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What About the Other CIA Witchhunt?

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.


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