The New York Times reports:
The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.”
The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.
When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.
With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.
This is coupled with news that the interrogation of high-value terror suspects will be taken out of the hands of the CIA and given to a new group that reports to the NSC—that is, the White House.
Let’s unpack some of this. For starters, this is not “politically awkward” for Holder. He will be greeted by cheers from the Left. The media will write glowing editorials. There is nothing like going after the intelligence community for getting the liberal elite’s juices flowing. But he is actually doing one of two things: he is either a rogue attorney general, defying the wishes of the administration and determined to drag the administration and country through a quagmire of investigations and problematic prosecutions, or he is carrying out the president’s wishes while insulating Obama from the wrath of anyone thinking it is the president’s job to defend those who defended us and to avoid further damage to the already crumbling morale at Langley.
Second, Leon Panetta needs to quit. His agency is being attacked and prosecuted and stripped of a key responsibility. The White House, either egged on or enabled by the Justice Department, is systematically destroying the morale and role of CIA. If Panetta takes his responsibility seriously and believes the agents who work under him deserve some measure of support, the least he can do is quit and explain why. Or was this the game plan all along—for Panetta to preside over the dismantling of the CIA?
Third, we now are seeing the full results of the “criminalization” of the war on terror, in two senses. First, at least according to the Washington Post report, the new elite forces interrogating high-value detainees will be limited to the Army Field Manual—essentially permitted only to ask, pretty please, for name, rank, and serial number. Good luck getting that or any information. (Since terrorists don’t have the latter and aren’t necessarily inclined to give their names, the elite force need not be very big, one suspects.) We are essentially throwing in the towel on any meaningful efforts to glean intelligence from suspects.
Second, the civilian courts are now front and center—to be used against those who had been charged with keeping us safe in the months and years after 9/11. Certainly no one concerned with one’s own career and future would now choose to go into the business of extracting intelligence, and those already there should be lawyering up.
Well, we’ve come a long way. The war on terror has become the war on the CIA. And the terrorists no longer need fear anything more harsh than polite questions posed to them on a good night’s sleep and in quiet, comfy surroundings. And the timing is perfect. Obama is on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, and not bold enough to announce and defend these developments from the White House. America, apparently, is on holiday from the war on terror, too. Unfortunately, our enemies are not.