April 21st, 2009
12:48 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama leaves door open to prosecution of Bush officials


President Obama said Tuesday it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether or not to prosecute the former officials. (GETTY IMAGES)

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama left open the possibility of criminal prosecution Tuesday for former Bush administration officials who drew up the legal basis for interrogation techniques that many view as torture.

He said it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether or not to prosecute the former officials.

"With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more a decision for the Attorney General within the parameter of various laws and I don't want to prejudge that," Obama said during a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah at the White House.

"There's a host of very complicated issues involved there. As a general deal, I think we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."

Obama reiterated his belief that he did not think it is appropriate to prosecute those CIA officials and others who actually carried out the interrogations in question.

"This has been a difficult chapter in our history and one of (my) tougher decisions," he added.

The techniques listed in the Bush-era memos released last week "reflected... us losing our moral bearings," he said.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (317 Responses)
  1. CJ

    Everyone who was responsible for issuing orders for torture should be prosecuted, and I applaud our President.

    However, Mr. President, I would like to personally ask you to go one step further. Please consider the seven enlisted soldiers who were prosecuted, dishonorably discharged, and humiliated when the photos were leaked from Abu Ghraib. Ms. England particularly seems to have been a victim of those in authority all the way down the line, even from her enlisted colleagues.

    If you can find it in your heart and in the eyes of the law to not hold those responsible in the CIA, then you must look at the entire picture and excuse those who have already been prosecuted. They should be honored for their time in service, have their GI benefits reinstated, and have the option of continuing their military careers. After all, they were simply doing the jobs they were committed to doing as instructed by the Commander in Chief and the Vice President of the United States.

    What a sad day in the history of this great country. Thank God, the majority of the Americans recognized this problem and have attempted to correct it by electing Barack Obama. Good luck Mr. President and First Lady as you continue your endeavors to restore American Pride!!!

    April 21, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  2. Great distruction

    People don't get all excited, they will never be charged of these crimes. Remember who they are, where they come from, and the color of their skin. These people think they are god and they can't be touch, and by the view of this country, they stand correct. This country will always be one sided until we leave this god aweful place.

    Black men are arrested and sent to prison for looking like they comitted a crime, whereas these guys have hardcore evidence against them and they will not be charged or sentenced to prision. So get over it, they will go on living their wealthy lives at the expense of the average citizen. Rich, white men rule!!! Don't ya'll know?

    April 21, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  3. Moderate Democrat

    Thank Goodness.

    The pursuit of torture by american leaders is an abominal act of treason and to the founding blocks of our great nation.

    The rewards we gained from torture? Two buildings hit, 5k soldiers dead, 3k american civilians dead, 2 wars not won, the culprit (Osama Bin Laden) still at large. Yea, sounds like it really paid off, NOT! Cheney is in la-la land. He didn't protect us, nor did his boss...we were attacked for the first time on our soil in SIXTY years (heck, Carter kept us safe at home his ENTIRE term in office).

    Bring them all down and burn them at the stake. They deserve no rights since they are not by my standards, true americans!

    April 21, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  4. Oh, please...

    Is anybody going to ask President Obama why Bagram AFB is any different than Gitmo?

    April 21, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  5. The Making of an Effective President

    The President has many conflicting issues to balance.

    1.) Threats against his life by monied interests with a stake in the outcome of any investigations / prosecutions

    2.) Keeping highly partisan Republican Congressmen and Senators focused on "DOING THE PEOPLE's BUSINESS" while their friends, Bush Administration officials, are held accountable for crimes they have committed.

    3.) Making progress on Healthcare Reform, Renewable Energy and Education Reform ... all of which are REQUIRED to lift the boats of working Americans.

    Our President is right to hand this over to AG Eric Holder. Bet those idiot republicans on the confirmation committee that voted AGAINST Mr. Holder wish they had made nice with him now! Being an unprincipled antagonist has consequences.

    I hope the American people are smart enough to give President Obama a Democratic Majority of 62 or more Senators so that he can continue to make progress while the Republicans POUT about these investigations / prosecutions.

    April 21, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. Rob

    obama is a moron, why would your prosecute the people who have kept this country free. Ok so what if we waterboarded a couple of people. What do you think happens to our troops if they get captured, there not put up in a hotel somewhere and served steak and shrimp. They get it a lot worse then what we give war criminals. Now if people will try to attack us since they know nothing is going to happen to them. I can't wait till obama first term is up, I hope he doesnt ruin this country where we can't bounce back.

    April 21, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. lf

    If we are going to look backwards to prisoner holding, etc. then you have only scratched the surface. Look at every military engagement/war since the founding of our Nation and fully examine the archives also. This would be most interesting since witnesses from many of these events may no longer be living, but may have written testimony as to violation of the same principles. This should occupy time, expense, and endless efforts to full trace out.

    When, where, who, how, if, should involve deep probing to keep us busy for quite a few years!

    You have begun a new day, so start to move on and accomplish your new, but different road map for such purposes...I hope also that opponents of this nation will respect your principles and do the same, but THAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN! The ultimate question may be how far do we go to protect our national security as a Nation???

    April 21, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  8. ray ray

    Obama is doing what terrorists could not – harrass and persecute US officials.

    Obama, appeasing our enemies and detractors, is all-to-ready to throw Americans under the bus.

    April 21, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  9. Pat in IL

    The law is the law, and those who break it need to be accountable. I completely agree that the moral compass has been lost and needs to be regained.

