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GOP Leader Calls CIA Probe 'Witch Hunt'; Democrats Say It's Too Narrow

By Paul Kane and Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senior Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill voiced their dissatisfaction Tuesday with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to examine CIA interrogators' alleged abuse of terrorism suspects earlier this decade.

Leading Republicans denounced the appointment of John H. Durham, a career prosecutor, saying it will hinder intelligence-gathering in the fight against terrorists, while top Democrats criticized the investigation as too limited. They renewed calls for an independent review of most of the controversial anti-terrorism policies adopted by George W. Bush's administration.

Holder had no new comment Tuesday on the matter. The attorney general issued a lengthy statement Monday explaining his decision and acknowledging that it could engender "controversy." But he concluded that he had no other choice than to order a preliminary review of about 10 cases of alleged detainee abuse.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) decried that in a statement Tuesday, saying: "The men and women who protect this country should never have to worry that they will face criminal prosecution as a result of a political election. The Obama administration's decision smacks more of a witch hunt designed to satisfy political allies than a strategy to keep the American people safe." Boehner added that the inquiry will "have a chilling effect on the ability of our intelligence professionals to do their jobs."

His words echoed the sentiments of senior Senate Republicans, eight of whom wrote a letter of protest to Holder on Monday evening. "We fear that the true cost of this endeavor will ultimately be borne by the American people, who rely on the intelligence community, operating without distraction, to protect them from the many threats, known and unknown, that our country faces in this post-9/11 world," the group wrote.

Those signing the letter included Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.); Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee; and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. They also questioned why the case was handed to Durham instead of an internal Justice Department lawyer, saying that previous independent prosecutors have taken "an expansive view of their investigative authority."

Democrats largely applauded Durham's appointment, but some urged that the inquiry extend beyond the actions of the interrogators who were accused of going further than the Bush administration's guidelines allowed when questioning detainees. A key area of concern for many Democrats is learning what Bush's most senior advisers knew about the interrogation policies.

"The abuses that were officially sanctioned amounted to torture, and those at the very top who authorized, ordered or sought to provide legal cover for them should be held accountable," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a senior member of the intelligence and judiciary panels.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) cited Monday's release of a 2004 report from the CIA inspector general on the treatment of detainees in renewing his call for a "commission of inquiry," an independent review of all Bush-era policies against alleged terrorists.

"Who justified these policies? What was the role of the Bush White House? How can we make sure it never happens again?" he said.

Leahy's proposed commission has been opposed by Republicans and has divided Democrats, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) endorsing the approach and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) opposing it. President Obama rejected the call for such a panel in the spring, saying he wanted his administration to "look forward" and not spend time in a partisan dispute about the previous administration.

Liberal legal scholars and activists also said Holder did not go far enough in pushing the investigation, leaving off the hook top Bush advisers as well as Justice Department lawyers whose legal memos created the foundation for the harsh techniques employed in the interrogations.

"It's pretty clear that his intention is not to investigate the lawyers and Cabinet-level officials who approved the program in the first place," said Georgetown University law professor David Cole, referring to Holder. "If that's what's done, then it's really a matter of scapegoating rather than true accountability."

Cole, who wrote a book that looks at the Justice Department's "torture memos," gave the attorney general credit for bucking the president's desire to move forward. But he added, "It seems to me a good-faith application of the law would go much farther."

"It's a good first step, but it's not, in and of itself, enough," said Tom Parker, the policy director for terrorism and human rights at Amnesty International, referring to the preliminary inquiry. "We're certainly pleased to see the most egregious cases getting attention, but we don't think it goes far enough."

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