Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "Campbell Brown," "AC360°" and "State of the Union With John King," as well as special event coverage.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - No matter which way you look at it, the question is painfully difficult: What - if anything - do we do about the post 9/11 behavior of some CIA agents who worked feverishly to interrogate prisoners they believed had information that could save American lives?
First, we now know definitively what we always suspected - that agent actions were sometimes abusive, perhaps even illegal, as they tried to obtain information.
The just-released Justice Department report shows, among other things, that agents choked one detainee repeatedly and threatened to kill another prisoner's children. Not pretty stuff.
But here's what we also know, thanks to another report (purposefully) released by the CIA as a response to the Justice document: Some interrogations worked.
According to these agency reports, chronicling 2004 and 2005, the intelligence community gleaned valuable information in real-time - like tracking down a terrorist network and securing key information from the notorious Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind.
The CIA's message is clear: Whatever we did helped us get what we needed to save lives. So get off our backs and let us do our jobs.
But here's the catch, and it's what complicates all of this: The CIA report does not draw a straight line between any specific interrogation methods and success. Indeed, the report says the "effectiveness" of any particular interrogation technique in gaining star-quality information "cannot be so easily measured."
That is an understatement.
So it's easy to see why the president, who doesn't need another political headache, was happy to toss the hot potato over to Attorney General Eric Holder for review. Holder is independent, the president reminded us. He is supposed to make decisions about whether to prosecute criminal cases without the president. That notion could provide a smidgeon of political cover, but it looks like it won't be enough.