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Bush-era interrogation may have worked, Obama official says

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  • NEW: Intel. director memo says high-value info came from Bush-era interrogations
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush-era interrogation techniques that many view as torture may have yielded important information about terrorists, President Obama's national intelligence director said in an internal memo.

President Obama said any congressional investigation should be conducted in a bipartisan fashion.

A memo attributed to Intelligence Director Dennis Blair addresses Bush-era interrogation techniques.

"High-value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in a memo to personnel.

The memo, obtained by CNN late Tuesday, was sent around the time the administration released several memos from the previous administration detailing the use of terror interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

Obama left open the possibility of criminal prosecution Tuesday for former Bush administration officials who drew up the legal basis for aggressive interrogation techniques many view as torture.

Obama said it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether or not to prosecute the former officials.

"With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more a decision for the attorney general within the parameter of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that," Obama said during a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House.

"There's a host of very complicated issues involved there. As a general deal, I think we should be looking forward and not backward.

"I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations." Video Watch as Obama says U.S. can be protected and live up to its ideals »

The president added that any congressional "accounting of what took place" should be done "in a bipartisan fashion outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down ... entirely along party lines."

It is important, he said, for the "American people to feel as if this is not being dealt with to provide one side or another political advantage."

Polls conducted shortly after Obama's inauguration seem to reflect a split among Americans on the issue.

A Gallup poll in early February showed that 38 percent of respondents favored a Justice Department criminal investigation of torture claims, 24 percent favored a noncriminal investigation by an independent panel, and 34 percent opposed either. A Washington Post poll about a week earlier showed a narrow percentage of Americans in favor of investigations.

Obama's remarks on Tuesday came five days after the administration released four Bush-era memos detailing the use of terror interrogations such as waterboarding, a technique used to simulate drowning.

One memo showed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding -- which Obama has called torture -- at least 266 times on two top al Qaeda suspects.

The author of one of the memos that authorized those techniques, then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, is now a federal appeals court judge in California.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, has called for Bybee's impeachment, while Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, called for his resignation.

"If the White House and Mr. Bybee told the truth at the time of his nomination, he never would have been confirmed," Leahy said. "So actually, the honorable and decent thing for him to do now would be to resign. If he's an honorable and decent man, he will."

For now, Bybee's fate remains unclear.

Obama reiterated his belief that he did not think it is appropriate to prosecute those CIA officials and others who carried out the interrogations in question.

"This has been a difficult chapter in our history and one of [my] tougher decisions," he added. The techniques listed in memos "reflected ... us losing our moral bearings."

The president's apparent willingness to leave the door open to a prosecution of Bush officials seemed to contradict White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who indicated Sunday that the administration was opposed to such an action.

Obama believes "that's not the place that we [should] go," Emanuel said on ABC's "This Week."

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"It's not a time to use our energy ... looking back [with] any sense of anger and retribution."

On Monday, Obama asserted during a visit to CIA headquarters that he had released the documents primarily because of the "exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was [already] public. ... The covert nature of the information had been compromised."

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