Ron Radosh

Obama's New War on the CIA

In April of 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder said that it “would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” Now, the tides have turned, and Attorney General Holder has announced that he has appointed a Special Prosecutor, John H. Durham,  to reopen the cases of  “CIA abuse.”

For months, President Barack Obama has consistently said he wants to look forward, not backward.  He was more interested in creating a new culture, not in waging political prosecutions against public servants whose interrogations had already been vetted a few years ago- not by Bush appointees- but by civil service personnel working in the Justice Department. Holder’s explanation was that his review of CIA reports, now declassified, left him no choice. “Given all of the information currently available,” Holder said, “it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”

The 2004 report lists these abuses. They include the threatening of detainees that members of their family would be raped, mock executions, and intimidating tactics such as displaying a power drill and a gun near a subject soon to be interrogated, blowing smoke in their faces, and depriving them of sleep.

Most important, as Vice-President Dick Cheney told the American Enterprise Institute, the details learned from interrogations that included some of these measures, including waterboarding, revealed that they succeeded in uncovering planned attacks on the United States. The report, as even The New York Times story by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane emphasized, “found that the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.”

Contrary to earlier stories, in other words, major information was gained only after these harsh interrogation techniques- torture if you will- were used. For example, one report revealed that information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on Al Qaeda’s plots.”  Mohammed was told that if another attack on the U.S. took place, the CIA would “kill your children.” Evidently, while Mr. Mohammed could not care if he killed over 3000 innocent Americans, that threat was enough for him to spill the beans.

We know that the CIA had commissioned a review of their methods during the Bush administration’s first term, had sent an unredacted copy of their report to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in 2004, and to the Department of Justice as well, so that allegations of abuse could be investigated. Career prosecutors—again not Bush appointees-evaluated these claims to decide if any prosecution was warranted. As a result one CIA contractor who beat a detainee to death was convicted.

Now, five years later, what once was judged legal is now to be declared illegal, and some agents will find their names made public, and their careers ruined. As Bret Stephens points out in a wonderful column in today’s Wall Street Journal, those same liberals who yelled bloody murder about the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson a few years ago- supposedly done by people in the Bush administration so their critics of the Iraq war would be punished-are today calling for the betrayal of “covert CIA operatives as if it were the very essence of virtue.”  He notes that last year, The New York Times published the name of a CIA case officer who interrogated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, despite the protests of the officer and the Agency that he would be put at the risk of retaliation from terrorists or harassment by CIA critics. And photos taken secretly outside current agents’ homes by the ACLU and others were ready to be used if terrorist’s clients are tried in federal court or by military commissions, so that they can be called to testify. In other words, they have already broken provisions of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which prevents exposing the identity of covert agents to anyone not authorized to receive that information.

It is clear from many reports that the announcement of the Special Prosecutor has all but destroyed morale at the CIA. Any current interrogator or field agent will think twice about doing what he has been told to do by his superiors, out of fear that in the future, actions he was told are legal will lead him under a future administration to possible trial and even prison. And now that the President has said that interrogations will be taken from the Agency and the new federal outfit led by the FBI will carry them out, in strict accordance with the Army Field Manual of interrogation techniques, one can rest assured that the terrorists are breathing a heavy sigh of relief, and will be well prepared to easily resist any of the “soft” methods the Bureau interrogators will use.

While the Obama administration has signaled the war on terror is over, it seems to have been replaced by a new war against the CIA. If the Attorney General and the liberals in Congress like Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-NY) have their way, the near future will see prosecutions not only of field agents who were doing their job, but  those in the Justice Department and others in the previous administration who told them what to do. Their efforts made our nation safer. The public knows this, and if God forbid another attack takes place- something experts say is still more than likely- the American people will not look kindly on the current actions of the Obama administration. Is this what they really want?