Obama & Those Bush Era Legal Skeletons
We are now seven weeks into the Age of Obama and the contrast to the previous eight years is remarkable. The new president has begun to undo some of the more draconian policies of the Bush administration -- the ban on federal stem-cell research funding and obeisance to signing statements went bye-bye this week alone -- but his efforts to clean the national closet of some pretty ugly legal skeletons have seemed tentative at best.
I have made an (uneasy) peace with Obama showing no interest in prosecuting Bush administration perpetrators for their wrongdoing. The president has made it clear that he wants to look forward, but I am having a great deal of trouble processing his apparent reticence over looking back as it applies to airing out many of Bush's secret policies.
Yes, the White House did release nine Bush era Office of Legal Counsel memos last week that endorsed the use of torture and other abuses of power, but I have to agree with the inestimable Dahlia Lithwick when she writes:
"Having inherited an undifferentiated mass of legal 'war on terror' doctrine from the Bush administration's constitutional chop shop, President Obama finds himself in the position of being Bush's Secret-Keeper.
" . . . If President Obama has some better rationale for hiding the markers along the road to torture or eavesdropping from the American people, it's time we heard it. But keeping this information from us for our own good is not an acceptable argument. The most recent OLC memos demonstrate precisely why the last eight years were so extraordinary. The suggestion that we just need to get over it is starting to sound extraordinary, too."
FINDING THE MEANS TO JUSTIFY THE ENDSIt's no secret that the American legal profession is a disgrace, and the conduct of the Bush administration's leading lawyers has further burnished that reputation. It is pretty obvious that the OLC memos written by John Yoo were part of a White House quid pro quo: We want to do thus and such and whatever it takes you are to provide us the legal underpinnings.The results of course, were exercises in junk law, and while Yoo has doggedly defended himself in a series of Wall Stree Journal op-eds and personal appearances, he has seered well clear of explaining the circumstances that led to him writing the memos.Now, under advice of counsel, Yoo has stopped booking appearances, apparently because of the likelihood that he will be skewered in a forthcoming report by Justice's inspector general and may find himself legally liable.I doubt the liability part, but we'll see.
While Yoo could return to a comfy job at the UC Berkeley Law School, two other key players -- former AG Alberto Gonzalez and top Dick Cheney aide David Addington -- have been unable to find employers willing to hold their collectives noses and hire them.
Small satisfaction, but satisfying nonetheless.
WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?The United Nations is one screwed up organization and its investigative reports just don't have the gravitas that they once did, but it is still worth noting that Britain has been condemned in a report for its cooperation with the Bush administration in renditioning terrorism suspects to other countries where they were tortured.
The report makes a key point -- without the cooperation of allies like the U.K., the U.S. could not have made the rendition system work -- and follows by several days
new disclosures about MI5's co-operation in the secret interrogation and torture of Binyam Mohamed, the a British resident recently released from Guantánamo Bay.
Among the other countries identified in the report as being U.K. rendition helpmates are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, Macedonia and Pakistan, while detention centers, some of them notorious CIA "black sites," were located in Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.