Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is leaning toward appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate whether CIA personnel tortured terrorism suspects after Sept. 11, 2001, setting the stage for a conflict with administration officials who would prefer the issues remain in the past, according to three sources familiar with his thinking.
Naming a prosecutor to probe alleged abuses during the darkest period in the Bush era would run counter to President Obama's oft-repeated desire to be "looking forward and not backwards." Top political aides have expressed concern that such an investigation might spawn partisan debates that could overtake Obama's ambitious legislative agenda.
The White House successfully resisted efforts by congressional Democrats to establish a "truth and reconciliation" panel. But fresh disclosures have continued to emerge about detainee mistreatment, including a secret CIA watchdog report, recently reviewed by Holder, highlighting several episodes that could be likened to torture.
Any criminal inquiry could face challenges, including potent legal defenses by CIA employees who could argue that attorneys in the Bush Justice Department authorized a wide range of harsh conduct. But the sources said an inquiry would apply only to activities by interrogators, working in bad faith, that fell outside the "four corners" of the legal memos. Some incidents that might go beyond interrogation techniques that were permitted involve detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are described in the secret 2004 CIA inspector general report, set for release Aug. 31.
Now, I have no doubt that conservatives will work themselves up into a lather over this. Some already have. There may still be plenty of reason to be upset. That said, the WAPO article makes clear that the investigation is only going after "rogue" CIA agents that stepped outside of the guidelines set up justice department lawyers. The article goes on to state that no lawyers would be targeted and that all CIA employees that followed guidelines would NOT be targeted.
For all those that believe that the CIA agents were just trying to get valuable information out of terrorists that have no rights anyway, you may be right. However, we should all keep this in mind. If these charges are true, then those that committed these acts disregarded a direct order that ultimately came from the Commander in Chief himself. If that sort of a chain of command is NOT followed, then we have no functioning military and intelligence apparatus.
Most of these alleged incidents are four years old or more. That raises several perplexing and troubling questions. If "rogue" CIA agents stepped out of bounds, why weren't these incidents fully investigated before? Either prior Justice Departments overlooked interrogations that clearly stepped out of bounds, or Holder's justice department is nothing into something. If it's the first, the Bush administration's Justice Department overlooked criminality in the CIA. If it's the second, Holder's Justice Department is attempting a backhanded political attack on the previous administration.
We'll only know after all the evidence here is collected.