There is one thing we count on when it comes to Barack Obama, and that is he can never be counted on. All those CIA operatives that he spoke to yesterday to reassure them after his release of the classified interrogation memos need to realize that he will not keep his promise to them for long. If it becomes politically expedient for Obama to sell them out and prosecute them for protecting our country, he will do it. There was a time when he said he wouldn’t prosecute other Bush administration officials for the use of tough interrogation techniques. He’s reversed himself on that now. From ABC News:
President Obama suggested today that it remained a possibility that the Justice Department might bring charges against officials of the Bush administration who devised harsh interrogation policies that some see as torture.
He also suggested that if there is any sort of investigation into these past policies and practices, he would be more inclined to support an independent commission outside the typical congressional hearing process.
Both statements represented breaks from previous White House statements on the matter.
Calling the Bush-era memos providing legal justifications for enhanced interrogation methods “reflected us losing our moral bearings,” the president said that he did not think it was “appropriate” to prosecute those CIA officers who “carried out some of these operations within the four corners of the legal opinions or guidance that had been provided by the White House.”
But in clear change from language he and members of his administration have used in the past, the president said that “with respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”
Just yesterday, asked by a reporter as to why the administration was not seeking to “hold accountable” Bush administration lawyers who may have “twisted the law,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “the President is focused on looking forward, that’s why.”
So much for “looking forward.” But to prosecute Bush administration officials for tough interrogation techniques puts at least one big Democrat in the cross hairs. Ed Morrissey outlines the quandary the president will find himself in:
Obama can open the door to prosecutions, but who will he prosecute? He’ll find it difficult to go after the interrogators, who relied on some strange opinions from the normally-binding Office of Legal Counsel. The prosecution can try undermining that by claiming it as a Nuremberg defense, but this wasn’t Nazi Germany and the OLC exists to give this kind of legal direction. Interrogators relied on those interpretations in good faith.
That leaves George Tenet and the OLC attorneys, but they didn’t conduct the torture, and the OLC didn’t order the interrogations, either. They responded to a request from the CIA to opine on the legality of the procedures. Holder can prosecute Tenet, but then he’d also have to file charges against several members of Congress who were briefed on the procedures and never objected — including current Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If Tenet would get prosecuted for ordering the interrogation techniques, then Pelosi and others would have to get prosecuted for being accessories in not taking action to stop them.
This could get very sticky for the president if he allows Attorney General Eric Holder to go through with this.
Stephen Hayes weighs in on Obama’s releasing of the classified memos at The Weekly Standard:
This is Obama’s arrogance at its worst. The president and his advisers seem to think that because the world loves him — and because he remains popular here at home, too — his decisions will escape serious scrutiny.
This should be the end of the Obama honeymoon. The country has debated the politicization of intelligence for the last seven years. In that time, we have probably never seen such a clear example of that phenomenon. And though most reporters would surely agree with Obama on enhanced interrogation, they cannot give him a pass on this. It should be a very, very uncomfortable day for Robert Gibbs today.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has formally requested that information from the interrogations be declassified. Early signs from the Obama administration indicate that they will be unlikely to do this. Why? That’s unclear. But Obama officials don’t think they have to worry. Why? Obama is really, really popular.
And that is what Obama’s presidency is all about.