Holder’s Proposed Torture Probe: Worse Than Doing Nothing?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


US Attorney General Eric Holder is prepared to appoint a special prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation into alleged CIA abuse of suspects detained during the war on terror. But officials familiar with Holder’s plans told the Los Angeles Times that the probe will not investigate the authors of the so-called “torture memos” or Bush administration officials who knew about the use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which both Holder and President Obama have said constitute torture.

Instead, the investigation would focus on CIA operatives who went beyond interrogation tactics approved by the Bush administration, including cases of excessive waterboarding, unexplained deaths, and one incident in which an interrogator used a gun to get information from a detainee.

Opinions were divded among human rights and civil liberties groups about the merits of this approach. On the one hand, Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, thinks that a probe that lets the authors of the interrogation policies off the hook would be more destructive than constructive.  “An investigation that focuses only on low-ranking operators would be, I think, worse than doing nothing at all,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, which favors an independent commission to examine detainee abuse, agrees that “an investigation limited to examining the conduct of low-level officials will not provide the comprehensive picture we need to fully understand what has been done in the past, and what may continue to be done in the future.”  

But Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, is more optimistic about the proposed inquiry. He agrees that the investigation should not be confined to low-level interrogators because “if we end up having scapegoats as responsible people instead of those who authorized and solicited torture, then it would be an abdication of our international legal responsibility.” But he thinks it would be possible to start with those who overstepped the rules of interrogation and cast a wider net later—that is, if federal investigators follow where the evidence leads and investigate accordingly.

Notably, Rona said that the investigation would still have value even if it stopped short of targeting the torture policy’s authors. In his view, it would be a good first step for the United States to “determine the accountability of its own people who were implicated in human rights violations” in order to “restore its human rights credibility elsewhere in the world.”

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate