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Controversy Intensifies Over Rumors of Holder’s Possible Interrogation Abuse Prosecutions

The Washington Post’s editorial today arguing for prosecution only of “those who went well beyond the often-extreme measures authorized by the [Office of Legal Counsel] memos” that justified abusive interrogations is calling more attention to the rumor, first reported by Daniel Klaidman in Newsweek, that Attorney General Eric Holder is seriously considering such prosecutions.

According to Newsweek, although the public demand for prosecutions had seemed to die down, in late June Holder spent two days holed up in his office poring over a classified CIA inspector general report on interrogation abuses and was “shocked and saddened” by what he read. The New York Times later reported that if Holder does open an investigation, it’s likely to be a narrow one, “focusing only on C.I.A. interrogators and contract employees who clearly crossed the line and violated the Bush administration’s guidelines and engaged in flagrantly abusive acts.”

That’s what The Post’s editorial board now wants as well, arguing that “those who relied on the memos and shaped their behavior in the good-faith belief that they were following the law should not be subject to prosecution.”

Of course, that’s exactly what former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Vice President Dick Cheney argued more than a year ago. Will President Obama’s attorney general now conduct an investigation according to the strict parameters those Bush administration officials set out back then, which were widely viewed as self-serving?

Glenn Greenwald today points out the absurdity of the Justice Department’s going after low-level criminals and ignoring the bosses who instructed and cheered them on. That’s precisely the opposite of the way the Justice Department usually goes after criminal investigations — at least the ones it takes seriously.

As Greenwald puts it:

That, in a nutshell, is the twisted Washington mentality when it comes to lawbreaking: when political crimes become so blatant and extreme that they can no longer be safely excused (Watergate, Iran-contra, Abu Ghraib), then it’s necessary to sacrifice some underlings who carried out the crimes by prosecuting them, but — no matter what else happens — the high-level political officials responsible for the crimes must be shielded from all accountability. In ordinary criminal justice, what typically guides prosecutions is the opposite mindset: namely, a willingness to immunize low-level soldiers in order to ensure that the higher-level criminals suffer the consequences of their crimes. But when it comes to crimes committed by political officials in America’s Versailles culture, only the pawns are subjected to the rule of law while the monarchs and their highest royal court aides are immunized.

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