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 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 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.

See Also:

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 Much like the above linked post by Jason Leopold, McGovern offers a broad, well-researched analysis of the DOJ investigation and its critics.

Image from user - Jarnocan, by way of


Opheeliya Fire-Kracker
Past Member 8 years ago

...cindy m, i would expect nothing from you, your point is moot. dan pearl was a friend of mine, and you have been kept safe for a while here, and i would hope your safety and many others here in America will continue for a long long time...Jihad is what it is... unfortunately, and will continue to be also for a long long time,..."War against the infidels" has continued for some thousand odd the Qur-'an if the spirit moves say, you don't understand me, well......that is irrelevant..tIslam A Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against infidels....Islam A Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against infidels. a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims.the sacred text of Islam, divided into 114 chapters, or suras: revered as the word of God, dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel, and accepted as the foundation of Islamic law, religion, culture, and politics. islam: a spiritual struggle and 'holy war' against infidels...thats you and thats me,....... have a nice trip!

Johnathan S.
Johnathan S8 years ago

What I don`t understand is the point in arguing about all this, when in reality both parties of this debate should support this cause. Because in reality we all want to know just who the CIA tortured, and for what exact reasons. By supporting this investigation we will end up learning the truth about whether the CIA really did end up protecting thousands of American lives by discovering new information from jailed captives, or whether they were actually violating human rights through inhumane activities. If someone did something really good for the world, there is absolutely no reason to hide it.

Otto V.
Otto V.8 years ago

These CIA agents were doing what they were told to do which in their minds would make America secure. Remember 3,000 innocent Americans were murdered by these groups.

Cindy M.
Cindy M8 years ago

Hi Kracker,

Speaking for myself, what I don't get is: You.


Opheeliya Fire-Kracker
Past Member 8 years ago

...cindy m and pamela c...and to all the rest of you folks who don't just get it...the cia's agenda kept you and your families' and friends safe for long enough, i now, because weakness has been shown as this govts. power to the whole world...lemme ask ya, do you feel better, do you feel fine????? Those in power right now are choking on their own past words...prediction all better hold onto your seats, and recognize the un-done deeds perhaps for the next preview...because there r not gonna be anymore cartoons, things are getting pretty serious all better hope that the folks in the jump-seats can make the right decisions for the "Good of All"...because up until this point a lot of bad ideas have come to no fruition by the major world leaders..."They missed the Boat"...and r now scrambling to catch the next one for "All of Us"...and i just know by saying here that this reminds me of the "Cuban Missile Crisis" i'm gonna open up a whole big can of worms...but folks...this is world-life-planet changing stuff, much more serious than enyone could possibly imagine...ha...just look for the usher with a flash light...aisle six, seat seven for the "Pop-corn chompers...hold on, IT'S SHOW-TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Forget about the "Change"...ya just better hope and hope like u never have before............""There comes a point in 'time" when ya dump the "reason" and abandon "rhyme"...surreptitiously...I hope it is not to late!!! O.F.~*

Charles Temm JR
Charles Temm JR8 years ago

Regardless of your stand on the actual issue if torture was used or what-the stuff that happened was cleared by the lawyers of that administration so the personnel doing it had legal clearance. Going back like Holder (and undoubtedly his boss) is doing invalidates THEN persecutes those who acted in good faith.

Though virtually no one on this site cares, those CIA personnel were acting within the established parameters of the time. Doing this investigation highlights what the government can now do, change a law THEN go and prosecute the "offenders " of it's replacement post tense. Great precedent to set and one that will bite liberals one day too.

Leia H.
Shelly H8 years ago

Torture does not necessarily bring out the truth. An example of this was addressed in the Star Trek Next Gen. episode (for those who watched it) where Jean Luc Picard was being harshly interrogated by a Cardassian, about how many lights he could see, four or five. The repeated lies fed to the captain by the interrogator did not change the truth. I wish the investigation of the CIA's use of torture would be followed all the way to the source, no matter where it leads. We should be setting a good example for the world, not a horrible one. What if someday those methods were to be used on us by us? I am led to wonder if this is what led us to invade Iraq? I agree that the DOJ should be the authority that does the investigation. We need to get the truth out.

Cindy M.
Cindy M8 years ago

Pamela C wrote:

"Torture is not effective..."

Excellent point, Pamela. It's worthless in determining culpability, since any one of us would admit to anything if tortured. Plus, it's illegal in this country.

Torture is also immoral, since torturing the innocent is abhorent; and even torturing the guilty is cruel and inhuman.

More advanced societies (and intellects) have verbal interrogation methods and techniques that are both effective and vastly more reliable than physical violence (aka "enhanced interrogation").

Kudos, Pamela!


Cindy M.
Cindy M8 years ago

Opheeliya Fire-Kracker,

Islamic fundamentalists are waging a Jihad, not the USA. How's about this: this is the United States of America, a country whose values derive from within, and not from our enemies.

When will the right-wingnuts realize that we live in America and not a Steven Seagal movie?


Pamela C.
Pamela C8 years ago

Torture is not effective; those tortured will say whatever their captors want to hear. As a citizen, I am angry that torture would be used in my name.