Why not investigate torture?

Conservative spin: How an investigation into alleged CIA crimes will somehow make the country less safe

Published August 25, 2009 12:26PM (EDT)

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that he had appointed Justice Department prosecutor John Durham to investigate nearly a dozen cases of possible CIA mistreatment of detainees during the Bush Administration. For civil liberties advocates and critics of the Bush era war tactics, it was time for thanks. And anyway, what could be so bad about investigating alleged wrong-doing? If U.S. agents broke laws, don't they need to be brought to justice?

But many conservatives (and even a few Democrats) are irate. Defenders of the interrogators (like Dick Cheney) embrace an ends-justifying-means argument, saying the interrogators were "directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda." The investigation will allegedly "demoralize" the entire CIA and create a "chilling effect," where agents will no longer do their jobs for fear of later recrimination, making us all "less safe." Here's a closer look at the spin:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney: "The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel, and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House, serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this Administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.: "I respectfully regret this decision by Attorney General Holder and fear our country will come to regret it too because an open ended criminal investigation of past CIA activity, which has already been condemned and prohibited, will have a chilling effect on the men and women agents of our intelligence community whose uninhibited bravery and skill we depend on every day to protect our homeland from the next terrorist attack . . . We cannot take for granted the fact that our homeland has not been attacked since September 11, 2001. That has occurred only because of the constant vigilance and unflinching efforts by those brave individuals in our military, civilian homeland security and counterterrorism agencies, and the intelligence community. These public servants must of course live within the law but they must also be free to do their dangerous and critical jobs without worrying that years from now a future Attorney General will authorize a criminal investigation of them for behavior that a previous Attorney General concluded was authorized and legal.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: "We must remain mindful that we still are very much a nation at war with terrorists who spend every hour of their day planning how to hurt America and Americans. That’s why reports that the Department of Justice has directed a special prosecutor to investigate the men and women tasked with keeping America safe is such a poor and misguided decision ... Several years ago, career professionals at the Department decided the facts did not support prosecuting America’s intelligence professionals based on the practices at issue today. Now, the administration risks chilling our defense and intelligence community’s ability to protect us from future terrorist attacks by reopening this matter. If these reports are true, the American people will be rightly outraged by the administration’s actions in this critical area.”

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.: The investigation is a "witch hunt targeting the terror fighters who have kept us safe since 9/11 ... With a criminal investigation hanging over the agency’s head, every CIA terror fighter will be in [cover your ass] mode."

Ari Fleischer, former President George W. Bush's first press secretary: "I think the decision is disgusting ... It's amazing to me that the people who kept us safe may now become the people our government prosecutes. There are plenty of real criminals out there -- it would be nice if the Justice Department went after them."

The Wall Street Journal: "All of this will further demoralize a CIA that has already been stigmatized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats as an agency populated by rogues who lied to Congress. This is the same agency that Mr. Obama and all Americans are counting on wage a war against al Qaeda and deter future terrorist attacks. The message that Mr. Holder's criminal probe will send to thousands of men and women is that they had better not do anything remotely controversial on behalf of American safety, even with a lawyer's permission. This war against our own war fighters comes just as President Obama's counterterror escalation in Afghanistan is getting more difficult ... By threatening to prosecute CIA officials, the Obama Administration is taking ownership of future troubles in a way that will only do itself harm."

Marc A. Thiessen, former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, Washington Post: "Since taking office, the Obama administration has prosecuted the CIA in the court of public opinion. Now it is taking its campaign into the court of law ... Now political appointees in the Obama administration are reversing those decisions, and Attorney General Eric Holder is appointing a special prosecutor who -- he promises -- will investigate only a small number of officials. But once a special prosecutor is appointed, there is no controlling where the investigation may lead. Such prosecutions will harm our national security -- putting the agency on the defensive at a time when we need the CIA to be on the offensive against the terrorists."

Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington Post: "CIA interrogators should not face criminal charges. Those who seek to prosecute Bush officials and the CIA make two mistakes: First, like armchair dictators, they aim to impose their own definition of torture where no consensus exists. Further, they misunderstand the role of government lawyers. Government lawyers are not policymakers who impose personal views about, for example, what constitutes torture; they are facilitators meant to ensure that administrations follow the letter of the law. The intelligence community sought guidance from government lawyers, and, though the human rights community may not like it, they rightly concluded that the Geneva Conventions apply fully only to legitimate combatants, in uniform, with arms carried openly, who operate according to the laws of war. They found that creating stress is not illegal."

Jennifer Rubin, Commentary: "As a colleague expressed to me yesterday, 'this is a form of madness.' The Obama administration sees the CIA as the enemy, not the terrorists. It chooses to employ the full force of the federal government against our own protectors, not those who seek to murder Americans. This has long been the pathology of the Left, a conviction that efforts to defend ourselves are evil and that our enemies are figments of our imagination. The difference is that now this conviction is held by the president and his attorney general ... It is therefore not simply the CIA that should feel betrayed, but all Americans. We lack leaders who are serious and committed to defending us against implacable enemies. There is no greater failing for a president."

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.: "At the same time the situation in Afghanistan is getting decidedly worse and the Taliban is advancing, the Obama Justice Department is launching an investigation that risks disrupting CIA counterterrorism initiatives. This is the last thing that should happen when the president is sending more troops into harm’s way ... Attorney General Holder should know that as he increases the focus on America’s past counterterrorism efforts, he is distracting from the CIA’s current counterterrorism efforts. Having recently been forced to drop cases due to prosecutorial misconduct at DOJ, the attorney general argued that these were rare instances and not part of a broader problem. The same can be said of the CIA, where the agency initiated the investigation, reported cases of misconduct and disciplined the officers involved."

Gateway Pundit: "Team Obama will go ahead with their investigation of the CIA. After all, three psycho Al-Qaeda terrorists were waterboarded by intelligence officers. And, because they were waterboarded the evil Bush regime was able to prevent another 9-11 style attack on Los Angeles that saved thousands of US lives ... These officials must be punished!"

Ralph Peters, New York Post: "... the establishment media continued to portray imprisoned terrorists as victims, while further chastising the bygone Bush administration for rudeness to mass murderers. (Any self-righteous journalist care to spend a night in a cell with one of the butchers whose "rights" have been infringed?) ... Then the White House took all major interrogations away from the CIA, further restricting the techniques allowed to stop terrorists ... And now the administration's hard-left Justice Department -- perhaps the most extreme in our country's history -- is on another witch hunt to prosecute CIA patriots who did all they could to keep our citizens safe."

Seth Leibsohn, National Review: "Yesterday’s release by the Justice Department was meant to bolster Eric Holder’s decision to name a special prosecutor, and to shock our consciences about how poorly we treated high-value detainees ... I think we should stop with the “high-value detainee” talk and call them “terrorists” from here on out, because I believe we’ve forgotten who these people are. They are not white-collar criminals, and they are not alleged homicide perpetrators. They are terrorists who killed hundreds and thousands of Americans and did their level best to kill more — to put an end to this country’s existence ... We truly have forgotten 9/11."

William Murchison, Real Clear Politics: "Alas, as we know from experience, investigations tend to start small then grow. Was Monica Lewinsky on Ken Starr's radar screen at the start of his inquiry into the Clintons' finances? Things get out of hand. The left of the left of the left hopes no doubt that will be the case with Durham's investigation. You find on that peculiar quarter of the political spectrum a lust to punish former Vice President Cheney himself (if not the president he served). Why rule out a battalion of CIA agents who imagined themselves to be preserving American lives? ... Really, is there a brain cell functioning properly in the Obama White House? What are these people thinking? Are they thinking? Yes, maybe. Here's what they might be thinking: The left of the left of the left got us here. They're mad enough at us now. We'll throw them a little investigation, trying to explain it to moderates and conservatives -- and we'll pray it works. Nothing else seems to these days, with the health care semi-debacle as Exhibit A ... This is just nuts."

Powerline: "Having read the CIA report in its entirety, I am struck once again by how humane our treatment of captured terrorists was intended to be, and generally was. The handful of incidents highlighted by press accounts of the report came to light precisely because they were reported as deviations from the treatment of detainees that had been authorized by DOJ lawyers."

Fox News:

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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