Recently in worst. president. ever. Category

Here are the beginning and the end of Jon Perr's excellent piece on Republicans rewriting history to credit Dear Leader W with killing bin Laden:

The only thing more predictable than Americans' jubilation over the killing of Osama Bin Laden is the Republican campaign to give George W. Bush credit for it. [...] Bush, after all, shrugged off Bin Laden's escape after the U.S. failure at Tora Bora by proclaiming, "I truly am not that concerned about him." And it was President Obama who as promised tripled American resources in Afghanistan and authorized unilateral strikes without the permission of Pakistan. [...]

It would have been helpful if President Bush had been worried about Osama Bin Laden when it could have made a difference. Bush, after all, responded to the infamous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (the one Condoleezza Rice later told the 9/11 Commission, "I believe the title was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'") by telling his CIA briefer:

"All right. You've covered your ass, now."

According to one Israeli source years later, it was precisely Bin Laden's ass Bush was focused on. In a review of a 2007 biography of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli paper Ha'aretz included this purported exchange between President Bush and the now-comatose Sharon:

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

Whether that story was apocryphal or not, George W. Bush did not screw Osama Bin Laden in the ass. And, sadly for the Republican propaganda machine, he wasn't responsible for killing him, either.

Blue Gal shows where the GOP's historical revisionism may wind up:

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thrown for a curve

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It's been known for years that the Bush administration willingly spread Curveball's lies in order to invade Iraq--he was a primary source for Colin Powell's "bullshit" UN speech--and now the liar himself has admitted his part in the deception:

"Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right," he [Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball] said. "They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."

A supplementary piece identifies Curveball's lies and their consequences, and Wikipedia is also useful.

John (Wingnuts) Avlon writes about the Obama-Haters' Book Club, observing that "Hating President Obama has become its own industry--and here's a new stat to prove it:"

To date, there have been at least 46 anti-Obama books published. I'm not talking about thoughtful criticisms of his policies, but detailed demonizations of the president. These screeds cannot help but have an impact on the typically low-turnout, high-intensity midterm elections that will take place Tuesday.

By way of comparison, he notes, "At this point in Bush's presidency there were only five anti-W books"--which were of far greater factual accuracy. This multitude of anti-Obama misinformation, writes Avlon, joins with "fear-mongering emails, right wing talk radio and partisan cable news" to explain why "pathetically large numbers of Americans are ready to believe the worst about our president:"

...because of the rise of partisan media, the intensity of the Obama Derangement Syndrome at this stage in his administration may be unprecedented. [...] All this is evidence of an acceleration of the impulse to demonize the duly elected president of the opposite party. We are cannibalizing our body politic. We need to stop this cycle of incitement before it destroys our ability to unite as a nation absent a disaster.

Not everyone, however, wants our nation united around a common purpose. Asking "who" desires such a disconnection (and "why") may lead to interesting discoveries.

As noted in The Nation, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have revised their cost estimate for our Afghanistan and Iraq wars, first detailed in their 2008 book The $3 Trillion War:

"We were grossly conservative," [Stiglitz] said, noting that the number of veterans seeking care from the VA system since October 2001--about 600,000--far exceeds his earlier projection. [...] "I think we would easily be in the $4 trillion range."

The study "American Presidents: Greatest and Worst" (report and overall rank) from Siena College (h/t: Taegan Goddard) places Bush the Lesser as our fifth-worst president ever, noting that "just one year after leaving office, the former president has found himself in the bottom five at 39th rated especially poorly in handling the economy, communication, ability to compromise, foreign policy accomplishments and intelligence." The historians noted that "FDR ranks first in overall accomplishments," making him a much better choice for Mount Rushmore than the media-favored mediocrity of Reagan (who, as #18, is ranked below both recent Democratic presidents: Clinton at #13 and Obama at #15).

Thomas Edsall's review of Karl Rove's Courage and Consequence (from the latest issue of Democracy) has my Quote of the Day with this description of Bush's "staggering record of arrogance, recklessness, and negligence-a record awesome in its consequences:"

Time may have diminished [Rove's] recall of some of the details, but the magnitude of the damage inflicted by the Administration is indelible. [...] ...the real Bush/Rove legacy-the deliberate and relentless polarization of the electorate-lends itself to an ideologically rigid style of governing, a style that engenders the kind of missteps in the face of crisis characteristic of the disastrous years chronicled in these pages.

