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Eric Holder appointed a Republican federal prosecutor to review nearly a dozen cases of torture that occurred under CIA auspices. Holder cinched up the tight rope on torture. John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is a focused, no-nonsense prosecutor who calls it like it is. He was appointed to do a similar job earlier by Mr. Bush, and by the Clinton Administration before that. So any conclusions he might draw will be hard to attack on legal grounds. Whatever the outcome, politically we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. There are several hard questions we need to ask ourselves. Proceeding to indictments would certify that ours is a nation of laws. It would go far toward recovering our moral leadership in the world. It could also trigger opposition and turn Congress even more intransigent than it is and possibly polarize the nation more than it already is. This is a serious concern.

Given our history of the KKK, the Milgram, and Zimbardo experiments, it is possible home-grown terrorism could ignite. We surely hope not. There seems to be no sure way to proceed in certain safety.

Obama was right to give Holder the freedom to proceed. But in the end, the buck stops on Obama's desk. Will he make the right choice? Can he?

  • Are we a nation of laws, or are we outlaws?
  • Are we really ready to abrogate the Constitution and alienate the very friends we need most?
  • We won W.W.II using psychology in interrogations. Why can we not do that now?
  • Of the al Qa'ida leaders that have been identified, how many were found uniquely by torture?
  • How may red herrings were elicited by torture?
  • If some of the above information is not available, why not?
  • Terrorism is basically a political problem, so why not try a political solution? The eighth anniversary of 9/11 will soon be upon us. Are we any better off for the immense effort we have applied?
  • What about our national balance sheet? Has it not tilted dramatically against us?
  • Eight years ago, it was us against bin Laden. Where are we now? Our armed services are stretched to the breaking point; forced to use air launched missiles, we too often miss our quarry and in any event kill the very people we need most on our side. And we call that collateral damage.
  • We went into Iraq on manufactured evidence. What does that mind set say about using torture?
  • What does it say abut torture when implemented by a man who branded his fraternity pledges with hot irons?
  • Bin Laden has a sanctuary far more secure than he has ever had. That is not progress; so why must we persist in losing our way?
  • Alienation and humiliation lie at the roots of terrorism. Why are we making those situations worse?

John Durham was appointed by Mr. Bush to investigate the missing tapes of a number of CIA interrogations for evidence of wrong doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. That case is now before a grand jury in Alexandria, Va. Durham apparently has won all the cases in which he has won indictments. He keeps a low profile befitting a federal prosecutor. Durham is at once as tough, fair and unbiased as they come. We applaud Holder's choice.

We fear it may not be possible for Obama to thread a needle on torture while walking a political tightrope. The radical right says the CIA will be destroyed by this for they see violence as the only means to fight violence, and they seem to care not a whit for the law or human decency. They discount the many who quit government service because of misdirections from on high.

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.

Messages of gloom and doom if this investigation proceeds reflect the narrowness of the message sender's views at best, his guilt at worst. They ignore a fundamental tenet of modern society: Constitutional law. They ignore practical considerations, like what other nations think, and indeed and especially, what the terrorists themselves think. Most of all, they ignore what it is about the U.S. government and business policies that have alienated so many people. They seem to be blind to what they could see in a mirror if they only looked.

It is true in spades that terrorism is an expression of humanity's most base instincts. That fact does not condone fighting terror with terror which is exactly what other societies see us as doing. Using air power to take out terrorists not only kills and alienates the people we want to save, it does not in the long run achieve its purpose. Obama is making a huge mistake in continuing a failed Bush policy. Iraq and Afghanistan are not ordinary wars between nation states. Neither piece of real estate is a unit. Each is comprised of warring tribes who hate each other as much as they hate us. Under present policy, we will eventually leave it all to be settled by the warring tribes. Which is where it all began. We got involved for what?

With the political stakes so high, Holder was proper to begin with a preliminary review, complete enough to provide a firm legal basis for deciding where to go from here, but not for the purpose of seeking indictments. In other words, Holder wants to know all he can possibly know before proceeding with a more serious and deeper investigation that could result in indictments in federal courts.

Why are the Neocons and their cohorts screaming so loudly?

Do they fear the Democrats will accomplish what they came close to accomplishing: A Unitary Presidency beholden to no one?

Do they fear that a full investigation, led by one of their own will turn up wrongdoing at high-levels of government?

Do they equate justice with weakness? (It is the opposite.)

Do they fear the tradition will be broken where little people are made the fall guys for crimes directed from on high? (That was done to perfection after Abu Ghraib! Until now, and maybe not even now, no one has investigated the legality of actions by Major General Geoffrey Miller, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, former CIA Director George Tenet, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former President Bush and his legal team and many others. How can we investigate? How can we not?)

Do they recognize the huge opportunity they gave Obama and are dead-set to sabotage it?

All the above, or what?

Our bet is that many, maybe most in the CIA middle ranks understand the negative and serious aspects of torture and will breathe a sigh of relief having Holder investigating how they have been bullied into becoming witch-hunting surrogates for those who only want to enforce their own extreme views. Those demoralized most are most likely to be those who themselves tend to be violent and therefore are part of the problem. Most people in government service are caring loyal people who want to do the right things. They will applaud, at least inwardly and in the voting booth. We go with Holder's decision. The CIA will be the better for any cleansing, and so will our nation.

Our single most pressing problem is that our government has become so polarized it is now disfunctional. This schizoid-style headache affects nearly every sphere important to our times. Holder's action may be only one tiny step toward relieving this situation, but it should have historic significance.


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