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Levin Calls for Independent Prosecutor to Investigate Culpability in Detainee Abuse

Without using the word “prosecutor”, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) appears to be calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the criminal culpability of former Bush officials.

In an op-ed in the Holland [Mich.] Sentinel posted last night, Levin recaps the evidence detailed in the Senate Armed Services Committee Report released last week (Levin chairs the committee) and writes that it “represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse . . . to low ranking soldiers.”

In fact, writes Levin, “it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone,” including Vice President Dick Cheney, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and President George W. Bush himself, all of whom ridiculed or dismissed application of the relevant laws against torture and abuse.

As I wrote last week, Levin’s report does an excellent job of laying out not just the abuses that occurred, but how lawyers and policymakers “distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws”, “ignored contradictory evidence” and “rationalized the abuse of detainees.”

As Levin puts it in his column:

The record established by the Committee’s investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.

Given that those abuses are illegal — they violate not only the Geneva Conventions, but the international treaty and corresponding domestic law that bans torture and other “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” — Levin goes on to say that the United States has to determine whether high-level officials should be held responsible. “If we are to retain our status as the world’s leader . . . we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody.”

Here’s what I interpret as a call for an independent prosecutor, though he carefully avoids the word:

I have recommended to Attorney General Holder that he select a distinguished individual or individuals — either inside or outside the Justice Department, such as retired federal judges, to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials, including lawyers.

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