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Context of 'April 16, 2009: Law Professor Slams Obama for Not Promising to Prosecute Bush Officials Who Sanctioned Torture'

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Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley discusses the Bush-era Justice Department torture memos released by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009). Turley is interviewed by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who notes that as the memos were being released, President Obama said, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution; nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” She wonders if Obama means he won’t prosecute CIA officers who carried out the orders to torture prisoners, or if he means he won’t prosecute the civilian officials who sanctioned torture. Turley is not sure. “But what is really disturbing is that President Obama’s obviously referring to criminal investigation and prosecution,” he says, “that somehow he’s equating the enforcement of federal laws that he took an oath to enforce, to uphold the Constitution and our laws—and he’s equating that with an act of retribution, and some sort of hissy fit or blame game. You know, it’s not retribution to enforce criminal laws. But it is obstruction to prevent that enforcement and that is exactly what he has done thus far. He is trying to lay the groundwork, to look principled when he’s doing an utterly unprincipled thing. There’s very few things worse for a president to do than to protect accused war criminals, and that’s what we’re talking about here. President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture. And torture violates at least four treaties and is considered a war crime. So, the refusal to let it be investigated is to try to obstruct a war crime investigation. That puts it in the same category as Serbia and other countries that have refused to allow investigations to occur.” It is not up to a president to decide who gets prosecuted for breaking a law and who does not, Turley notes, and adds: “[W]hat’s amazing is that we’ve gotten used to senators and our president and the attorney general talking about whether it’s a convenient time, whether this is a good time for us to investigate, whether we’ve got other things to do. There aren’t any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes. You don’t have a choice. You don’t wait for the perfect moment. You have an obligation to do it. And what I think the president is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it’s a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because it’s going to really be painful. And, quite frankly, I think the motive is obvious. He knows that it will be politically unpopular, because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush and he knows it. And there’s not going to be a lot of defenses that could be raised for ordering a torture program.” [MSNBC, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Barack Obama, Jonathan Turley, Rachel Maddow, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley writes of the “interesting” statement then-President Bush made in the days preceding the US invasion of Iraq. Bush told the Iraqi military and its citizenry, “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished, and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’” (see March 17, 2003). Turley also notes Bush’s statement against torture made three months after the invasion (see June 26, 2003). According to Turley, “Bush gave a standard that showed that he and his administration knew that there is no ‘good faith defense’ in committing war crimes.” [Jonathan Turley, 4/29/2009]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Jonathan Turley

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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