BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, the release of the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report and the accompanying promise of a legal inquiry from Attorney General Eric Holder is upsetting. Every American should be dismayed that interrogators working in our name resorted to threatening rape, death and disfigurement to detainees (and their families) even when interrogators were pretty sure they weren’t going to glean any useful information from such prisoner abuse.
The ire over Holder’s promise to investigate the actions of interrogators (though not the actions of administration lawyers who rewrote the country’s position on torture) takes on a more political tone, however. Those on the right see this as a partisan attempt to get back at the Bush Administration that will somehow expose us to more terrorist attacks. Those on the left who have been awaiting the opening of such an investigation for many months are clearly disappointed by its narrow scope.
It appears no one is more pissed off than Leon Panetta. The CIA director has reportedly threatened to resign and launched a profanity-laced tirade in response to the public release of the CIA inspector general’s report. I’m assuming he was also reacting to the appointment of a special prosecutor to be announced later that day.
But who can blame the guy? Think of things from his perspective: As an outsider, he’s had to win over CIA operatives in these past few months with a consistently protective stance. Now, not only is Holder coming after his guys, but he also is not going after the people who asked his guys step over the line.
In his statement yesterday announcing the assignment of Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham to the preliminary review, Holder took a moment to underscore his promise that the “Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” But there is clearly tension between the CIA and the DOJ.
Panetta also released a statement yesterday clearly directed at those within his agency, saying that his job is to “stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given.” Panetta also suggested that someone else’s department might bear some responsibility (emphasis mine):
The CIA was aggressive over the years in seeking new opinions from the Department of Justice as the legal landscape changed. The Agency sought and received multiple written assurances that its methods were lawful. The CIA has a strong record in terms of following legal guidance and informing the Department of Justice of potentially illegal conduct.
The report released yesterday, which Panetta points out in his statement was requested by the CIA, makes it clear that interrogators and others were worried about the legality of what they were being told by White House lawyers was admissible detainee treatment. The report noted some interviewed feared “that they may at some future date be vulnerable to legal action in the United States or abroad and that the U.S. government will not stand behind them.”
Doing what one is told to do is no excuse in a war crimes court, as our society has carefully established in the past. In fact, any attempt to use what is known as the “Nuremberg defense” ought to sound ethical alarms immediately.
But the trend of investigating and prosecuting at the lowest common denominator is also a troublesome sign of our nation’s departure from the international community’s standards of conduct during wartime, at the same time functioning as something of an encouragement of future abuse.
The American Civil Liberties Union, without which it’s unlikely we would know half of what we do about these crimes, calls Holder’s actions a “first step,” adding that “we will never achieve true accountability by limiting the scope of the investigation and overlooking those who commissioned and authorized these illegal acts — some at the highest level of our government.”
But, as is often the case with this enraging type of story, Glenn Greenwald boils it down perfectly (again, emphasis mine):
Manifestly, none of this happened by accident. As the IG Report continuously notes, all of these methods were severe departures from long-standing CIA guidelines (if not practices). This all occurred because the officials at the highest levels of the U.S. Government pronounced that this was permissible, the protections of the Geneva Conventions were “quaint,” obsolete and inapplicable, and the U.S. was justified in doing anything and everything in the name of fighting Terrorists. As stomach-turning as these individual acts of sadism are, it is far worse to consider that only low-level interrogators will suffer consequences while those who were truly responsible — the criminally depraved leaders and lawyers who ordered and authorized it — will be protected.
So we’re all pissed off, even if Panetta happens to be the most visibly so. But can we use this anger for good?
U.S. inspectors general tend to make recommendations at the ends of their reports, whether controversial or not, to ensure that we learn something from our missteps. The CIA report in question did have five recommendations spread over four pages, but as McClatchy and National Public Radio pointed out, all were completely redacted.
The author of the report, former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, e-mailed a statement to The Washington Post insisting that “the essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations” and that he was “disappointed that the Government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.”
Thus, we have no constructive place to put our anger. We don’t know where we should go from here. And that — along with the murders and threats and lives torn apart and way of life tarnished — is the stuff of tragedy.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS