Obama's Remarks on Possible Prosecution Please Democrats, Anger Republicans

Blair: "We do not need these techniques to keep America safe."

ByABC News
April 21, 2009, 5:23 PM

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2009— -- President Obama's suggestion Tuesday that his administration's Department of Justice could prosecute Bush-era officials for formulating harsh interrogation techniques against detainees prompted both praise and criticism in Washington.

The president was the most direct he has ever been in suggesting such prosecution was possible. But despite the shifting language, which the White House denied was the case, Obama made it clear that he believed those CIA officers who were told by the Bush administration that these harsh interrogations were legal should not be charged.

"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," he said following a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah.

"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 parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that," he said. "I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there."

The Senate Armed Services Committee released a 232-page report late Tuesday concluding that these interrogation techniques were approved at a very high level in the Bush administration.

"In my judgment, the report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration's interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse -- such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan -- to low ranking soldiers," said Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "The record established by the Committee's investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses."

The report focused on interrogation methods that took place in the military's secret prisons, but not the CIA.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair confirmed a story reported in the New York Times that he informed President Obama in a private memo that the harsh interrogation tactics did indeed yield valuable information from terror suspects.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Blair says that he while he did recommend to the president that the administration release these memos, he also made clear that the CIA should not be punished for carrying out legal orders.

"We do not need these techniques to keep America safe," he continues in his statement. "The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

The White House also suggested, for the first time, that any public investigation of interrogation policy should be like the 9/11 Commission.

"There needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period, I think, for Congress to examine ways that it can be done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines, to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take," Obama added.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president would see the 9/11 Commission as a model of how an investigation into the torture memo matter should be carried out.

Obama is concerned that such an investigation "could become overly politicized," Gibbs said. On the 9/11 Commission, however, the members -- regardless of whether they were Democrats or Republicans "put their party identification away in order to answer some very serious questions," he said.