By Ronald Kessler
After reopening Justice Department investigations into use of CIA enhanced interrogation, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. admitted that he had not read the memos of his own department’s lawyers explaining why no criminal laws had been violated.
Now, John Dunham, the assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut assigned by Holder to re-investigate the cases, has concluded that the lawyers who closed the case were correct, and no criminal charges are warranted.
The re-investigation subjected former CIA officers to the chilling prospect of going to jail. As seven former CIA directors who served under Republicans and Democrats have said publicly, the probe sent a message to CIA officers that if they take risks in defense of their country, they may suffer consequences.
“If criminal investigations closed by career prosecutors during one administration can so easily be reopened at the direction of political appointees in the next, declinations of prosecution will be rendered meaningless,” the former directors wrote to President Barack Obama.
Such actions create “an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy,” they wrote.
As former Director of Central Intelligence Jim Woolsey, who signed the letter, told me, “For the attorney general to reopen those in the way that he has, says very clearly to CIA officers that, even if your boss tells you to do something and shows you that he has Justice Department support, and even if you’re investigated and cleared, it’s not over.”
This is not the first time Holder has embarrassed himself while pursuing a clearly partisan political agenda:
- Holder said he opposed Arizona’s illegal immigration legislation but had not read the new law.
- Holder decided to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in U.S. District Court in New York without asking the police or the FBI whether that would jeopardize the safety of New Yorkers. In the face of bipartisan congressional opposition, he later had to back down.
- Holder testified that he believes the CIA’s enhanced interrogation methods such as waterboarding constitute “torture,” but he said he had not read classified reports that describe what those techniques entail.
If Alberto Gonzales, President George W. Bush’s attorney general, had engaged in such amateurish conduct, the press would have run him out of town. Indeed, it pounced on him over lesser fumbling, and he had to resign.
In a sign that Holder has not learned anything from his missteps, he is continuing an investigation by Dunham into the deaths of two detainees, despite the fact that two U.S. attorneys have already reviewed the cases and declined prosecution.
Just as the patriots who created America 235 years ago today took risks, CIA officers and FBI agents risk their lives every day to ensure that we remain the land of the free. Placing CIA officers in jeopardy for clearly political purposes is an affront to the cause of justice and undermines the safety of us all.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, CIA, and FBI. His latest, “The Secrets of the FBI,” is to be released in August.