Who Will Special Prosecutor Target?

Low-level CIA interrogators, DoJ lawyers, or administration officials? Who should they target?

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Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a special prosecutor to look into CIA interrogations. With yesterday's release of the CIA Inspector General's report on uses of interrogation, the prosecutor has plenty of source material. But who will he target? CIA officers, their bosses, Bush administration lawyers, or someone even higher up? More importantly, who should he target?

  • CIA Officers?  Echoing Dick Cheney's statement from last night, conservative opinion leaders are maintaining their position that investigating the CIA would inhibit officer's ability to their jobs. Bill O'Reilly warned of a "witch hunt." The National Review's Seith Leibsohn, worried about the affect on national security, wrote, "We truly have forgotten 9/11." Powerline's Paul Mirengoff wrote a three-part series called "A Good Time to be a Jihadist."

    Greg Sargent wrote that "only the conduct of low-level alleged rogue torturers" would be examined. "This is only about the interrogators," he wrote. "Nothing here at all about examining why some techniques were deemed legal, and no look at why Bush lawyers subsequently gave these alleged rogue interrogators a pass."
  • Administration/Justice Dept. Officials?  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder was skeptical that CIA officers would be prosecuted. "Legal experts believe that it will be very difficult to make a case against CIA officers unless there is incontrovertible proof that they knowingly broke the law, and if that proof can be introduced in court because of the sensitive (but legal) national security practices that might also be disclosed," he wrote. "The CIA operatives who face potential prosecution did not design the program in question."

    The New Yorker's Jane Mayer said on Keith Olbermann's show that CIA agents would point prosecutors to the Department of Justice. "If they actually bring charges against anybody at the CIA who was at the bottom of the food chain, the first thing that person is going to do is say, 'I was authorized. Let me tell you what my orders were,'" she said.
  • Bush and Cheney?  Despite long-held cries on the left for prosecuting the former president and vice president, no one really seems to consider that a possibility. As The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson summed up, "I'm under no illusion that George W. Bush or Dick Cheney is actually going to be prosecuted by the Justice Department," he wrote. "It's probable that painful scrutiny and lasting disgrace will be the only sanctions that Bush and Cheney ever face. But history demands at least that much."
  • Prosecution Shouldn't Target CIA Leaders  The Wall Street Journal's staff editorial warned that the prosecutor would look into "everyone up and down the CIA chain of command, starting with those who merely followed the legal opinions, and going all the way to senior CIA officials such as former Director George Tenet and other Bush Administration officials." The editorial argued this would "demoralize a CIA that has already been stigmatized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats" and be unpopular with Americans.
  • Prosecution Should Aim Higher  Salon's Glenn Greenwald agreed that low-level interrogators were the likely target, but theorized that higher-ups acting in "bad faith" could be prosecuted as well. "It's theoretically possible that there is some class of persons who could fall outside the scope of immunity even though they technically complied with the OLC memos," he wrote. "I.E., high-level White House officials and/or DOJ lawyers who had reason to believe that the conduct authorized by the memos was illegal, meaning those who wrote or requested those memos with the deliberate intent to obtain cover for what they knew was criminal behavior"

    Robert Baer, a Time columnist and former CIA officer, told Chris Matthews that prosecutions should go higher. "This went right up the chain to the director of operations, to the director himself. They cannot claim they didn`t know what was going on. No CIA officer that I've ever worked with would willingly and gladly do this without directions," he said. "There should be accountability at the top. No question about it."

    Publius doubted anyone higher than interrogator would be prosecuted, but said that could be a step towards later, higher prosecutions. "A few successful prosecutions could hopefully be leveraged to go after bigger fish -- the ones actually responsible for implementing torture as national policy," he wrote.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.