New chapter on CIA interrogations: prosecutor picked

August 24, 2009

Even Attorney General Eric Holder calls it “controversial” — his decision to appoint a special prosecutor to look into prisoner abuse cases involving CIA interrogators and contractors. BUSH

He picked career federal prosecutor John Durham, who was already investigating the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes. While he’s not exactly a  household name, the investigation has only just begun.

Other former special prosecutors were relatively obscure at the start and then launched into the limelight — remember Ken Starr of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and Patrick Fitzgerald who investigated the outing of Valerie Plame.

The White House says President Barack Obama, who previously said he wanted to look forward not backward, had left the decision of going the special prosecutor route totally up to Holder.

Supporters of the investigation see it as a way for the United States to regain the moral high ground on torture issues. Opponents say it makes the United States look weak and will make the CIA more risk-averse and hurt national security.

“It could in the long-term strengthen the notion that the United States made some mistakes but we’ve corrected certain practices, and now we’re continuing to combat terrorism in a way that’s closer to the principles on which our country is founded,” Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says.

A former intelligence official said: “When Osama bin Laden hears about it, he may die laughing.”

What do you think? Is appointing a special prosecutor a good idea?

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (CIA headquarters lobby)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

It all plays well if we are not attacked! The leading thinkers in progressive liberalism who come up with theories from the confines of their studies on the university campuses,with their life time jobs and pensions and gold plated health care. But in the real world down on planet earth the pragmatists in the middle class we have to live with the reality of paying taxes,raising families and hopefully preparing for retirement,and hoping our government will fulfil their basic responsibility to keep our citizens safe. This is crazy,look at the response to the clown in Scotland letting the mass killer go free.Sadly this is what i would expect to happen here in spite of the disguised protest from Obama,The american people have spoken on this issue 97% polled are against it,so i hope our levitators in the liberal party are observing.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Brian, what would you say to stop someone from threatening to drill into your skull with a power drill? Or if you thought the guy in the next room had just been executed?
Just about anything I would think, as would I. Don’t kid yourself, people will say anything to stop being tortured.
Leading intelligence experts have said repeatedly and so has John McCain that these kinds of methods don’t provide reliable information and are illegal and immoral.
Laws were broken and the people who broke them should be held accountable.
We (the US) has squandered the time since 9/11 with these tactics instead of getting to the root of why we were attacked in the first place. Not to mention time, money and most important lives wasted in Iraq, remember Bush himself has said that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
Speaking of the real world, this is not an episode of “24”, beating “the truth” out of someone rarely works.

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

I love how Dick Cheyney can say we are less safe because of Obama’s policies. Is he kidding?
The reality is apparent that we weren’t safe on his watch, on a beautiful day back on Sept 11, 2001.
Funny when he was in office he wsano where to be found, yet since leaving office, he’s all over the place.

Go away old man, no one wants to hear from you, you had your moment in the spotlight. Go away and count all the money you have gotten from(Haliburton)on these wars you and your croanies have created.

Posted by John K | Report as abusive

Eric h if your theory,that “Obama is a nicer guy than Bust lets cut Obama a bit of slack guys”! works,then we will see this play out in afghanistan ,it will get decidedly better with out a surge type of advance like we saw in iraq. Listen Eric if the terrorists have a chance to blow up a city and the easyist option is say San Fransico do you think they are going to reflect on the anti war demonstrations and target some city in Texas? I believe that the taliban,s moral has increased because they see a possibility that the democrats will fold,and that Obama is only a talking head! this is a move by the democrats to try and take the emphasis away from the pounding they are taking on health care, it is going to fail because we are hearing about other major disasters that WERE averted because of the feet tickling .”drastic diseases take drastic measures”THE ONLY WAY TO HALT THE TERRORISTS IS TO GO AFTER THEM!

