Probe of CIA questioning, new interrogation group announced

Posted on August 24, 2009

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cia-seal

Continuing the political theater over the CIA and its interrogation practices, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would appoint prosecutor John Durham to probe several cases where the agency may have violated laws. The move has created tension between the White House and the CIA, with freshly minted CIA Director Leon Panetta involved in a profanity-filled tirade while threatening to quit over the investigation (which Panetta has since denied).

It comes on the same day that the White House announced the creation of a new special interrogations unit, answerable directly to the White House. The group, to be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), will strictly follow the Army Field Manual in dealing with detainees and is advertised as demonstration of a further break from the Bush administration’s policies.

A few notes – on the one hand, I’m all for justice and making sure that our personnel are following the law. On the other, it becomes a very dangerous game when you begin to criminalize the policies of previous administrations. And, as Ed Morrissey notes, a further danger lurks in bringing politics even more into the equation by putting the new interrogation squad directly under White House supervision. As far as following the Army Field Manual, it seems like a good idea to have some guidelines in place, but the squeamish should be warned that even that manual can still call for some pretty harsh stuff. And maybe it’s a personal failing, but it’s hard for me to muster much sympathy over claims like that Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s children were threatened during his interrogation.

At the end of the day, it’s politics that driving this, plain and simple. The simultaneous announcement of the criminal probe and the new unit is purposefully designed to take some heat off of the health care debate, which was killing Obama and the Democrats in the daily polls. Now the administration can style itself has more forward-looking and compassionate than its caveman predecessor – except that there’s nothing forward-looking about fishing for crimes in the past administration’s policies and practically screaming “SEE HOW DIFFERENT WE ARE?”

One thing you can be sure about – morale is going to be awful in the intelligence community. One source in the Washington Post article suggested there would be a higher than normal turnover this year as agents in the field and behind desks grow weary of looking over their shoulder, wondering if a future administration might blame them for what they think today is approved policy.

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Posted in: News, Politics