The latest “scandals” involving the Central Intelligence Agency are genuinely hard to understand, other than in terms of political payback. Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a prosecutor to investigate criminal actions by CIA officers involved in the harsh interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoners. But the internal CIA report on which he’s said to be basing this decision was referred five years ago to the Justice Department, where attorneys concluded that no prosecution was warranted.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are indignant that they were never briefed about a program to assassinate al-Qaeda operatives in friendly countries. Never mind that the program wasn’t implemented, or that the United States is routinely assassinating al-Qaeda operatives using unmanned drones. And never mind that Leon Panetta, the new CIA director — fearing a potential flap — briefed Congress about the program soon after he became aware of it. There was a flap anyway — with a new hemorrhage of secrets and a new shudder from America’s intelligence partners around the world.
His contempt for the latest “scandal” will no doubt be bolstered by the latest intelligence official, Admiral Dennis Blair, stepping forward to announce there was no legal obligation to brief Congress on a program that never came to fruition.
Ignatius sympathizes with the president who he says is trying (really, he is!) not to look back. He continues:
CIA veterans were skeptical about Obama’s promise, especially when the president said the next day that Holder would make the final decision. But lawyers who studied the case thought Holder would decide against a prosecutor because he almost certainly couldn’t get convictions. It would be impossible to prove “criminal intent” for CIA interrogators who operated within the framework of the Justice Department’s guidance. And as for “unauthorized practices” outside the guidelines — such as kicks, threats and other abuse — that were revealed in a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general, Justice Department attorneys had already concluded that these actions didn’t warrant criminal prosecution.
But then there is Eric Holder marching forward, preparing prosecution with no legal basis. So what’s a president to do? Well, that’s where Ignatius frankly cops out. The president has made some pretty speeches, but what is he doing to halt this travesty? He is either a bystander in his own administration, allowing Holder to run amok, or he is playing a deceitful game of good cop-bad cop, perfectly content to allow Holder to proceed and more than happy to satisfy his craven netroot base. Which is it?
It is the president who is responsible for demoralizing our intelligence community. It is he who can put a halt to the name-calling, the prosecutions, and the politicization of the intelligence community (which is what he said he would do during the campaign). That he has not, is shameful. And media pundits like Ignatius who are savvy enough to figure out the danger this pathetic state of affairs poses to our country, should lay the blame where it belongs — at the feet of the president.