One Possible Reason For A Special Prosecutor: The Jack Bauer Rogue

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The Department of Justice has announced today that Attorney General Eric Holder will assign a prosecutor to investigate whether crimes were committed in the CIA interrogation of detainees during the Bush Administration. White House aides say that President Obama did not sign off on the decision. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released this statement today:

The President has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward, not back, and the President agrees with the Attorney General that those who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance should not be prosecuted. Ultimately, determinations about whether someone broke the law are made independently by the Attorney General.

Also today, the Justice Department released the 2004 CIA Inspector General report, which is deeply critical of than handling of high-value detainees by the CIA, as well as the legal reasoning of the Justice Department that led to harsh interrogation practices between 2002 and 2003. The report also gives examples of the sort of abuses–above and beyond even what had been permitted by Bush Administration lawyers–that are now likely to be investigated (for a second time) by prosecutors.

On page 41 of the IG report, a turning point in the interrogation of Abd Al-Rahim Al Nashiri is described. He had been interrogated using harsh techniques for two weeks in December of 2002, when the interrogation team “assessed him to be ‘compliant.'” Not trusting the judgment of those in the field, CIA headquarters sent a “senior operations officer” out to “debrief and assess Al-Nashiri.” This new “debriefer” was not a trained interrogator, nor was the person authorized to use enhanced interrogation techniques. The Inspector General report describes what this person did  [ellipses are used to signal redacted information]:

The debriefer assessed Al-Nashiri as withholding information, at which point . . . reinstated . . hooding, and handcuffing. Sometime between 28 December 2002 and 1 January 2003, the debriefer used an unloaded semi-automatic handgun as a prop to frighten Al-Nashiri into disclosing information. After discussing this plan with . . . the debriefer entered the cell where Al-Nashiri sat shackled and racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri’s head. On what was probably the same day, the debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With . . . consent, the debriefer entered the detainee’s cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naken and hooded. The debriefer did not touch Al-Nashiri with the power drill.

The . . . and debriefer did not request authorization or report the use of these unauthorized techniques to Headquarters. However in January 2003, newly arrived TDY officers . . . who had learned of these incidents reported them to Headquarters. OIG [Inspector General] investigated and referred its findings to the Criminal Division of DoJ. On 11 September 2003, DoJ declined to prosecute and turned these matters over to CIA for disposition.These incidents are the subject of a separate OIG Report of Investigation.

During another incident . . . the same Headquarters debriefer, according to . . . who was present, threatened Al-Nashiri by saying that if he did not talk, “We could get your mother in here,” and “We can bring your family in here.” The debriefer reportedly wanted Al-Nashiri to infer, for psychological reasons, that the debriefer might be . . . intelligence officer based on his Arabic dialect, and that Al-Nashiri was in . . . custody because it was widely believed in Middle East circles that . . . interrogation techniques involves sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee.

There is much more in the Inspector General report that reflects this sort of behavior by interrogators that fell outside the lines of even the harsh techniques that had been approved by the Bush Administration. One other historical note, which may or may not be germane: The Fox television show 24 first aired on November 6, 2001. The second season of 24 debuted on October 28, 2002 and concluded on May 20, 2003. As previously mentioned, these unauthorized techniques were being employed during that time, in late December and early January.