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Sunday, April 19, 2009


by digby

Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas do a decent job on implications of the torture memos, particularly their reporting on the deliberations inside the administration. But they miss the point pretty badly with this:

Someone at the CIA came up with the idea—right out of "1984," it would seem—of putting him in a small, dark box and letting an insect crawl on him. But since this was America, and not Orwell's fantasy police state, the CIA first had to get permission from a lawyer at the Department of Justice.

I'm pretty sure that Orwell's fantasy police state did exactly that. In fact, the hallmark of a police state is the bureaucratizing of barbarity. The United States engaging in such a thing is hardly a sign of our "exceptional" virtue.

Still, they do report some welcome news:

Though administration officials declared that CIA interrogators who followed Justice's legal guidance on torture would not be prosecuted, that does not mean the inquiries are over. Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers, who declined to be identified discussing a sensitive subject, say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is seriously considering appointing an outside counsel to investigate whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries—and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place.

At this point, I think an argument could be made that Holder has to appoint a special prosecutor because the administration has made a blanket claim that they won't prosecute for political reasons. (You can be sure that if the torture regime had happened under a Democrat the Republicans would be screaming rending their garments over that claim for being a political cover-up.) And congress should pursue it as well, particularly with an impeachment inquiry for Torture Judge Jay Bybee, which would get to the essence of the problems with the OLC.

Isikoff and Thomas end their piece with a plaintive recitation of CIA grievances over the years about having to take the gloves off and then be left holding the bag with their naked hands. I don't actually have any pity for them. They battled the experts at the FBI and won a turf war for the right to interrogate prisoners,something with which they had little experience and the FBI did. Far too many of their highest leadership are implicated in this, including those like CIA acting General Counsel John Rizzo who were actively engaged in creating this Orwellian legal framework to excuse torture.

Of course the Bush administration, including the president himself, are ultimately to blame for all this, but there is too much reporting out there at this point that indicates the CIA wanted to be the interrogators and didn't know what they were doing. You win the turf war, you get the responsibility that goes along with it when it goes wrong.

Once again, we are back to the endless CIA wars, where the Republicans treat them like dirt because their analysis doesn't validate the right's grandiose global schemes and paranoid fantasies, while the left gets infuriated by their barbaric covert behaviors and actions that usually result in American foreign policy folly.

But this isn't just a battle between the right and the left. It's a battle within the CIA, which is obviously riven by its two responsibilities. They always feel under seige, because they are attacked from all sides. But the problem is that they only do one thing well --- obtain and analyze information. The right goes after them because the CIA analysis are usually right and it undermines imperial plans. The left goes after them because what they do in these covert activities inevitably goes wrong. They just aren't very good at that stuff -- nobody is. In fact, nobody should do it at all because the potential for blowback from the unintended consequences and the inevitable application of Murphy's Law makes it a losing proposition.

The CIA should be gathering information, period. They should not be running prisons, they should not be assassinating people, they should not be in charge of "enhanced interrogation." Their analysis has proven to be good far more often than not, even if it doesn't fulfill the dark wishes of the wingnut imperialists. That's what they're good at. Let them stick to it.

And the next time some wingnut in the White House tells them to "take the gloves off" they should just say no. I know 9/11 was a terrible thing and nobody says that the government shouldn't have taken action. But many of the actions they took have been counterproductive and worse, have fulfilled the world's worst presumptions about America. They did not make the country safer, no matter how much the bloodthirsty torturers with their schoolyard logic want to believe it.And much of the problems, from Iraq to torture, stem from top people in the CIA refusing to man up and step down. Some of them did, and they spoke out, and that very fact is enough to hold those who went along responsible. It's not like they couldn't have have done the right thing.

And to those who say that if the CIA isn't excused over and over again for their proven excesses and failures they will stop doing their jobs, I can only reply that this means they should all be fired immediately. You cannot have a clandestine service that blackmails the American people into granting them immunity from the law. They are unpatriotic at best for even threatening such a thing and treasonous at worst if they actually carried it out. This kind of blackmail should not be tolerated.

In fact, I am continually gobsmacked by the common blithe assertion by far too many people that certain members of society, from bankers to spies to judges to presidents are so important and above the rest of us that they cannot be subjected to the rule of law even when their crimes are so egregious that they risked destroying the country. Apparently, there is a substantial number of citizens in this country who prefer to be subjects.

Update: Ferchrist's sake:

Rahm on This Week:

STEPHANOPOLOUS: The President has ruled out prosecutions of CIA officials who believed they were following the law. Does he believe the officials who devised the policies should be immune from prosecution?

RAHM: Yeah, what he believes is, look, as you saw in that statement he wrote. And I think, just take a step back. That he came up with this, and he worked on this for four weeks. Wrote that statement Wednesday night, after he made his decision, and dictated what he wanted to see and then Thursday morning I saw him in the office, he was still editing it. He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn't be prosecuted.

STEPHANOPOLOUS: But what about those who devised the policies?

RAHM: But those who devised the policies --he believes that they were -- should not be prosecuted either. And it's not the place that we go -- as he said in that letter, and I really recommend that people look at that full statement. Not the letter, the statement. In that second paragraph: This is not a time for retribution. It's a time for reflection. It is not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back, and in a sense of anger and retribution. We have a lot to do to protect America. What people need to know, this practice and technique, we don't useany more. He banned it.

Jane Hamsher writes:

Is that truly what the administration thinks? That people who want to see those who illegally led the country down the road of torture held to account are simply "looking back" in "anger" and "retribution"? Fifty percent of the country favor such investigations, including 69% of Democrats and a majority of independents. Is Rahm saying that President Obama believes they're nothing more than an angry, vindictive mob, and that nobody could possibly have a rational basis for believing that our laws should be enforced?

Anyone who gets upset at the Republicans and fat cats who destroyed the country over the past decade are an angry pitchfork wielding mob. (Tea bagging morons with Hitler signs, however, are patriots just exercising their right to dissent.)

One thing to keep in mind here: the president does not actually have the power to decide who gets prosecuted in this country and neither does his chief of staff. We have an independent justice department that is supposed to operate outside of politics. Holder's job is to "look back" and see if crimes were committed. Just because Bush's Attorneys General were all toadies doesn't mean that's the way it's supposed to be.

A special prosecutor would solve this whole problem for Obama and Holder. The best way to get the hot potato off their desks is to give it to an independent, career prosecutor.