No Comment — August 11, 2009, 10:14 am

Special Prosecutor on the Horizon?

Last night I discussed the latest reports about the pending appointment of a torture special prosecutor with Keith Olbermann. Here’s the video:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Here’s another question. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Officials said it wasn’t clear that any CIA interrogators were ever informed of the limits laid out in the Justice Department memo. ‘A number of people could say honestly, correctly, “I didn’t know what was in it,”‘ said a former senior U.S. intelligence official.” How would that affect the work of a special prosecutor?

The Times piece builds off accounts furnished by “former senior Justice officials,” close to the torture issue, with apparent knowledge of “investigations.” In all likelihood, we’re talking about Bush Administration political appointees apprehensive about what a special prosecutor might uncover. I would strongly discount the claims that the investigations will never go anywhere because of a lack of witnesses and evidence. That conclusion can’t be justified until a serious investigation has actually been conducted—and it’s clear that the Bush Justice Department did not conduct a serious investigation because they were concerned about where it might lead.

The current focus on the OLC memos is a bit absurd. It’s clear that torture went on before the memos were written, and that the memos were written, and later revised, to match the practices that were actually used. In the end, however, interrogators suspected of “crossing the line” will argue that they were relying on legal interpretations, and they may in fact have valid statutory defenses of reliance on legal advice. But that’s not the case for the memo writers and other policy-level figures at the CIA, Justice, and at the NSC. This points to torture as a joint criminal enterprise, which is how it is generally investigated and charged. Any proper investigator would quickly move his focus from the interrogators–who have plausible legal defenses–to the policy-makers and memo writers, who don’t and who are more culpable legally, if we apply the standards used by prosecutors from Nuremberg to the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals.

If Eric Holder decides that the appointment of a special prosecutor is warranted, then he should focus his energy on picking the best person for the job. He needs a person of unchallenged integrity who has a record of effective prosecution and can be counted on to put the law ahead of politics. Any effort by this highly compromised Justice Department to put a straightjacket on the special prosecutor or to shield certain individuals from scrutiny will delegitimize the process. Indeed, no serious prosecutor would accept an assignment that was subject to such constraints. Holder should have faith in the process to deliver a fair and just result, and he should avoid any efforts to jury-rig it. How he responds to this challenge will reveal if he is a man driven by law enforcement concerns or a politician at the helm of the Justice Department.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2016

Land of Sod

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Only an Apocalypse Can Save Us Now

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Watchmen

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Acceptable Losses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Home

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tennis Lessons

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
Andrew Cockburn on the Saudi slaughter in Yemen, Alan Jacobs on the disappearance of Christian intellectuals, a forum on a post-Obama foreign policy, a story by Alice McDermott, and more
Artwork by Ingo Günther
Article
Land of Sod·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Photograph by Mike Slack
Article
The Watchmen·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Acceptable Losses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News

Chances that college students select as “most desirable‚” the same face chosen by the chickens:

49 in 50

Most of the United States’ 36,000 yearly bunk-bed injuries involve male victims.

In Italy, a legislator called for parents who feed their children vegan diets to be sentenced to up to six years in prison, and in Sweden, a woman attempted to vindicate her theft of six pairs of underwear by claiming she had severe diarrhea.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today