Ben Buchwalter

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

August 10, 2009

One of the reasons Democrats were so excited to see Obama in the Oval Office was that he has pledged to demand some accountability for government officials who participated in torture under the Bush administration. But even after Obama’s first few months, it became deafeningly clear that his torture initiatives would be even more toothless than expected. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder caught fire when he proposed a torture probe would not target the authors of the so-called torture memos or Bush administration officials who knew what was going on. Instead, the probe would only hold accountable those soldiers who went beyond the interrogation tactics approved by the Bush administration. I reported the response of the human rights community for MoJo. Here’s an excerpt:

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….

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.


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