ACLU Statement In Response To President Obama's Speech Today To CIA

April 20, 2009 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – In a speech to the CIA today, President Obama emphasized the importance of upholding American values while protecting the nation’s security. Referring to the controversy around the Justice Department’s release last week of four “torture memos,” President Obama asked the CIA not to be discouraged and stressed that it is important that we acknowledge “mistakes,” “move forward” and “learn” from those mistakes.

The four memos, written by lawyers in the Bush Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. After the memos were released, President Obama sought to assure members of the CIA that they would not be prosecuted for using interrogation techniques if they relied in good faith upon authorization from Bush administration lawyers.

The ACLU has called for the Department of Justice to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate torture crimes under the Bush administration as well as a Select Committee in Congress to investigate torture and pass legislation to prevent a reoccurrence of past violations of the law.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

“President Obama is right to emphasize that there is no contradiction between security and democratic values. The CIA can fulfill its mandate while following the law. Sadly, that wasn’t the case in the past.

“But in order to uphold our values, we need to enforce the law. Torture is a crime. Contrary to previous comments by President Obama and those today by CIA Director Panetta, accountability is neither retribution nor laying blame. It is an integral part of any functioning democracy and of restoring America’s values and its reputation. Without accountability, we cannot truly ‘move forward’ because the stain of the past will haunt us into the future. No one is above the law. Prosecutions accomplish societal healing by ensuring that criminals pay their debt to society. This is as true for common criminals as it is for government officials who sanction and engage in torture.

“It is time to begin criminal investigations of officials who authorized torture, lawyers who justified it and interrogators who broke the law.

“Futhermore, claiming that accountability will make interrogators or those in charge of our security ‘timid’ is wrong-headed. The memos released last week clearly show that the CIA and Justice Department were both attempting to absolve themselves from responsibility for torture by relying on empty assurances from the other. It would be a good thing for America if CIA interrogators hesitated before entering into this kind of criminal conduct again.”

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