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Tilting at Windmills

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January 2, 2008

TORTURE TAPES TO GET OUTSIDE PROSECUTOR....It looks like the CIA's torture-tape scandal has hit the big time.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed an outside prosecutor Wednesday to lead a criminal investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes.

The CIA acknowledged last month that it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. The acknowledgment sparked a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by Justice.

"The Department's National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Overseeing the case will be John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, and a former colleague of Kevin O'Connor, the current #3 official in Mukasey's Justice Department.

It's often difficult to know for sure how independent a prosecutor is going to be, but the AP notes that Durham has "a reputation as one of the nation's most relentless prosecutors," which he earned "as an outside prosecutor overseeing an investigation into the FBI's use of mob informants in Boston and helped send several Connecticut public officials to prison."

That doesn't appear to be p.r. spin; Paul Kiel posted his c.v. and it certainly looks like he's a credible, veteran prosecutor.

Now, Durham will not, apparently, be a special counsel the way Patrick Fitzgerald was, but will instead serve as the acting U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Virginia. Marty Lederman has a helpful overview on this point.

The Bush administration didn't exactly need yet another criminal investigation, and yet, it has one anyway. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 4:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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given that the two biggest anti-terror trials the bush admin. justice department prosecuted this past fall....ended in mistrials..

i won't hold my breath...

Posted by: mr. irony on January 2, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Who wants to bet that aWol & Dearth will refuse oaths?

Posted by: Rula Lenska on January 2, 2008 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I applaud the assignment, but I really don't see how calling him an "outside" prosecutor is correct. He's an AUSA, he'll report up the normal chain of command... this is a DOJ investigation, it's just that the EDVa regulars in Arlington have recused themselves.

Posted by: Glenn on January 2, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

The penalites that may be contemplated by the court are excessive, so let's just take commute that sucker right now.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 2, 2008 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

This is likely to prove an excuse for administration officials from the President on down to refuse comment on the destroyed interrogation tapes for the balance of President Bush's tenure in the White House.

It is unlikely that either the President or the Vice President would have authorized Mr. Durham's assignment were they not confident of their ability to make use of his investigation in this way. The investigation itself is perfectly appropriate; the issue is whether the administration can use a criminal investigation to stonewall a public discussion, as it has on several occasions in the past.

Posted by: Zathras on January 2, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

In a devastating New York Times op-ed today, 9/11 Commission leaders Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton accused the CIA of stonewalling their panel. The chairman and co-chairman alleged that those in the Bush administration who knew about videotapes of CIA detainee interrogations but failed to inform the 9/11 panel "obstructed our investigation." But lost in their historical record is one other inconvenient truth: President Bush tried to stonewall the 9/11 Commission from the very beginning.

For the history on Bush's opposition to the 9/11 panel, see:
"Bush Stonewalled 9/11 Commission from the Beginning."

Posted by: Rage on January 2, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

>"... the administration can use a criminal investigation to stonewall a public discussion, as it has on several occasions in the past."

Yup, I can here it now: 'we refuse to comment due to on-going investigations'.

I have a suspicion that there's a lot more to this matter than has met the public eye.

Posted by: Buford on January 2, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

And just think: If the CIA would have acted to support Dubya and Cheney's insane desire to bomb the crap out of Iran, this investigation wouldn't be happening...Instead, a few poeple in the CIA who didn't get on board are gonna be punished for showing the Bush administration to be the liars they truly are.

Benen: The Bush administration didn't exactly need yet another criminal investigation, and yet, it has one anyway.

Nope. The investigation stops when a few heads roll in Langley, just like it did when Abu Ghraib came to light and a few prison guards took the blame. As much as I hate to say it, the investigation probably won't go any higher up the food chain; the main players in the Bush administration insulated themselves before leaking the info.

Posted by: grape_crush on January 2, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

I, of course, have complete faith in the Bush administration's judicial process, with Chief Counsel John Durham will no doubt being ably assisted by Capt. Dudley Smith, investigative journalist Sid Hudgens, Det. Sgt. Dick Stensland and District Attorney Ellis Loew.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 2, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

O boy! This is going to be JUST LIKE the PLAME incident.

