Speaking In Code

by digby

I haven't finished Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals yet, but so far it's the probably the creepiest book I've read yet about the Torture Regime. (Philippe Sands' book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Valuesis also in the running.)

For those of you who haven't read it, you can get a good idea about it's thesis from her articles in the New Yorker, and this interview on Bill Moyers' Journal on Friday.

I thought this passage was especially interesting:

BILL MOYERS: Who were some of the other conservative heroes, as you call them, in your book?

JANE MAYER: A lot of them are lawyers. And they were people inside the Justice Department who, one of whom, and I can't name this one in particular, said when he looked around at some of the White House meetings - he was in where they were authorizing the President, literally, to torture people - if he thought that was necessary, he said, "I can't, I could not believe these lunatics had taken over the country." And I am not talking about someone who is a liberal Democrat. I'm talking about a very conservative member of this Administration. And there was a-

BILL MOYERS: Your source?

JANE MAYER: My source.

BILL MOYERS:And, yet, when these conservatives - as you write in your book - when these conservatives spoke up, Cheney and company retaliated against their own men.

JANE MAYER: People told me, "You can't imagine what it was like inside the White House during this period." There was such an atmosphere of intimidation. And when the lawyers, some of these lawyers tried to stand up to this later, they felt so endangered in some ways that, at one point, two of the top lawyers from the Justice Department developed this system of talking in codes to each other because they thought they might be being wiretapped. And they even felt-

BILL MOYERS: By their own government.

JANE MAYER: By their own government. They felt like they might be kind of weirdly in physical danger. They were actually scared to stand up to Vice President Cheney.

We have been told over and over again by the political media establishment that we are being paranoid freaks for suspecting that the Bush administration used their wiretapping powers for political purposes. And it was assumed that by that we meant spying on political opponents or media figures, which certainly may have happened. But one of the more insidious uses of these powers may very well have been against dissenting members of the administration itself -- potential whistleblowers, members of congress and those who resisted the edicts of the Cheney cabal. (Nixon did it...)

Here's Mayer again, in an interview with Scott Horton:

You spend more time showing how the torture process compromised lawyers than how it compromised health care professionals. One of the more revealing cases involves Jessica Radack, a young career attorney in the Justice Department’s Honors Program, who dispensed ethics advice concerning plans for the interrogation of John Walker Lindh. It seems that her advice was contrary to the ethical views of senior Bush Administration lawyers, and you note that when a federal judge demanded to see the internal Department of Justice records relating to the matter, all of Radack’s emails, including the advice actually dispensed, had been deleted and the hard copies removed, and none of this was furnished to the court. Did the Justice Department ever undertake an internal probe into the obstruction?

Radack was in some ways an early guinea pig showing how high the costs were for anyone—including administration lawyers—who dissented from the Bush Administration’s determination to rewrite the rules for the treatment of terrorists. Her job in the department was to give ethical advice. She was asked whether an FBI officer in Afghanistan could interrogate John Walker Lindh and use his statements against him in any future trial. By the time she was asked this, however, as she knew, Lindh’s father had already hired a lawyer to represent him. So she concluded that it would not be proper for the FBI to question him outside the presence of his counsel.

To her amazement, the FBI agent went ahead and did so anyway, and then the prosecutors in the Justice Department proceeded to use Lindh’s statements against him in their criminal prosecution. She told me, “It was like ethics were out the window. After 9/11, it was, like, ‘anything goes’ in the name of terrorism. It felt like they’d made up their minds to get him, regardless of the process.” Radack believed that the role of the ethics office was to “rein in the cowboys” whose zeal to stop criminals sometimes led them to overstep legal boundaries. “But after 9/11 we were bending ethics to fit our needs,” she said. “Something wrong was going on. It wasn’t just fishy—it stank.”

What happened next was truly scary. She tried to ensure that a judge overseeing the case, who asked for all information regarding the Department’s handling of Lindh, was given the full record, including her own contrary advice. But instead, she said she found that her superiors at Justice sent the judge only selective portions of the record, excluding her contrary opinion. Her case files, she said, were tampered with, and documents missing. Among the senior Justice Department officials who were sent her files, she said was Alice Fisher, a deputy to Michael Chertoff who followed him as head of the Department’s Criminal Division.

Michael Chertoff, who was the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division when Zubayda was caught, downplayed his role… But according to a top CIA official directly involved at the time, as well as a former top Justice Department official involved in a secondhand war, Chertoff was consulted extensively about detainees’ treatment. The former senior Agency official said with disgust, “Chertoff, and Gonzales, and all these other guys act like they know nothing about this now, but they were all in the room. They’re moonwalking backwards so fast, Michael Jackson would be proud of them.”
—From The Dark Side

Radack complained about what she thought were serious omissions of the record being withheld from the judge. Within weeks of disagreeing with the top Justice Department officials, Radack went from having been singled out for praise, to being hounded out of the department. Radack got a job in private practice, but after her story appeared in Newsweek, with copies of some of her emails, the Justice Department opened a leak investigation. The U.S. Attorney then opened a criminal investigation. Radack has since become an advocate for whistle-blowers’ rights. But the episode served as a warning to anyone in the government who stood in the way of the so-called, “New Paradigm.” It is unclear to me what sort of investigation, if any, there has been of this case, including of the potential obstruction.

You can certainly understand why members of the administration would speak in code, believing that they were being spied upon, can't you?

This isn't just a fever dream of the liberal left and the libertarian right. Too bad government just passed a law covering the whole thing up. Mayer believes that there will be no prosecutions and that the verdict on these people will be left to history. I wish she was right, at least in the sense that history will be the judge of what all went wrong. The problem is that these fascist zombies keep doing this stuff over and over again and we've just had an eight year training session for the next generation of authoritarian devilspawn.

If history is any guide, if left to nurse their wounds and plan their next assault on the constitution, they are going to be worse than those who preceded them. They always have been up to now. History won't come soon enough to save the country from the next installment of "Conservative Rule."