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The White House Needs to Go a Lot Further with the Torture Inquiry

The investigation into torture could be thwarted by a GOP counter-attack and an echo chamber determined to protect Bush and Cheney.

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Bond and his compatriots argued that the appointment of a special prosecutor would "have serious consequences not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans."

In fact, the appointment of a special prosecutor should have serious consequences primarily for dishonorable members of the Bush-Cheney administration – including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Vice President Dick Cheney and, perhaps, former President Bush. Creating a false conflict between the rule of law and national security, Bond and his co-signers argued in their letter to Holder that, "It is ironic that the Obama administration, which has delayed justice for the victims of September 11 by suspending the trial of (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), may soon be charging ahead to prosecute the very CIA officials who obtained critical information from him." The absurdity of this argument is that it suggests the primary focus of an investigation will be on low-level or even mid-level Central Intelligence Agency operatives.

For it to be meaningful, the investigation can and should focus on the people who authorized the use of torture and who outlined how it should be applied. Those are high-level players in the Bush-Cheney administration, not "honorable members of the intelligence community." The only place at which low-level CIA operatives might become targets of an investigation – or perhaps face prosecution – would be if followed their own personal agendas.

The Center for Constitutional Rights offers a proper perspective:


Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.

The attorney general must appoint an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high-ranking officials who designed, justified and orchestrated the torture program," the center said in a statement. "We call on the Obama administration not to tie a prosecutor's hands but to let the investigation go as far up the chain of command as the facts lead. We must send a clear message to the rest of the world, to future officials, and to the victims of torture that justice will be served and that the rule of law has been restored.

The point of any inquiry has to be to identify those who set the torture policy -- deliberately violating the US and international laws, refusing to share information with Congress and lying to the American people -- and hold them to account.

Holder needs to spell this out.

So, too, does President Obama.

It is essential to confront the spin from Kit Bond and compatriots immediately and aggressively.

If Holder and Obama pull their punches, they will give opponents of accountability the opening they need to thwart it.

John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.

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