Investigating CIA Abuse

A political ploy, or a step that should extend to the highest levels of the Bush administration?

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Today, as the Justice Department is set to release detailed notes on the abuses suffered by detainees under CIA interrogators, the New York Times reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is going to recommend re-opening dozens of cases that could result in prosecutions of CIA employees for the cruel handling of detainees.

Details of abuse--most notoriously, threatening a detainee with a power drill--had leaked in Newsweek over the weekend, and were met with widespread condemnation. But as the report sinks in, many pundits are raising concerns about whether prosecution is the best path, or whether investigation should reach to the administration members who authorized the practices. On the left, many are emphasizing that the focus should not be on CIA operatives, but on the lawyers who justified torture. On the right, there are a few critical questions: what use is dragging out abuses from 2004? More importantly, is scapegoating the CIA a political ploy by Obama that may backfire in undermining American security?

As the story develops, a round-up of the best reactions and expectations around the report:

  • A Distraction from the Truly Responsible, says Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake. She notes that a report from the Office of Public Responsibility is missing from the released documents, which "will shift focus away from those that set up a regime of torture and towards those who free-lanced within that regime in spectacularly horrible ways."
  • Making Scapegoats and Fall Guys, echoes Spencer Ackerman at FireDogLake. "CIA operatives are expected to do bad things in our name that we'd rather not hear about. It's easier, in other words, to hang them out to dry. Furthermore, the CIA's interrogation program has been vouched for by George W. Bush personally, so the few-bad-apples argument is much harder for apologists to make."
  • Prosecution Is Self Defeating; the Problem Is Fixed argues Jeffrey Smith, general counsel of the CIA between 1995 and 1996, in the Washington Post. "Prosecuting CIA officers risks chilling current intelligence operations...prosecutions could deter cooperation with other nations...President Obama has decisively changed the policies that caused so much damage."
  • Obama's Attempt to Rebuild His Popularity suggests Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades. "Now that the President needs to recapture some of his lost political capital, here come the prosecutions."
  • Once and For All--Did Torture Work? asks Bobby Ghosh at Time Magazine, along with four other sharp questions to keep in mind going into today's release. "If the IG report says no specific attacks were prevented because of information gleaned by the use of water-boarding and other harsh methods, that would be a major embarrassment for Cheney."
  • Nancy Pelosi Should Be Investigted, Too argues Daniel Gallington in the Washington Times. "Should Congress and the Justice Department investigate? Sure; however, they both must be acutely aware that they have had substantial institutional involvement on the merits of these CIA activities with the approval and oversight of them."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.