“Prosecuting Torture”
August 26, 2009, 12:00pm

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Nate Carlile, and Zaid Jilani

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he will appoint a federal prosecutor to decide whether CIA interrogators broke the law in prisoner abuse cases. On the same day, the Obama administration released a 2004 CIA Inspector General’s (IG) report that “contains new allegations of detainee abuse at secret prisons around the world,” including, reports that interrogators threatened to “kill the children” and “sexually assault the mother” of a key terror suspect. The administration declassified the report after a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Facing intense criticism after the release of the IG report, the CIA then decided to release secret agency reports from 2004 and 2005 that purportedly “detailed intelligence scoops produced by the interrogation program.” For months, Vice President Cheney has been calling for the release of these reports as justification for the Bush administration’s controversial policies. But the New York Times notes that these documents don’t actually “refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” Obama administration officials also announced on Monday that they will “continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terror suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but will monitor their treatment to ensure they are not tortured.”

THE PROSECUTOR: Holder has named John H. Durham, a career Justice Department prosecutor, to lead the inquiry into whether the CIA broke anti-torture laws. In a statement, Holder said that Durham “will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” Attorney General Michael Mukasey tapped Durham earlier this year to investigate the destruction of videotapes made of CIA detainee interrogations. That investigation is still ongoing. Durham, a registered Republican, “is known for seeking maximum sentences, shunning plea bargains and avoiding the spotlight.” The review will be limited to those who did not “act in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance,” restricting the investigation from targeting Bush administration lawyers like John Yoo and Jay Bybee. But in theory, “Holder’s announcement does not foreclose the possibility that DOJ lawyers who authored the torture memos and/or those in the White House who authorized torture will, at some point, be investigated.” Democrats in Congress are still demanding a truth commission in order to conduct a broader inquiry.

THE CIA REPORT: Former CIA IG John Helgerson’s 2004 report into the CIA’s Bush-era interrogations operations is “highly critical” of the program. The partly-declassified report concludes “that the public had been misled about the interrogation program,” and waterboarding was used “in a way that had not been approved by the Justice Department.” In addition to threatening to kill a detainee’s children, the report states that the CIA used a “pressure point” tactic that temporarily blocked the flow of blood to the brain before the detainee was revived, and interrogators “racked an unloaded handgun close to the head of a high-value detainee, and revved a power drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded.” “The EITs [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] used by the Agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] Program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights,” the report reads. Much of the report is still redacted. In a statement, Helgerson wrote that he was “disappointed” that the Obama administration did not “release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.”

THE RENDITION PROGRAM: The Obama administration announced that it will continue the Bush administration’s practice of rendition, while promising to make sure detainees are not tortured. Human rights advocates condemned the decision. “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” said Amrit Singh of the ACLU. The Obama administration is also setting up a new interrogation unit that will be run by the FBI. That unit, which will be known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), will “oversee the interrogations of top terrorism suspects using largely non-coercive techniques approved by the administration earlier this year.” To do that, the HIG team “will draw on interrogators, intelligence analysts, linguists and cultural experts to interrogate detainees without torturing them.” As constructed, the HIG team will “have authority to operate outside of the United States, but it will operate within the legal boundaries set by a U.S. Army field manual that is supposed to comply with the Geneva Conventions.”

MILITARY — PENTAGON HIRES CONTROVERSIAL FIRM TO SCREEN WHETHER EMBEDDED REPORTERS WROTE ‘POSITIVE’ STORIES: Stars and Stripes reported yesterday that the Pentagon has hired The Rendon Group to screen journalists seeking to embed with U.S. forces. As part of a $1.5 million “news analysis and media assessment” contract, Rendon examines “individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was ‘positive,’ ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’ compared to mission objectives,” officials from the contractor said. Public affairs officer Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias insists that the military has “not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography.” However, last month, the military barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit in Iraq because he had “refused to highlight” good news. The military was also unhappy that the reporter “would not answer questions about stories he was writing.” Rendon has received millions from the U.S. government since 9/11 (at one point, taxpayers were paying CEO John Rendon $311.26/hour). The “secretive” firm personally set up the Iraqi National Congress and helped install Ahmad Chalabi as the group’s leader, whose main goal — “pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein” — Rendon helped facilitate.