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CIA prisoner abuse: Prosecute?
The Justice Department is releasing a Bush-era report on CIA abuse of terrorist suspects. Should Obama prosecute?
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hat happened
The Justice Department is releasing a 2004 report on CIA prisoner abuse, including new details about brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects—the CIA reportedly threatened prisoners with mock executions, handguns, and power drills. The Justice Department declined to prosecute any cases in 2004, but sources say its ethics office is now recommending reopening a dozen abuse cases. (The New York Times)

What the commentators said
Attorney General Eric Holder “will earn his salary this week,” said Andrew Cohen in CBS News. “As a matter of law, there is no question about what” he “should do”—using “tactics straight out of Scarface” violated even Bush’s “watered-down” torture policies. But “when it comes to politics and law in Washington,” applying the law to facts is rarely that simple.

“Enforcing the law is an important function of government,” said ex-CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith in The Washington Post. But the Obama administration “also has broader responsibilities,” and prosecuting CIA officers now "risks chilling current intelligence operations.” Besides, agents were told harsh “techniques were ‘legal’” under Bush’s “badly flawed” legal memos, and the CIA has already disciplined agents it thinks crossed the line.

Actually, Obama “is said to favor dropping the matter,” said Bobby Ghosh in Time. But if the 2004 report shows that interrogators violated Bush’s legal bounds, or used “borderline torture” before his legal team’s “torture memo” was issued in 2002, “it may be impossible for Obama to hold off Holder’s planned investigation.” And if the CIA report shows that Bush officials forced the techniques on the CIA, it was probably “a tense weekend” for Dick Cheney.

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