Saturday, April 12, 2008
No matter what revelation comes from this administration, the next one will be even worse:
President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.
"Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."
As first reported by ABC News Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA.
The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.
These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC news....
At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Dick Cheney, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.
The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said....
In his interview with ABC News, Bush said the ABC report about the Principals' involvement was not so "startling." The president had earlier confirmed the existence of the interrogation program run by the CIA in a speech in 2006. But before Wednesday's report, the extraordinary level of involvement by the most senior advisers in repeatedly approving specific interrogation plans -- down to the number of times the CIA could use a certain tactic on a specific al Qaeda prisoner -- had never been disclosed.
Just a perverse, twisted, sickening game of connect the dots. Nothing to see here, nothing "startling" about the fact that the Vice President, Secretaries of State and Defense, Attorney General, National Security Advisor, and CIA Director of the United States conspired to commit war crimes. Which the President then signed off on.
Just another Friday night news dump in Bush world.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD CALLS ON BOALT HALL TO DISMISS LAW PROFESSOR JOHN YOO, WHOSE TORTURE MEMOS LED TO COMMISSION OF WAR CRIMES
The federal maiming statute, for example, makes it a crime for someone "with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure" to "cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person." It further prohibits individuals from "throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance" with like intent.
Yoo also narrowed the definition of torture so the victim must experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result; Yoo's definition contravenes the definition in the Convention Against Torture, a treaty the US has ratified which is thus part of the US law under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Yoo said self-defense or necessity could be used as a defense to war crimes prosecutions for torture, notwithstanding the Torture Convention's absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances, even in wartime. This memo and another Yoo wrote with Jay Bybee in August 2002 provided the basis for the Administration's torture of prisoners.
"John Yoo's complicity in establishing the policy that led to the torture of prisoners constitutes a war crime under the US War Crimes Act," said National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn.
Congress should repeal the provision of the Military Commissions Act that would give Yoo immunity from prosecution for torture committed from September 11, 2001 to December 30, 2005. John Yoo should be disbarred and he should not be retained as a professor of law at one of the country's premier law schools. John Yoo should be dismissed from Boalt Hall and tried as a war criminal.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
On Thursday in the National Press Club in Washington, a crowd gathered to witness the presentation of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling to Lieutenant Commander Matthew Diaz. The story of Matthew Diaz was chronicled in this space repeatedly (also here and here). It is a story of courage, fortitude, conviction and suffering. Joe Margulies introduced the honoree with clarity:
no one can think it is fun when you sit in a courtroom as an accused, and a United States prosecutor points an accusatory finger at your chest and calls you a criminal and tells you that you have betrayed your oath and you have betrayed your country, and you have endangered the safety of the men and women that you swore to share your burdens with. And no one can think it is fun when you have to sit with your heart pounding in your chest as the jury files back into the room with a piece of paper folded in its hands, and that piece of paper holds your fate. And no one can think it is fun when that jury, your peers, pronounces you guilty. And no one can think it is fun when you have to face that same jury that will sentence you for what may be many years; many years that you will be away from your family, your life in tatters, your career ruined.
Matthew Diaz served his country as a staff judge advocate at Guantánamo. He watched a shameless assault on America’s Constitution and commitment to the rule of law carried out by the Bush Administration. He watched the introduction of a system of cruel torture and abuse. He watched the shaming of the nation’s uniformed services, with their proud traditions that formed the very basis of the standards of humanitarian law, now torn asunder through the lawless acts of the Executive. Matthew Diaz found himself in a precarious position—as a uniformed officer, he was bound to follow his command. As a licensed and qualified attorney, he was bound to uphold the law. And these things were indubitably at odds.
Diaz resolved to do something about it. He knew the Supreme Court twice ruled the Guantánamo regime, which he was under orders to uphold, was unlawful. In the Hamdan decision, the Court went a step further. In powerful and extraordinary words, Justice Kennedy reminded the Administration that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was binding upon them, and that a violation could constitute a criminal act. One senior member of the Bush legal team, informed of the decision over lunch, was reported to have turned “white as a sheet” and to have immediately excused himself. For the following months, Bush Administration lawyers entered into a frenzied discussion of how to protect themselves from criminal prosecution.
One of the crimes the Administration committed was withholding from the Red Cross a list of the detainees at Guantánamo, effectively making them into secret detainees. Before the arrival of the Bush Administration, the United States had taken the axiomatic position that holding persons in secret detention for prolonged periods outside the rule of law (a practice known as “disappearing”) was not merely unlawful, but in fact a rarified “crime against humanity.” Now the United States was engaged in the active practice of this crime.
The decision to withhold the information had been taken, in defiance of law, by senior political figures in the Bush Administration. Diaz was aware of it, and he knew it was unlawful. He printed out a copy of the names and sent them to a civil rights lawyer who had requested them in federal court proceedings.
