The Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility has recommended reopening approximately a dozen prisoner-abuse cases for investigation, potentially exposing CIA employees and government contractors such as Blackwater to prosecution for torture. This recommendation comes just before the Department is set to disclose additional details on prisoner abuse gathered from a 2004 CIA inspector general report.
According to the New York Times, the recommendation to review the closed cases centers mainly on allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and represents about half of the cases initially investigated and referred to the Justice Department by the CIA inspector general. Some of the information revealed how CIA officers and contractors carried out mock executions and threatened detainees with guns and power drills. The federal torture statute prohibits threatening a prisoner with imminent death.
The internal ethics investigation focused not only on a series of legal opinions authored by the Bush administration Justice Department that justified the use of torture, but also how those opinions were carried out in the field. In that process ethics investigators found misconduct serious enough to warrant renewed criminal investigations.
Interestingly, the cases referred to for investigation in the ethics investigation do not center on the now well-publicized interrogations and waterboarding of high-level al Qaeda suspects. With the revelations from the Justice Department’s ethics report and further disclosures from the 2004 CIA inspector general report, a new investigation could easily include those torture allegations as well.
Attorney General Holder has been candid about his belief that previous Department of Justice investigations of these cases were less than thorough, and there has never been any public explanation as to why the Justice Department has yet to bring charges in at least two dozen abuse cases already referred to federal prosecutors in Virginia. These back-to-back disclosures may accelerate that process. According to the New York Times, former government lawyers acknowledged that some detained died during the interrogation process, but prosecutors had decided that prosecutions would not likely succeed due to mishandled evidence and an inability to locate witnesses and victims. It is unknown at this time just how the ethics report handles these spoliation allegations.
Attorney General Holder has walked this tight rope since his confirmation, although the ethics report and the additional information disclosed in the CIA report certainly makes that rope narrower. At times the Obama administration has appeared to give mixed signals on both proceeding with investigations as well as abandoning the policy and precedent set by the Bush administration. These new morsels of information may explain why.
That’s because what the public is witnessing is the evolution of an investigation, a process rarely exposed to the kind of daylight afforded to the torture issue. With each new revelation it becomes clearer that a prosecutor will be appointed. Bush administration attorneys who developed the torture program have already been recommended for disbarment by their respective state bar associations. There’s growing momentum to impeach Judge Bybee. And now the Department has made the case for possible prosecutions of employees and contractors. Inch by inch, brick by brick, Attorney General Holder is building his case. Let’s just hope that by now it’s not too late and the damage done by the previous administration too great to see justice served.
photo courtesy of takomabibelot via Flickr