Are leading Democrats Afraid of a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture?

There are not exactly throngs of Democratic Congressmembers beating
down the doors of the Justice Department demanding that Attorney
General Eric Holder appoint a special Independent Prosecutor to
investigate torture and other crimes. And now it seems that whatever
Congress does in the near term won't even be open to the public. Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said this week that he prefers that
the Senate Intelligence Committee hold private hearings.
The chair of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has asked the White
House not to take any action until this private affair is concluded.
She estimates that will take 6-8 months.

"I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start
having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts
are," Reid said
Wednesday. "I don't know a better way of getting the facts than through
the intelligence committee." It is hard to imagine other Democrats
bucking Reid on this and there is certainly no guarantee that the
committee will release an unclassified report when it concludes its
private inquiry. While Representative John Conyers says he will hold
hearings, that is not the same as the independent criminal
investigation this situation warrants.

Then there is the deeply flawed plan coming from the other
influential camp in the Democratic leadership. The alternative being
offered is not an independent special prosecutor, but rather a more
politically palatable counter-proposal for creating a bi-partisan
commission. This is a very problematic approach (as I have pointed out)
for various reasons, including the possibility of immunity offers and a
sidelining of actual prosecutions. Michael Ratner from the Center for
Constitutional Rights has also advocated against this, saying this week it will lead to a "whitewash:"

We have reached a critical political moment on this issue.
Obama has been forced or pushed to open the door to prosecutions, an
opening I thought would take much longer to achieve. If there was ever
a time to push that door open wider and demand a special prosecutor it
is now. We have documented and open admissions of criminality. We have
Cheney and Hayden admitting what they approved these techniques; and
Cheney saying he would approve waterboarding again. We have the Senate
Armed Services Report detailing how the torture program was authored
and approved by our highest officials in the White House and employed
in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have thousands of pages of
proof. There is public outrage about the torture program and the media
in the U.S. and the world are covered with the U.S. misdeeds.

at this moment, instead of human rights groups getting together and
calling for a special prosecutor what do they do? Call for a
commission. What this call does and it must be said strongly is take
the pressure off what is the growing public push for prosecutions and
deflects it into a commission. Outrage that could actually lead to
prosecutions is now focused away and into a commission. Think if this
list of human rights groups had demanded prosecutions. We would be
closer and not farther from the goal.

There are some powerful Democrats who certainly would not want an
independent public investigation, particularly those who served on the
House and Senate Intelligence Committees when Bush was in power and
torture was being ordered and authorized. That's because in the
aftermath of 9/11, some in Congress were briefed on the torture methods
in real time and either were silent or, in some cases, supported these
brutal tactics or, as some have suggested, possibly encouraged them to
be expanded.

While Republicans are flailing to find ways of defending all of this
torture and attempting to discredit or marginalize those who speak out
against it, it is interesting to note the Op-ed Thursday in The Wall Street Journal
by Reprentative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called "Congress Knew About
the Interrogations." In the piece where Hoekstra parrots the Dick
Cheney blah-blah-blah about torture working, he manages to make an
important point:

[M]embers of Congress from both parties have been fully
aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was
something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist
attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious
debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a
bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Hoekstra cites the internal memo written last week by Obama's
Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to his staff in which
Blair said "[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which
those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al
Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country." (This was the
memo that was originally released to the public with that sentence
conveniently ommitted).

Hoekstra writes:

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the
enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an
investigation can't be a selective review of information, or solely
focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees
who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with
a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who
attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) added to this mix by saying
that he had seen a partial list of Congressmembers "who were briefed on
these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time, not
one word."

Among those on the House Intelligence Committee at the time was
current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has said, "we were not, I
repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or other enhanced methods
were used."

"What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel ...
but not that they would. And that further, further the point was that
if and when they would be used they would brief Congress at that time."

But contrary to Pelosi's assertion, The Washington Postreported
that Pelosi and other Democrats were "given a virtual tour of the CIA's
overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had
devised to try to make their prisoners talk:"

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was
waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as
torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that
day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the
room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.


"Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of
what the CIA was doing," said [Porter] Goss, who chaired the House
intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA
director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just
approval, but encouragement."

Only a complete and independent investigation by a special
prosecutor could get to the bottom of all of this with any credibility.
In his Op-ed, Hoekstra wrote:

Any investigation must include this information as part of
a review of those in Congress and the Bush administration who reviewed
and supported this program. To get a complete picture of the enhanced
interrogation program, a fair investigation will also require that the
Obama administration release the memos requested by former Vice
President Dick Cheney on the successes of this program.

While one must take anything Representative Hoekstra and his
belligerent, torture-loving colleagues say with a grain of salt (to put
it mildly), he has a point-even if he is making it in that Dick Cheney
kind of way. All of the documents relating to this torture
program should be released and the role of everyone involved should be
brought out into the light of day to determine who is responsible for
every aspect of these heinous crimes from top to bottom.

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