Wednesday, June 23, 2004

White House Backs Away from Torture Memo


Today the White House disowned the legal advice of its top people, the Washington Post reports:

President Bush's aides yesterday disavowed an internal Justice Department opinion that torturing terrorism suspects might be legally defensible, saying it had created the false impression that the government was claiming authority to use interrogation techniques barred by international law.

Responding to pressure from Congress and outrage around the world, officials at the White House and the Justice Department derided the August 2002 legal memo on aggressive interrogation tactics, calling parts of it overbroad and irrelevant and saying it would be rewritten.

In a highly unusual repudiation of its department's own work, a senior Justice official and two other high-ranking lawyers said that all legal advice rendered by the department's Office of Legal Counsel on the subject of interrogations will be reviewed.

As part of a public relations offensive, the administration also declassified and released hundreds of pages of internal documents that it said demonstrated that Bush had never authorized torture against detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In doing so, the administration revealed details of the interrogation tactics being used on prisoners, an extraordinary disclosure for an administration that has argued that the release of such information would help the enemy.

However, the Post explains, the Administration still hasn't come clean about all of its interrogation practices:
None of the documents provided by the White House governed practices at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons in Iraq, although some of the ideas approved at least temporarily -- such as stripping prisoners -- would be mirrored in the graphic photos that drew international condemnation and heavy scrutiny of U.S. detention practices. . . .

The documents that were released and the White House briefing focused on military interrogations and left many questions unanswered. Gonzales refused to comment on techniques used by the CIA, beyond saying that they "are lawful and do not constitute torture." He also would not discuss the president's involvement in the deliberations.

And, in a particularly remarkable maneuver, the White House Counsel plans to repudiate himself.
At issue was an Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to Gonzales. A Justice Department official said yesterday that the administration planned to scrap a provision in it opining that interrogators who torture al Qaeda or Taliban captives could be exempt from prosecution under the president's powers as commander in chief. "I don't believe it was necessary," the official said. "The president never asked us to overrule" laws barring torture, he said. Bush has not authorized any interrogations that would employ methods outside the law, he said.

Gonzales said that memo and a related Pentagon memo had been meant to "explore the limits of the legal landscape," and to his knowledge had "never made it to the hands of soldiers in the field, nor to the president." He acknowledged that some of the conclusions were "controversial" and "subject to misinterpretation."

All of this begs the most important question: Why would the White House Counsel have requested such a memo in the first place? Generally speaking, when a superior asks a subordinate to do legal work, there is usually a back and forth about what questions are to be asked and what conclusions the memo is going to reach. That is especially the case when, as in the Bybee memo, the result is a finished product. To say that this memo was simply dropped on Gonzales' lap is ridiculous. Rather, it is more likely that Gonzales, and Bybee, and the rest of the team went over the memo with some care.

The question I have for the White House is, why isn't Gonzales resigning over this? And why hasn't the White House strongly repudiated Bybee, who now sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals? The reason seems clear enough: This wasn't a frolic and detour; Gonzales and Bybee were doing exactly what was asked of them.

Comments: don't understand, Bush's leadership and plain spoken statements have empowered legions of lawyers trapped in a byzantine bureaucracy to free themselves of years of carefull indoctrination. They are now jumping head-first in assisting the war on terror. They are out to prove that the pen is truly mightier than the sword and that a team of governmental lawyers can be just as effective as the elite special forces at work in the battlefield.

Bush's cunningly effective public arguments have lifted their spirits and they now feel free to put forward their own policy papers.

That or they are simply trying to cover their rear as fast as possible by lying through their teeth.

If the media were only 10% more interested in getting to the truth, this administration would have had mass resignations months ago.

A frat-house prank my foot.

One of the best feelings in the world is when you’re hugging a person you love and they hug you back even tighter.
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