Another Word About Cheney « The Washington Independent
In the ongoing debate over who ought (or ought not) be prosecuted for the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody, American Civil Liberties Union national security lawyer Alex Abdo, made an important point yesterday that’s been largely overlooked.
“At the end of investigating is the time when you decide who to prosecute. You don’t decide who to prosecute before you investigate.”
That is the normal course of how investigations work. And that’s why Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was opening a “preliminary review” into certain cases of extreme detainee abuse; notwithstanding the conventional wisdom based on plenty of cheap political analyses to the contrary, Holder didn’t say that the investigation would be limited to looking only at the actions of specific individuals.
As I’ve argued before, that investigation, if done properly, could eventually lead to investigating the actions of individuals higher up the chain of command. “When you’re talking about high-level officials,” says Abdo, “it’s important to investigate whether the attorneys were providing high level legal advice, or providing legal cover to the decisions made by high level officials.”
Interestingly, as Abdo and others point out, the CIA inspector general report released on Monday did not mention anything about high level officials. Or at least the parts of the report that were not blacked out didn’t talk about the role of the White House or other senior officials. Yet we know from previously released documents that the White House and senior officials were closely involved in the decisionmaking about interrogations.
“You would think it would be in the report because the report discusses the origin of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation technique program,” says Abdo. “And that’s relevant to whether the CIA thought it needed these techniques, or whether they were handed to them by high level officials.”
Lawyer and blogger Scott Horton made a similar point when he appeared with me on MSNBC’s Live with Carlos Watson yesterday. And he laid out the case against Cheney that may be hidden behind that black magic marker in his blog at Harper’s:
All trails lead to the Vice President’s office. At several points, redactions begin just when the discussion is headed toward the supervision or direction of the program and context suggests that some figure far up the Washington food chain is intervening. Moreover, as Jane Mayer recounts in Dark Side, Helgerson’s report was shut down when he was summoned, twice, to meet with Dick Cheney, who insisted that the report be stopped. Cheney had good reason to be concerned. This report shows that the vice president intervened directly in the process and ensured that the program was implemented. The OPR report likewise shows Cheney’s office commissioning the torture memos and carefully supervising the process. It is increasingly clear that torture was Dick Cheney’s special project and that he was personally and deeply involved in it. And the CIA report has some amazing nuggets that show Cheney’s hand. In 2003, after Jay Bybee departed OLC, Cheney struggled to have John Yoo installed as his successor, but ultimately John Ashcroft’s candidate, Jack Goldsmith, prevailed. Goldsmith quickly backtracked on the torture authorizations that Yoo and Bybee gave. The result? The CIA stopped taking its cue from OLC and instead turned to the White House for guidance. It is remarkably vague on the particulars, and blackouts emerge just as passages seem to be getting interesting. But there’s little doubt that Dick Cheney and his staff were pushing the process from behind the scenes.
What a surprise that Cheney is now the most vocal critic of Holder’s decision to appoint a prosecutor to conduct a “preliminary review.”
Abdo said the ACLU is still deciding whether to challenge the government’s redactions of the inspector general report. If it does, the judge would review what’s been blacked out and decide if it was properly classified, or if it was simply redacted to protect the government from embarrassment or conceal evidence of criminal conduct.