The decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint John Durham to investigate claims of abuse comes fast on the release of a five year old report by the CIA’s Inspector General that sharply criticised ‘inhumane’ interrogation tactics.
America has a long history of appointing special prosecutors who, once they start their own interrogations, tend to roam far and wide beyond their initial brief. In this case, Durham is already investigating the destruction of 92 tapes showing the interrogation of terror suspects. Their destruction was ordered by Jose Rodriguez, then head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, and speculation is rife that he will be indicted.
The back story to the appointment of the Special Prosecutor operates on three levels. First, although the CIA has always argued that torture was justified because it produced high grade intelligence, all the evidence seems to show that the more vicious the interrogation, the less valuable the information obtained.
Second, the US intelligence community is populated by conservative, patriotic Americans whose values strongly reflect Middle America. Those people were appalled by the rise of the yahoos in the Bush administration who were given free rein to bug, burgle, kill and torture. It is the centre that has been quietly pushing for tough action by Eric Holder in an effort to clean up the culture and restore some values to a community that takes pride in operating within the law.
Third, Democrats inside and out of Congress have long been seeking a wedge to drive deep into the former Bush administration and punish those responsible for embarking on the war in Iraq. Torture is that wedge and it will be pushed home as hard and as relentlessly as possible.
Into this combustible mix comes the memory of the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Investigations after that incident resulted in the prosecution of some junior soldiers even though there was ample evidence of senior political and military involvement in creating the culture that allowed the torture to flourish.
This time, there is a determination to follow the trail of responsibility wherever it may lead. Democrats are hoping that it will lead to the very top of the military and political establishment, and that the evidence will lead to indictments ranging from General Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA, to the real prize, former Vice President Dick Cheney.