Step 1: Commit Crime.
Step 2: Deny Everything.
Step 3: Stonewall Everything.
Step 4: Get Press to ensure everyone thinks it is No Bog Deal.
Step 5: A Stern Letter from someone and a Stern Editorial.
Step 6: A trial and conviction on some accessory issue not really related to the original crime. All evidence of that is state secret and cannot be examined.
Step 7: Commute/Pardon

I can't wait, can you?

Posted by: Alan on January 2, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

So this "prosecutor" reports to Mukasey, who reports to Bush.

This investigation of Bush is so important, Bush will take it over himself.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on January 2, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

" overseeing an investigation into the FBI's use of mob informants in Boston" and investigating destruction of torture videotapes are two entirely different things when viewed through the eyes of this administration....particularly through the eyes of folks like mr. cheney and mr. addington.

No matter how "relentless" this prosecutor may be, nor how much of a straight arrow, the boys in the white house have demonstrated they have a zillion tools to delay, obfuscate, confuse and defuse investigations like these as they have demonstrated repeatedly over the past eight years.

After years of stating flatly..."We don't torture" (see George Tenant on 60 Minutes) the administration was never eager to have the general public watching videos of people being "not tortured," and they'll do all they can to avoid getting caught on this. Good luck Mukasey....even if I did trust you.

Posted by: dweb on January 2, 2008 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of editorials -- as I am sure David Broder will ask ... when, oh when, will these bipartisan scandals end?

Posted by: Bokonon on January 2, 2008 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Has Bush commuted the sentence of _____ (fill in the blank here). If so, has Bush pardoned _____ (fill in the blank here).

Nothing to see folks. Move along.

Posted by: Jay in Oregon on January 2, 2008 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Compare and Contrast --

ABC News: Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed an outside prosecutor....

Benen: TORTURE TAPES TO GET OUTSIDE PROSECUTOR

Lederman: The CIA Tapes Prosecutor is Neither "Outside" Nor "Special," Nor "Independent"

Advantage: Lederman

Posted by: Roger Ailes on January 2, 2008 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

Prithee, wilt thou murdalize them, fair prosecutor? I would that thou wouldst.

Follow these benighted trails, nay verily, unto the very doors of the Vice President's Office and the Oval Office, and there bescourge the holders of the keys for the power-drunk scoundrels they be.

Posted by: Anon on January 2, 2008 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Bu ... bu ... but ... what about Bill Clinton!?!

I mean, Bill Clinton tortured people all the time, left and right, and the liberal media had no problem with it THEN! This is all just the result of a big partisan witchhunt caused by Bush Derangement Syndrome, and led by people who want America to lose!

Oh ... wait. Clinton didn't do that stuff. Never mind.

Posted by: Bokonon on January 2, 2008 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

Mukasey, the ultimate loyal Bushie, has refused to recuse himself from involvement in the case. That's all we need to know.

Posted by: Helena Montana on January 3, 2008 at 4:14 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see how John Durham, no matter how independent-minded, can do a complete job. As a U.S. Attorney, under the command of the Attorney General, how can he adequately probe the Justice Department and, beyond it, the White House and the President?

homer www.altara.blogspot.com

Posted by: Homer Hewitt on January 3, 2008 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Already, there are reports that Bush will stonewall the CIA probe

President George W. Bush tried to stop Attorney General Michael Mukasey from launching a criminal investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency’s destruction of tapes showing torture of a prisoner and has ordered top White House officials to stonewall the probe, Capitol Hill Blue has learned.
Bush is reportedly “livid” that Makasey went ahead with the investigation and even discussed firing the attorney general but senior administration officials talked the President out of taking an action that would add fuel to suspicions of a cover-up.
While the administration may put on a public face of cooperation, the White House will take a tough stance from prosecutors who will seek interviews with current and former administration officials who participated in a meeting where destruction of the videotapes was discussed...

Posted by: Mike on January 3, 2008 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, you are likely right, but CHB is a bit wiggy, kind of like the National Enquirer I hear.

In any case folks, don't just talk about the Bush Admin itself having tools to duck and weave, don't forget the creepy or dumb apologists who continue to excuse anything they do.

Posted by: Neil B. on January 3, 2008 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

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