Mukasey opposes prosecutions for torture advice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Departing U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Wednesday that he saw no reason for prosecutions or for pardons for those who gave legal advice on the Bush administration’s terrorism policies.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey speaks about the Administration's legal approach in the conflict with al Qaeda and the implications of the Supreme Court's ruling on Guantanamo Bay detainees at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Some human rights groups have urged President-elect Barack Obama to launch criminal investigations into the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on al Qaeda terrorism suspects.

They also have questioned whether the Bush administration broke the law with its warrantless domestic spying program adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Obama’s advisers have yet to say what he will do, but one idea being considered is creating an independent commission, like the one that investigated the September 11 attacks, to examine the interrogation policies.

There has been speculation that President George W. Bush, before he leaves office next month and hands over to Obama, might give pardons to past or present officials implicated in the harsh interrogation methods or other abuses.

Mukasey told reporters at the Justice Department that he did not see the need for prosecutions or for pardons.

“There is absolutely no evidence that anybody who rendered a legal opinion either with respect to surveillance or with respect to interrogation policy did so for any reason other than to protect the security of the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful,” he said.

“In those circumstances, there is no occasion to consider prosecutions, there is no occasion to consider pardons,” Mukasey said.

Mukasey said he had not yet met with Eric Holder, a Washington lawyer who has been selected by Obama as the new attorney general, and he declined to say what advice he would give him.

But Mukasey noted changes at the Justice Department since Holder served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, with the creation of the national security division.

Asked about the potential for an attack in the United States during the transition period to Obama, Mukasey replied, “Terrorist groups strike when they are ready to strike,” not according to the political calendar or schedule of events.

Obama has vowed he will close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, which now holds about 255 terrorism suspects.

Mukasey said he strongly believed that none of the detainees should be released into the United States.

And if one of the dangerous detainees receives a short sentence from a military tribunal, Mukasey said it would be “suicidal” to release that person after the sentence has been served. Asked if that was justice, he answered, “Yes.”

Mukasey, a former federal judge, said he planned to go back to New York, but said he had not yet decided what he will do.

Editing by David Storey