“Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday he has ordered a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two prisoners who were interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.
The move is likely to restart the partisan fight over Bush-era detainee treatment that Democrats have called torture.
Mr. Holder said he accepted the recommendations of John Durham, a prosecutor from Connecticut, who has been examining the treatment of CIA detainees and studying whether CIA interrogations exceeded methods allowed under legal guidance provided at the time by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Justice Department prosecutors led by Mr. Durham have been using a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., to investigate the death of Gul Rahman at a CIA prison called the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002, as well as the death of Manadel al Jamadi at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Holder had previously made it clear that the Justice Department would not prosecute any intelligence officer “who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” In other words, if they abided by the standards and legal guidance set by their superiors — however flawed, immoral and illegal those standards and legal guidance might be — they would not be prosecuted.
I think that’s appropriate and necessary. If we’re not going to prosecute the people at the top who created the torture policy — and clearly we’re not — then we sure as hell shouldn’t prosecute the lowly employees who carried that policy out.
However, if U.S. officials tortured individuals to the point of death, well, that is not the country to which I pledge allegiance, and was not within the bounds of any standards that have so far been made public. We are Americans and Americans aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing. The people we fight may do those things; that’s one reason we fight them.
But we don’t. Or at least we’re not supposed to.
– Jay Bookman