U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appears to be poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Holder envisions a narrow inquiry that would focus on “whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized” in Bush administration memos that interpreted anti-torture laws.
President Obama has publicly discouraged such an investigation, but months ago left the door open for Holder to make the call. An inquiry would likely drive a new wedge between the CIA and the Justice Department, as well as create additional political tension in Washington already aggravated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claims in May that the CIA “mislead us (Congress) all the time”.
The U.S. anti-torture statute requires proving that an interrogator “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering,” a challenging legal hurdle. In April, Holder decreed “We’re going to follow the evidence wherever it takes us, follow the law wherever that takes us….no one is above the law” when asked whether government officials would face prosecution over coercive interrogation techniques.
Tell that to the voters in Philadelphia, who were threatened on November 4 by nightstick-wielding members of the New Black Panther Party. Holder gave them a pass, even after the government prevailed by default when the Panthers ignored court process. In that case, other considerations apparently outweighed Mr. Holder’s desire to following the evidence. The Panthers who turned out to be above the law included Jerry Jackson, a credentialed Democratic-party poll-watcher who brays on MySpace about “Killing Crakkkas.” Thanks to Holder’s decision Jackson is back in business, having obtained new poll-watcher credentials just days after his case was dismissed.
Is this investigation politically motivated and yet another distraction from ongoing domestic issue debates? Does it threaten to set a dangerous precedent that will undermine the effectiveness of the CIA out of concern for retroactive rule changes applied by future administrations? Or is there a legitimate cause of action, in the interest of protecting America’s moral standing as champions of human dignity and individual rights?