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Controversy Grows Over Torture Prosecutions

As civil rights and grassroots advocates step up the pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute former Bush officials for authorizing torture, Congress appears increasingly divided over the issue.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and even John McCain (R-Ariz.) — the nation’s most famous torture victim — on Wednesday released a joint statement saying that prosecuting Bush administration officials for their legal opinions would have a “deeply chilling effect” on future administrations receiving legal advice. And an investigatory commission, they said, would “focus on the mistakes of the past” instead of “looking forward to solutions.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reiterated his call for a bipartisan “Commission of Inquiry”, and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote to President Obama urging him to consider prosecuting both the lawyers who provided legal justification and some of those who carried out the techniques they sanctioned.

At the grassroots level, the American Civil Liberties Union, Moveon.org, Democrats.com, Firedoglake.com, the Center for Constitutional Rights and a broad coalition of other advocacy groups will present Holder with petitions this afternoon, containing over 250,000 signatures, demanding that an independent prosecutor be appointed to conduct a criminal investigation of the use of torture.

As I noted in my story this morning, Obama has not ruled out prosecutions of the lawyers and architects of abusive interrogation policies, saying it will be up to Holder to decide how to proceed. Still, it seems clear from his recent statements that he’d prefer to avoid a full-blown investigation, be it criminal or congressional.

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