Former CIA Chiefs Demand Obama Call Off Torture Probe, Should be Talking to AG Holder
Following the August 24 announcement by U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, that he would appoint a special prosecutor to re-open investigations into CIA interrogation abuses, critical reaction was to be expected. Indeed, much of the criticism directed at AG Holder and the Obama administration has been entirely predictable. Even the September 18 letter signed by seven former CIA heads, calling for Obama to call off the Department of Justice investigation, wasn’t all that surprising. However, there are some peculiarities among the complaints which illustrate the lingering effects wrought by eight years of Bush administration governance.
The letter (.pdf) from the CIA chiefs lends nothing new to the debate other than their prominence in the intelligence community. There is nothing within their correspondence that couldn’t be found on a neo-conservative think tank website, written two weeks previous. Their primary concern: “Disclosures about CIA collection operations have and will continue to make it harder for intelligence officers to maintain the momentum of operations that have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks.”
While I know of no one who isn’t sympathetic to the plight of intelligence operatives, but if the letter’s signatories are referring to life-saving operations that were dependant upon torture, than we already know that their assertions are debatable, if not already disputed.
Jason Leopold, a journalist who has long kept a close eye on this topic, challenged the CIA heads’ arguments point by point in his Sept. 19 PublicRecord.org post. In regards to the above quote from the correspondence, Leopold wrote:
Those statements are nearly identical to warnings made by Republican lawmakers in recent weeks, which have been disputed by veteran interrogators and a former Bush administration official as a clear-cut attempt to shield top Bush officials who came up with the torture policies, in violation of anti-torture laws, from scrutiny…
During the Bush administration, the Department of Justice was politicized and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used the agency to advance the policies of the Bush administration, an episode noted by no less than four investigations conducted by Justice Department watchdogs.
Leopold’s post is a holistic treatment of the former CIA heads’ written requests of the president, and I encourage you read the post HERE. But, for the sake of concision, consider his assessment of why the letter was directed at Obama rather than Eric Holder. Their doing so reveals a conceptualization of presidential and AG powers that — with the prominent exception of the Bush administration — is contrary to the proper, conventional relationship between the two.
Of course, this peculiarity was not lost on Glenn Greenwald: another astute observer of the CIA torture controversy, and harsh critic of Bush and Obama, alike.
From Greenwald’s Sept. 19 Salon.com post:
…what’s most notable about this letter is that it is not addressed to the individual charged with making decisions about whether an individual should be prosecuted: namely, the Attorney General of the U.S. Instead, it is addressed to the President himself, and they “urge [him] to exercise [his] authority to reverse Attorney General’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.” What so-called “authority” are they talking about?
Greenwald follows his question, briefly explaining the proper function U.S. criminal justice system, and how the Bush administration deviated from it. “No DOJ official with the most minimal integrity would allow the President to block specific criminal investigations as these CIA Directors urge,” he explains.
Additionally, Greenwald goes on to support his explanation with an instructive historical example of when a president attempted to circumvent the proper role of his AG:
Richard Nixon tried that and it led to the Saturday Night Massacre, when he ordered his Attorney General and (when the AG refused) Deputy Attorney General to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate SpecialProtector , after Cox had refused to accept White House limitations on his investigation. Both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned rather than let Nixon interfere with their independence in making decisions about prosecutions…
Both, Greenwald and Leopold, express their concerns that the limited investigatory scope that Holder has established for the CIA special prosecutor may preclude a satisfactory outcome for the DOJ investigation into detainee abuse and torture. However, if there is a bright side to this unpleasantness, it is that the AG – Executive relationship is coming back into balance just months after the departure of Bush.
This will be lost on Obama’s harshest critics who’ve already prejudged the investigation. This is unfortunate, particularly as this development is counter-example to those who’ve based theircomplaints upon a perceived specter of government intrusiveness.
As Greenwald put it, “The CIA is one of the leading weapons the political establishment uses to disregard the law — to commit crimes — when they want to, and that’s the elite prerogative at stake here, one of the prime powers they are fighting to preserve by arguing against prosecutions…” Instead, the vocal opponents of Obama, along the with above mentioned ex-CIA directors, have shown themselves willing to set aside the law for the sake of what might happen. Meanwhile, supporters of Eric Holder will continue to demand justice for what did happen.
To that end, please consider signing the ACLU’s petition, demanding a “full and thorough” investigation.
HERE is my post regarding Eric Holder’s thought process as he considered re-opening the investigation of CIA interrogation techniques.
HERE (.pdf) you’ll find the highly redacted 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report – The document which persuaded Holder to defy the Obama administration’s wishes and appoint a special prosecutor.
HERE is an excellent post on the subject from Ray McGovern, published Sept. 21 at TruthOut.org. Much like the above linked PublicRecord.org post by Jason Leopold, McGovern offers a broad, well-researched analysis of the DOJ investigation and its critics.
Image from Flickr.com user - Jarnocan, by way of CreativeCommons.org