Quick, to the political dictionary.
Look up the phrase “trial balloon.”
Next to it you will find a photograph of Attorney General Eric Holder.
What’s Holder saying? He might — let’s emphasize that word might — launch a probe into the torture regimen that was implemented at the behest of the Bush-Cheney White House.
So suggests a Newsweek profile of the attorney general that was clearly written with the purpose of floating the balloon.
The rhetoric is encouraging. Holder is quoted as saying that the revelations regarding the “harsh interrogations” conducted during the Bush-Cheney interregnum “turned my stomach.” He is portrayed as having set the groundwork for the long-delayed inquiry into the previous administration’s clear violations of the 8th (“cruel and unusual”) amendment to the Constitution with a West Point speech in which Holder reminded the cadets of George Washington’s battlefield admonition that “captive British soldiers were to be treated with humanity, regardless of how Colonial soldiers captured in battle might be treated.”
It is even suggested that Holder could be something the United States has not had in a long time: an independent attorney general who does what is required by the law, rather than a political operative doing the bidding of the White House.
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.”
All of this sounds significant.
It is even more significant that the trial balloon has been launched as the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, is saying that CIA director Leon Panetta told Congress in June that former Vice President Dick Cheney went “outside the law” in ordering the Central Intelligence Agency not to tell Congress about a secret counter-terrorism initiatives.