Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, the chief Senate critic of executive excess and wrongdoing during both Republican and Democratic administrations, wants Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the CIA's harsh interrogation program.
But Feingold wants Holder to do it right.
The chair of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is concerned that the appointment of a prosecutor by Holder, which now seems increasingly likely, come with a charge by the attorney general "to focus on holding accountable the architects of the CIA's interrogation program."
In a letter to Holder, Feingold, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote:
"Dear Attorney General Holder:
"Recent news stories indicate that you have reviewed the highly classified 2004 CIA Inspector General report on the CIA's interrogation program, and that as a result you are considering appointing a prosecutor to investigate individuals who may have gone beyond the legal authorization for that program provided by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Department of Justice. I write to encourage you to do so, but also to urge you to focus on holding accountable the architects of the CIA's interrogation program. While allegations that individuals may have even gone beyond what was justified by those now-public OLC memos are extremely disturbing, we should not lose sight of the fact that the program itself -- as authorized -- was illegal, not to mention immoral and unwise.
"As I said in a letter to President Obama in April, the OLC documents make clear that the details of this program were authorized at the highest levels of government, which is where the need for accountability is most acute. Those who developed, authorized and provided legal justification for the interrogations should be held responsible.
"I understand this is a difficult decision for you, and I want to assure you that you will have my full support if you take this important step in furtherance of the rule of law."
This is an essential message, and an essential step in the process.
Official Washington does not like accountability.
Holder will be under pressure to organize a narrow inquiry that focuses on the misdeeds of underlings.
But this investigation needs to go where the real wrongdoing took place.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a principal proponent of harsh interrogation during the Bush/Cheney years and has since emerged as the primary defender of the initiative.
When asked about the use of torture tactics late last year, Cheney told "ABC News," "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."
That is an invitation -- from Cheney himself -- to, as Feingold suggests, investigate the extent to which illegal activity was "authorized at the highest levels of government" and to "(hold) accountable the architects of the CIA's interrogation program."
Americans should tell the attorney general to accept this invitation, and the Credo Action Project of the progressive long-distance phone service, Working Assets, is offering them an opportunity to do just that with a new campaign to tell Eric Holder to start his torture investigation with Dick Cheney. Check it out.