Obama leaves door open to Bush officials’ prosecution

President Obama on Tuesday left open the possibility of criminal prosecution for Bush administration officials who drew up the legal basis for interrogation techniques that many view as torture.

Obama 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 backward. “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.” Watch as Obama says U.S. can be protected and live up to its ideals » Obama’s remarks came five days after the administration released four Bush-era memos detailing the use of terror interrogations such as waterboarding, a technique used to simulate drowning. One memo showed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding — which Obama has called torture — at least 266 times on two top al Qaeda suspects.

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Obama reiterated his belief that he did not think it is appropriate to prosecute those CIA officials and others who 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 memos “reflected … us losing our moral bearings.” The president’s apparent willingness to leave the door open to a prosecution of Bush officials seemed to contradict White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who indicated Sunday that the administration was opposed to such an action. Obama believes “that’s not the place that we [should] go,” Emanuel said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“It’s not a time to use our energy … looking back [with] any sense of anger and retribution.” On Monday, Obama asserted during a visit to CIA headquarters that he had released the documents primarily because of the “exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was [already] public. … The covert nature of the information had been compromised.”