When Leon Panetta was nominated as head of the CIA, I objected on the grounds of his inexperience in the field of intelligence. The speculation was that Obama chose him for that very reason:
The real problem that seems to have led to the appointment of such a complete outsider was that everyone with any sort of background in intelligence was considered tainted by ties to the supposedly nefarious Bush-era CIA, which approved controversial techniques such as waterboarding.
So Obama decided to throw out the baby (intelligence) with the bathwater (coercive interrogation techniques). To find a CIA head with the properly squeaky clean hands, Obama had to find one with no hands-on experience at all. Panetta fit the bill, since he not only had the requisite lack of background, but he had also been outspoken in his condemnation of all CIA practices that could conjure up any suggestion that they might arguably represent torture.
Now it all makes perfect sense. Given Panetta’s background, Obama and Holder would have had every reason to imagine that he wouldn’t object when they decided to reopen the already-investigated-and-dismissed charges from the Bush administration and see what they could pin on the CIA.
But Panetta appears to have surprised them by defending his agency and crying “foul.” Don’t be too surprised if he quits his post—or is “encouraged” to leave and is then replaced with a more compliant public servant.
In the meantime, we have these observations on the CIA investigation report:
Although often discomfiting reading (one incident involved a power drill), the report also outlines the CIA’s nearly obsessive quest for legal guidance and its intolerance for unauthorized methods as piddling as blowing cigar smoke at detainees.
Consider the fate of the CIA officer who used a gun to frighten Abd al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing.
He did it in 2002. The agency immediately called him back to headquarters. He faced an internal accountability board, suffered a reprimand and eventually resigned.
The Justice Department looked into the case because threatening a detainee with “imminent death” is torture, but declined to prosecute.
Proving torture in a court of law is much harder than braying about it on op-ed pages.
The CIA certainly didn’t act like an agency with a guilty conscience. It didn’t try to cover up any abuses, but undertook the inspector general investigation and forwarded the report to Congress and the Justice Department.
In one case, Justice got a conviction against a contractor who — in an obvious crime — beat a detainee to death.
But what possible public interest can be served in reopening murkier cases years after the fact, when the CIA already took internal action and [nonpartisan] career prosecutors already examined them?
Answer? No public interest at all. But Obama and Holder (I don’t for a minute buy the idea that they are really acting at cross-purposes) think there might be a political interest that could be served: theirs.