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Ethics Report is No Substitution for Criminal Investigation

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May 6, 2009

Last night, The Washington Post reported that former Bush administration officials launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to get the Justice Department to soften the ethics report authored by its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). The OPR report reported concludes that the lawyers who wrote the “torture memos” legally sanctioning illegal interrogation methods committed serious lapses of judgment, but should not be prosecuted.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement today:

Regardless of the findings from the Department of Justice ethics division, the ball is in Attorney General Holder’s court. The attorney general should not be swayed by political considerations or by an inquiry that was intentionally neutered and limited in scope. Attorney General Holder has said that he intends to follow the facts and the law wherever they lead. The logical next step is to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate those who authorized the torture program, those who legally sanctioned it and those who implemented it. It would be a dangerous precedent to conclude that lawyers who played a critical role in an illegal program are immune from criminal investigations. No one is above the law.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in the same statement:

Given the disturbing reports of pressure from Bush administration officials to water down this report, Congress must intervene and assert its oversight role. We cannot turn the page on the failed policies of the Bush administration when its lobbyists are attempting to rewrite history. This ethics review is only one piece of the puzzle. More than five years after the first disclosures of torture, it should concern all Americans that there is a 200-page draft government report on the role of three lawyers, but absolutely no Justice Department investigation of their clients — those top White House and CIA officials who asked for the opinions and reportedly made decisions on what torture tactics to use on which detainees. A top-to-bottom investigation is needed to examine not just those who authored these opinions but those who requested them and to determine whether these DOJ findings were watered down for political reasons. Congress can and must play an active role in that investigation.

Last night, Rachel Maddow discussed the problems with this report with Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff, who first broke the news about the OPR report back in February.

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