Transparency — with a catch

TRANSPARENCY — WITH A CATCH…. Following up on an earlier item, the good news is, the White House is apparently doing the right thing and releasing the torture memos from the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, which had authorized the CIA interrogation techniques. The Bush administration considered the memos some of its most closely-guarded secrets, and President Obama faced considerable pressure from the intelligence community and Republicans on the Hill not to disclose the materials.

But there’s a catch. As the White House releases the documents and meets a court-imposed deadline, the president has said he does not want to prosecute those who followed the OLC’s advice. From a White House statement issued about a half-hour ago:

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program — and some of the practices — associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs. […]

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

The memos aren’t online just yet, and we don’t yet know the extent to which they will be redacted.

As for the statement, at first blush, the decision not to investigate those who did the torturing — those who followed the OLC’s legal advice — is only a small part of the bigger picture. The president doesn’t want to go after individual, low-person-on-the-totem-pole officials who, in all likelihood, committed war crimes by torturing detainees. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.”

How about, then, pursuing criminal charges against those who did the sanctioning?

The memos in question have not yet been posted online, but it’s my understanding they’ll be available here.

Update: The ACLU and the Huffington Post have the memos online.

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