updated 4/26/2009 3:14:01 PM ET 2009-04-26T19:14:01

A leading Democratic senator said Sunday that independent investigators should determine whether Bush administration officials ought to face charges over the harsh interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists.

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The White House had hoped to put the matter behind it by letting the attorney general make that call.

Other liberal Democratic lawmakers appearing on the Sunday television news shows joined Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan in pressuring the Obama administration to pursue investigations into the interrogation policies. But they stopped short of demanding charges against the Bush-era lawyers and other officials who devised the policies that critics have denounced as torture.

Conservative Republican senators characterized the Democratic effort as counterproductive and politically motivated at the least and, at worst, damaging to national security.

Obama has said he would not seek to punish CIA officers and others who carried out interrogations resulting from high-level legal advice and policy decisions within the Bush administration. Obama said Attorney General Eric Holder would decide whether prosecutions were warranted against those who developed the policies.

Recommending a panel to review cases
Levin said he has 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.

"That decision should not be made by politicians, by partisans, by Democrats or Republicans. It is made traditionally by a Department of Justice who is supposed to make these decisions independently," Levin said.

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin heads, issued a report linking the CIA's interrogation program to the military's aggressive tactics against prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan.

The report led Levin and others to dismiss the Bush administration's contention that the humiliating treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, blamed for inflaming the Iraq insurgency, had been the act of a few misguided soldiers.

Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, contended that Obama's release of the memos would have the same effect of inciting people against Americans as the "rogue criminal acts" of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib.

"I don't think there's any question it would endanger all of us, because I think it will enhance recruitment for all kinds of terrorists," Bond said.

Bond also accused Obama of having "demoralized" the CIA and, by revealing the techniques in such detail, had "absolutely destroyed our ability to get further information from terrorists."

'Settling old political scores'
Obama's Republican rival in last year's election condemned the use of torture as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and said they endanger U.S. soldiers when they are held prisoner. Sen. John McCain of Arizona also said the nation is aware of what took place and is ready to move on to more important matters, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Are you going to prosecute people for giving bad legal advice? Are you going to keep on down this road in order, frankly, to — maybe there's an element of settling old political scores here," McCain said. "We need to put this behind us. We need to move forward."

Sen. Pat Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he favored consolidating the various committee investigations into a bipartisan commission similar to the one that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It's important, said Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, that the nation understand how the decisions were reached and by whom.

"I know some people say, 'Let's turn the page,'" Leahy said. "Frankly, I'd like to read the page before we turn it."

'Poison the water here'
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, said the debate is moot because Obama has banned such tactics.

A "truth commission" to investigate the interrogation program "will poison the water here in Washington," Lieberman said. "It will make it harder for the president to do some of the big things he wants to do for the country — not just get the economy going, but get some Republican support for health care reform, energy independence and education reform."

If there were a review, the Obama administration favors one under way by the Senate Intelligence Committee, partly because of the senators' access to classified documents, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Levin and Bond appeared on "Fox News Sunday" while McCain and Leahy were interviewed on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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