these released memos will have on the agency. 

Now that the administration has released these documents and has made clear that they will defend the CIA interrogators who relied on them, it's probably best to focus on the bigger players.  People like John Yoo and Jay Bybee are the ones who provided the justification for this illegal behavior.  Obama cannot go back on his word to defend the CIA on this one, no matter what the pressure, and it's probably time we start holding the bigger fish accountable for their mistakes. 

Regardless of what we think of the CIA's behavior during the Bush years, the agency is still our first line of defense against those people who wake up every morning thinking of new ways to kill us.  I don't think any of us wants a CIA that can't trust its current President, or that thinks it could get punished for having followed the legal advice of its previous President.


What's shocking is that Bybee is now a 9th circuit court of appeals judge. Where the hell was the advice and consent of the Senate during this appointment? Why didn't the judiciary committee not bring this up. The fact that he sits on the bench is very very frightening.

Golf11, NYC
Vero Possumus

These memos are repulsive. I realize these were bad guys/enemies but allowing for/encouraging torture? The United States must return to the idea of respecting human rights. Torture violates so much of what I thought the U.S. stood for in. As word spread about what the U.S. was doing to detainees, recruitment within Anti-American terrorist groups only increased and made us less safe. 

I agree with the premise of what you are saying John. I think Pres. Obama is doing the right thing and hopefully these lower-level CIA operatives will be open/cooperate about what they know about the higher level involvement. 

I just read this from the NY Times, showing clearly how tactics were excessive and beyond comprehension (waterboarding 2 suspects over 250 times!) It even points out how some of these lower level CIA actually felt they had been given all the info they could get but were told to waterboard anyway.

I'm so glad we are entering a new chapter in our history.

When I hear people like Newt go after Pres. Obama for interacting with dictators/people who "don't care about human rights"-I wish they would look in the mirror at the blemishes that were on the face of the U.S. government for so many years.

C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported.

The C.I.A. officers used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum. Abu Zubaydah has been described as a Qaeda operative.

A former C.I.A. officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media organizations in 2007 that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.


Unfortunately, I tend to think this is an all around bad situation and would cause more trouble than good and I tend to agree with Obama's decision.

It has been a while since I have received e-mail. Please assist me at  I did anwer the correspondence mailed a few months ago; please assist me with follow through.

I support this blog - We must move forward Country interest first, Party interest second!

Our focus must be on  a win win change -- now is the time that the President's Cabinet can Build a Dem-Rep Bipartisan Decision-Making Review Teams For USA Crises Intervention.

The olive branches of heath care and climate change are significant testing issue for change.  Before the C.I.A. issue there was a 2008 Presidential Election with citizens committing themselves beyond party lines---I posted the following blog as a lead to foster a proactive quest for USA unity and change:

April 20, 2009

Greetings Mr. President Barrack, Cabinet Leaders, Congressional leaders, Party Leaders, Governors, Mr. Avelino Maestas and American leader:

We must move from a half empty resolution of "No", for a Bipartisan Unified USA, to an olive branch, solution driven half full solution driven reconciliatory process of inclusion to shave programs of waste and propels America forward.  Historian must have the pleasure of writing how the eagle acknowledged the winds, and collectively allowed its wings to adapt to the storms of time, rather than be tossed and torn for the lack of a conscious focus for a progress direction with the winds under our wings.

Will change allow government first and party second?  Will change allow in the President's Cabinet Allow for multi-level bipartisan review teams for decision making with the inclusion of their Republican counterparts before the 18-32 month inset of our nation's course of destine?

Will this government leaders lean toward a sensitive advanced approach of inclusion and change to embrace a more United States of America in this 21ST Century and always from the primitive modern practices of the 20TH Century?

In Spirit and Truth,

May God Continue to Bless America,

Ernest RayEdward Walker


My take is that somebody has to pay. The worst thing would be to release these memos and have nobody charged with anything. It's like saying... "yeah, the law was broken, and what are you gonna do about it?"

I don't regard the "small fish" as innocent as you put it. After all, these are no ordinary people off the streets. They have been thoroughly trained and instructed. If I break the law I cannot use the "I didn't know" excuse. To take it to the extreme, those who incinerated millions of Jews were following orders too. That didn't stop us from going after them. 

From a pragmatic point of view, yes, going after the big fish is the best approach. Going after those who put the plan into practice would probably create a crack between the administration and the CIA. The CIA, on the other hand, has to understand that they are not above the law. That no matter how good or essential service they provide, they are under the same laws we are. Nobody is above the law, not the president, not the CIA, nobody.

To a CIA operative wanting to defend his or her country after the brutal events of 9/11, I understand how the lines between what is and what is not torture can get blurred.  When you throw in the fact that many of these tactics were probably never even discussed in the pre-9/11 world, I can see how a well-written legal document from the White House could convince a lot of people that what they were doing was ok.  

 Or perhaps its even easier than that. Maybe the CIA agents are a lot like military,  they just follow orders. Either way, I agree with John on this one.

 And I applaud Obamas latest effort to cut the budget. Maybe us tea party attendees influenced him, maybe he planned it all along. Either way, its a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction. Good job Mr PResident

President Obama Addresses the C.I.A. today

I don't envy the president on this issue.  Damned if he did or didn't.  Personally, I felt it was the right decision to release the memos, admit mistakes were made and move ahead.  I've been checking out Cheney's interview with Hannity as I'm typing this- they're both looking pretty bad right now.

Gibbs: We're not holding torture authors accountable because I said so.

Enough already ... What ever happened to talking about health care, jobs and such.

With recent statements from Rahm and Gibbs, I was pretty convinced that even high-up officials would get a free pass, but this article from MSNBC shows that the door may still be open to prosecution of Bush officials. Despite what Obama's views are, the decision comes from Eric Holder ultimately. I had a strange thought that this may be more politically calculated than we think. Maybe Pres. Obama wants to come across as neutral on this and Holder may be alright with "looking like the bad guy" and over-ruling Pres. Obama after all evidence is presented. This way, we see the "I want people who don't always agree with me in my cabinet" theme shine through AND Pres. Obama can still deal with Republicans in a fairly effective way without being "punished" for pushing prosecution. More importantly,  justice is followed through on.

I was torn on the prosecuting of Bush officials-afraid it may be a distraction and get too partisan-but the more I see of the memos (waterboarding-which we were told was used sparingly- 6 times a day for one suspect!) and the more I see Cheney come out with a smug defense for torture and  irrational comments, the more I want the book thrown at him, or at least all the facts to be laid out exposing him for his role.

The truth is that the Justice Dept. is still gathering evidence and it will take time for conclusions to be made about further investigation. Perhaps a special prosecutor will be the way to go-since that person is non-partisan.

Despite what Obama's views are, the decision comes from Eric Holder ultimately. - Kelly

Obama: Eric Holder will decide whether to prosecute Bush officials

I hope you're right Kelly...

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