Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama to Appont Terrorist Czar?

How does an administration respond when its domestic agenda verges on imploding? It's generally called "Operation Change The Subject," through a manufactured scandal and a related witchhunt.
The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush's war on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators' threats to kill one suspect's children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted.
At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules on tactics, and said the White House would keep its hands off the professional investigators doing the work.
Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, several Obama spokesmen declared anew—as the president has repeatedly—that on the subject of detainee interrogation he "wants to look forward, not back" at Bush tactics. They took pains to say decisions on any prosecutions would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder, not the White House.
Monday's five-year-old report by the CIA's inspector general, newly declassified and released under a federal court's orders, described severe tactics used by interrogators on terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seeking information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill and tried to frighten another with a mock execution of another prisoner.
It remains to be seen if there is any legal culpability on the part of the interrogators, but this administration has a unique approach to homeland security: try to release the bad guys, and prosecute the (arguably) good guys. And harsher techniques have been on display in any given episode of The Shield.

AG Holder tapped New Haven, CT, career federal prosecutor John Durham to conduct the initial investigation into whether there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation of whether current or former CIA employees violated anti-torture or other laws while questioning high-value terror detainees.

Writing in the Washington Post, former CIA general counsel Jeffery Smith provides six reasons why such prosecutions would not be in the national interest:
•These techniques were authorized by the president and approved by the Justice Department. The relevant committees of Congress were briefed. Although the Justice Department's initial legal opinions were badly flawed, the fact remains that the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing the law said the techniques were "legal." That alone will make prosecutions very difficult.
•the CIA provided the inspector general's report to the Justice Department in 2004. Justice has not prosecuted any CIA officers but did successfully prosecute a contractor who beat a detainee to death, an incident that was initially reported to the department by the CIA...Prosecutions would set the dangerous precedent that criminal law can be used to settle policy differences at the expense of career officers.
• after Justice declined to prosecute, the CIA took administrative action, including disciplinary action against those officers whose conduct it deemed warranted such responses.
•prosecuting CIA officers risks chilling current intelligence operations.
• prosecutions could deter cooperation with other nations. It is critical that we have the close cooperation of intelligence services around the world.
• President Obama has decisively changed the policies that caused so much damage.
Apparently the administration may continue the controversial rendition policy.

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