Dispatches from the Creation Wars

With the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that John Durham will perform a “preliminary review” of the interrogation practices used on a small number of detainees — not a special prosecutor, not a grand jury, not an indictment, just a preliminary review — the right wing is going ballistic, blasting the administration for daring to even consider enforcing our obligations to prevent torture.

Republican leaders in Congress knocked each other over getting to the microphones and TV cameras to denounce even this incredibly mild step as a “witch hunt” that proves that the Democrats don’t care about stopping terrorism:

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Kit Bond (R-Mo.) called the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA operatives broke the law when they used harsh interrogation tactics 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,” Bond continued.

I’ve got news for Bond. The CIA was already in cover your ass mode throughout the Bush administration. They were savvy enough to demand explicit legal authorization from the White House before doing anything that might violate the UN Convention on Torture. They did this precisely to cover their ass and that’s why we have all this evidence showing that the Bush administration explicitly endorsed and ordered the torture of prisoners. Which is exactly why those officials should be the ones in the legal crosshairs.

In a letter to Holder, Bond and eight other GOP Senators wrote that Holder’s actions would have a “chilling effect” on the CIA’s work, and they warned that Holder’s promise of a narrowly focused investigation on low-level intelligence officials — and not into the actions of senior officials in the George W. Bush administration — would likely be undermined.

“History has shown that special prosecutors, who lack the accountability of career prosecutors to Justice Department management, often take an expansive view of their investigative authority,” the Senators wrote. “Thus, despite your assurances that this investigation will be narrow and focused, there is a real risk that today’s announcement portends a long, arduous, and unpredictable process for the intelligence community. By delegating the prosecutorial function to a largely unchecked special prosecutor, you are responsible for having set a course that may diminish our intelligence efforts.”

One can only hope that they’re right and the investigation goes way beyond just looking at a few cases where interrogators went beyond the legal memos written to authorize torture. But it’s not the intelligence community that should be worried, it’s Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Tenet.