Bob Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that the criminal prosecution of Bush administration officials involved in implementing torture policies should not "be taken off the table," as the Obama administration decides how best to deal with potential illegalities from its predecessor in the White House.
The former senator and longtime Florida Democrat said in an interview with the Huffington Post that he favored an inquiry into what transpired during the Bush years "so that there could be a record that is not too distant from the acts themselves for the benefit of the American people and the benefit of history." As a rationale for such an inquiry, he noted that historical knowledge would have benefited the Bush administration officials who did not, according to a report in the New York Times on Wednesday, know about the "gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving."
Regarding the outlines of a possible committee to investigate the Bush administration's tactics, Graham said that it would have to be bipartisan, but could "be done within the Congress or another 9/11 commission-type citizens group."
"As to criminal prosecution," he added, "I don't think that should be taken off the table. But I think it is premature with the current state of knowledge to determine if that is appropriate."
Graham, who served as chair of the intelligence committee until 2002, was one of a handful of lawmakers who was reportedly briefed by the Bush administration about the CIA's interrogation tactics, including the use of waterboarding. His ability to object to these practices, however, was limited do to secrecy restrictions imposed by the agency and White House.
Asked whether he saw anything new in the recently released Bush-era torture memos, Graham responded: "There has been so much in the press over the past two-plus years that there isn't any particularly new information. There were some new details than we had from before and information on the treatment of some of the detainees that was new and I found it to be very distressing."
Graham also called for the release of legal memos requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney -- who contends that these memos will provide proof of the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques -- arguing that the American public should be able to "evaluate what benefit we have derived for the dramatic change in our fundamental values that those interrogations represented."
As for the largely conservative critique that by releasing these memos the Obama White House had damaged the country's counter-terrorism measures, Graham objected strongly. "The use of these extra-constitutional measures has seriously damaged the U.S. ability to be an effective leader in the world," he replied. "We have been that shining city on the hill and I am afraid that that light is now significantly dimmer."
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