Andy Worthington's "Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues" (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) provides a good overview of the four-year-old Gitmo "suicides" scandal, and is helping to keep these Bush-era war crimes in the public eye. However much the public might prefer to avert their gaze, this is something--as I discussed earlier this year--that Obama must address in order to avoid becoming complicit in the scandal.

Some GOP politician offered Obama some unsolicited advice about how he should treat the BP disaster:

"What he needed was sort of a bullhorn moment where he went to the Gulf and said we're going to get this right. I'm going to get on it."

Jed Lewison has some great snark over at DailyKos, writing that "President Obama just needs to handle the BP spill like George W. Bush handled 9/11. Can you imagine how great it would be?"

President Obama would put on some waders and step into oil-ravaged Louisiana wetland. And then he'd grab a bullhorn and tell the assembled fishermen that he could hear them, and the whole world could hear them, and that we're going to get the people who spilled all this oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

And then we'd go and attack Venezuela or something. Just like Bush. It'd be so fucking great.

Yeah, I'm writing about the Busheviks again. It's dismaying to keep adding entries to the worst president ever category, but scandals from the notoriously secretive Bush administration are still being unearthed. The latest offense to be uncovered is from Sunday's Physicians for Human Rights report entitled "Experiments in Torture" (PDF), noting the Bushies' not-quite-Mengele-but-too-close-for-comfort medical experimentation on detainees.

PHR writes that "The Experiments in Torture report is the result of six months of investigation and the review of thousands of pages of government documents. It has been peer-reviewed by outside experts in the medical, biomedical and research ethics fields, legal experts, health professionals and experts in the treatment of torture survivors." Here are some excerpts from the report:

This current report provides evidence that in addition to medical complicity in torture, health professionals participated in research and experimentation on detainees in US custody. (p. 3)

Even the claim of systematic medical monitoring in the name of making "enhanced" intelligence techniques (EITs) "safe, legal, and effective" is contradicted by official monitoring policy, which failed to adequately take into account the mental harm caused by the tactics, among other factors. In fact, the "enhanced" interrogation techniques are premised on the infliction of mental harm, so the concept of studying them to make them more effective is ethically impermissible, and studying them to make them "safer" is logically untenable -- as the techniques are unsafe by design. (p. 6)

In a circular application of science to law, and in violation of the ethical principles of both professions, experimentation relating to the EITs apparently was used by Bush administration lawyers in an effort to protect US personnel engaged in the EIP from potential legal liability for their acts. OLC lawyers argued that efforts to refine and improve the application of techniques would provide a potential "good faith" defense for interrogators against charges of torture. [...] But in attempting to legitimize the crime of torture, the lawyers left those who authorized and performed the research open to the charge of illegal human experimentation. Even if medical monitoring was dutifully applied for the intended purpose of mitigating the infliction of severe physical and psychological harm, the medical monitoring itself, because it generated research that was applied to future application of the techniques and as part of efforts to mitigate legal liability, could be considered a major breach of professional medical ethics, and could constitute a crime. (pp. 11-12)

This program engaged in violations of the detainees' health and human rights that are explicitly prohibited by international human rights agreements to which the United States is party --including the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (p. 15)

Is PHR's work the definitive and conclusive exposé on this subject? No, and we can't expect it to be. This NYT editorial states:

The report from the physicians' group [PHR] does not prove its case beyond doubt -- how could it when so much is still hidden? -- but it rightly calls on the White House and Congress to investigate the potentially illegal human experimentation and whether those who authorized or conducted it should be punished. Those are just two of the many unresolved issues from the Bush administration that President Obama and Congressional leaders have swept under the carpet.

Renouncing the Busheviks' illegal and immoral behavior is the absolute minimum acceptable response from the Obama administration. If Obama wants to truly earn that Nobel Peace Prize, a thorough repudiation is also required. PHR, in fact "demands that President Obama direct the Attorney General to investigate these allegations, and if a crime is found to have been committed, prosecute those responsible."

