POLITICS
05/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Schakowsky On Torture: "Just Following Orders" A Historically Bogus Argument

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a top Democrat on the intelligence committee, dismissed President Obama's defense of CIA officials who tortured detainees under orders from the White House.

Obama, who released details of the torture practices Thursday, said that CIA personnel acting on the legal advice of the Bush administration would not come in for "retribution."

Schakowsky, in an interview with the Huffington Post, says she's heard that argument before. "This notion that 'I was just obeying orders' -- I don't want to compare this to Nazi Germany, but we've come to almost ridicule the notion that when horrific acts have been committed that people can use the excuse that, 'Well, I was just following orders,'" she says.

Schakowsky is chairwoman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Schakowsky said that she has yet to speak to the committee chairman, but has instructed her staff to begin an investigation into the allegations if the full committee does not.

"There should be an open mind of what to do with information that we get from thorough investigations," she says.

Schakowsky also notes that the administration's emphasis on looking to the future rather than the past defies logic. If criminal prosecutions only looked to the future, there could be no criminal prosecutions.

"All crimes are in the past, right? So, obviously if you're prosecuting crimes, it's not something that's going to be done, it's something that's been done," she says.

Private contractors who tortured detainees, however, might not get the same immunity that CIA officials have coming their way. Schakowsky says she spoke with Deputy Attorney General David Ogden on Thursday. He told her that the Justice department is "still examining" whether to provide the same immunity to contractors. (A justice department spokesman didn't immediately return an e-mail from the Huffington Post.)

"In general, I think that contractors need to be held accountable for what they do, but particularly the inventors of the program," says Schakowsky, referencing two psychologists highlighted in Jane Mayer's investigation of Guantanamo, who developed the program of torture.

Reading the memos authorizing specific forms of torture, says Schakowski, is difficult for her to do. "Best to read these things in the morning," she says. "How dark can the dark side get?"

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