Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shame on Holder; Shame on Obama

Eric Holder

Now that Attorney General Eric Holder has "made his decision" to go ahead and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA "harsh interrogations" for possible criminal charges, I for one would like to explain why I think this is an outrage.

First of all, I view this as a political decision to go after person(s) and actions done in the Bush Administration. I do not view Eric Holder as a man of principle who is going against even the wishes of his boss, the President (more about that later). Holder is the same man who, as a Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, rammed through two of the most questionable pardons in US history; the Marc Rich pardon, of a man who was a top ten fugitive when pardoned and with all kinds of questions of money given in return to the Clinton Library; and the pardon of the Puerto Rican FALN bombers, who had not even asked for a pardon. Now comes Holder as the law enforcement crusader, the independent who seeks justice for the Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds of this world.

The other thing that irks me about this process is the public posturing of President Obama and his spokespersons who loudly proclaim that the President wants to "look forward, not backward". That is meant to leave the impression that Obama is personally opposed to a prosecution of CIA interrogators and anyone else involved, but that he will not interfere with the independence of his Attorney General.


President Obama could have stopped this whole process months ago with one phone call or one word to Holder. The fact is that being the ideologue that he really is behind that moderate mask, he wants this to go forward. He wants to demoralize and emasculate the CIA. He just doesn't want to take the political heat for it. He wants to "remain above the fray". I don't see how that can work.

So where are we going with this and what will be the result? The immediate result is that many CIA interrogators, their supervisors, former Justice Department lawyers, who drew up the legal guidelines like John Woo and probably even Dick Cheney are going to go through a lot of worry in the next year or so. There will be lawyer expenses. Many CIA employees will decide it just isn't worth it to put your life and career on the line for a government that when administrations change will not stick up for you. They will retire or simply quit.

Let's review how this came about.

In the horrific aftermath of 9-11 as we began to capture al-Qaida members, Justice Department lawyers studied the question of what and what not was permissible as to incarceration and interrogation. Rightfully or wrongfully, they decided on certain procedures they thought could be performed legally. They ran it by the White House and the CIA was so advised. Those interrogators assumed they were acting within the law and according to strict guidelines.

Let's also discuss their motives. They were not acting out of motives that drove the Hitlers, Saddam Husseins and Stalins of this world-merely a desire to eliminate political enemies and stay in power, nor were they simply trying to extract confessions from criminals; they were acting to stop more 9-11s and save thousands of innocent lives.

And what were those methods? Water boarding was apparently the worst, by which they gave the prisoner the sensation of drowning. Some prisoners were slapped. Some were told their families would be killed or raped in front of them. There were apparently a couple of mock executions and sleep deprivation was also utilized. Nobody was broken on the wheel, had his fingernails pulled out or anything that resulted in serious injury. (I understand one person was beaten and later died and that the interrogator was prosecuted, but I have no further details.)

Let me interject here to reiterrate, as I have before, that as a DEA agent (who interrogated hundreds of prisoners) I would never resort to these methods. They could never be justified in normal law enforcement procedure.

The point I am coming to is that the CIA interrogators must be assumed to be honorable and patriotic persons who were under the impression they were operating within legally established guidelines and at a time of national emergency when we had no idea when the next horrific attack was coming. And it appears that those harsh interrogation methods did, in fact, thwart attacks and save lives.

So why are we going forward? Is it real politik, a gesture toward the Muslim world? It can't be a gesture toward Al-Qaida. They don't care how we treat our prisoners, good, bad or indifferent. They are going to slaughter and behead our people when they capture them no matter what. More importantly, this can only serve to emasculate and demoralize an already demoralized CIA-at a time when we need a strong and aggressive CIA. Now we see the establishment of some multi-agency task force under the supervision of and located at the FBI and reporting to the White House that will oversee terrorist interrogations. Great. As if we haven't had enough inter-agency turf wars between the CIA and FBI.

CIA Director Leon Panetta is reportedly furious and engaged in a profanity-laced argument with a White House aide at a recent White House meeting regarding this issue. I hope so. Panetta has told his employees he will fight for them. I hope so. I think Panetta is an honrable man, so I expect him to keep his word and do the right thing even if he can't influence Obama and/or Holder. As a last resort, I think a very public resignation would be in order.

This is another issue that the American people need to speak up on-just as we have on taxes and health care. We need to stand up for the people who were tasked with protecting us. If we stand silently by and allow this administration to sacrifice our intelligence operatives without a loud protest, shame on us as a people.

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