“The agency is glad to be out of it,” admitted one senior CIA official. The FBI will now run interrogations, with CIA officers in the field advising whether a captive should be played back as a double agent, “rendered” to a third country or questioned in the United States. Stephen Kappes, the career officer who serves as the CIA’s deputy director, “doesn’t want to have anything to do with interrogation,” said one White House official. “He wants to let this go.”

Reading the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report, you sense that agency officials were wary from the start. “One officer expressed concern that, one day, agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court for war crimes,” says the IG report. Another said, “Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this . . . [but] it has to be done.”

Looking back, it’s easy to say the CIA officers should have refused the assignments they suspected would come back to haunt them. But questioning presidential orders isn’t really their job, especially when those orders are backed by Justice Department legal opinions.

What will happen the next time the White House wants the CIA to do something that’s potentially controversial? Well, you know the answer. The CIA officers will want to talk to their lawyers, and maybe then to lawyers from the party out of power. That’s not the ideal mind-set for a modern intelligence service. But the republic will survive.