Thursday, April 23, 2009

UPDATED: Torture Fallout Roundup (excerpts and video)

UPDATE: "Any Indictment of Interrogation Policy Makers Would Face Several Hurdles"(Charlie Savage-NY Times):

Efforts to prosecute the high-level Bush administration officials who created and authorized the interrogation program in 2002 — like Vice President Dick Cheney; the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet; the defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld; and Alberto R. Gonzales, who was then White House counsel — also “would be extremely difficult,” said Eric Posner, a University of Chicago law professor.

It could create a partisan firestorm that Mr. Obama, who has said he wants to concentrate on fixing the economy and on other parts of his agenda, would prefer to avoid for political reasons. And, like the interrogators, the policy makers could argue that government lawyers assured them the program was legal.

“The political officials would say they believed what they were doing was lawful, and a jury could very easily believe that,” Mr. Posner said.

Hillary Clinton, Politico video (00:50).

"Maybe Obama Wants Pressure to Prosecute Torturers" (Craig Crawford):

Either President Barack Obama incompetently allowed the torture debate to get out of hand -- or perhaps he privately wanted to open Pandora's Box but do so without appearing to lead the way.

Whichever it is, the Bush Administration is now in the hot seat and the national mood might well be moving toward supporting high-level prosecutions.

"Dems push for torture hearings, ignoring Obama" (AP via CQ Politics):

Brushing aside the president's suggestions, congressional Democrats pushed ahead firmly on Wednesday toward investigations into the Bush administration's harsh interrogation of terror suspects including hundreds of instances of waterboarding and other abusive practices.
En route to Iowa Wednesday for an Earth Day event with Obama, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said next steps should be up to the Justice Department, not politicians.

"If somebody knowingly broke the law, that's a determination that will be ultimately made by a legal official, not by the president of the United States, or not by anybody else," he said.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that CIA officers who followed Justice Department policy in the Bush administration will not be prosecuted, but that the evidence will dictate what happens to the officials who authorized or approved the harsh interrogations.

"We'll follow the law wherever that takes us," Holder said. "No one is above the law. So we'll see what happens."

"Inquiry Into Torture Memos Appears Inevitable" (Liz Halloran-NPR):

"Presidents have to come to grips with the sins and crimes of the previous administration," says author Barry Werth, whose book, 31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today, documented President Ford's pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

"Ford just wanted to turn the page, and [Obama adviser] David Axelrod said this administration wanted the same." Werth says. "But that's not how history works."
Conservatives themselves may have pushed Obama to open the door to an investigation of the torture memo authors, argues lawyer Charles Swift.

As a military attorney, Swift represented Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hamdan's challenge of the legality of military commissions used to try detainees.

"This was inevitable, because conservative members of the past administration, most prominently former Vice President Dick Cheney, continue to insist publicly and on television that torture works," says Swift, now in private practice in Seattle.

"They want the fight, and that puts incredible pressure on the Obama administration," says Swift, who puts himself in the "torture doesn't work" camp.
Most want to avoid what would certainly be bitterly partisan congressional hearings. But on one point partisans agree: The president needs to steer clear now.

"If he starts trying to manage this, it's a mistake," says Swift. "Holder has to make it his job."

The attorney general has said he will "follow the law wherever it takes us."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Wednesday said Obama believes that the release of the memos should provide a moment to "reflect, but not a moment for retribution."

But events appear to have moved past the point where the nation can sidestep a true, tough examination of torture and its legal proponents.

By saying he preferred to look forward, Obama extended an olive branch to Bush-era officials, Swift says.

"They took the branch, stripped it and started switching him with it," he says.

"Is Bybee Impeachment Realistic Possibilty?" (CQ Politics):

Rep. Jerrold Nadler and the New York Times' editorial board have come out in favor of impeaching Jay Bybee for his role in preparing some of the Bush administration's interrogation memos.

But actually removing Bybee from his seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remains a remote possibility, predict experts who study judicial impeachment.

"Bush shares blame for torture tactics" (Helen Thomas):

Those Bush-appointed lawyers surely must have known before they sullied the nation that this was not a fraternity hazing session.

Among the Justice Department lawyers named in the memos are Jay S. Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge on the 9th Circuit; John Yoo, back teaching law at the University of California at Berkeley; and Steven Bradbury, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, reportedly job hunting.

They must have known that the U.S. had signed international covenants prohibiting torture which adds up to "cruel, inhuman or degrading'' treatment of captives.

I also blame some members of Congress--especially those on the intelligence committees-- who were privy to state secrets on torture but did nothing.

Why didn't they blow the whistle to protect the country's image and the U.S. Constitution?

Who is going to protect the people against the abuse of power? Not Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, branded the disclosures in the four legal memos as "chilling.'' He has proposed a special commission to look into the many remaining questions.

And did Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld consider themselves above the law when they condoned such practices reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition?

The answer is yes --obviously.

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