    April 21, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  10. Regular Dude

    Please prosecute Bush and all of his staff members for war crimes, wire taps and private document recovery without warrant, and for Treason in the highest for aiding known terrorists- both foreign and domestic. These are all verifiable facts that NO one has done ANYTHING about! He and his cronies have been above the law for too long-

    April 21, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  11. Liberal4Obama

    Bush and Cheney ignored the law and as such they should be punished to the fullest extent the law allows. You do the crime, you do the time.

    April 21, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  12. Mark C.

    Prosecute them and prosecute them hard.

    They have all attempted to subvert our American ideals into fear-based policies of secret prisons, suspending due process and using the very tactics for which we claim to condemn others. Prosecute and hope that the next group of thugs that tries this will remember and think twice. There is a right and wrong way to secure our nation and maintain our integrity as a people.

    "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." – Friedrich Nietzsche

    April 21, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  13. dave

    This whole conversation between the White House and Mr. Cheney is beginning to feel like a rope-a-dope. Can't wait until Cheney slips up and says something incrimminating.

    April 21, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  14. zago

    Which technically means Cheney SHUT UP. Dick Cheney behaves like America belongs to him. No one should not have succeeded Bush and him. They should have stayed in power for life. He shows no respect for the admnistration. He's just an angry man always looking for a fight with the new administration.

    Go Obama! Take the fight to Cheney. He will know when to talk and when to shut up. At least, if he's sent to guantanamo, he will have enough time to talk while cooperating with investigators.

    Take the fight to his court

    April 21, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  15. IL Voter

    Yeah prosecute that DICK cheney.

    April 21, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  16. mc

    Let's see...we attacked Iraq, because the have WMD's (but,,,don't we have WMD in this country?). Oh, but Saddam was torturing his own people..(but...didn't we do the same thing...to his people?)

    Did Bush, Cheney and Haliburton make millions in Iraq?

    In my opinion, George Bush and Dick Cheney are two of the biggest war criminals in history – and prosecution would be the correct action to take with them!

    April 21, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  17. Dexter

    One and Done. The techniques listed in the Obama-era budgets, reflected… us losing our common sense bearings.

    April 21, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  18. Jon Krieger

    Well here goes Obama Bin Laden again!What's he prosecuting them for?Protecting our countr from another 9/11?HOW DARE THEY?!

    April 21, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  19. Rick CT

    And he weasels out of another promise. You can bet Pelosi, Reid et al will now step up the pressure for their own partisian interests and Obama has already shown a complete unwillingness to stand up to his co-presidents. That will ever change – he's too weak to do so.

    The good news is that if they proceed on this, nothing else will be accomplished in Washington and process of government will gring to a halt. As a result they won't do anymore to screw things up.

    April 21, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  20. Dear TV - Please Read Books

    While this is awesome news, its not Obama's decision to make. I think that's why he made this statement today. His previous statements about not prosecuting have stepped on the toes of the Justice Department – its their call not his, which I think he has now accepted. The republicans should be pleased with him really...he's been trying to avoid prosecuting the Bush administration. He's been protecting their sorry behinds while they all (with the exception of W.) have been running their mouths about him. The fact of the matter is that the President cannot decide when someone is prosecuted for breaking the law. People keep saying its not a good time for these prosecutions to happen. Can you imagine someone saying that in any other legal case? Imagine that your friend is murdered but everyone thinks its a BAD TIME to bring the killer to justice. There should be no such thing as choosing whether or not to prosecute someone. If there's evidence that laws have been broken, prosecution MUST occur. We have tons of evidence that these people broke American and International law – not to mention they keep going on Fox News and bragging about it. Let them defend themselves...if they truly did nothing wrong they will be cleared. Imagine the uproar if American soldiers were tortured by somewhere like France. We would demand justice. But everyone acts like "Noooo we're America, we're awesome and we don't do anything wrong, ever." I think Cheney better shut up and start kissing up to Obama so he can get a nice little pardon down the road...

    April 21, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  21. REF

    obama is the one who should be impeached he has violated the constitution of the united states with his socialist programs where in the heck does he get authority in the constitution to take over banks and the auto industry. where does he get the right to confiscate our childrens childrens future where does he get the right to decide what business is green enough for govt funds who the hell is he to say how we should live our lives all you obama koolaide drinkers take a good look at the ersions of your rights from the 1st amendment on this is not change ***********its chains******* to a big all intrusive govt lead by obama and his wackos

    April 21, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  22. carlos

    please ask chenet where did the 8 billion dollars that went missing in iraq go? whose pockets?....and they claimed at the time that it didn't need accountability.....thieves, corrupt, reptiles

    April 21, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  23. facts are facts

    If the U.S. doesn't investigate and prosecute where applicable then the present administration is just as guilty as those criminals in the Bush administration.

    The entire world is watching as they know it is only a matter of time before the Republicans get back in power to do the same things all over again. Read the definition of a psychopath in any dictionary and then look at all the current Republicans and see if you can find one that doesn't fit that definition to a tee.

    April 21, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. RWE

    what goes around comes around. this is such a joke.

    April 21, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. Aaron

    If you write the rules under which torture is to be carried out and direct your agencies to do it, you've violated the Geneva convention and set up a very bad situation for our own future POWs. I think they've got more than enough evidence to prosecute Cheney and Rumsfeld. They should be held accountable for what was done.

    April 21, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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