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Obama Defends Decision to Release Interrogation Memos

President Obama spoke at CIA headquarters Monday, defending his decision to release Bush-era memos on controversial interrogation tactics. Former CIA official Jeffrey Smith and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights examine how the memos were handled.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    President Obama's defense of his decisions about the so-called torture memos. He spoke this afternoon at CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, outside Washington.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I have put an end to the interrogation techniques described in those OLC memos, and I want to be very clear and very blunt.

    I've done so for a simple reason: because I believe that our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law. I know I can count on you to do exactly that.

    You know, there have been some conversations that I've had with senior folks here at Langley in which I think people have expressed understandable anxiety and concern, so I want to make a point that I just made in the smaller group. I understand that it's hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples and would willingly and gladly kill innocents.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now a debate over how — or let's take a look now at the president has handled the memos and his decision not to prosecute CIA operatives.

    Jeffrey Smith was the general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Clinton administration. He's now a partner in the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter. Michael Ratner is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to advancing human rights.

    Gentlemen, first, let's go through these questions one at a time. Mr. Smith, was the president correct to make public the CIA's top secret memos on torture?

  • JEFFREY SMITH, Former CIA Official:

    Well, they were not the CIA's memos. They were memos written by the legal counsel at the Department of Justice. But I do believe he was correct in releasing them, yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Mr. Ratner, do you agree? I'm sorry. I can't — there we go.

    MICHAEL RATNER, Center for Constitutional Rights: Mr. Smith and I agree on that issue. Those memos should have been released. And even more, all of the memos, all of the information that is really covering up the torture program of the United States, I think, must see public light.

    I think the president should no longer be taking state secrets and lawsuits that my office and others have brought when we try and get to the bottom in civil cases around the torture issue. They're still taking that position.

    But, certainly, these memos were a first step. But I would hope that all of the documents regarding torture are revealed.

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