Monday, July 13, 2009

Holder-Prosecutor Update #1

Glenn Greenwald of Salon is on top of the Holder/prosecutor story (or more likely, trial balloon):
He says:

. . .such an approach -- targeting low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy-makers from prosecution -- would be "something close to the worst of both worlds." That's true not only because it would replicate the disgraceful whitewashing of the Abu Ghraib prosecutions. It would do that, but even worse, it would bolster the principal instrument of executive lawlessness -- the Beltway orthodoxy that any time a President can find a low-level DOJ functionary to authorize what he wants to do, then it is, by definition, "legal" and he's immune from prosecution when he does it, no matter how blatantly criminal it is.

. . . just as was true for the Abu Ghraib abuses, many of the worst instances of detainee abuse cannot be extricated from -- but rather are directly attributable to -- the torture policies authorized at the highest levels of the government. To target low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy makers would further bolster America's two-tiered system of justice, in which ordinary Americans are subjected to merciless punishment while the most powerful elites are vested with virtual immunity from the consequences of their lawbreaking. . . .

Prosecuting only obscure "rogue" interrogators while immunizing powerful, high-level officials would not be an act of courage but of cowardice. It would not strengthen the rule of law but would pervert it further. And rather than deter future lawbreaking, it would signal -- yet again -- that our most powerful political officials are free to break the law with impunity.

However, Scott Horton, one of the top accountability activists, is more hopeful that such a probe would not be as narrow:

One source told me that he would be surprised if Holder “set blinders” on the special prosecutor. Still, the scope of the investigation would clearly be limited to the authorization and use of Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, longtime standing, stress positions, and prolonged sleep deprivation. Moreover, President Obama’s assurance to CIA officials who relied on the opinions of government lawyers in implementing these programs, an assurance that Holder himself repeated, would have to be worked in. That suggests that the focus would likely be on the lawyers and policymakers who authorized use of the new techniques.

Yet Horton is also restrained and tentative about the prospects:

Observers caution that even if a special prosecutor is appointed, actual indictments would still be far off. The Bush torture policy was implemented with the advice of lawyers well skilled in the ways of Washington bureaucracy. Any prosecutor would face considerable legal obstacles in bringing charges. A review of the torture memoranda themselves shows that a consuming concern was thwarting the possible bringing of charges by a future prosecutor. Now, perhaps, the defenses they devised may be put to the test.

How is this report going over in the MSM? Here's the blogger Digby on its reception on the major Sunday Beltway pundit show "This Week":

Stephanopoulos reported on This Week that the possible Holder investigation is going to be very narrow and will not pursue policy makers or anyone who took orders directly from the policymakers. He's going after "rogue interrogators" who inflicted more torture than was strictly allowed.

The Village roundtable all gasped in horror anyway because who knows where such an investigation might lead and as Cokie [Roberts] complained, it would mean that the whole town would be mad at each other again and nobody wants that! "Everybody hates each other and the poison gets very thick." She did finally come down on the side of following the ru le of law even though it would make her uncomfortable at cocktail parties, but it was a close thing.

Bob Woodward was very upset at the idea that the government can't keep secrets because "we need them!" Besides, Holder shouldn't be like Janet Reno and just initiate investigations willy nilly. (He seems to think that Reno authorizing independent counsels to investigate her own president for trivial political reasons is the same thing as investigating whether the previous administration tortured prisoners.) They all chuckled at the notion that Holder was really independent and if he is, that means he's a rogue interrogator himself.

George Will thought it was all just a bunch of balderdash because nothing bad ever happened during the Bush administration. Sam Donaldson said that reporters should probably pursue stories and Donna Brazile added that these things were coming out anyway so they might as well be investigated.

They all snorted and giggled and laughed throughout the whole segment about how silly it was to be upset that the CIA lied because well, that's what it does. And they all thought it was a ripping good joke that Cheney kept everything secret because well, everyone knows that's what he does. Hahahahaha.

And then they talked about Michael Jackson.

Greenwald comments:
That's a major reason why we have such a depraved and lawless political class.

Maybe a Special Prosecutor for Torture??

    From the NY Times on July 13. Some comments follow:
New York Times -- July 13, 2009

Obama Faces a New Push to Look Back


President Obama is facing new pressure to reverse himself and to ramp up investigations into the Bush-era security programs, despite the political risks.
   Leading Democrats on Sunday demanded investigations of how a highly classified counterterrorism program was kept secret from the Congressional leadership on the orders of Vice Presid ent Dick Cheney.
  Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Fox News Sunday called it a “big problem.” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, on “This Week” on ABC, agreed that the secrecy “could be illegal” and demanded an inquiry.
  Mr. Obama said this weekend that he had asked his staff members to review the mass killing of prisoners in Afghanistan by local forces allied with the United States as it toppled the Taliban regime there. The New York Times reported Saturday that the Bush administration had blocked investigations of the matter.
    Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is also close to assigning a prosecutor to look into whether prisoners in the campaign against terrorism were tortured, officials disclosed on Saturday.
    And after a report from five inspectors general about the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping said on Friday that there had been a number of undisclosed surveillance programs during the Bush years, Democrats sought more information.
  That makes four fronts on which the intelligence apparatus is under siege. It is just the kind of distraction from Mr. Obama’s domestic priorities — repairing the economy, revamping the health care system, and addressing the long-term problems of energy and climate — that the White House wanted to avoid. . . .
 The attorney general would prefer to keep such an inquiry narrowly focused and assign it to a line prosecutor, if possible, rather than appoint a special prosecutor, the person [an inside source] said. >>

This last sentence flashes with warning lights, I believe, for two reasons:
A. Such a "narrowly focused" inquiry could well end up going after no more than the 2010 version of Lynndie England, small-fry underlings, while letting the bigger fish skate. Definitely a BAD idea. And
B. A "line prosecutor" can be more easily controlled and quieted than an independent prosecutor, who would be, at least to some extent, "independent."
So this report contains some potentially very good news, but needs to be treated guardedly. High stakes stuff, and even if Holder pulls the trigger, our task will not be lessened, because pressure needs to continue on many fronts, if there's to be any hope of actually dismantling the TIC (Torture Inductrial Complex), rather than giving a few low-level spooks a slap-on-the-wrist and leaving the overall structure and operation in place.
Note that
<<>Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Fox News Sunday called it a “big problem.” >>
Feinstein is a big player in this; she's already conducting a secret inquiry. She's also Establishment all the way; but maybe her probe has uncorked such a seething bottle of liquid poop that it's more than even she can handle behind closed doors.
The fact that the article identifies four separate investigations underway is also encouraging: to avoid the smokescreens and pierce the coverups, we need to press for numerous investigations. The Times failed to mention al the foreignprobes underway too, from the UK to Poland. The MSM may not pay them much attention, but they are NOT irrelevant.
More to come on this.