The good news: Two of them served under Clinton, making this plea very bipartisan indeed.

The bad news: Evidently we’ve had seven racists in charge of the CIA.

Allowing future investigations and prosecutions “will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country,” the seven men write. “In our judgment such risk-taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against the terrorists who continue to threaten us.”

Moreover, they argue, “public disclosure about past intelligence operations can only help Al Qaeda elude US intelligence and plan future operations. Disclosures about CIA collection operations have and will continue to make it harder for intelligence officers to maintain the momentum of operations that have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks.”

The seven former directors are Michael Hayden and Porter Goss, who served under President George W. Bush; George Tenet, who served under Bush and President Bill Clinton; John Deutch and R. James Woolsey, who served under Clinton; William Webster, who served under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan; and James R. Schlesinger, who served under President Richard Nixon…

The former directors who wrote the letter also argue that a “certain result of these reopened investigations is the serious damage done to our intelligence community’s ability to obtain the cooperation of foreign intelligence agencies,” which are “already greatly concerned about the United States’ inability to maintain any secrets.”

Points well taken. And needless to say, I’m no dove. But look: If it’s inappropriate for Holder to investigate even agents who went beyond the interrogation guidelines drafted by Bush’s legal team, what exactly is the limiting principle on CIA actions here? Some claim that the problem is his decision to reopen cases that Bush’s DOJ declined to prosecute, but I have a hunch that the real issue is putting any agent in legal jeopardy who’s acting in good faith — no matter how extremely — to foil a terrorist plot. Cheney admitted as much to Chris Wallace last month, in fact:

WALLACE: Do you think what they did, now that you’ve heard about it, do you think what they did was wrong?

CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States, and giving us the intelligence we needed to go find Al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed. Those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all the Al Qaeda members that we were able to bring to justice. I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.

It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.

WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?

CHENEY: I am.

That’s nothing less than carte blanche for U.S. security to do whatever it needs or wants to defend the country. But in that case, why bother with specific legal authorization? If counterterrorism forces have free rein then it’s pointless to debate whether waterboarding goes too far since they’ll simply go beyond waterboarding if and when they choose. What’s the limiting principle here?