Despite President Obama’s insistence that he wants his administration to look “forward and not backward,’’ Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly close to launching a criminal investigation into the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation practices. Quoting sources close to Holder, Newsweek and The Washington Post reported that the attorney general now believes that laws may have been broken by CIA operatives who went beyond the legal guidelines of the Bush Justice Department—which authorized waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and other harsh interrogation methods. Holder is apparently not considering the prosecution of Bush officials who set interrogation policy, or of any operatives who “acted in good faith” in following that policy.
Holder was quoted as telling associates that he was “shocked and saddened” by a classified report on the CIA’s treatment of terrorism suspects, and that some of the detailed descriptions of the interrogations “turned my stomach.” He could announce a decision to appoint a special torture prosecutor later this month, when the Justice Department is scheduled to issue an ethics report on the lawyers who drafted the Bush policies.
Obama may have been hoping to put this tragic chapter in American history behind us, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial, but the law is the law. “If crimes have been committed, prosecutors should examine the evidence and make a sober determination about whether to bring charges.” As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Holder does not have the luxury of “turning a blind eye toward the past.”
Don’t believe for a second that Holder is dragging a reluctant Obama into this imbroglio, said Thomas Basile in Foxnews.com. The president’s economic policies are failing and his poll numbers are slipping. “It sounds like the perfect time to remind everyone of the evil of George W. Bush.” And if this investigation chills the ability of our intelligence operatives to get information necessary to protect America, that’s a price Democrats are apparently willing to pay.
In truth, this inquiry is shaping up as a whitewash, said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com. An impartial investigation would follow the evidence wherever it leads, which in this case is to the highest echelon of the Bush administration. Artificially drawing the line at a few supposed bad apples, while letting “the real architects” off the hook, could actually do more harm than good. “It would implicitly bless the torture that it did not prosecute.”