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Road Map: Democrats Wary of Obama’s Torture Stance

Even though President Barack Obama is inclined to turn the other cheek on Bush-era torture memos, Congressional Democrats are saying, “Not so fast.”

Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Monday that she has penned a letter to Obama asking him and White House officials to hold their tongues on whether to prosecute the lawyers in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department who authored legal opinions that sanctioned harsh and painful interrogation tactics for suspected terrorists.

Feinstein has been conducting her own review of how the U.S. government got into the torture business after 9/11, and she said that, “until people understand the whole picture,” making comments about who would or would not be held accountable is “not advisable.”

Feinstein estimated that her panel’s inquiry will be completed within six to eight months and said a report on the interrogation methods used against two terrorism detainees has been completed and is now up for the committee’s review.

Feinstein was reacting to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who said Sunday that Obama does not support bringing criminal charges against the memos’ authors — Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel lawyers Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury — or the CIA agents who used those memos as permission to employ tactics long regarded as torture against “high-value” terrorism suspects. Additionally, Obama said in releasing the torture memos last week that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

Feinstein said she also has spoken with Attorney General Eric Holder and “urged him to reserve judgment until the Senate Committee on Intelligence is able to complete its review.”

Several other Members have expressed their discontent as well. House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has already called for Bybee — now a federal judge — to be impeached, and he plans to meet with Holder as well to press for a special counsel investigation, his spokesman said.

“The president’s intentions are honorable, but don’t go far enough,” Nadler said in a statement. “All history teaches that simply shining a light on criminal acts without holding the responsible people accountable will not prevent repetition of those acts.”

Nadler has announced plans to hold hearings on the issue.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also indicated that he thinks the Obama administration may have jumped the gun by trying to rise above the partisan fray that is sure to accompany any public review of the Bush administration’s actions. But he said he understands why Obama is pushing a message that he would rather look forward instead of backward.

“I take the Obama position as being a gentle statement that we’ve got the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. ... And that’s the first priority,” Whitehouse said.

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