Recently, the White House has sent mixed signals about whether it supports investigations into the Bush administration officials who authored the torture policies.
On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that “those who devised the policies…should not be prosecuted.” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admitted yesterday the White House was failing to hold anyone “accountable” for torture. However, today the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Scott Shane reported that aides to Obama “did not rule out legal sanctions for the Bush lawyers who developed the legal basis for the use of the techniques.”
In the Oval Office this afternoon, the AP’s Jennifer Loven put the question directly to Obama. He refused to rule out prosecutions of the Bush lawyers who created the legal underpinnings for torture, saying it was a question he would leave up to Attorney General Eric Holder:
OBAMA: The OLC memos that were released reflected in my view us losing our moral bearings. … 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. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say 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.
Obama also tacitly endorsed a bipartisan, Congressional commission to investigate Bush’s torture program. Watch it:
Obama is effectively putting the ball in Holder’s court. Recall, during his Senate confirmation hearing, Holder said that the President cannot “immunize” torture and must enforce the law in all cases:
LEAHY: Do you believe that the president of the United States has authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture? I ask that because we did not get a satisfactory answer from Former Attorney General Gonzales on that.
HOLDER: Mr. Chairman, no one is above the law. The president has a constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. There are obligations that we have as a result of treaties that we have signed — obligations, obviously, in the Constitution. Where Congress has passed a law, it is the obligation of the president, or the commander-in-chief, to follow those laws. [...]
If one looks at the various statutes that have been passed, it is my belief that the president does not have the power that you’ve indicated.
Holder told Katie Couric earlier this month that a special commission investigating torture is something that “Senator Leahy, the people in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the President will ultimately have to decide.” Leahy, Judiciary Committee senators, and Obama have made up their mind. Now, it is up to Holder to ensure that “no one is above the law.”