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

The worst is yet to come. On August 24th, the CIA released a fresh copy of the report with roughly half of the “case study” discussion now unmasked. But context and placement suggest that the material that remains concealed contains some of the worst discussion of abuse in the report. The heavy redactions start around page 25, and the redactions cover discussion of the origins of the program and the approval process, as well as the discussion of specific prisoners, notably Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. Although cases in which the guidelines provided by the Justice Department were exceeded have been discussed, it’s likely the case that the still blacked-out passages cover instances where Justice gave a green light but the conduct was so gruesome that CIA wants to keep it under wraps. That means we haven’t heard the last of the Helgerson report, and further disclosures are likely.

All trails lead to the Vice President’s office. At several points, redactions begin just when the discussion is headed toward the supervision or direction of the program and context suggests that some figure far up the Washington food chain is intervening. Moreover, Helgerson’s report was shut down when he was summoned, twice, to meet with Dick Cheney, who insisted that the report be stopped. Cheney had good reason to be concerned. This report shows that the vice president intervened directly in the process and ensured that the program was implemented. The OPR report likewise shows Cheney’s office commissioning the torture memos and carefully supervising the process. It is increasingly clear that torture was Dick Cheney’s special project and that he was personally and deeply involved in it. And the CIA report has some amazing details that show Cheney’s hand. In 2003, after Jay Bybee departed OLC, Cheney struggled to have John Yoo installed as his successor, but ultimately John Ashcroft’s candidate, Jack Goldsmith, prevailed. Goldsmith quickly backtracked on the torture authorizations that Yoo and Bybee gave. The result? The CIA stopped taking its cue from OLC and instead turned to the White House for guidance. It is remarkably vague on the particulars, and blackouts emerge just as passages seem to be getting interesting. But there’s little doubt that Dick Cheney and his staff were pushing the process from behind the scenes.

Posted by Scott Horton | Report as abusive

Very convincing argument scott horton,but to someone like me, a private citizen who is only on the periphery when it comes to detailed information like this. How come from the get go Cheney wanted all the detains to be brought into the public domain,but is seemed that the democrats wanted to cherry pick,is that not strange? To endorse scepticism or your cut and dry condemnation of Cheney, a government legal officer refutes the claims today wednesday, that the democrats had suggested, that Cheney had put pressure on him for his own advantage. So hopefully the truth will emerge and if what is suggested that this is all a ruse to take the public attention away from the real issues of the government health care bills problems, hopefully”THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE”

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

brian, the idea that Cheney wanted all the information brought into the public domain is laughable. Even you have to admit Cheney is the most secretive Vice President the nation has ever seen.
Cheney’s FOIA request for the documents that will prove–he claims–that torture was effective were for only two documents, both of which were stored in his “detainees” file in his files. They are:

•CIA Report, dated July 13, 2004
•CIA Report, dated June 1, 2005

One thing is immediately clear from this request: that it is Cheney who is cherry-picking documents that will prove his case. Cheney did not request, after all, the roughly 6 pages of the CIA IG Report which directly addresses the efficacy of torture in collecting intelligence. He probably doesn’t want that document because its conclusions–such as that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks”–contradict his case. By not FOIAing this document, Cheney made it clear that he is just trying to get tje two documents that do prove his case, while leaving the counterarguments buried as still-classified documents. Just like he did, you’ll recall, with the intelligence that disproved the aluminum tubes and uranium acquisition claims he used to drag us into the Iraq War. He’s consistent, I’ll give him that.

Posted by Scott | Report as abusive

Liberals say were a nation of laws. If we have another major attack 100 worse than 9/11 you think anybody going to be calm. You think anybody going to act civilized people are going to go crazy. You know how many muslims are going to get attacked. Just think if theres no running water , no power, etc. people will be shooting people in the streets. people will go into a panic and turn into animals.

Posted by Ron in Calif. | Report as abusive

God forbid we have an attack 100times worse than 9/11. Just think if a terrorist dropped a nuke on Los Angeles. I cant even think how people are going to act. You can forget about being lawful and civilized.

Posted by Ron in Calif. | Report as abusive