As expected, Attorney General Holder has decided to appoint a prosecutor to investigate cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors allegedly violated the law in connection with the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Apparently, that prosecutor will be John Durham, a career Justice Department lawyer from Connecticut.
According to the Washington Post, Durham has spent several years investigating the alleged destruction of interrogations tapes by CIA personnel. Since prosecutors properly hate any hint of obstruction of justice, it’s likely that he already has it in for CIA interrogators. I can’t help but suspect Durham is the prosecutor you’d appoint if you wanted to maximize the possibility that things to go badly for those he will investigate.
According to ABC News, CIA Director Leon Panetta not only opposed the appointment of a prosecutor but served up a “tirade” against this move during a “profanity-laced shouting match” when the subject came up during a meeting in the White House last month. Panetta reportedly has threatened to resign. The White House denies this, but ABC News reports that senior White House staff members are already discussing a possible shake-up of top national security officials.
Panetta issued a statement to his troops today in which he comments on the release of the CIA Inspector General’s report on interrogation methods used during the first few years of the war on terrorism. Panetta said, among things:
The report, prepared five years ago, noted both the effectiveness of the interrogation program and concerns about how it had been run early on. Several Agency components, including the Office of General Counsel and the Directorate of Operations, disagreed with some of the findings and conclusions
The CIA referred allegations of abuse to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution. This Agency made no excuses for behavior, however rare, that went beyond the formal guidelines on counterterrorism. The Department of Justice has had the complete IG report since 2004. Its career prosecutors have examined that document-and other incidents from Iraq and Afghanistan-for legal accountability. They worked carefully and thoroughly, sometimes taking years to decide if prosecution was warranted or not. In one case, the Department obtained a criminal conviction of a CIA contractor. In other instances, after Justice chose not to pursue action in court, the Agency took disciplinary steps of its own.
The CIA provided the complete, unredacted IG report to the Congress. It was made available to the leadership of the Congressional intelligence committees in 2004 and to the full committees in 2006. All of the material in the document has been subject to Congressional oversight and reviewed for legal accountability. . . .
I make no judgments on the accuracy of the 2004 IG report or the various views expressed about it. Nor am I eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the Agency’s past detention and interrogation effort. But this much is clear: The CIA obtained intelligence from high-value detainees when inside information on al-Qa’ida was in short supply. Whether this was the only way to obtain that information will remain a legitimate area of dispute, with Americans holding a range of views on the methods used. The CIA requested and received legal guidance and referred allegations of abuse to the Department of Justice. President Obama has established new policies for interrogation.
This comment isn’t about the release of the report as much as it is about the potential prosecutions. Panetta is saying that the report was not viewed by either the Department of Justice or Congress as providing a basis for more than just one prosecution (of a contractor, not CIA personnel) that has already occurred. The report should not now be viewed as providing a basis for prosecutions, particularly in light of the high-vaue information that the CIA obtained at a time when such information was in short supply
Panetta understands the damage to the CIA that will result from the decision to head down the road to prosecutions. But that impact is obvious, and is understood by Eric Holder and Barack Obama as well. Unlike Holder and Obama, though, Panettta, who came of age when the Democratic party was still committed to the vigorous defense of our national security, thinks injuring the CIA is a bad thing.