The Immunity Question: What's Obama's Angle?

Join me for a moment in the realm of speculation. What does Eric Holder's Justice Department really think about the prosecution of government officials who broke the law?  
Part of me thinks that this is all an exercise of sorts; if the  Justice Department's Office of Professional Review concludes that former OLC deputy John Yoo committed professional misconduct, then the OLC memos themselves are suspect.  Holder's statement is mute on this subject. If a U.S. Attorney decides to look at the ICRC report, looks at the Bybee and Bradbury "technique" memos, figures out that CIA officers routinely violated these internal rules and goes to the head of the criminal dvision and makes a case, would Holder decide to prosecute? Is Obama's definition of good faith -- as in, if a CIA interrogator intends to follow the advice, you're fine -- dis positive? 

On the surface, the statement today looks like a big ol' grant of immunity -- or a concession -- or a deliberate attempt to boost morale at the CIA.  It might be a deflection, designed to give Obama and Holder some political cover for prosecutions down the road. Or, it could be the pretext for a tacit administration sanction of a Truth Commission. (Sheldon Whitehouse, among others, reiterated his call for one today, as did Pat Leahy.)


There are plenty of CIA officers who followed the rules and shouldn't be proscuted. They're the ones who are a ltitle relieved today...although they might have to explain some things to their priests and their families.

But there might well be officers and government officials who (probably) willfully ignored what the OLC guidlines say. They intended to so -- and intent is the key here.

I know that Obama personally opposes prosecution. I also know that he knows that Holder gets to make the call; Holder's words today could be boilerplate, or they could be the result of an administration that's thinking about the long-term.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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