Yoo And Addington On The Hill
There's quite a remarkable hearing going on today in a House subcommittee. David Addington and John Yoo are voluntarily testifying about the torture practices of the Bush Administration. Thanks to time zones, I didn't get to tune in until the end of the first round of questioning, but I'm getting the feel of it from reports by Spencer Ackerman and at the liveblog on Daily Kos.
It seems like both of them are being evasive but for completely different reasons. Addington ought to be held in contempt of Congress for just plain contemptuousness. As Scott Horton noted on Pacifica's coverage, he clearly believes himself to be smarter than all the Representatives in the room, and he has no problem bullying them around the way he reportedly bullies everyone in the executive branch. He also doesn't mind lying about his role in designing torture tactics after a personal trip to Guantanamo. He essentially said, according to Horton, that the world is very dangerous and the threat is not yet over, implying that Congress had better back down with all the questioning and recognize that absolutely anything can be done in the name of protecting the country. Here's an example:
Addington, naturally, is being legalistic and careful. Can president violate statutes during wartime? "As a general proposition, no, ... but facts matter for a lawyer." Which facts would justify the president violating such a statute? Addington says he won't answer. He's combative, and good. Could self-defense be such a case? "I haven't expressed an opinion... I haven't researched the statute." Says on FISA, "there is a serious constitutional question that Congress might... try to block the president's power."
The President's power, that is, to allow prisoners to be sodomized with a broomstick. The President's power to murder prisoners in US custody. The President's power to hide prisoners from the Red Cross in violation of international law. The President's power, and the power of those around them, to commit war crimes. For your protection. In your name.
"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
Now Yoo, on the other hand, seems afraid for his life and livelihood. He is trying not to answer any question too fully, is stretching out every answer to run out the clock on the questioners, is debating the meaning of words like "implemented," and is consulting with two lawyers on practically every question. He's trying to explain away the Convention Against Torture and generally throw up enough mud to resist any real answer. He's constantly citing Justice Department guidelines that restrict his testimony, too. Over and over he makes the claim that he was simply a lawyer providing legal advice. Of course, at the Nuremberg trials the precedent was set that lawyers whose advice was used to commit war crimes are culpable in those activities. If the policy is to go to the very limit, and the lawyer sets the limit, then he is creating the policy. Yoo can't wiggle off the hook... at least in an international court of law. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 gave some debatable measure of immunity to most of this crowd for their crimes.
The subcommittee is being very thorough and not taking a lot of bullshit. As the facts about physical and psychological abuse slowly come to light, not only at Abu Ghraib but across all US detention sites, and as we learn more about those who directed the policies that led to this torture, abuse and murder, the policymakers have become more unbridled in investigating these crimes. The grilling of William Haynes - almost made a federal judge for life - at the Senate Armed Services Committee last week showed an unusually strident Carl Levin and his compatriots angered by Haynes' activities. After the Supreme Court asserted in Boumediene that prisoners captured at Guantanamo have the ability to challenge their crimes, we've seen the DC appeals court overrule the Administration on their designation of "enemy combatants," where other prisoners have begun to use their habeas rights to challenge their detentions. The Bush-Cheney policies on interrogation and torture have been discredited by the law and by Congress, and the notion of a "few bad apples" has been totally rejected. As Jerrold Nadler said today:
"It does not go too far to say the reputation of our nation as the leading exponent of human rights and human dignity have been besmirched by this administration [...] I know I speak for many of colleagues when I say that the more we find out about what was done and how it was justified, the more appalled we have become."
None of this, of course, matters to Addington and Yoo, who instead value their radical agenda of executive power and aren't too concerned about the courts and the Congress' opinion. In fact, they're already winning this battle where it counts.
A new poll of citizens’ attitudes about torture in 19 nations finds Americans among the most accepting of the practice. Although a slight majority say torture should be universally prohibited, 44 percent think torture of terrorist suspects should be allowed, and more than one in 10 think torture should generally be allowed.
The findings of the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll put the United States alongside countries like Russia, Egypt and the Ukraine and lagging far behind allies like Great Britain, Spain and France in how its citizens view torture.
The poll found 53 percent of Americans believed all torture should be prohibited; the average in all 19 countries polled was 57 percent.
The Jack Bauer-ization of the torture question, the mainstreaming of cruel and unusual punishment, the ability for the right to demagogue this issue for six years, means that so much of this bipartisan condemnation is coming a little too late. It's nice to hear, but Addington's bullying view has ruled the day for so long that I don't know if we can even get back to a sense of normalcy.
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 200 former government officials, retired generals and religious leaders plans to issue a statement on Wednesday calling for a presidential order to outlaw some interrogation and detention practices used by the Bush administration over the last six years.
The executive order they seek would commit the government to using only interrogation methods that the United States would find acceptable if used by another country against American soldiers or civilians.
It would also outlaw secret detentions, used since 2001 by the Central Intelligence Agency, and prohibit the transfer of prisoners to countries that use torture or cruel treatment. The C.I.A. has allowed terrorism suspects to be taken to such countries.
Among the signers is George P. Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. “It’s a good time to step back, take a deep breath and set a standard,” Mr. Shultz said in an interview.
That would have been a good time in October 2001, before war fever made everybody in Washington a little crazy, and the White House was allowed to take the policies they always wanted to implement off the shelf, using the SERE program designed for our soldiers to resist enemy torture and reverse-engineering it to torture others. We knew in 2001 that torture was ineffective, counter-productive, prone to generating bad intelligence, and would create more terrorists than it would stop terrorist attacks. It's not some grand display of honor to speak out about it now. It's actually more like cowardice.
I appreciate the work of this subcommittee, and after this embarrassment of a President's term ends I would hope that there is a grand inquest into these high crimes. But don't bet on it. And the court of public opinion, the space has already been given to the fearmongers and jingoists to connect torture with saving American lives. The truth, of course, is the opposite.