Is Vagueness a Crime? And Other Reactions to CIA Reports
The Justice Department released a raft of documents yesterday related to the Bush-era CIA's interrogation program as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he had asked a prosecutor to investigate possible abuses by the agency interrogators. At the same time, the White House announced steps to form a new interrogation unit under the aegis of FBI.
Here are a few reactions from the blogosphere to the documents and Obama administration's actions.
Daphne Eviatar at The Washington Independent asks if Justice Department lawyers could be prosecuted for deliberately writing vague guidelines on interrogation.
Although the inspector general's report is heavily redacted, 33 out of 105 pages in all, it strongly suggests that all of the guidelines governing the detention and interrogation of detainees were approved by Justice Department lawyers. Yet the report also suggests that the way the guidelines were written and approved was so vague as to encourage their violation.
Of course, vagueness isn't a crime. It may be just bad lawyering. But if Justice Department lawyers deliberately wrote or approved the CIA's guidelines in a way that was vague and left "substantial room for misinterpretation" so as to encourage their violation, then they were not acting in good faith. And if they knew that the guidelines, as written, were likely to lead to illegal conduct, then they could be liable for conspiracy to commit torture.
Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel picks up on a reference in the 2004 CIA inspector general report to an "undated and unsigned document entitled, 'Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Captured Al-Qa'ida Personnel'" that has yet to appear to the public.
"One of the most important--but least sexy--passages revealed in yesterday's release of the IG Report is this one, on page 22," Wheeler writes on Emptywheel.
[The unsigned document] is important for several reasons. First, it explains how CIA decided it was okay to torture detainees without first--as they had done with Abu Zubaydah--assuring DOJ that the detainee was truly a High Value Detainee and was "fit" to be tortured. It explains how a memo authorizing the torture of one person came to authorize an entire regime of torture.
It also explains why the CIA continued to claim that its torture program did not violate CAT [Convention Against Torture]....For years, Congress kept pushing CIA to get OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] to do a real assessment of whether the torture program violated CAT's prohibition on cruel and inhuman treatment... But it turns out all this time there was an undated, half-official document declaring the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment invalid for this program. And, at the same time, dismissing the War Crimes statute. Poof! One unsigned, undated document, and there go several critical laws governing detainee treatment.
Jeff Stein at Congressional Quarterly's Spy Talk blog identifies another agency that has lost influcence now that The Obama administration has shifted interrogation oversight from the CIA to the White House, as the Post's Ann Kornblut reported yesterday.
What will become of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [ODNI], which was "set up after 9/11 to put the 16 intelligence agencies into a harness"? Stein asks.
It's hard to find any clear winners in the new interrogations set-up confirmed by the White House on Monday, but it's easy to spot the losers: Leon Panetta and Dennis Blair....The CIA director's nose had already been out of joint ever since Blair, the navy admiral who heads the uber-spook Office of National Intelligence, decided to terminate the CIA's longtime prerogative of naming station chiefs, the top U.S. intelligence official in American embassies....But now Blair has reason to be unhappy, too: If the ODNI doesn't deserve the HIG, what's its role in this world?
Salon's Glenn Greenwald goes through various interrogation practices detailed in the IG report that he says every American should know about.
Perhaps worst of all, the Report notes that many of the detainees who were subjected to this treatment were so treated due to "assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence" -- meaning there was no real reason to think they had done anything wrong whatsoever. As has been known for quite some time, many of the people who were tortured by the United States were completely innocent -- guilty of absolutely nothing.
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