As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Special Prosecutor

WaPo sez:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has decided to appoint a prosecutor to examine nearly a dozen cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors may have violated anti-torture laws and other statutes when they allegedly threatened terrorism suspects, according to two sources familiar with the move.

Holder is poised to name John Durham, a career Justice Department prosecutor from Connecticut, to lead the inquiry, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is not complete.

Durham's mandate, the sources added, will be relatively narrow: to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees. Many of the harshest CIA interrogation techniques have not been employed against terrorism suspects for four years or more.

Durham's been handling the investigation over the destruction of the torture tapes, which hasn't yielded much information to date. Obama is trying to stay as far away from this as possible; his spokesman's statement is "The White House supports the attorney general making the decisions on who gets prosecuted and investigated."

The narrowness of this investigation, focused on only the CIA personnel who colored outside the lines set down by moral lepers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, is reprehensible. If it only extends that far, we're seeing a replay of the Abu Ghraib investigation which sent Lynndie England to jail but let those who authorized and directed the abuse free with nary a warning. Basically, Holder is following the Office of Professional Responsibility report, which recommended that they reopen about a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, some of which include murders. I hold no brief for the CIA personnel who engaged in this, but confining the mandate to the low men and women on the totem pole will do nothing to chill the potential for such abuse to happen again. If any old lackey in the Office of Legal Counsel can write up an opinion essentially validating torture, and they become de facto legal as long as those using the guidelines follow them generally, we don't really have a rule of law anymore. And future Presidents will easily discern the loophole in the system.

However, just the possibility of prosecuting individuals who did, after all, break the law, is enough for establishmentarians like Leon Panetta to reportedly threaten resignation. And the Durham investigation, in the end, is up to John Durham. He can be given a mandate, but Eric Holder has said in the past that he cannot circumscribe an investigation so much as to effectively immunize certain individuals. If the small fish flip, Durham, like any prosecutor, can find out who authorized their actions. And that can lead to the Bush White House.

I think Panetta, and the CIA in general, are probably more angered by the Obama Administration taking some of their responsibilities away, like giving the White House oversight through the National Security Council over the "High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group." (That task force, by the way, unanimously determined that the Army Field Manual shall be the ultimate parameter when questioning suspects.) This is probably more of a turf war than anything.

But maybe, just maybe, CIA - particularly its Bush-era holdovers - know that an investigation, once started, is hard to stop or rein in.

We still have the CIA Inspector General report coming today as well.

...First bit of new news from the IG report (haven't seen the report online anywhere yet):

A newly declassified CIA report says interrogators threatened to kill the children of a Sept. 11 suspect.

The document, released Monday by the Justice Department, says one interrogator said a colleague had told Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that if any other attacks happened in the United States, "We're going to kill your children."

Another interrogator allegedly tried to convince a different terror suspect detainee that his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him - though the interrogator in question denied making such a threat.

I don't know if such a threat went "above and beyond" the Yoo-Bybee memos, so I'm glad we're saving investigations for only the really bad stuff.

...I now have Atty. Gen. Holder's statement. I think it pretty much speaks for itself. Note that it says nothing about those who authorized detainee abuse, which also possibly means that they are not shielded from review. And realize, of course, that even this hedged, incomplete investigation is likely to launch the shitstorm to end all shitstorms from the Village:

“The Office of Professional Responsibility has now submitted to me its report regarding the Office of Legal Counsel memoranda related to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. I hope to be able to make as much of that report available as possible after it undergoes a declassification review and other steps. Among other findings, the report recommends that the Department reexamine previous decisions to decline prosecution in several cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees.

“I have reviewed the OPR report in depth. Moreover, I have closely examined the full, still-classified version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report, as well as other relevant information available to the Department. As a result of my analysis of all of this material, I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. The Department regularly uses preliminary reviews to gather information to determine whether there is sufficient predication to warrant a full investigation of a matter. I want to emphasize that neither the opening of a preliminary review nor, if evidence warrants it, the commencement of a full investigation, means that charges will necessarily follow.

“Assistant United States Attorney John Durham was appointed in 2008 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the destruction of CIA videotapes of detainee interrogations. During the course of that investigation, Mr. Durham has gained great familiarity with much of the information that is relevant to the matter at hand. Accordingly, I have decided to expand his mandate to encompass this related review. Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.

“There are those who will use my decision to open a preliminary review as a means of broadly criticizing the work of our nation’s intelligence community. I could not disagree more with that view. The men and women in our intelligence community perform an incredibly important service to our nation, and they often do so under difficult and dangerous circumstances. They deserve our respect and gratitude for the work they do. Further, they need to be protected from legal jeopardy when they act in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance. That is why I have made it clear in the past that the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees. I want to reiterate that point today, and to underscore the fact that this preliminary review will not focus on those individuals.

“I share the President’s conviction that as a nation, we must, to the extent possible, look forward and not backward when it comes to issues such as these. While this Department will follow its obligation to take this preliminary step to examine possible violations of law, we will not allow our important work of keeping the American people safe to be sidetracked.

“I fully realize that my decision to commence this preliminary review will be controversial. As Attorney General, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. In this case, given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”

...Reps. Conyers and Nadler:

“I applaud the Attorney General’s decision to appoint a special US Attorney to review the interrogation abuse cases that were rejected for prosecution by George Bush’s Justice Department,” said Conyers. “The Obama Administration also deserves praise for the release of the 2004 CIA Inspector General report as well as related DOJ memos. These materials are truly disturbing, including the CIA’s basic conclusion that ‘unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used’ in its program. Reading about misdeeds such as threats to kill a detainees’ children or the staging of mock executions leaves us appalled.

“Today’s release -- even of these still heavily redacted materials -- is thus an important step toward restoring the rule of law in this country, and rebuilding our credibility around the world. But much more remains to be done. The gruesome acts described in today’s report did not happen in a vacuum. It would not be fair or just for frontline personnel to be held accountable while the policymakers and lawyers escape scrutiny after creating and approving conditions where such abuses were all but inevitable to occur.

“I have long believed that Department rules require a special counsel to review the entire interrogation program to determine if any crimes were committed. An independent and bipartisan commission should also be convened to evaluate the broader issues raised by the Bush Administration’s brutal torture program.”

“The CIA Inspector General’s report on interrogation practices under the Bush administration is a disturbing record of abuse that details why this must never happen again and why action on the part of the Justice Department is essential,” said Nadler. “Today’s news that the Attorney General has listened to our many requests and is poised to appoint a special counsel is very much welcome. I applaud the Attorney General for this first step. But, we must go further. As I have said for many months, it is vital that this special counsel be given a broad mandate to investigate these abuses, to follow the evidence where it leads, and to prosecute where warranted. This must be a robust mission to gather any and all evidence without predetermination of where it may lead. Seeking out only the low-level actors in a conspiracy to torture detainees will bring neither justice nor restored standing to our nation.”

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