Holder, 58, may be on the verge of asserting his independence in a profound way. Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. "I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president's agenda," he says. "But that can't be a part of my decision."OF COURSE, if Holder, a former District of Columbia trial judge, goes forward with this, President Obama likely will not be pleased . . . and the Republicans are going to go absolutely nuts.
Holder began to review those policies in April. As he pored over reports and listened to briefings, he became increasingly troubled. There were startling indications that some interrogators had gone far beyond what had been authorized in the legal opinions issued by the Justice Department, which were themselves controversial. He told one intimate that what he saw "turned my stomach."
It was soon clear to Holder that he might have to launch an investigation to determine whether crimes were committed under the Bush administration and prosecutions warranted. The obstacles were obvious. For a new administration to reach back and investigate its predecessor is rare, if not unprecedented. After having been deeply involved in the decision to authorize Ken Starr to investigate Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, Holder well knew how politicized things could get. He worried about the impact on the CIA, whose operatives would be at the center of any probe. And he could clearly read the signals coming out of the White House. President Obama had already deflected the left wing of his party and human-rights organizations by saying, "We should be looking forward and not backwards" when it came to Bush-era abuses.
Still, Holder couldn't shake what he had learned in reports about the treatment of prisoners at the CIA's "black sites." If the public knew the details, he and his aides figured, there would be a groundswell of support for an independent probe. He raised with his staff the possibility of appointing a prosecutor. According to three sources familiar with the process, they discussed several potential choices and the criteria for such a sensitive investigation. Holder was looking for someone with "gravitas and grit," according to one of these sources, all of whom declined to be named. At one point, an aide joked that Holder might need to clone Patrick Fitzgerald, the hard-charging, independent-minded U.S. attorney who had prosecuted Scooter Libby in the Plamegate affair. In the end, Holder asked for a list of 10 candidates, five from within the Justice Department and five from outside.
They will go from merely unhinged to insurrectionary. So be it. The continuing, imperfect sanctification of America -- if such a term may be used in the context of the political and social -- has nothing to do with going along to get along.
Usually, it has come about through the blood of martyrs.
America's original sin -- chattel slavery -- finally was expunged at the cost of a bloodbath, a four-year-long civil war. Even so, we still suffer from the legacy of that original sin unto this present day -- and it required the blood of untold modern-day martyrs to beat back Jim Crow, Satan's counteroffensive against the equality of man and the American ideal.
The Bush Administration's torture regime in the wake of 9/11 has been scarcely less destructive of American ideals, notion of human dignity and the rule of law. It is a cancer upon constitutional rule and the American soul, and it will require the kind of hard medicine eradicating most cancer requires.
It's time to take our medicine or die. If the Republicans choose to cast their philosophical lot with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Tojo, Mao and Pol Pot, it will be their funeral.
Or, perhaps, ours.