Paul Greenberg

It’s been eclipsed in the news for just a moment by all the hubbub over the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire presidential primary, but earlier you may have noticed the latest suggestion in Congress and Medialand over how to conduct the war on terror: Go after the good guys.

Honest. Not the enemy. But the CIA. Not its chief but the lower-downs. Maybe even the grunts. The foot soldiers who do the real work, take the real risks, and who get their hands and maybe even their consciences dirty. Because they’ve got a real war for fight, not another Power Point presentation to prepare or computer projection to analyze.

Besides, you can be sure the higher-ups long ago took every precaution to assure what used to be called Plausible Deniability. You see their names and pictures in the paper from time to time — the well-tailored bureaucrats with clean fingernails who sit in air-conditioned offices at Langley issuing memos designed to cover their precious backsides. Just in case, as they say, Questions Arise.

Rather than go after those at the very top of the organizational chart, congressional investigators are homing in on the CIA’s clandestine service and those in it — the agents who’ve done the dirty work, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or in secret prisons around the world that don’t officially exist.

These agents are the latest targets of the second-guessers in Congress, in the media, and in general. All of these worthies sound shocked — shocked! — at what Americans on the front lines in this war on terror may have done for no better reason than to protect the rest of us.

It turns out that our people may actually have poured water down some innocent terrorist’s nose in an attempt to make the subject think he’s about to drown unless he tells them what they want to know. Like the plans for the next 9-11.

They may even have mistreated some real innocents, for identities do have a way of getting confused in wartime — just ask anybody who’s ever been subjected to “friendly” fire. This is the nature of the world in which we live. Let’s not pretend that the choices to be made in fighting this war or any other are simple.

What a difference a few years can make. In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, leading figures in Congress who were briefed on the CIA’s anti-terrorist tactics were demanding more action against those who had attacked this country, not less.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.