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Torture Prosecutions and Obama’s Radical Political Agenda

Didn't the president say he wanted to "look forward, not back"? He has a strange way of showing it.

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

August 11, 2009 - 12:33 am

The Obama administration has apparently decided to look back and not forward, despite the president’s promise to do the opposite. The Los Angeles Times reports:

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of terrorism suspects, current and former U.S. government officials said. A senior Justice Department official said that Holder envisioned an inquiry that would be narrow in scope, focusing on “whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized” in Bush administration memos that liberally interpreted anti-torture laws.

Now the chances of actually convicting anyone is slight we are told. (“Current and former CIA and Justice Department officials who have firsthand knowledge of the interrogation files contend that criminal convictions will be difficult to obtain because the quality of evidence is poor and the legal underpinnings have never been tested.”) And even dogged activists opposed to Bush-era policies find it unseemly to go after “low-ranking operators.” But that won’t stop Attorney General Eric Holder, who presumably has the full backing of the president.

Moreover, any suggestion that this prosecution is required by the “law” or that the “facts have led” the Justice Department inextricably to this decision is nonsense. As the Times details, the law on “torture” requires that the defendant have harbored specific intent to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (“a daunting legal threshold”), and it appears that the accused CIA operatives were not even informed of the applicable standards they allegedly violated.

So what is really going on here?

Once again, as we have so often seen in the Obama-Holder Justice Department, we are left to conclude that this is not the impartial enforcement of law but a political agenda at work. Whether it is dismissal of a judgment against the New Black Panthers in an obvious case of voter intimidation, throwing out decades-old Justice Department precedent on voting rights for the District of Columbia, or recommending that the president must release detainee abuse photos, the Holder Justice Department evidences one goal: how to further the agenda of the far left. In each of these cases obvious legal precedent and relevant facts are overlooked in furtherance of an objective which invariably pleases the president’s netroot base including the most liberal members of Congress.

And when it comes to national security, even the pleas of CIA Director Leon Panetta don’t carry much weight. It was only a week ago that Panetta took to the op-ed page of the Washington Post to implore that we cease the witch hunt against our intelligence community. He wrote:

Intelligence can be a valuable weapon, but it is not one we should use on each other. As the president has said, this is not a time for retribution. Debates over who knew what when — or what happened seven years ago — miss a larger, more important point: We are a nation at war in a dangerous world, and good intelligence is vital to us all. That is where our focus should be. The CIA has plenty of tools to fight al-Qaeda and its allies. Unlike the effort I canceled in June, our present tools are effective, we use them aggressively to go after our enemies, and Congress has been briefed on them.

When President Obama visited the CIA in April, he told agency officers, “I am going to need you more than ever.” The men and women of the CIA truly are America’s first line of defense. They must run risks and make sacrifices to acquire the intelligence our country needs for its safety and security. Having spent 16 years in the House, I know that Congress can get the facts it needs to do its job without undue strife or name-calling. I also know that we can learn lessons from the past without getting stuck there. That is what the American people expect. The CIA is ready to do its part. The nation deserves no less.

But that apparently does not reflect the thinking of Holder or the president. To pretend that Holder “has no choice” or that the Justice Department is “obligated” to go forward with this prosecution requires that one ignore both the law and the facts at issue entirely and pretend that, at bottom, this is not a policy decision. The president has a choice as he described it: look back or look forward.

We either have a rogue Justice Department, operating on flimsy legal ground and contrary to the views of the president, or a Justice Department which is carrying out precisely the policies — from voter rights to CIA prosecution — which the White House desires. In either event, we have once again seen what happens when a radical political agenda overtakes the Justice Department.

Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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