While Attorney General Eric Holder is pursuing possible criminal charges against CIA interrogators, Obama has quietly made a move to re-shuffle the detainee business.
Obama has moved the CIA’s detainee operation to a new government agency called the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). The unit will contain personnel from several federal agencies. Its job will be to detain and interrogate high ranking terrorist leaders. According to the Obama administration, the unit will stay within the guidelines of the Army interrogation manual.
However, it’s not the existence of the unit that’s so peculiar. It’s how it is organized. Although the unit will be housed inside the headquarters of the FBI, it is part of no government agency. The agency will report directly to the President at the National Security Council. This is just the latest in Obama’s trend of appointing “czars” to lead projects, who answer directly to the President. The end result is the expansion of executive power.
Of course, the existence of this agency is not in and of itself an improper abuse of power. It remains to be seen what this agency will actually do.
However, one important factor in creating and sustaining a resilient democracy is that the government must not only avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, but they must also avoid the temptation of impropriety. Government should ideally be designed in such a way that it is impossible to commit improprieties.
Naturally, this is an ideal and reality will always fall short of this. However, having an interrogation and detention agency under direct control of the President is not an acceptable situation. The CIA is not perfect, but it has safeguards such as congressional reports and oversight. This new interrogations agency does not have this. The only man it is responsible to is Barack Obama. The only safeguard the agency has is Barack Obama.
This concentration of power is not something that is in the tradition of American government. It is not something that should be allowed to continue. Congress should move to establish oversight over this new agency, and have it placed under a department such as the Department of Homeland Security. This would provide the safeguards needed to ensure that this unit remains a detention and interrogation unit and does not, at some point in the far future, become a threat to American democracy.