Diaz was aware when he did this that he was violating regulations and that he could and would, if caught, be subjected to severe sanction. What he did was a violation of law, even as it was an effort to cure a more severe act of lawlessness by the Government. Diaz violated the law in precisely the same sense as Martin Luther King reminds us, in the Letter from Birmingham Jail, that his arrest was based on a violation of law. That everything the Nazis did in Germany was lawful. And that every act of the Hungarian freedom fighters was a crime. In terms of the moral law, however, Diaz was on the side of right, and the Bush Administration and the Pentagon had, by engaging in the conduct that the Supreme Court condemned, placed themselves on the side of lawlessness, corruption and dishonor.
Diaz was charged, tried and convicted for disclosing “secrets.” For the Bush Administration, any information which would be politically embarrassing or harmful to it is routinely classified “secret.” In this fashion the Administration believes it can use criminal sanctions against those who disclose information it believes will be politically damaging. The list of detainees at Guantánamo, which by law was required to be disclosed, was classified as “secret.”
Diaz spent six months in prison and left it bankrupt and without a job. In addition to his sentence, the Pentagon is working aggressively to have Diaz stripped of his law license so he will not be able to practice his profession. The Bush Administration has sought to criminalize, humiliate and destroy Diaz. Its motivation could not be clearer: Diaz struck a blow for the rule of law. And nothing could be more threatening to the Bush Administration than this.
In the week in which Diaz received the Ridenhour Prize, another Pentagon “secret” was disclosed. This “secret” was a memorandum made to order for William J. Haynes II, Rumsfeld’s General Counsel, and the man at the apex of the Pentagon’s military justice system that tried, convicted and sentenced Diaz. The memo was authored by John Yoo. This memorandum was designed to authorize the introduction of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques to be used upon prisoners held at Guantánamo, and ultimately also used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The memorandum authorized waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia, the administration of psychotropic drugs and sleep deprivation in excess of two days in addition to a number of other techniques. Each of these techniques is long established as torture as a matter of American and international law. The application and implementation of these techniques was and is a crime.
The exact circumstances surrounding the dealings between Haynes and Yoo that led to the development of this memorandum are unclear. However, it is clear that Haynes had previously authorized the use of the torture techniques, and had secured an order from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorizing them.
Following the implementation of these techniques, more than 108 detainees died in detention. In a large number of these cases, the deaths have been ruled a homicide and connected to torture. These homicides were a forseeable consequence of the advice that Haynes and Yoo gave.
The introduction of torture techniques destroyed America’s reputation around the world, dramatically eroded a system of alliances that generations of Americans fought and labored to sustain and build, and provided the basis for a dramatic recruitment campaign for terrorist groups who are the nation’s principal adversaries in the war on terror. Yoo’s and Haynes’s conduct dramatically undercut the security and safety of every American. And equally, Yoo and Haynes demonstrated by their conduct contempt for the rule of law and the principles for which hundreds of thousands of Americans shed their blood in prior conflicts.
Yoo is currently a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, the author of a number of widely featured books, and a widely followed media figure whose works are routinely published in the Wall Street Journal and other publications. He remains a member of the bar in Pennsylvania and California.
Haynes recently left the position of General Counsel at the Department of Defense to become General Counsel–Corporate at Chevron Inc. He remains a member of the bar in North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
A system that punishes and shames Matthew Diaz, yet obstructs any investigation into the misconduct of John Yoo and Jim Haynes, and particularly their focal rule in the introduction of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, is corrupt. Indeed, it persecutes the innocent and rewards the guilty. A bar association that disbars Matthew Diaz and leaves Yoo and Haynes free to practice is fundamentally corrupt. In essence, this choice reflects a legal profession that puts upholding the will of the Executive, even when it commands the most egregious and unlawful conduct, over the Rule of Law. It reflects the abnegation of the bedrock principles of the profession and the principles of the American Constitution and the Revolution which gave rise to it.
Lieutenant Commander Diaz reminds us of the powerful words of Justice Brandeis:
Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole of the people by its example. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law and invites every man to become a law unto itself. It breeds anarchy. To declare that the end justifies the means would bring terrible retribution.
In a day when the legal profession is disgraced repeatedly by the performance of lawyers in the service of their government, Matthew Diaz is emerging as a hero to many, and as a symbol that for some lawyers devotion to truth, integrity and justice still matters. Indeed, that dedication and willingness to shoulder the burden it can bring, is and will likely be seen by future generations of Americans as the higher form of patriotism.
Monday, April 07, 2008
American Pundit Class: An Orgy or Self-Referential Narcissism.
The U.S. establishment media in a nutshell
(updated below - Update II)
In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to "domestic military operations" within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.
Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:
"Yoo and torture" - 102
"Mukasey and 9/11" -- 73
"Yoo and Fourth Amendment" -- 16
"Obama and bowling" -- 1,043
"Obama and Wright" -- More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)
"Obama and patriotism" - 1,607
"Clinton and Lewinsky" -- 1,079
And as Eric Boehlert documents, even Iraq -- that little five-year U.S. occupation with no end in sight -- has been virtually written out of the media narrative in favor of mindless, stupid, vapid chatter of the type referenced above. "The Clintons are Rich!!!!" will undoubtedly soon be at the top of this heap within a matter of a day or two.
"Media critic" Howie Kurtz in the Washington Post today devoted pages of his column to Obama's bowling and eating habits and how that shows he's not a regular guy but an Arrogant Elitist, compiling an endless string of similar chatter about this from Karl Rove, Maureen Dowd, Walter Shapiro and Ann Althouse. Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson devoted her whole column this week to arguing that, along with Wright, Obama's bowling was his biggest mistake, a "real doozy."
Obama's bowling has provided almost a full week of programming on MSNBC. Gail Collins, in The New York Times, today observed that Obama went bowling "with disastrous consequences." And, as always, they take their personality-based fixations from the Right, who have been promoting the Obama is an Arrogant, Exotic, Elitist Freak narrative for some time. In a typically cliched and slimy article, Time's Joe Klein this week explored what the headline called Obama's "Patriotism Problem," where we learn that "this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right." He trotted it all out -- the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama's angry, America-hating wife, "his Islamic-sounding name."
Needless to say, these serious and accomplished political journalists are only focusing on these stupid and trivial matters because this is what the Regular Folk care about. They speak for the Regular People, and what the Regular People care about is not Iraq or the looming recession or health care or lobbyist control of our government or anything that would strain the brain of these reporters. What those nice little Regular Folk care about is whether Obama is Regular Folk just like them, whether he can bowl and wants to gorge himself with junk food.
Our nation's coddled, insulated journalist class reaches these conclusions about what Regular Folk think using the most self-referential, self-absorbed thought process imaginable. The proof that the Regular People are interested in these things is that . . . the journalists themselves chatter about it endlessly. In Great American Hypocrites, I described the process as follows in the context of examining the three-week-long media obsession with John Edwards' haircut (to the exclusion of a whole array of revelations about what the government was doing or planning to do) and how they justified that coverage:
Most certainly, the press will pretend to be above it all ("this is not something that we, the sophisticated political journalists, care about, of course"). But they yammer about Drudge-promoted gossip endlessly, and then insist that their own chattering is proof that it is an important story that people care about. And because they conclude that "people" (i.e., them) are concerned with the story, they keep chirping about it, which in turn fuels their belief that the story is important. It is an endless loop of self-referential narcissism -- whatever they endlessly sputter is what "the people" care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance.They don't need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.
Every day, it becomes more difficult to blame George Bush, Dick Cheney and comrades for their seven years (and counting) of crimes, corruption and destruction of our political values. Think about it this way: if you were a high government official and watched as -- all in a couple of weeks time -- it is revealed, right out in the open, that you suspended the Fourth Amendment, authorized torture, proclaimed yourself empowered to break the law, and sent the nation's top law enforcement officer to lie blatantly about how and why the 9/11 attacks happened so that you could acquire still more unchecked spying power and get rid of lawsuits that would expose what you did, and the political press in this country basically ignored all of that and blathered on about Obama's bowling score and how he eats chocolate, wouldn't you also conclude that you could do anything you want, without limits, and know there will be no consequences? What would be the incentive to stop doing all of that?
UPDATE: One other point to note about all of this is that these fixations are as skewed as they are vapid. Barack Obama is an exotic elitist freak because he went to Harvard Law School and made $1 million from his book. Hillary Clinton can't possibly have any connection to the Regular Folk because her husband, who grew up dirt poor, became quite wealthy after being President. John Kerry was completely removed from the concerns of the Regular People because his second wife was rich.
By contrast, George W. Bush was a down-home, salt-of-the-earth Man of the People despite being the grandson of a U.S. Senator, the son of a President (who greatly magnified his riches in his post-presidency), and the by-product of an extremely wealthy, coddled life. Ronald Reagan was pure Americana despite spending most of his adult life as a very wealthy Hollywood actor (and converting his post-presidency into far greater riches still). And John McCain is as Regular a Guy as it gets, even though he dumped his first wife (the mother of his three children) after she was disfigured and disabled by a near-fatal car accident so that he could marry his much younger, much prettier, and extremely wealthy heiress-mistress, whose family riches then launched his political career and sustained a life of luxury for almost three decades (that's how McCain's rustic "Sedona cabin" -- i.e., his sprawling compound -- came to be).
It would be bad enough if our political press were obsessed with such trivialities. The fact that they do so in such a Republican-leader-worshiping manner makes it only that much worse, particularly given that it's this dynamic, more than anything else, that determines the outcome of our elections.
UPDATE II: More of the same, and much worse, here.