Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Horton on CIA Torture Report

Scott Horton has a quick analysis of the CIA Inspector General’s report on torture and he makes some very important observations that disprove some of the right wing talking points on the report. For example, one of the chief talking points, repeated especially by Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, was that any investigation of wrongdoing by CIA agents would undermine morale at our intelligence agencies and interfere with their current counterterrorism efforts.

Horton points out that this is not simply a matter of the big bad politicized DOJ against the CIA. In fact, opposition to torture came initially from within the CIA itself.

For years the CIA has said that CIA personnel would be demoralized and the reputation of the agency would be damaged by disclosure of the contents of the report. But the report documents just the opposite. The Inspector General’s review was launched by complaints coming from valued senior employees who felt that the Bush Program (as John Yoo has dubbed it) was wrong. One of them actually expresses his worry that those involved will be hauled before the World Court at some point because of [and that's redacted!] This makes clear that good employees of the agency opposed the Bush Program, were vocal in their opposition, and focused concern on the program’s illegality. The OLC memos were intended to silence these complaints, but they only accentuated the agency’s morale problems by enmeshing it in obviously illegal and immoral conduct. By contrast, the number of CIA personnel involved in pushing it through and supporting it is tiny–probably not many more than two dozen–though their voices are heard very loudly. It’s interesting that in a stream of appearances by CIA personnel on TV yesterday–Tyler Drumheller, Jack Rice, Bob Baer and others–all said that a criminal investigation was a good idea. The official spokesman of the CIA torture team remains, as for the last seven years, David Ignatius.

The other argument, made by Hoekstra and many other Republican leaders, is that the incidents mentioned in the report were already investigated by the DOJ and found to be without merit and non-actionable. Wrong:

The “prior investigation” canard. It looks like the favorite talking point emerging for torture apologists (like David Ignatius) is that the CIA cases were already examined by career prosecutors who decided not to take any action. But this claim is false. Although these cases were enshrouded in extraordinary secrecy from the outset, I closely studied their management and conducted a number of interviews with Justice personnel who were involved; I also worked with the House Judiciary Committee in its review of the matter. The cases were referred by Helgerson to the Justice Department, which in turn passed them to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Paul J. McNulty. (This U.S. attorney’s office was the most highly politicized in the entire U.S. attorneys system, and McNulty was ultimately promoted to the office of deputy attorney general and then resigned amidst accusations of misconduct involving the politicization of the Justice Department.) McNulty’s office acted as a sort of “dead letter office” for troublesome torture allegations. The suggestion that there was an active investigation is laughable. No grand jury was impaneled or testimony taken, and contrary to Ignatius’s claims no decision was taken not to prosecute. What happened instead was inaction. Why? If the cases had been pressed, the CIA personnel involved would have immediately implicated high-level Bush Administration officials. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has examined the handling of these cases and has confirmed that no serious investigation ever occurred. So the suggestion that Holder is now somehow undermining or second-guessing the decision of career prosecutors is preposterous.

There’s more, you should read the whole thing. We’ll be talking about this report on my radio show tonight.