Analysis Brief

PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


CIA Probe and the Torture Debate

Author: Staff
August 25, 2009


The decision by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor to review past CIA interrogations revives robust debate over whether such a move is healthy or harmful to the United States in its counterterrorism efforts. In his statement explaining why a preliminary review was warranted, Holder took pains to note that it should not be seen as broad criticism of the intelligence community. At the same time, the release of a heavily redacted 2004 report (PDF) from the CIA's Inspector General underscored what many see as troubling and possibly unlawful behavior by some intelligence operatives in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The report details what it called "unauthorized, undocumented, and inhumane" interrogation tactics, including the use of guns, power drills, rifle butts, choking and threats to kill prisoners' children.

Still, the Los Angeles Times says U.S. President Barack Obama will face major challenges as a result of the investigation's launch, noting that Obama had already stated his desire to avoid just such a probe. He is already facing charges from the political left that the announced investigation is too feeble in scope and from the right that his attorney general is being overzealous.

Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, says the investigation needs to be far-reaching to help remove the taint (Huffington Post) to the country's reputation of what he called torture practices. David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center writes that a comprehensive probe is needed, "including those all the way up the chain of command who hold ultimate responsibility for launching us on a path of torture." But the Wall Street Journal editorializes that Holder's moves could threaten the country's ability to confront terrorists. And Jeffrey H. Smith, former CIA general counsel in the Clinton administration, lays out six reasons why a prosecution of the CIA is not in the country's best interest.

As part of a brace of moves on August 24 involving U.S. intelligence practices, the Obama administration also announced it will set up a new specialized FBI interrogation unit, effectively taking the CIA out of the interrogation business. Journalist Jane Mayer, who has reported extensively on U.S. intelligence practices, sees the move as a "slap in the face" to an agency that had primacy in counterterror interrogations in the Bush administration. But TIME magazine's Swampland blog suggests that many CIA hands are quietly relieved that interrogations are no longer their responsibility. The new team--dubbed the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG--will consist of analysts, linguists, and experts from across the intelligence and law enforcement community. It will be limited to interrogation tactics outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, though a review has been ordered to explore possible new tactics.

The release of the CIA IG's report, along will Holder's call for an investigation, are sure to renew debate over the effectiveness of certain interrogation techniques. Adding to the discussion: recently released memos former vice president Dick Cheney says prove that Bush-era interrogation techniques were effective.

Additional Analysis and Background:

The Washington Post looks at the Bush and Obama administrations' distinct reactions to the inspector general's report.

Politico looks at divisions over Holder's decision in Washington and in the CIA.

TIME asks whether the harsh interrogation tactics worked, or if they were even necessary, and says a definitive analysis of the inspector general's report is difficult, considering how much of it was redacted.

The Atlantic provides a rundown of intersecting intelligence news developments.

More on This Topic


The Detrimental Potential of a CIA Review

Burton Gerber interviewed by Greg Bruno

The Justice Department's decision to review past CIA interrogation tactics may be legally justified, but Burton Gerber, a former CIA station...

Must Read

WSJ: Targeting Terrorists

Author: Richard Clarke

Washington is embroiled in a manic swing of opinion about the efficacy of covert action, including targeted assassinations. Richard A. Clarke...