WASHINGTON — Conservatives and liberals alike reacted critically, though for different reasons, to Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to appoint a federal prosecutor to investigate possible abuses by CIA interrogators in using harsh tactics on terror detainees.
Conservatives, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, said the probe wrongly targeted those who helped keep the nation safe after the Sept. 11 attacks and would diminish the ability of the government to safeguard Americans. Civil liberties groups were unhappy that officials from the administration of President George W. Bush were not targeted in the probe.
Holder on Monday appointed federal prosecutor John Durham to look into abuse allegations after the release of an internal CIA inspector general's report that revealed agency interrogators once threatened to kill a Sept. 11 suspect's children and suggested another would be forced to watch his mother be sexually assaulted.
President Barack Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines. However, the report said that some CIA interrogators went beyond Bush administration restrictions that gave them wide latitude to use severe tactics such as waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique. Three high-level suspects underwent waterboarding scores of times.
Obama's caveat has not satisfied Cheney, who claimed earlier this year that the Obama administration is making the nation less secure by dismantling Bush-era initiatives aimed at disrupting terrorist plans.
"The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaida to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States," Cheney said.
Cheney contended that the inspector general's report showed that the severe techniques resulted in "the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaida" and "saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks."
Although the report somewhat buttressed Cheney's contention by saying the interrogations obtained some information that identified terrorists and plots, the inspector general also raised broad concerns about the legality and effectiveness of the tactics, saying that measuring their success is "a more subjective process and not without some concern."
Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the investigation will be a distraction to the spy agency. Rep. Peter King of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, called Holder's decision "disgraceful."
Several key Democrats and officials with Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that the potential prosecutions are a start, but they said the probe does nothing to investigate the actions of officials who sanctioned the brutal interrogation program.
"Any investigation at this point is welcome," Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's national security project, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But any investigation that begins and ends with the so-called rogue interrogators would be completely inadequate given the evidence that's already in the public domain. We know that senior officials authorized torture and we know that DOJ lawyers facilitated torture."
Contributing: Devlin Barrett