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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

 
Stovepiping The Legal Findings

by digby

This review of John Yoo's book in the New York Review of Books illuminated something that I hadn't fully understood before:

Few lawyers have had more influence on President Bush's legal policies in the "war on terror" than John Yoo. This is a remarkable feat, because Yoo was not a cabinet official, not a White House lawyer, and not even a senior officer within the Justice Department. He was merely a mid-level attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel with little supervisory authority and no power to enforce laws. Yet by all accounts, Yoo had a hand in virtually every major legal decision involving the US response to the attacks of September 11, and at every point, so far as we know, his advice was virtually always the same— the president can do whatever the president wants.


I hadn't realized that Yoo was not a senior officer in the justice department. I guess I just assumed that he was quite high level. This makes me wonder if we are looking at another case of stovepiping and cherry-picking.

We know now that the pre-war WMD findings were subject to extreme pressure to conform to the administration's desire to substantiate their claims of an Iraqi threat. It looks like they may have done something similar with the legal findings supporting the president's desire to seize unprecedented power. They relied exclusively on the one guy who could be counted on to tell the president he could do anything he wanted.

The internal battles between and within the CIA, pentagon, state department and the white house have come to light because of the glaring reality that there were no WMD found. A mistake like that forces information out into the public domain as people step up to defend themselves. Up to now, despite a lot of controversy, that has not happened with the Justice Department. Perhaps it never will. It's always possible that the administration never asked anyone but John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales for advice, both of whom they knew would radically expand presidential power. But if there was any dissension within the Justice Department, it may be time for certain fed-up lawyers to step up and set the record straight if they value their reputations.

This NSA spying scandal is the tipping point, in my opinion. It's not the worst of the legal atrocities (I would argue that the sickening finding on torture remains the gold standard) but the culmination of all these revelations show that this president understood 9/11 to be a threat so dire that his vow to preserve and protect the constitution had been superceded by a new vow to protect the American people by any means necessary.

I know that the fevered warbloggers agree that the 9/11 attacks were the opening salvo in a war in which civilization itself is under attack by an unimaginable, all powerful evil. Others, not so much. To many of us who spent our childhoods diving under our desks in nuclear drills, the idea that the oceans had always protected us and this was the most frightening threat the world has ever known is ridiculous.

Frightened people overreacted to 9/11 and sought out people who would justify their actions. (All you have to do is look at the My Pet Goat footage of a paralyzed leader in a time of crisis to know it's true.) John Yoo, with his radical, untested theories was there to provide them. The question now is whether there are any lawyers in the Justice department at the time who presented opposing views. If there were, perhaps these hearings won't be the bust we are all expecting them to be.


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