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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.

Attorney General Eric Holder chose not to take the counsel of the Republican partisans who have been campaigning in recent weeks to avert an accountability moment with regard to the Bush-Cheney administration's torture regime.

But that does not necessarily mean that an accountability moment will come.

For that to happen, Holder -- and, by extension, President Obama -- must stop being so cautious about laying the groundwork for the prosecution of wrongdoings.

They must, as well, be far more explicit in spelling out the purpose and point of the investigation into the use and abuse of so-called "harsh-interrogation" techniques by the Central Intelligence.

For now, Holder has opened what he refers to as a "preliminary review" into whether some CIA operatives broke the law in their coercive interrogations of suspected terrorists in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"As a result of my analysis of all of this material, I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations," Holder said in a statement issued by his office. "The department regularly uses preliminary reviews to gather information to determine whether there is sufficient predication to warrant a full investigation of a matter. I want to emphasize that neither the opening of a preliminary review nor, if evidence warrants it, the commencement of a full investigation, means that charges will necessarily follow."

Let's be clear: it is good that Holder has decided to take a more serious look at the use of torture during the Bush-Cheney years.

But he has done so in a disturbingly cautious manner that is described by the American Civil Liberties Union as "anemic." That runs the risk of encouraging the campaign by Missouri Senator Kit Bond and a handful of senators -- working in conjunction with conservative broadcast and print outlets -- to narrow the scope of any inquiry to such an extent that it will yield little in the way of accountability.

As with the battle to defend insurance-industry control over the healthcare system, Republican partisans in Congress are going to fight hard to block any inquiry that might expose and hold to account members of the Bush-Cheney administration.

Bond, in particular, has made it his mission to thwart anything akin to a real investigation.

Taking the lead in the campaign to block an investigation of officials who initiated, authorized and encouraged the use of torture, Bond has shown no qualms about using his position as the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee to protect partisan allies and prevent checking and balancing of executive excess. He has little to lose; after an undistinguished Senate tenure, the man who was once boomed as a Republican presidential or vice presidential prospect is a lame duck senator who will leave the Capitol after the next election.

But Bond is determined to finish his career with a partisan flourish.

And he is in a position to do so.

As a senior Republican senator with close ties to key players within the intelligence establishment -- both at the CIA and among independent contractors associated with the agency, Bond was the key signer of a last-minute missive urging Attorney General Eric Holder to drop plans to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the use of torture during the Bush-Cheney years.

The other signers of the letter, all Republican senators, are Alabama's Jeff Sessions, Arizona's Jon Kyl, Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, Texan John Cornyn, Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, Utah's Orrin Hatch, Iowa's Chuck Grassley and North Carolina's Richard Burr. With the possible exceptions of Hatch and Grassley, all are among the more rabidly partisan members of the senate's Republican caucus. Bond has traditionally been a more responsible member of that caucus. But with this letter, he positions himself as the key point person in the struggle to prevent the inquiry Holder has initiated from getting anywhere.

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