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.

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