Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to investigate the alleged torture of terror suspects by the CIA goes against the advice of President Obama, who said he wants to "look forward, not backwards" on the controversial interrogation techniques approved during the Bush administration.
The White House made it clear Holder is acting on his own. "The President thinks that the decision of who to investigate and to prosecute is in his (Holder's) hands," said deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton.
Holder was inclined to take the President's advice, but according to the New York Daily News, he changed his mind when he was "sickened" by some of the accusations outlined in a lengthy review by the CIA's inspector general.
Those charges include beatings, mock executions, and threats to kill the children of terror suspects.
The review details the interrogation of high-ranking Al Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the architect of the 2000 USS Cole bombing. One agent said he could have the terrorist's mother brought in, implying she would be raped in front of him. Agents also cocked a gun next to Al Nashiri's head, and revved a power drill next to his ear. They also staged a fake execution to get him to talk. All of these tricks went further than the harsh tactics the Bush administration approved.
Holder said he will not seek charges against the lawyers who crafted the interrogation laws. Rather, potential prosecution will be limited to about 10 CIA agents who actually inflicted torture on detainees.
A review by the Associated Press details just how unprepared agents were for interrogation duty. The CIA had never been in the interrogation business, But all that changed after 9/11. Agents were given two weeks of interrogation training, then send out into the field. The AP writes:
Despite the lack of clarity, interrogators were required to sign documents saying they understood the rules and would comply with them. Yet they were given ample room to improvise and make decisions about how much humanity to show to terror detainees.
Many in the CIA feared they were doing something wrong. According to the inspector general's report, "One officer expressed concern that, one day, agency officers will wind up on some 'wanted list' to appear before the World Court for war crimes."
Another added, "Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this ... (but) it has to be done."
Despite former Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that the harsh techniques prevented the 9/11 attacks from becoming "a prelude to something worse," the inspector general's report casts doubt on whether the alleged torture has made our nation safer.
CIA officials credited the program with thwarting several terrorist attacks. But investigators said it's less certain that waterboarding or other coercive tactics directly contributed to that success.
Whatever the investigation yields, the CIA's future role as interrogators will be severely limited. On Monday President Obama announced a new unit to handle interrogations of terror suspects. The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group will be run out of the National Security Council in the White House. The group will be based at FBI headquarters, not the CIA.