Yesterday, in what appears to be so far the most obvious “Wag The Dog” political maneuver by the Obama
Amateur Hour Administration, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was appointing a special prosecutor to look into alleged misconduct by CIA interrogators during the early years of the War On Terror.
John Hinderaker at PowerLine Blog has a good commentary on the merits of such an investigation that is well worth your time to read in full. As I read the news stories about the new special prosecutor appointment, a number of things (many of which are also touched on by Hinderaker) stood out to me:
First, the allegations of wrongdoing that were brought to the attention of the Justice Department in the partially redacted 2004 memo that was released yesterday (and which make up the bulk of the alleged wrongdoing that special prosecutor John Durham has been appointed to investigate) have been discussed previously. Those who have been following this story know that former VP Dick Cheney has been pushing for months to have all CIA documents pertaining to detainee interrogations released to the public. There was never any attempt to hide acknowledged criminal wrongdoing; there was only concern over matters involving national security and the fact that the effectiveness of CIA interrogations would be greatly harmed if details were leaked.
Second, it’s very significant that these memos exist at all. Their very existence illustrates that the CIA was very concerned with the ultimate safety and well-being of its prisoners. Even though the CIA allowed prisoners to be harshly interrogated, every technique had to be approved in advance by the CIA, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department. All interrogations were videotaped and reviewed by a chain of command. Medial doctors monitored the conditions of the prisoners at all times. If CIA interrogations really were, as cynics and hysterical partisans have claimed, “torture sessions” conducted by sadistic amateurs to satisfy the crazed bloodlust of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, then none of this documentation would have existed.
Third, out of the reported instances of wrongdoing listed in the memo, the Justice Department chose only two for further review and possible prosecution. Both of these instances involved the same interrogator, who was actually a “debriefer” and had not been fully trained to use enhanced interrogation methods. My guess is that in the early days of the War On Terror, when time was critical and we were desperate for information, anyone who had mastered foreign languages and could communicate with prisoners would have been cleared to participate in interrogations. This one agent was obviously not qualified to be an interrogator, and when this became evident, he was pulled out and disciplined. Again, concern for the condition of the prisoners ultimately was given precedence. Mishandling of prisoners was by far the exception, not the rule.
Finally, the exploitation of CIA agents for political purposes sets a dangerous precedent. These agents were not rogues. They were not “taking the law into their own hands.” They acted in good faith, in cooperation with the Pentagon and the Justice Department and the White House. They were assured, after careful and lengthy review, that they were not in violation of the law. Any attempt to criminalize their behavior after the fact is, as John Hinderaker asserts, “contemptible”, and it also serves to reinforce the notion that the government will not stand behind its employees if partisan political gains seem to be within the grasp of a new Presidential administration.
Without a lot of spin by the press and the White House, this story will probably quickly lose traction. And right now the Obama White House seems to be losing the adoration of the press. There are simply too many other pressing concerns (health care reform, unemployment, the possibility of tax increases, inflation woes, bank failures, Cap and Trade, etc.) for this story to remain a headline news item.