AG Eric Holder Launching Preliminary Review of CIA Abuse Cases

Attorney General Eric Holder issued this statement today about his decision to conduct a review of some cases of CIA abuse of detainees as recommended in the Inspector General's report.

"I have reviewed the OPR report in depth. Moreover, I have closely examined the full, still-classified version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report, as well as other relevant information available to the Department.

As a result of my analysis of all of this material, I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.


The Department regularly uses preliminary reviews to gather information to determine whether there is sufficient predication to warrant a full investigation of a matter. I want to emphasize that neither the opening of a preliminary review nor, if evidence warrants it, the commencement of a full investigation, means that charges will necessarily follow.

Heading up the inquiry will be AUSA and career prosecutor John Durham:

Assistant United States Attorney John Durham was appointed in 2008 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the destruction of CIA videotapes of detainee interrogations. During the course of that investigation, Mr. Durham has gained great familiarity with much of the information that is relevant to the matter at hand.

Accordingly, I have decided to expand his mandate to encompass this related review. Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.

The ACLU responds:

"It is encouraging that the Justice Department's ethics office recognizes that prior decisions to cut off investigations of serious abuse cases were ill-advised, and that those who broke the law must be held accountable.

It is critical, though, that the scope of any criminal investigation not be limited at the outset to exclude the investigation of senior officials who authorized torture or wrote the memos that were used to justify it.

An investigation that begins and ends with so-called 'rogue' interrogators would be indefensible given the evidence of high-level involvement that is already in the public domain. Nor should any 'good faith' limitation be used as a shield for interrogators who knew or should have known that they were violating the law."

The Center for Constitutional Rights responds:

“Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.

“The Attorney General must appoint an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified and orchestrated the torture program. We call on the Obama administration not to tie a prosecutor’s hands but to let the investigation go as far up the chain of command as the facts lead. We must send a clear message to the rest of the world, to future officials, and to the victims of torture that justice will be served and that the rule of law has been restored.”

CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen provides his take.
Like the disgraced soldiers at Abu Ghraib, we now know that the CIA interrogators, and their supervisors, and maybe their bosses as well, clearly got the drift of the torture memos. The gloves were indeed off. The lawyers had said so. And those agents of the United States acted accordingly. All that remains now is to see what more our government, and the new administration, is willing to do about it.
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    In the earlier post about (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Anne on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 03:20:14 PM EST
    DOJ Document Day, I said that what really bothers me is that the Obama administration and the DOJ have accepted the Bush OLC opinions as the benchmark for what is legal and what is not; it's the only way to short-circuit any pursuit of those at the upper levels of the Bush administration.  I'm sorry, but wanting to make sure the Bush/Cheney/Yoo/Addington/Bradbury crowd all have laminated Get Out Of Jail Free cards does not seem like a good enough reason to carry forward dangerous precedents.  

    I am in total agreement with the organizations you cited, Jeralyn.  When we are fighting the same battles with Democrats as we were/are with Republicans, that is not a harbinger of good things to come.

    "in good faith"? (none / 0) (#2)
    by clbrune on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 03:42:10 PM EST
    If the legal memos that ok'd torture are accepted as legally valid, then every CIA boss, supervisor, and interrogator (whether an outside contractor or not) will be covered, right?

    The remaining "bad apples" will be protected by the defense that (1) they were acting "in good faith" on behalf of our Nation, and (2) nothing they did was really different from the ok'd torture techniques (I mean, heck, if you can waterboard a little, why should waterboarding a lot be illegal?  And can you really blame a poor 'lil interrogator for being enthusiastic on the job??").

    If you don't  investigate those who sought approval for torture and those who wrote approval for torture, everything else is a joke.

    this is farce. (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 04:34:55 PM EST
    expect nothing to happen for the next 3.5 years, while this "preliminary investigation" is carried out. by that time, it'll be even "older news", hardly worth mentioning.

    i'll bet real cash on it.