In January of 1994, then-Attorney General Janet Reno named a special counsel to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in a failed real estate deal known as “Whitewater.” Nobody knew that decision would lead to investigators questioning Arkansas state troopers about Bill’s extramarital affairs as governor, a right wing-subsidized lawsuit by someone named Paula Jones, and a “pattern of behavior” demonstrated by an affair with a White House intern. It all ended with the impeachment of President Clinton which doomed the campaign of Vice President Al Gore and gave us the unintended consequence that was the George W. Bush administration.
On Monday, current Attorney General Eric Holder announced a “preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” The review will be conducted by a career prosecutor named John Durham who will find there is more than enough predication and that the evidence will warrant a full investigation because there is no doubt that federal laws were violated. The charges to follow will eventually have George W. Bush in the dock at the International Criminal Court answering for the war crimes committed during his presidency.
When Holder refers to “interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations,” he’s very likely talking about the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was held at a secret CIA prison for four years after he was picked up in 2002. A report by then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson in 2004 said that “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques” had been used on al-Nashiri, who believed he was being held in a country known for torturing prisoners. He had been stripped naked, shackled, and hooded while CIA officers alternately threatened him with a pistol and a power drill. He was told his mother and family would be brought in and raped while he was made to watch. And not only was he waterboarded, but the authorization to use that particular torture technique on him came directly from Vice President Dick Cheney himself.
For his part, John Durham was already investigating the CIA’s destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogations (including al-Nashiri’s), so looking into possible violations of federal law by CIA officers basically gives him the power to investigate the entire agency with the unlimited resources of an independent counsel. Add a mandate to review how the CIA did its interrogation work overseas, and his jurisdiction becomes worldwide. Once his inquiry takes him to Afghanistan, he’ll find the military base where CIA interrogator David Passaro beat an Iraqi detainee named Adbul Wali to death during two days of questioning in June of 2003. Though Passaro was convicted of felony assault with his flashlight, no homicide charges have been filed. Yet.
As John Durham works his way from the interrogators in the field through the station chiefs and back to headquarters in Langley, he’s going to find CIA officers repeatedly questioned these “enhanced techniques” and asked for guidance on what was and wasn’t legal and how far to go. Disturbingly, he’s going to find those interrogators were told time and time again that what they were doing was cleared by the Justice Department and authorized by the president — so they should keep pushing the limit.
It’s important to remember that the decision to torture al-Nashiri’s came directly from the White House, as did the decision to murder Wali, which traveled through the chain of command first. Dick Cheney may be the most powerful vice president in American history, but even he can’t change the fact that the vice president has no Constitutional authority to do anything except break ties in the Senate. The torture and murder of these men (among many others) may have been carried out by the CIA, but the decision to torture and murder them was made by Cheney’s boss. Ultimately, the responsibility for their treatment falls on the president.
Ordering someone to be tortured is a war crime. If someone dies (as Wali did) as a result of that torture, it becomes a war crime punishable by death. At least one CIA officer knew this and wondered if “one day, agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court for war crimes.” Another is quoted as saying, “Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this … (but) it has to be done.” Unfortunately for them, they’re right about one day being held to account for what they’ve done. I hope they find consolation in the fact that George W. Bush, the man who ordered them to break the law, will be right there with them — an unintended, yet inevitable consequence of Eric Holder’s preliminary review.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who doesn’t believe that “orders are orders.” His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org