Nine GOP Senators cautioned Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday against appointing a special prosecutor to investigate alleged torture of suspected terrorists at the hands of American intelligence agents and contractors.The group of Senators, which includes the vice chairman and four other current members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, penned a letter to Holder saying an investigation would tarnish the careers, reputations, and lives of intelligence community professionals and that any investigation would chill future intelligence activities.The intelligence community would be left to wonder whether actions taken today in the interest of national security will be subject to legal recriminations when the political winds shift, the letter states. It is well past time for the Obama Administration to lift the cloud that has been placed over those in the intelligence community and let them return to the job of saving American lives.The letter was signed by Intelligence Vice Chairman Kit Bond (Mo.) and Intelligence members Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Richard Burr (N.C.), along with Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa).At issue for Holder is whether intelligence operatives or contractors violated the law in using harsh interrogation tactics against high-level terrorism detainees in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But many have speculated that top officials in the George W. Bush administration, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, might ultimately end up as the targets of any special Justice Department investigation.Cheney has publicly defended the use of severe interrogation methods, saying they produced actionable intelligence that helped prevent further terrorist attacks by al-Qaida. The nine GOP Senators echoed that sentiment in their letter, saying that the harsh tactics used on alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed produced information that was absolutely vital to apprehending other al Qaeda terrorists and preventing additional attack on the United States, including the West Coast plot seeking to destroy the Library Tower in Los Angeles.In 2002, the Bush administration provided the CIA and intelligence contractors with legal guidance as to what harsh methods they could use in interrogations. But since those techniques which included waterboarding and prolonged sensory deprivation were revealed, some have questioned whether the United States had essentially legalized the torture of prisoners. Even the Bush administration later revised its legal guidelines to prohibit waterboarding.When President Barack Obama came into office this year, he specifically prohibited the use of those harsh interrogation methods.While Obama has said he does not support prosecutions of agents or contractors who operated within Bush-era legal guidelines, he has left open the possibility that people who exceeded those instructions could be held accountable.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.