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Tuesday 28 April 2009
US Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before Congress while protesters hold signs urging him to prosecute members of the Bush administration for authorizing torture. (Photo: Reuters Pictures)
It would be a conflict of interest for President Barack Obama's Justice Department to investigate lawyers from the Bush administration, even though they no longer work for the government, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Democrats wrote, "It is impossible to determine at this stage, and before conclusion of the necessary investigation, whether additional conflicts of interest might exist or arise."
The letter said a special counsel's investigation would insulate the department from accusations that the investigation was politically inspired.
Most of the 16 signers were Democratic liberals. Seven committee Democrats did not sign the letter, nor did any of the 16 Republicans.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the letter will be reviewed, but he pointed out the department's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether the memos are consistent with professional standards required of department lawyers.
"As with any issue, we will follow the facts where they lead," Boyd said. "As the attorney general has said, it would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect
Obama has said it would be up to Holder to determine whether "those who formulated those legal decisions" should be prosecuted. The methods, described in the Bush-era memos, included slamming detainees against walls and subjecting them to simulated drowning known as waterboarding.
The president said he would not seek to punish CIA officers and others who carried out interrogations.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also has proposed that independent investigators determine whether Bush administration officials ought to face charges.
Conservative Republican senators have characterized the Democratic effort as counterproductive and politically motivated at the least and, at worst, damaging to national security.
Levin recommended that the Justice Department select up to three people outside the department, such as retired federal judges, to recommend any charges or other actions against lawyers and others who developed the policies.
In addition to lawmakers, a coalition of liberal groups delivered petitions to Holder demanding that he name an independent counsel. The groups included the American Civil Liberties
The ACLU obtained four of the Justice Department memos that provided the legal framework for the interrogation policies.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs