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Tilting at Windmills

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April 16, 2009

RELEASING THE TORTURE MEMOS.... There's been consider behind-the-scenes wrangling between the Justice Department and intelligence agencies over the potential release of Bush-era torture memos. It looks like Holder, accountability, and transparency, are going to win.

After a tense internal debate, the Obama administration this afternoon will make public a number of detailed memos describing the harsh interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency against al Qaeda suspects in secret overseas prisons.

The interrogation methods were among the Bush administration's most closely guarded secrets, and today's release will be the most comprehensive public accounting to date of the interrogation program that some senior Obama administration officials have said used illegal torture.

The documents are expected to include Justice Department memos from 2002 and 2005 authorizing the C.I.A. to employ a number of aggressive techniques- including sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and "waterboarding," the near-drowning technique.

Among the anticipated documents are detailed 2005 memos by Stephen G. Bradbury, who as acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel authorized the C.I.A. techniques. The documents have never before been made public, but a story by The New York Times in October 2007 said that the memos gave legal support for using a combination of coercive techniques at the same time and concluded that the C.I.A.'s methods were not "cruel, inhuman or degrading" under international law.

Another document expected to be released this afternoon is a Justice Department memo written August 1, 2002. The memo, written by John C. Yoo and signed by Jay S. Bybee, two Justice Department officials at the time, is a legal authorization for a laundry list of proposed C.I.A. interrogation techniques.

If the NYT report is right, this is a very encouraging development. Intelligence officials, most notably John Brennan at the National Security Council, had reportedly raised "holy hell" over this issue, and urged the White House not to release the memos. The arguments were hardly persuasive.

Of particular interest will be the response from Senate Republicans, who recently vowed to derail administration nominees for key legal positions unless the White House agreed to suppress the torture memos. As Scott Horton reported, "It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration's darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward."

President Obama, apparenrly, isn't playing by the GOP's rules. We'll see what happens.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

Does this tell us anything until we see how heavily redacted the memos are?

I'm extremely pleased, but I think it's a bit early to declare victory.

Posted by: joel on April 16, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Ruth Marcus, maybe Obama isn't so easily rolled after all.

Posted by: Ken in Tenn on April 16, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama, apparenrly, [sic] isn't playing by the GOP's rules.

Good for him. I wish a few Democrats in Congress (Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, I'm looking in your direction) would do the same.

Posted by: David Bailey on April 16, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

We have known for a considerable amount of time that torture was done under the direction of the Bush administration.

These memos will just add further evidence to the arguments that we need to hold our government, not Spain's, accountable for upholding our laws and our agreements to international law.

We do not need a 'truth commission'! We do not need a 'Congressional commission'! What we need is for the Department of Justice to performs its legally obligated tasks of investigating illegalities and prosecuting those who have broken the laws.

To do anything less is to bastardize our American ideals and image! To do anything less makes Obama complicit in the illegalities! Obama took an oath to uphold and defend our Constitution and our laws and he must follow that oath.

Billy Bob Clinton shut down the Iran-Contra legal proceedings that were ongoing when he took office. The result was that a number of assholes, who should have went to prison or at least have been heavily disgraced, ended up in positions in the Bush Criminal Enterprise where they engaged in more criminal behavior.

We need to continue to express outrage until actions are taken by the Obama administration to uphold lawfulness!

Posted by: AngryOldVet on April 16, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

I pray that the administration will hold firm on this and make the release. I also pray that it will further help build more public pressure to start a full-scale investigation of the actions of the Bush administration in shredding the law, international treaties and our Constitution. I am not sanguine it will happen, but if these memos get released, it certainly can't hurt that flow of events.

We all need to communicate with our elected representatives AND the White House to press for a fair and independent investigation of the actions of everyone from Bush, Cheney, Addington and Rumsfeld to Gonzales, Rice, Powell, Feith, Bybee and Yoo. International crimes against humanity appear to have been committed. The International Red Cross has clearly labeled our actions against prisoners as torture. What is criminal is that nothing is yet being done about it.

Posted by: dweb on April 16, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Senate Republicans, who recently vowed to derail administration nominees for key legal positions unless the White House agreed to suppress the torture memos."

Derail nominees? really? That's all your going to offer?

Jeebus, your already obstructing on just about every nominee and legeislation regardless of this issue. F*ck You.

Posted by: oh well on April 16, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Does this tell us anything until we see how heavily redacted the memos are?

I'm extremely pleased, but I think it's a bit early to declare victory.

Agreed. If the memos are released in their entirety (or close to it), then Obama deserves praise. However, if they're heavily redacted, then they're worthless, and Obama deserves criticism.

Posted by: Darius on April 16, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, this is totally meaningless until we see the extent of the redaction.

I would withhold any praise for Obama until we see the final results. Up to this point, he has given every indication that he will never allow the American public to see the full extent of the Bush lawlessness and whether any of these practices are being continued.

By far, Obama's backpedaling on this issue has been the most dramatically disappointing act of his administration. And it many ways, his continuing refusals to allow this information to be made public makes him morally complicit in all of the acts carried out by the Bush administration.

A serious, serious disappointment. It should make every liberal angry.

Posted by: Mike on April 16, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Note to pirates and criminals of various kinds: stomping your feet and blackmailing President Obama is not a good idea. He will finesse you right out of your pants and shoes.


Posted by: Midland on April 16, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

If the roles were reversed, the Republicans would release the information directly to Fox News and they would run every detail in an endless loop for about a month.

Glad to see that Obama has the guts to partially do what the other side would gladly do without a conscience.

Posted by: Mark-NC on April 16, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Twisted is about the only qualifier I have for the likes of Yoo and Bradbury!

