What they're saying: Today's big CIA/torture report

Government officials brace as long-anticipated report on torture is finally set to be released

Published August 24, 2009 1:25PM (EDT)

Today, a controversial report compiled by the CIA's inspector general in 2004, is finally set to be released. Even with the ghosts of Abu Ghraib lingering, Americans will likely receive another reminder that U.S. operatives, acting under the authority of the Bush administration, did in fact engage in torture while attempting to combat terrorism. Newsweek reported Friday that the inspector general's report will show that CIA interrogators used mock executions and threatened a prisoner with a gun and an electric drill. The report could increase pressure on the Obama administration to begin formal investigations into the interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects during the Bush presidency. The Wall Street Journal also reports today that President Obama intends to distance itself from the abusive practices of the Bush years by creating a new interrogation team to handle high-value detainees.

Here's a look at what prominent voices on the left and the right are saying about the report prior to its release and how they're responding to the news that the Justice Department may reopen some prisoner-abuse cases.

Marcy Wheeler, aka "emptywheel," Firedoglake: "But notice what is not on this list? ... The Office of Public Responsibility report, which has been due out all summer, and last we heard was at the CIA being reviewed to protect (presumably) John Rizzo's role in crafting OLC memos that claimed to authorize torture ... If it is, indeed, DOJ's plan to release all the other torture documents save the OPR report, it will have the effect of distracting the media with horrible descriptions of threats with power drills and waterboarding, away from the equally horrible description of lawyers willfully twisting the law to 'authorize' some of those actions. It will shift focus away from those that set up a regime of torture and towards those who free-lanced within that regime in spectacularly horrible ways. It will hide the degree to which torture was a conscious plan, and the degree to which the oral authorizations for torture may well have authorized some of what we'll see in the IG Report tomorrow ... If it is, indeed, DOJ's plan to release the IG Report and announce an investigation without, at the same time, releasing the OPR report, it will serve the goal of exposing the Lynndie England's of the torture regime while still protecting those who instituted that regime.

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent: "But pay attention as well to what might not get released today: another long awaited report, this time from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility about the propriety of legally sanctioning the interrogation program by the Office of Legal Counsel ... But without the OPR inquiry on the Office of Legal Counsel — which Holder has pledged to declassify — the CIA inspector general report will present stories outside of the context that gave rise to them ... Without that context, it won’t be possible to understand what drove interrogators to enter those interrogation chambers, even if the torture they applied was more severe than what the department’s lawyers specified was acceptable."

Atrios: "Threatened execution isn't torture because it doesn't actually destroy any organs."

Digby: "The article goes on to say that Jay Bybee ok'd these tactics so long as they weren't intended to cause lasting mental harm, so Holder's (potential) inquiry will necessarily skip looking at these events. If someone is going to be prosecuted for torture, it has to be for something other than threatening to use an electric drill on someone or partially drowning them. That would only be considered torture if some faceless bureaucrat hadn't written a memo authorizing them. Oh well."

Daphne Eviatar, Washington Independent: "As Newsweek reported Friday evening, the CIA inspector general report expected to be released on Monday reveals that the CIA staged mock executions to terrify terror suspects into talking. Regardless of whether interrogators got the information they were looking for, these actions were clearly against the law. It is a violation of both the federal anti-torture statute, and of international law, to threaten a suspect with imminent death. Yet there was no other possible purpose for staging a mock execution in a room next to a detainee — complete with gunfire to suggest a prisoner had been killed — other than to terrify the detainee into believing that he would be next."

Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case. The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads."

David Johnston, New York Times: "Mr. [Eric] Holder [Attorney General] was said to have reacted with disgust earlier this year when he first read accounts of abusive treatment of detainees in a classified version of the inspector general’s report and other materials."

Tom A. Peter, Christian Science Monitor: "The incidents described in the report are among the most extreme examples of 'enhanced interrogation' techniques used by CIA interrogators. While waterboarding and sleep deprivation were approved in legal memos from the Justice Department, other methods, such as using a power drill appear to have been improvised methods not specifically mentioned by the Justice Department. One former US official described some of these practices ... as being done 'almost in juvenile detective mode.'"

Bobby Ghosh, Time: "Five Questions for the CIA IG's Interrogation Report ... 1. Who was really behind the interrogation regime? ... 2. Did the interrogations work? ... 3. What did the interrogators really do? ... 3. What did the interrogators really do? ... 5. What happened before August of 2002?"

Kathryn Jean Lopez, the National Review: On the possibility of reopening some prisoner-abuse cases: "This seems potentially shamefully dangerous."

Jeffrey H. Smith, general counsel of the CIA from 1995 to 1996, Washington Post: "If media reports are accurate, the conduct detailed in the inspector general's report was contrary to our values. It caused harm to our nation and cannot be repeated. But prosecuting those who actually carried out that behavior has consequences that could further harm our nation. Even if the attorney general concludes that a criminal charge could be brought, other factors must be considered. Sometimes broader national objectives must be given greater weight."

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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