Reflecting on the Torture Question

Question: Should Bush administration officials be prosecuted over torture?

 

Richard Haass: No. I wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day essentially arguing that we should not criminalize the policy debate. I read all the memos that have been released by the various justice department officials and what they did in the way the legal reasoning sometimes do almost like accountants. They were basically saying the following forms of activity are not explicitly illegal or excluded under domestic or international statute. I don’t necessarily agree with the reasoning, it was certainly aggressive legal reasoning but it seems to me it’s not the sort of thing that gets into the realm of criminality, it’s simply aggressive advocacy.

What’s more they don’t set the policy, they were simply arguing the policy and then it was up to the president and the cabinet and others to make a decision about what was going to be allowed or not. So I think this whole debate about whether the prosecutor criminalize those involved is really misguided. What we ought to have a debate in this country is about the pros and cons of certain types of interrogation techniques.

That’s a legitimate debate about what the benefits potentially are and reasonable people seem to disagree on that and what the cause are and clearly this cause reputing in the United States, there’s moral issues and again there’s real basic questions about the efficacy of these techniques whether they actually do provide usable, valuable, information but I don’t see this as illegal issue.

I see this as a policy issue and for the Congress and the United States I don’t think we need years of distraction or trying to find scapegoats or alleged criminal activity. I would think we need a policy debates and we need to get on with it because this country faces an array of challenges that borders on the unprecedented.

I also think that someone who’s been in and out of government in my career, it’s not a smarter healthy thing to do, to criminalize advocacy, that people are going to be making arguments in government and sometimes it maybe quite assured of or aggressive or outside the box, well fine that’s why you set up processes to vet these things that’s why you need a discipline rigorous national security council process.

 

Recorded on: May 08, 2009

 

Richard Haass on why advocates of torture should not be prosecuted.

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