McClatchey DC – The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on harsh treatment of detainees prompted renewed calls for legal action against CIA officers, but the Obama administration on Tuesday questioned the need for criminal prosecution.
No prosecutions would be warranted if the intelligence officers were carrying out U.S. government policy and following legal guidance, said senior White House officials who briefed reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy. They further noted that a Justice Department special prosecutor declined to prosecute after an earlier investigation.
“We’re not going to aim to hold them accountable if they’re operating within the guidelines they’ve been given,” one of the officials said. The official added, “The Department of Justice has taken a broader look at this program and has made their own determination not to pursue prosecution.”
Nonetheless, the vivid and gruesome details revealed Tuesday in the committee’s 525-page summary triggered demands for civil or criminal proceedings, both in the United States and abroad. Vice President Joe Biden and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest both indicated a decision is up to the Justice Department.
“It could take 10 or 15 years to even begin to get accountability,” noted J. Wells Dixon, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “If accountability doesn’t start now, in this administration, it could come down the road.”
The courtroom hurdles may simply be too high, leaving to history rather than a jury the final judgment for what California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the intelligence panel, called the “use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”
However, the Bush administration’s Justice Department provided legal cover with a series of previously secret memos that authorized the harsh interrogation techniques.
CIA officers themselves seemed cognizant of steering clear of potential legal danger, the report shows. The report cites, for instance, an Aug. 12, 2002, memo to interrogators from CIA official Jose Rodriguez.
“Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality . . . be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic),” Rodriguez wrote. “Such language is not helpful.”
Criminal prosecutions would be the most dramatic legal fallout from the report. In theory, they might involve either the interrogations or their coverup.
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