Now that Bush has admitted approval of his administration's despicable waterboarding--after Cheney said much the same thing--there should be an independent investigation into their involvement in the war crimes at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the various black sites, and who knows where else.

According to Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, part of the president's duties is to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

Obama, you're not doing that part of your job very well.


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The reality-based blogosphere is fairly well appalled, and here is a sampling of the voices calling for justice:

Jeff Kaye explains at FDL (here and here) that it's a "vital necessity that investigations take place:"

...hopefully PHR's report will provide the added impetus to push this issue to the forefront of a tired, confused, and frightened country, a country misled in so many ways over the past decade, and now forced to confront the full panoply of evil that has resulted from having a portion of the government held apart from public scrutiny. That must end now.

Adam Serwer (American Prospect) notes that "by refusing to investigate torture, the current administration is fully implicated in establishing a de-facto legal immunity for government officials when they break the law in the name of security."

PHR report co-author Stephen Soldz notes at AlterNet that PHR "confirms previous suspicions and provides the first strong evidence that the CIA was indeed engaged in illegal and unethical research on detainees in its custody:"

The report, the result of six months of detailed work [...] points to several instances where medical personnel -- physicians and psychologists -- monitored the detailed administration of torture techniques and the effects upon those being abused. The resultant knowledge was then used both as a legal rationale for the use of the techniques and to refine these abusive techniques, allegedly in order to make them safer.

Dan Froomkin observes the outrage over Bush's admission, and quotes retired Brigadier General David Irvine:

"When [Bush] decided to [torture detainees] the first time, he launched the nation down a disastrous road, and we will continue to pay dearly for the damage his decision has caused. We are seen by the rest of the world as having abandoned our commitment to international law. We have forfeited enormous amounts of moral leadership as the world's sole remaining superpower. And it puts American troops in greater danger -- and unnecessary danger."

Andrew Sullivan has "one lingering question about all this" [actually several]:

Since it appears that these refinements of torture were not ad hoc but part of a systemic effort, where was the experimentation taking place? How many doctors and psychologists were involved? Was there a separate facility, as at Bagram, for experimenting with torture? Did these experiments ever go wrong?

Could prisoners, for example, accidentally suffocate during experimentation? And what would the US government do if such a thing occurred? One thing is clear: we will never find out from the Obama administration. They have been as diligent in protecting the government's record of torture as Bush and Cheney were. That kind of accountability and transparency is not change Obama ever believed in.

Glenn Greenwald observes that "Obama is not only protecting repugnant crimes and the criminals who committed them, but also ensuring that they will occur again:"

An added benefit: by so vigilantly protecting Bush crimes from investigation and refusing to apply the law, Obama significantly increases the chances that should he break the law [...] he, too, will be bestowed with imperial immunity for his actions. It's a never-ending, mutually beneficial agreement among Presidents and their parties to agree to place Presidents above the law.

Jason Leopold's "Human Experimentation at the Heart of Bush Administration's Torture Program" (TruthOut) quotes Obama as taking a bold stand in favor of accountability:

"We have to acknowledge that those past human rights abuses existed. We can't go forward without looking backwards and understanding that that was an enormous problem."

Oh, never mind...he was talking about Indonesian human-rights violations. The "Bush blind spot" is alive and well, and his presidency will apparently be held to a lower standard by Democrats as well as Republicans.

...or are you just glad to see me?

I've been seeking to remedy my relative lack of poetry for quite some time now, and thought that I had best do so before National Poetry Month (website, Wikipedia) came to a close. Today is Poem in Your Pocket day:

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There are forty downloadable poems here, and a nice (although not quite pocket-sized) hardcover anthology called Poem in Your Pocket:

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I decided to share a favorite poem with you all, but rather than an obvious choice like Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn," Henley's "Invictus," Tennyson's "Ulysses," or Ginsburg's "Howl" (which I wrote about here), I'm going to go with the work of a more outré wordsmith: the former Decider, George W Bush:

MAKE THE PIE HIGHER
by George W. Bush

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen and uncertainty
and potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the Internet become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?

They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish can coexist.
Families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream.

Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher! Make the pie higher!

Charles Simic's optimism in "Confessions of a Poet Laureate" (NYRB) is refreshing, writing that "In a country in which schools seem to teach less literature every year, where fewer people read books and ignorance reigns supreme regarding most issues, poetry is read and written more than ever:"

Unlike my predecessors who had a lot of clever ideas, like having a poetry anthology next to the Gideon Bible in every motel room in America (Joseph Brodsky), or urging daily newspapers to print poems (Robert Pinsky), I felt things were just fine. As far as I could see, there was more poetry being read and written than at any time in our history. [...] If I were asked to sum up my experience as the poet laureate, I would say, there's nothing more interesting or more hopeful about America than its poetry.

Bush's book

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Pretzeldunce Chimpy McFlightsuit has a memoir coming out--on a week after Election Day, no less:

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The title isn't objectionable, but I would have chosen a different photo:

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Update: I changed the title to "INDECISION POINT" and submitted it to HuffPo:
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In a follow-up to last week's story about the suspicious "suicides" at Gitmo, Glenn Greenwald quoted General Taguba's 2008 remarks that "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." Greenwald continues with the observation that "They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the U.S. has long been a party:"

Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that -- at most -- they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important "state secrets," thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.

Andrew Sullivan remarked that "Most Americans simply don't or won't believe it, or they simply push it out of their consciousness and resort to irrelevant discussions of ticking time-bombs, which have nothing to do with what Bush and Cheney authorized:"

The Democrats are totally pathetic as they always, always are. Obama is a coward and Holder a tool. They too believe Americans cannot handle the truth. But the longer Obama and Holder kick this can down the road, or continue to cover it up, the sooner the responsibility for it will cling to them too.

President Obama: if you do not open up an investigation into the Gitmo "suicides", you are yourself guilty of reneging on the Geneva Conventions. Your wily pragmatism on this is not wily at all. It is, in fact, criminal.

Of course, there will be no independent investigator. Fishing expeditions about extramarital affairs are much more important to the "honor and integrity" of the Oval Office than getting to the bottom of torture, murder, and war crimes.

In what I consider to be the first must-read article of the year, Harper's Scott Horton exposes the circumstances behind the suspicious deaths of three Gitmo detainees in 2006:

Late in the evening on June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. [...]

As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Camp America to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths "suicides." In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. "I believe this was not an act of desperation," he said, "but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves.

Was the Pentagon telling the truth? Not so much:

The official story of the prisoners' deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report--a reconstruction of the events--was simply unbelievable. [...] Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper's Magazine that strongly suggests that the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards' accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.

Summarizing the details of the three deaths which were presented in great detail by Horton, conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan opines that:

There are now credible accounts that, far from being suicides, these deaths were either the result of serious negligence in treatment of prisoners under "enhanced interrogation" or that, quite simply, they were tortured so badly in what appears to be a secret Gitmo black site that they died. Their deaths were then covered up and faked as suicides.

Aghast at the "pre-meditated lies" put into place to protect the White House culprits, Sullivan observes that "[t]hey are attempts to lie about some of the worst crimes committed by a president and vice-president of the United States in history:"

Anyone with their eyes open and their mind not closed knows this somewhere deep inside. And the only reason we do not know more about this is because of the criminal cover-up under the Bush administration and the enraging refusal of the Obama administration to do the right thing and open all of it to sunlight.

I'm going to quote Sullivan's conclusion at length, because he makes his point exceedingly well:

This deserves to be the biggest story on the torture issue since Abu Ghraib - because it threatens to tear down the wall of lies and denial that have protected Americans from facing what the last administration actually did. [...]

This case deserves a thorough and complete and exhaustive inquiry and investigation. I no longer believe that any entity in the US government can be trusted with such a task. The investigation must be able to go right to the very top of the torture program and do so with no political influence whatsoever. The investigation must be conducted by an independent prosecutor - Patrick Fitzgerald comes to mind - or by the Red Cross or an international body. It must go up the chain of command to the very top to find the real people who are responsible for this war crime and three homicides.

Among those who need to be subpoenaed are the former president and vice-president of the United States.

