Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is eyeing a 2016 presidential run, got out ahead of presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton by calling for the prosecution of those involved in the U.S. government’s past use of torture — an issue that has been thrust back in spotlight this week following the release of a landmark Senate report.
Every Democrat considering a run for the presidency is against torture, but the fault line comes on whether or not officials involved in the controversial program during the Bush administration should be criminally prosecuted for their actions. Torture is illegal, and there have been renewed calls for prosecution following the release of gruesome report.
Former secretary of state Clinton has not spoken out since the release of the report Tuesday, and her spokesperson did not return a request for comment, but she has previously ruled out prosecutions for those involved in the Bush-era program.
“I didn't want people to be criminally prosecuted, people who were doing what they were told to do, that there were legal opinions supporting what they were told to do, but I wanted transparency,” Clinton said at the Council of Foreign Relations in June.
O’Malley, who as a governor has not said much publicly on foreign policy in the past, went further than Clinton Thursday.
In an interview with the New York Times, the governor called for a special prosecutor to investigate Bush-era officials. “I hope that the Justice Department might reconsider and appoint a special prosecutor,” he said. “I think there needs to be some accountability so that this doesn’t happen again."
He added that he saw no circumstances in which the harsh tactics often called torture are justified: “I don’t believe the United States should torture ... Period. Full stop.’’
During the 2008 Democratic primary, then-Sen. Barack Obama attacked then-Sen. Clinton for at one time supporting a “ticking time bomb” exception to her otherwise anti-torture position. Clinton later reversed her position and ruled out torture in all cases.
O’Malley also said that the harsh interrogation tactics actually “makes the United States more vulnerable to attack” and “makes it harder for the United States to lead coalitions and to build coalitions.’’
“Our long-term security interests are not advanced by engaging in torture and the sort of behavior that runs totally contrary to everything we’re about as a people,’’ he added.
Former Sen. Jim Webb, the only Democrat who has already created a presidential exploratory committee, seemed to blame the Senate Intelligence Committee for the failure in a series of Tweets sent Wednesday night. “Where was the Intelligence Committee when the torture was going on?” he wrote. “The question is not torture, but how far Congress has descended in its historical oversight role on key issues of foreign policy.”
A spokesperson for Webb did not respond to a request for comment.
The United Nations, human rights groups, and outgoing Sen. Mark Udall have all called on President Obama to reopen the possibility of prosecution, but the president has so far dismissed the idea, saying he doesn't want to “re-fight old arguments.”
As he gears up for a potential run in 2016, hiring staffers and traveling to early presidential primary states, O'Malley has consistently found opportunities to differentiate himself from the White House and Clinton, staking out positions just to left of either or both. On everything from immigration, to net neutrality, to fracking, and now torture, O'Malley has sought to present himself as a more progressive alternative.