US President Barack Obama envisages prosecuting former officials who authorized terror interrogations seen by critics as torture, as a Senate report said top aides to former president George W. Bush were to blame.
Obama distinguished between intelligence operatives acting under White House legal authority who used coercive tactics on al-Qaeda suspects and Bush administration lawyers who devised the legal cover for their actions.
“For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted,” Obama said on Tuesday.
“With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the perimeters of various laws,” he said.
His chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had said on Sunday that the president did not want to pursue those who “devised policy,” but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied Obama had remade previous administration policy.
“Whether or not anybody was confused or misspoke, I would take what the president said,” Gibbs told a press briefing, saying it was proper for the Justice Department and not the White House to make a determination.
He declined to discuss whether former senior administration officials, even up to Bush, should also be liable to prosecution, if comparatively junior legal aides were found at fault.
But a new Senate report put responsibility for the harsh tactics squarely on top officials.
The report released on Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Democratic Senator Carl Levin, says officials began preparing for what came to be known as “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks.
Levin said in a statement that the report showed that claims by top Bush aides “that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples,’ were simply false.”