Sometime today, the administration is going to release a declassified version of the CIA’s Inspector General report on the treatment of detainees that was produced in 2004. For a preview, go over to Emptywheel. Even though it is unlikely that we are going to learn anything spectacular that has not already been leaked in some form, being able to read about this abuse in plain language is bound to reignite a big debate over the crimes of the Bush administration. It appears that the timing of this release has been carefully coordinated.
David Johnston reports in the New York Times that the Justice Department is going to reopen investigations into close to a dozen prisoner abuse cases. These are cases that were investigated by the Bush Justice Department but cleared from prosecution.
The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.
The OPR is the ethics panel of the Justice Department and they made similar recommendation during the Bush years.
The report by the Justice Department’s ethics office has been under preparation for more than five years, and its critique of legal work on interrogations provoked bitter complaints from Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey as he was leaving office as the Bush administration’s final attorney general.
These cases are not centered around the interrogation of high-level al-Qaeda suspects, but lower lever detainees picked up on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Anne Kornblut reports in the Washington Post that the administration is creating an entirely new specialized unit to conduct interrogations of high-level detainees. The responsibility for those interrogations is being taken away from the CIA.
Obama signed off late last week on the unit, named the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. On Monday, White House spokesman Bill Burton confirmed that the high-value interrogation unit will be based at the FBI and will operate “consistent with the army field manual” which provides guidelines for questioners.
Made up of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the interrogation unit will be will be overseen by the National Security Council — shifting the center of gravity away from the CIA and giving the White House direct oversight.
Here’s the most significant part:
Under the new White House guidelines for interrogating detainees, interrogators must stay within the parameters of the Army Field Manual when questioning suspects. The task force concluded — unanimously, officials said — that “the Army Field Manual provides appropriate guidance on interrogation for military interrogators and that no additional or different guidance was necessary for other agencies,” according to a three-page summary of the findings.
That is some change I can believe in, but it is not all.
As previously reported, the OPR report also will recommend that at least two Bush administration lawyers, Jay S. Bybee and John C. Yoo, face further investigation by state legal disciplinary authorities. Such a probe would not expose them to criminal sanctions for their work in developing memos that supported such harsh interrogation techniques as waterboarding and wall slamming.
Criminal penalties may be off the table, but disbarment and impeachment (for Bybee) may not be. So, this appears to be a big rollout. The last week of summer provides a relatively quiet time to do this, especially with Congress in recess. But this is sure to raise the partisan rancor in the Beltway. After all, we know Bush never did nothing wrong when it came to terrorists.