To protect Bush and Cheney from punishment, GOP partisans must claim that--when it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors--a blowjob is more serious than torture and murder, and lying about a blowjob is worse than lying about war crimes.

Can they do so with a straight face? Or a clean conscience?

restoring history

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The story of those millions of thought-missing-but-now-recovered Bush-era emails (see here and here for the backstory) is told here at Mother Jones. Nick Baumann writes, "Some of the recovered messages could potentially shed light on controversies such as the lead-up to the Iraq war and the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA identity:"

In perhaps the biggest win for the plaintiffs, the restoration effort will not be limited solely to the records that were the subject of the lawsuit. The Obama administration has offered to recover presidential records--including those from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney--that the court had ruled the plaintiffs had no legal standing to sue over.

[...]

The White House has agreed to continue to hand over documents detailing archiving problems during the Bush administration. The settlement also includes an agreement to release a joint document outlining the email archiving steps the Obama administration has taken to ensure that it won't repeat the Bush administration's mistakes.

The Bush administration's archiving mistakes might appear minor, but not if they shed shed some long-overdue light on more of their high crimes and misdemeanors. The press release from co-plaintiff CREW states that "Documents produced so far show the Bush White House was lying when officials claimed no emails were ever missing. The record now proves incontrovertibly that Bush administration officials deliberately ignored the problem and, in fact, knowingly allowed it to worsen:"

Melanie Sloan, CREW's Executive Director, said, "We may never know exactly what happened to all the missing emails, and which Bush administration officials were involved in the coverup, but we do know the American public never got the full story." [...] Sloan continued, "The Obama administration, which inherited the lawsuits and the dysfunctional White House email system, has done a terrific job straightening out the mess. Thanks to the Obama White House, a critical part of our nation's missing history will be restored. This is yet another example of the administration living up to its promise of accountability and transparency."

Much more, however, remains to be done.

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"We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term."
(former Bush press flack Dana Perino on Hannity, Fox News, 24 November 2009)

(h/t: Media Matters, Think Progress, Washington Monthly)

FDL's Teddy Partridge deserves a huge thumbs-up for this great smackdown suggesting that "When you next hear Liz Cheney, or her Dick, spew nonsense about "keeping America safe" this is what you can yell at your teevee:"

Fifty-Two Days.

That's how many more days Barack Obama's "false narratives" have kept America safe than the Bush team. Sure, Bush & Cheney would like Americans to start their safety record on 9/12/01, but it doesn't really work that way. An Administration's entire opus counts.

[...]

So when Dick Cheney says this President is "dithering" or when MItt Romney says he's "weakening America" or when the GOP wails that he's "betraying our allies" let's remind them. Barack Obama has kept America safe fifty-two days longer than George W Bush did, as of today, 11/01/09.

Because when it comes to the death of 2,993 people on 9/11/01, there are no mulligans. No do-overs, really, on keeping America safe. They can't call backsies. Bush and Cheney don't get to re-set the clock and say, "We kept America safe [afterwards]."

"From then on" is not a safety metric.

"Well... not counting 9/11″ doesn't cut it.

They didn't keep America safe. Why Americans never held them accountable I shall never understand. How they managed to win re-election on a platform of "keeping America safe" boggles the mind.

But one thing the Bush/Cheney cabal can never now deny: this guy Americans elected to succeed their incompetent criminal enterprise, this President we have now? This new fellow? He has kept us safer than they did.

By fifty-two days.

And counting.

Wow. Just...wow.

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Much ink has been spilled over Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, but the most inane remark belongs to Sean Hannity:

I would've given it to George Bush.

That sort of breathtaking ridiculousness brought to mind this bit of incongruous iconography:

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(Larry Downing, Reuters)

Aside from that, I'm speechless.

Barry Ritholtz's Big Picture features a guest column by libertarian Doug Casey wondering whether George W. Bush--or Bush the Lesser, if you prefer--is "The Worst President in History." Casey observes that Bush was a "disastrous" president and a "strong contender" for the title, but he's hesitant to crown Bush the worst president ever. After assembling an eighteen-point list of Bush's most memorable failures, Casey writes, "I suspect he'll just fade away as a non-entity, recognized as an embarrassment:"

Those who once supported him will, at least if they have any circumspection and intellectual honesty, feel shame at how dim they were to have been duped by a nobody.

The worst shame of Bush -- worse than the spending, the new agencies, the torture, or the wars -- is that he used so much pro-liberty and pro-free-market rhetoric in the very process of destroying those institutions.

You mean that chanting "USA! USA!" didn't transform PretzelDunce Chimpy McFlightsuit into the most supremely patriotic Dear Leader ever to grace God's Own Party? That illegal spying on Americans--not to mention torturing and murdering detainees--didn't really make us secure? That blowing the Clinton surplus on tax cuts for the rich and ill-advised wars didn't strengthen our economy? That Orwellian phrases such as "fair and balanced," "mission accomplished," and "compassionate conservatism" obscure reality instead of describing it?

I'm shocked, shocked to find out that deceit was going on in the Bush White House!

Bush Six

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Andy Worthington writes at AlterNet about the continuing efforts of Baltasar Garzón in "Spanish Judge Resumes Torture Case Against Six Senior Bush Lawyers." (Back in April, I mentioned his laudable persistence against the Bush Six; may his pursuit serve the goal of justice.)

About a week and a half ago, details of former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's upcoming book revealed that he felt pressured into manipulating the infamous color-coded terror alert levels to support Bush's re-election efforts in 2004. Marc Ambinder wrote something at The Atlantic for which he was justifiably flamed:

Journalists, including myself, were very skeptical when anti-Bush liberals insisted that what Ridge now says is true, was true. We were wrong. Our skepticism about the activists' conclusions was warranted because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence

He was justifiably criticized throughout the blogosphere for attacking "anti-Bush liberals'...gut hatred for Bush." Paul Krugman, for example, noted that author Ron Suskind:

" revealed many of the national-security scandals very early in the game -- and was discounted not because his reporting was weak, but because it was considered unreasonable to suggest that what was actually happening was indeed happening."

...by 2004 the Bush administration already had an extensive record in many areas where fact-checking was easy, from budget policy to environmental policy. And it was clear from any serious analysis of that record that the Bush people consistently relied on lies and misinformation to sell their policies, consistently abused power for political gain.

Media skepticism was, when it occurred at all, misplaced--it was aimed in the wrong direction. Bush's conclusions--not activists'--should have received greater skepticism, as they certainly merited it. Krugman notes that "it's really sad that those who missed the obvious, who failed to see what was right in front of their noses, still consider themselves superior to those who got it right." Ambinder wrote in a follow-up--something of a mea culpa--that "I still think that some journalists were right to be skeptical of the doubters at the time. I think that some journalists were correct to question how they arrived at the beliefs they arrived at:"

"Gut hatred" is way too strong a term -- it's the wrong term -- to describe why liberals doubted the fundamental capacity of the White House to be honest about anything. It was ideological and based on their intepretation of a pattern of facts that, in retrospect, seems much more reasonable than it did.

Later, Ambinder corrected the original story somewhat, but added the claim that "[m]any of the loudest voices were reflexively anti-Bush." Counting myself as one of those voices, I agree with Krugman's response that "reflexively" is another overstatement:

Bear in mind that by the time the terror alert controversy arose in 2004, we had already seen two tax cuts sold on massively, easily documented false pretenses; a war launched with constant innuendo about a Saddam-Osama link that was clearly false, and with claims about WMDs that were clearly shaky from the beginning and had proved to be entirely without foundation. We'd also seen vast, well-documented dishonesty and politicization on environmental policy. Oh, and Abu Ghraib was already public knowledge.

Given all that, it made complete sense to distrust anything the Bush administration said. That wasn't reflexive, it was rational.

As noted in great detail by MediaMatters, the media "dismissed Bush terror alert skeptics as paranoid conspiracy theorists" Media outlets were filled with assertions of "cynicism and paranoia," alleging belief in "conspiracy theories" that were supposedly "the height of paranoia," while Tucker Carlson claimed that "what [liberals] really need is psychological help." Those of us who pointed out the Bush administration's numerous lies were automatically dismissed at the time--and even accused of pathologies such as "Bush Derangement Syndrome" by the conservative pundits who rule the mainstream media op-ed pages.

