The Obama administration will release four Bush-era memos on terror interrogations Thursday, according to a senior administration official.
The administration also informed CIA officials they will not be prosecuted for past waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, the official also confirms. The memos, written by a top Justice Department lawyer, provided legal guidance to the entire executive branch, including the intelligence agencies, on permissible “enhanced interrogation techniques” that could be used against suspected terrorists taken into custody. “My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record,” President Obama said in the statement released from the White House. “Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.” Officials who used the controversial interrogation tactics were in the clear if their actions were consistent with the legal advice from the Justice Department under which they were operating at the time, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
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Obama prohibited the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding shortly after taking office in January. Such techniques “undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer,” he reiterated Thursday. While United States must sometimes “protect information that is classified for purposes of national security,” he decided to release the memos because he believes “strongly in transparency and accountability” and “exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release,” Obama said. “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.” He added that the officials involved in the questionable interrogations would not be subject to prosecution because the intelligence community must be provided “with the confidence” it needs to do its job. “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,” Obama concluded. The president pledged to work to ensure the actions described in the memos “never take place again.”