CAIRO — Human rights groups and former detainees in U.S. custody expressed disappointment Friday with the decision by President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA operatives who used interrogation practices described by many as torture.
Obama said he aimed to turn a page on what he called "a dark and painful chapter" by condeming the aggressive techniques, including waterboarding, shackling, and stripping used on terror suspects, but not pursuing the perpetrators legally.
The decision left some bitter in the Muslim world, where there was widespread anger over abuse of detained terror suspects. It could tarnish somewhat Obama's growing popularity among Arabs and Muslims, who have cheered his promises to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
"All of us in Guantanamo never had hope or faith in the American government," said Jomaa al-Dosari, a Saudi who spent six years in Guantanamo before being released last year. "We only ask God for our rights and to demand justice for the wrongs we experience in this life. There will be a time in history when every person who committed a wrong will be punished."
The editor of the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News daily, Khaled Almaeena, said the decision not to prosecute "sends the wrong message."
"They destroyed people's lives . . . Unfortunately, they're allowed to go scot-free," he said of operatives who carried out the techniques.
The Obama administration Thursday released secret CIA memos detailing interrogation tactics sanctioned under the Bush administration.
The memos authorized keeping detainees naked, in painful standing positions, and in cold cells for long periods of time. Other techniques included depriving them of solid food and slapping them. Sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling and threats to a detainee's family also were used.
Obama's attorney general offered CIA operatives legal help if anyone else takes them to court, although the administration's offer of help did not extend to those outside the CIA who approved the so-called enhanced interrogation methods or any CIA officers who may have gone beyond what was allowed.
The announcement comes at a time when Obama is trying to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world and repair ties with a world community where many with disillusioned with U.S. policies under his predecessor George W. Bush.
Many human rights groups condemned the decision, saying that it was necessary to have a full accounting of what took place.
"The release of CIA memos on interrogation methods by the U.S. Department of Justice appears to have offered a get-out-of-jail-free card to people involved in torture," Amnesty International said on its Web site. "Torture is never acceptable and those who conduct it should not escape justice."
In Egypt, Hafez Abu Saada, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in Cairo, said the decision would encourage other nations to let abuses pass.
"Obama told us he will hold to account the people who committed a crime or a human rights violation," he said. "So this is a wrong signal to the perpetrators of human rights — especially Third World countries — and also a wrong signal to the international community."
© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.