Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How the Justice Department Made the World Safe for CIA Torture

Scott Shane, David Johnston, and James Risen of the New York Times have written a stinging article on U.S. Justice Department decisions that have -- and still do -- provide supposed legal justification for harsh interrogation techniques amounting to torture.

In the article, "Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations", the Shane et al. describe the role of former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales in quashing an internal revolt at the Justice Department over the unprecedented spate of legal alibis for barbaric levels of torture. Some of the department's "opinions" remain secret to this day.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.

Using the odd formulation that Gonzales "seldom resisted pressure" from Bush's Machivellian vice president, Cheney, and Cheney's sinister consiglieri David Addington, the article singles out "Steven G. Bradbury, who since 2005 has headed the elite Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department", as the signatory of the secret Justice Department directives. Elsewhere in the article, Bradbury is described as the "linchpin" in the defense of Bush's torture policies.

Meanwhile, Comey was not the only administration official to be revolted by Bush, Cheney and the CIA's plans to unleash inhuman and widely condemned forms of barbaric interrogation.

In late 2003... the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, began reviewing [John Yoo's] work, which he found deeply flawed. Mr. Goldsmith infuriated White House officials, first by rejecting part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, prompting the threat of mass resignations by top Justice Department officials, including Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Comey, and a showdown at the attorney general’s hospital bedside.

Then, in June 2004, Mr. Goldsmith formally withdrew the August 2002 Yoo memorandum on interrogation, which he found overreaching and poorly reasoned. Mr. Goldsmith left the Justice Department soon afterward. He first spoke at length about his dissenting views to The New York Times last month, and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

In the world of Beltway politics, it's rare that an administration official will go on the record, as Goldsmith has done, as a source for a major news article that is criticizes the government he served. But then, the inhumanity, the evil, that emanates from Bush's torture chambers is so foul that even conservative politicians blanch in recoil.

The Times piece confirms that Gonzales, either with or at the bidding of Addington, locked down opposition to the draconian "war on terror" policies, isolated Comey, presided over Goldsmith's resignation, and put Bradbury on probation under the watchful eye of Bush counsel Harriet Miers.

They need not have worried:

Mr. Bradbury belonged to the same circle as his predecessors: young, conservative lawyers with sterling credentials, often with clerkships for prominent conservative judges and ties to the Federalist Society, a powerhouse of the legal right....

Though President Bush repeatedly nominated Mr. Bradbury as the Office of Legal Counsel’s assistant attorney general, Democratic senators have blocked the nomination. Senator Durbin said the Justice Department would not turn over copies of his opinions or other evidence of Mr. Bradbury’s role in interrogation policy.

Steven Bradbury is another of President Bush's true believers, his army of God, no doubt. One can only wish to whatever god, spirit, or fate that rules this world, if in fact anything rules this world but naked might, that this rotten, disgusting crew is ousted as soon as possible. (I can't resist two other Bradbury factoids: he was law clerk to Clarence Thomas, and was a partner at Kirkland and Ellis, LLP, in Washington, DC. What? Did you forget so soon Ken Starr's old firm?)

The revolt of the bureaucrats has come too little, too late. While it's gratifying to read about some of Comey's statements, and how Goldsmith and others were outraged, it's little beer to those of us who have been opposing this government's policies for years. And it's an obscenity to those who have lost their sanity, or even their lives, in Bush's torture chambers.

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