Continuing the investigations against the brave patriots who made finding bin Laden possible is about as bad an idea as it was to court martial those Navy SEALs just because some terrorist got a fat lip, and any further attempts to prosecute CIA interrogators who obtained the intelligence that led to Sunday’s American victory will meet with the same result: a huge public outcry over the injustice directed towards people who risked their lives to serve this country, and the failure to convict a single one of them.
The moment has come for Mr. Holder to end his investigation of the CIA’s interrogators of terrorist detainees.
by Daniel Henninger
As the whole of America takes a bin Laden victory lap, let us pause to remember some of this celebrated event’s most forgotten men: the Central Intelligence Agency officers who sit under the cloud of a criminal investigation begun in 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder into their interrogations of captured terrorists.
That’s right, the Americans whose interrogation of al Qaeda operatives may have put in motion the death of this mass murderer may themselves face prosecution by the country they were trying to protect.
It is time for the Holder CIA investigation to end. The death of bin Laden 10 years after 9/11 makes the Holder investigation of the CIA interrogators politically, emotionally and morally moot.
But it lives.
In August 2009, Attorney General Holder announced that he was extending the mandate of Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” of terrorist detainees. Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey had appointed Mr. Durham in 2008 as a special prosecutor to look into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes made during interrogations of two al Qaeda operatives. That investigation ended without charges last November.
Mr. Holder decided to push the Durham investigation into a second phase. “I have concluded,” he said “that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” Mr. Holder wasn’t free-lancing; both he and Barack Obama had called waterboarding “torture.”
This week the Associated Press reported that the name of bin Laden’s courier may have come from CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi, who received “harsh” interrogation at CIA prisons in Poland and Romania. On Tuesday, Mr. Holder said the information came from a “mosaic of sources.”
Incidentally, there will be no attempt here to establish whether CIA interrogations did or did not lead to the bin Laden courier, who led our commandos to a bedroom in Abbottabad. Just as there will be no attempt here to resolve the fastidious debate unfolding over whether the Navy Seals’ shooting of an unarmed Osama bin Laden was “legal.” We’ll leave that to the endless grinding wheels of the law journals.
If Mr. Holder has evidence of an egregious crime, he should step forward and announce it. If not, he should use this moment to put an end to the Durham investigation. Mr. Durham is not an independent counsel, whose hallowed status makes attorneys general loath to interfere. He is a special prosecutor, appointed by the attorney general and under his authority.
On June 18 last year, Mr. Holder said in a Washington speech that Mr. Durham was “close to the end of the time that he needs and will be making recommendations to me.” But nothing has happened. Asked this week about the status of this investigation, a Justice Department spokesman for Mr. Durham, whose office is in Connecticut, said the project is “still ongoing.”
Ironically, the CIA’s contribution to bin Laden’s end may ensure that its people will remain under this cloud. With President Obama elated over the success of his call to take down bin Laden, his poll numbers rising and his re-election campaign insulated from charges of Democratic softness on national security, what are the chances that his attorney general would wash away all that by announcing his intention to indict the men whose work may have sent his boss into Abbottabad, guns blazing? It is zero.
Eric Holder has taken a lot of flak over his handling of various terror issues. The point here is not to put him in the dock over another but to hope he’ll make a good call. Times change. In his statement Sunday, Mr. Obama described 10 years of “heroic” work by “our counterterrorism professionals.” But he also noted that the remarkable sense of national unity after 9/11 “has at times frayed.” It might be truer to say it was our ever-ragged politics that frayed, not our people.
President Obama will be at Ground Zero in Manhattan today to lay a wreath. This is the same Ground Zero that on Monday morning was surrounded by young people chanting “USA” and singing “God Bless America (land that I love).” Some have asked whether Monday’s chanters, barely teenagers on 9/11, were too celebratory or were in bad taste.
Was it too celebratory Monday when 35-year-old David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and the Dominican Republic stopped after hitting a home run to hug Army Ranger Sgt. Lucas Carr, who’d been leading the Boston crowd in “USA” chants? Mr. Ortiz said it was just about “love.” That’s right. Those outpourings were about love of something bigger in America than our frayed politics or even making “our values” a function of our legal procedures.
After 9/11, when the fraying started, George W. Bush passed through a seven-year political minefield of media leaks and lawsuits over the Patriot Act, surveillance, renditions, Guantanamo and CIA interrogations. Now bin Laden is dead, and Barack Obama’s got the credit. We’re all fine with that, just as we’re fine with people chanting “USA” over the dead terrorist who tried to kill us. Now how about letting those CIA interrogators come in from the cold and join the celebration?