If only we as a nation had been willing to face reality in 2004--or even better, in 2000--who knows how much better shape we'd be in now?

The ACLU writes that "While the version made public today still contains heavy redactions, it does include newly unredacted sections and details of serious detainee abuse in CIA custody that were previously unknown." Time's Michael Scherer has "Five Important Revelations" about the documents, noting that "2004 report by the CIA Inspector General (CIA IG) that is highly critical of the CIA's enhanced interrogation program." Section 221 of the report notes that:

"The EITs [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] used by the Agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] Program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights." (p. 91)

In you're not interested in reading the still-highly-redacted full report, Glenn Greenwald has a summary of "What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report" that includes the CIA's greatest hits: mock executions, threats made with firearms and power tools, threats of strangulation, threats to rape female family members and "kill your children." (Keep in mind that some detainees were actually tortured to death, so these threats were not always idle ones.) Greenwald's words to those who "blithely dismiss" these crimes are worth quoting at length:

(1) The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle -- all things that we have always condemend as "torture" and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies ("torture means. . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering . . .") -- reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.

(2) As I wrote rather clearly, numerous detainees died in U.S. custody, often as a direct result of our "interrogation methods." Those who doubt that can read the details here and here. Those claiming there was no physical harm are simply lying -- death qualifies as "physical harm" -- and those who oppose prosecutions are advocating that the people responsible literally be allowed to get away with murder.

The ABC News article "Deaths, Missing Detainees Still Blacked Out in New CIA Report" observes that "Of the 109 pages in the 2004 report, 36 were completely blacked out in the version made public Monday, and another 30 were substantially redacted for "national security" reasons." Scott Horton writes in "Seven Points on the CIA Report" that the redactions clearly indicate that he trail hasn't been cleared all the way to the top of the trail: if not the White House, then at least Darth Cheney's undisclosed location. The NYT article "Report Shows Tight CIA Control on Interrogations" observes that:

Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program's parameters but dictated every facet of a detainee's daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an hour-by-hour basis. From their Washington offices, they obsessed over the smallest details... [...] The detainee "finds himself in the complete control of Americans; the procedures he is subjected to are precise, quiet and almost clinical," noted one document.

The Rude Pundit notes that we still know that torture didn't work. How can we tell?

If there was a single, demonstrable instance of a correlation between threatening to power drill the nutsack of Abu al-Fuckingbadguywithamoustache and the prevention of a terrorist attack, that shit would be a new book in the right-wing Bible.

Amen to that--now bring on the special prosecutor already!

As it turns out, the secret program that Dick Cheney (illegally) kept hidden from Congress turns out to have been an assassination ring. The Mark Mazzetti/Scott Shane NYT article "CIA Had Plan to Assassinate Qaeda Leaders" notes that although the CIA "never proposed a specific operation to the White House for approval,"

Panetta scuttled the program...shortly after the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center recently informed him of its existence. The next day, June 24, he told Congressional Intelligence Committees that the plan had been hidden from lawmakers, initially at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Seymour Hersh broke the news (see this RawStory article by Muriel Kane) back in March, talking about "an executive assassination ring...in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. ... Congress has no oversight of it." Hersh didn't have enough details yet to make a full case, and I refrained from speculating at the time for fear of buying into a half-baked conspiracy theory. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann gave the Hersh revelation some airtime, as you can see in this clip:

[click here if you don't see Darth Cheney...]

(I had forgotten about the Hersh revelation until Ron Chusid mentioned it at Liberal Values, so at big old h/t to him.) Chusid also noted the reciprocity problem, which is probably one of the reasons the program never got off the ground:

It would be interesting to see the extent of their hit list, as well as the locations they were operating. I can't imagine conservative (or other Americans) tolerating it if a European country was sending operatives into the United States to assassinate suspected enemies.

When the "Unclassified Report on the President's Surveillance Program"was released on Friday, I knew that many bloggers--myself included--were about to spend a good deal of time researching the latest news in the ongoing drama that was the Bush-era domestic spying imbroglio. Lichtblau and Risen wrote in "US Wiretapping of Limited Value, Officials Report" that Bush's spying program was "of limited value," and that its "effectiveness in fighting terrorism was unclear:"

The report found that the secrecy surrounding the program may have limited its effectiveness. At the C.I.A., it said, so few working-level officers were allowed to know about the program that the agency often did not make full use of the leads the wiretapping generated, and intelligence leads that came from the wiretapping operation were often "vague or without context," the report said.

