US Attorney General Eric Holder is considering whether to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation practices, a controversial move that would run counter to US President Barack Obama’s wishes to leave the issue in the past.
Holder plans to make a final decision within the next few weeks, a Justice Department official said on Saturday night. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller said Holder planned to “follow the facts and the law.”
“We have made no decisions on investigations or prosecutions, including whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct further inquiry,” he said. “As the attorney general has made clear, it would be unfair to prosecute any official who acted in good faith based on legal guidance from the Justice Department.”
A move to appoint a prosecutor is certain to stir partisan bickering that could create a distraction to Obama’s efforts to push healthcare and energy reform. Obama has repeatedly expressed reluctance to a probe, saying the nation should be “looking forward and not backwards” when it came to Bush-era abuses.
Newsweek magazine, which first reported the development on Saturday, said Holder was aware of the political implications of having a probe and preferred not to create unnecessary trouble for the White House.
Still, the attorney general was troubled by what he learned in reports about the treatment of prisoners at the CIA’s “black sites.”
The probe would focus in part on whether CIA personnel tortured terrorism suspects after Sept. 11, 2001. Holder has said those who acted within the government’s legal guidance would not be prosecuted, but has left open the possibility of pursuing those who went beyond the guidance and broke the law.