I guess for them the rule of law meant the rule of laws they say are ok, laws they want to follow, and laws they create in the canyons of their minds to justify what is in essence lawlessness! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 16, 2009 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if there is any connection between this decision and Spain's decision to drop their case against Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee et. al.

Posted by: Danp on April 16, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

I've got a better idea - Obama sends John Yoo & co. to Spain for an all-expenses paid vacation...

(snicker, snicker)

Posted by: Ohioan on April 16, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that it's a win-win situation to release the memos and then let the Republicans explain why they are fighting so hard to not release them. Let them become the torture party if they want.

Posted by: Jon on April 16, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama, apparenrly, isn't playing by the GOP's rules.

Is that even legal?

Posted by: Monty on April 16, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Also in the news today, Spain has decided *not* to pursue criminal prosecution of Yoo, Bybee, etc.

The administration was in talks, of course, with Spain about this subject. Spain was making noises to the effect that if America would conduct it's own investigation, they wouldn't feel the need to.

Do you suppose there was a sort of deal? Spain backs off if Obama brings the memos into the sunlight?

Posted by: zmulls on April 16, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

danp - uh-oh, you're right, didn't see this bit of news.

Although it seems like the Spanish court hasn't decided yet on the prosecutor's suggestion to drop the case. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Posted by: Ohioan on April 16, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Note to self: Practice best rendition of "The Truth? You can't handle the truth!"

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 16, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

The Cheney/Bush Gang are not only insanely criminal, they're criminally insane. They should be indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to a well padded room for the remainder of their lives.

Posted by: thaddeus horne on April 16, 2009 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I have worked in the criminal law for most of the last 35 years, and one of the most oft-repeated phrases I have heard is along the lines of "everyone else is doing it" or "(name your politician) did it and he didn't get charged." Most folks have some sense that there needs to be fairness in a system for the system to have credibility and acceptance, and thereby effectiveness. Taxing, for one. Criminal justice, for another.
I think also that for the political system and its components to work there needs to be a group of people, typically the ones at "the top" setting a good example -- the argument that moral suasion does indeed have force. We saw the Republicans making this argument during the Clinton era, albeit in odious and extreme ways. Basically, they were right, just as the lefties were when they were making the same arguments during the Nixon and Reagan scandals.
If Obama really wants to set an example for change, he needs to not use convenient amnesia as a way of "moving forward" -- he needs to make the point that, in fact, no one is above the law, and prosecute the Bush torturers and their enablers.
Wouldn't hurt to go after a few bank presidents, too.

Posted by: Greg Worley on April 16, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

GREAT...let the general the public get the outcry then try the criminals...should fun...

Posted by: kevin k on April 16, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Obama to Congressional Republicans:

"In your face, bitches!!!"

Posted by: Curmudgeon on April 16, 2009 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that it would have been reckless for the administration to release memos of this nature before carefully analyzing them and determining that there wouldn't be any real impact on national security. Obama has been in office for less than three months, and the DoJ has has a lot to do (and, given Rethug foot-dragging on confirmations, a dearth of high-level DoJ personnel to do the work); I don't see this as an undue delay. I know, I'd have liked to have seen the memos on Jan. 21 myself, but I don't see any real harm in taking a few months to assess things, as long as the truth comes out by, say, the end of this year.

Posted by: DavidNOE on April 16, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama, apparenrly, [sic] isn't playing by the GOP's rules.

Shorter Obama (in Dubyaese):"Bring 'em on."

In a related story, organizers are preparing to host hundreds of "Geneva Conventions" around the country to protest the Republican party's tacit support of torture.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters around the country are expected to exhort Republican members of congress to renounce the Bush adminstration torture memos.

An unamed official was quoted saying that these protests are being promoted by Air-America adding, that they do not qualify as a "grass roots" movement.

More at 11.

Posted by: Winkandanod on April 16, 2009 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK
In a related story, organizers are preparing to host hundreds of "Geneva Conventions" around the country to protest the Republican party's tacit support of torture.
"Nuremberg Trial Parties", coming soon to a town square near you!

Posted by: G.Kerby on April 16, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Waterboard Cheney.

Ask him anything. Doesn't matter what the question is, just keep it up till his heart gives out.

Posted by: H Norris on April 16, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to point out to many of you that none of what these documents show the Bush Admin did was either illegal or unconstitutional and it is utter idiotic to suggest otherwise.

First the Constitution applies to "We the people of the United States", it doesn't apply to foreign citizens in foreign lands, and the Supreme Court does not have the constitutional authority to expand the Constitution, only apply it.

Finally none of what has been described is in any way torture, including waterboarding, let alone illegal.

Posted by: TruePatriot on April 16, 2009 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to point out to many of you that none of what these documents show the Bush Admin did was either illegal or unconstitutional and it is utter idiotic to suggest otherwise.

First the Constitution applies to "We the people of the United States", it doesn't apply to foreign citizens in foreign lands, and the Supreme Court does not have the constitutional authority to expand the Constitution, only apply it.

Second the 8th Amendment applies to PUNISHMENT, it does not apply to gathering foreign intelligence in foreign lands from foreign citizens.

Finally none of what has been described is in any way torture, including waterboarding, let alone illegal.

Posted by: TruePatriot on April 16, 2009 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

All this what is described in the Memos is not considered torture .Remember this was all to be done to none combatant who attacked this country on sep 11. All you left Nutjobs go and take a look at the big hole in the ground in NY. What i consider torture is stoning Woman to death for infidelity or hacking a hand off for petty theft !go and complain about that . If water boarding one terrorist can save one American life what you think about that ?

Posted by: american patriot on April 16, 2009 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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