CIA Inspector General Report Implicates DOJ Lawyers Again

August 24, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The more I read the CIA inspector general report released today, the clearer it seems that any real investigation of CIA abuses will have to question the lawyers who approved the interrogation techniques. That’s because the guidelines governing the detention and interrogation of detainees appear to have all been approved by Justice Department lawyers (because the report is heavily redacted, some particulars of who approved what are unclear), yet the vagueness of those guidelines themselves may have encouraged CIA interrogators to violate them.

If that vagueness was intentional, might it also have been criminal?

As the report explains, CIA interrogators had to sign an acknowledgment that they’d read the Department of Central Intelligence guidelines.

Although the DCI Guidelines are an improvement over the absence of such DCI Guidelines in the past, they still leave substantial room for misinterpretation and do not cover all Agency detention and interrogation activities.

If the Justice Department lawyers who approved those guidelines knew they left substantial room for misinterpretation but approved them anyway, they could be implicated in encouraging the interrogators’ transgressions. Whether that’s a criminal offense, an ethics violation or just sloppy lawyering, it directly implicates the Justice Department in the CIA’s actions.

Will a criminal probe address that? As it’s defined by DOJ, it’s not clear. But what is clear is that the Justice Department played a key role in the development and approval of policies that led to the torture and abuse of detainees. And one way or another, any real probe into what happened and how to keep it from happening again will have to address that.

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