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Release of Interrogation Memos May Spur Wider Inquiry

After the release of new details on the approval of harsh U.S. interrogation tactics, two lawmakers weigh in on whether any of the officials involved should be investigated.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    First up, we continue our coverage of the question of whether Bush administration officials who devised or carried out harsh interrogations should be investigated.

    For differing views on the answer to that question, we turn to two members of the Senate, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Both lawmakers sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Welcome to you both.

    Senator Whitehouse, we've heard the president say this repeatedly on different subjects, but I wonder what you think: Should the administration be looking forward on this matter or backward?

  • SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, D-R.I.:

    I think it's a little bit more complex than that. I think clearly the president wants to send a signal to the country that the focus of his administration is forward-looking.

    We have an economy that is still in the ditch. We have two wars going on. We have a health care system that is falling apart. There are serious issues that grieve Americans every day. And I think for the president to insist that his focus will be forward-looking is important, and valuable, and correct.

    That said, there are many folks, including those of us who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee or, in my case, the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have different responsibilities and who need to make sure that misconduct that was done under the Bush administration is investigated, is revealed, and is not repeated.

    And to the extent that that investigation or other investigation ends up leading to criminal prosecutions, I think it's far too early to be trying to prejudge those one way or the other.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Senator Graham, the same question to you. Should we be looking forward or backward?

  • SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.:

    Well, I think you look backward to make sure you go forward in the right way. And I, as you know, Gwen, have been a pretty vocal critic of some of the legal theories that were offered by the Bush administration when it came to detention and interrogation.

    The Armed Services Committee under Senator Levin has issued a very extensive report about interrogation techniques, how they came about, who was involved. The Intelligence Committee that Senator Whitehouse is on is looking at this issue, and that's fine.

    But the issue that brought us here tonight is, how far do you go? And what do you do? And what's best for the country?

    I don't believe it's best for the country to look back with a view of prosecuting anyone who implemented these techniques. If you're a CIA agent and you've been instructed by your superiors to interrogate a suspect a certain way, I don't think you should be held criminally liable. That doesn't do the country any good.

    What happened after 9/11 is that the president and the vice president asked their legal advisers in the Department of Defense and Department of Justice, "Tell me what is available to me to make sure we don't get attacked again."

    And those lawyers got in a room and, in my opinion, gave a very strained view of the law, interpreted the law in a way that I would not have, but I never doubted one moment that they were trying to protect the country from another attack.

    It wasn't a criminal conspiracy to hurt a particular individual. It was to create tools to give to the president and the agencies involved to protect the country.

    I disagree with their analysis, but I don't think they should be criminally responsible for giving that analysis.

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