The findings raise questions about assertions from Mr. Bush and his most senior advisers that the warrantless wiretapping program was essential in stopping terrorist attacks.

Jack Balkin summarized the Bushies' doctored-intelligence mentality in "The IG Report and the Horse That is Already Out of the Barn Door:"

...the Bush Administration used an illegal program that wasn't effective, and when the public found out, it repeatedly used this ineffective program to scare Congress into passing laws that legitimated many of its illegal practices and gave the intelligence agencies greater leeway with less oversight.

Marcy "emptywheel" Wheeler notes "FISA's 15-Day Exemption" at FDL, writing that the Bushies can't even keep their timeline of excuses straight:

Yoo's analysis is not just dead wrong because FISA clearly contemplates its application even during wartime. But it's even worse because during this particular wartime situation, the Administration had already used that 15-day exemption period as it debated what and how to implement its warrantless wiretap program.

The Administration showed, by its actions, that it knew the AUMF didn't trump FISA. But then it proceeded to base its entire wiretap program on that very assumption.

Wheeler also notes the curious use of the passive voice in the report's description of the sign-this-now visit to Ashcroft's hospital room:

According to notes from Ashcroft's FBI security detail, at 6:20 PM that evening Card called the hospital and spoke with an agent in Ashcroft's security detail, advising him that President Bush would be calling shortly to speak with Ashcroft. Ashcroft's wife told the agent that Ashcroft would not accept the call. Ten minutes later, the agent called Ashcroft's Chief of Staff David Ayres at DOJ to request that Ayres speak with Card about the President's intention to call Ashcroft. The agent conveyed to Ayres Mrs. Ashcroft's desire that no calls be made to Ashcroft for another day or two. However, at 6:5 PM, Card and the President called the hospital and, according to the agent's notes, "insisted on speaking [with Attorney General Ashcroft]." According to the agent's notes, Mrs. Ashcroft took the call from Card and the President and was informed that Gonzales and Card were coming to the hospital to see Ashcroft regarding a matter involving national security. [emphasis via emptywheel]

Evidently, they don't want to come right out and say that Bush ordered the visit--which, as the report mentions, took place three weeks before Ashcroft's doctor cleared him to return to the job. That point should also be investigated. Salon's Glenn Greenwald opined that "The new Report on illegal spying is not a real investigation." Greenwald decried the "rampant and blatant...lawlessness that pervaded the Bush administration," and continues that last year's FSA Amendments Act retroactively legalizing that lawlessness "remains the single most compelling evidence of how ludicrously broken and corrupt our political class is on a very bipartisan basis:"

George Bush gets caught red-handed breaking long-standing laws in how he spies on Americans. The "opposition party" which controls the Congress not only blocks any investigations and attempts to impose accountability. Far worse, they proceed to legalize the very criminal programs that were exposed and to vest even greater surveillance powers in the very administration that got caught deliberately breaking the law. [emphasis in original]

Obama deserves criticism for his part in this--conservatives will claim he's wrong because he's a Democrat, but liberals must be the principled ones who recognize crimes and abuses of authority no matter who commits them.

In addition to the report, the NYT's Scott Shane reported in "Cheney Is Linked to Concealment of CIA Project" that CIA Director Leon Panetta dropped a minor bombshell on the Senate and House intelligence committees: "The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney." In "Cheney Ordered Concealment," Washington Monthly's Steve Benen adds this note:

Postscript: As for the recent "debate" about Speaker Pelosi's not-so-scandalous suggestion that the CIA is not always forthcoming with lawmakers, Republicans can send their apologies to Office of the Speaker, H-232, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 20515.

In more positive news, AG Eric Holder hinted that investigations in Bush's torture regime may be forthcoming. Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reported in "Independent's Day" that "Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do:"

While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. "I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president's agenda," he says. "But that can't be a part of my decision."

Glenn Greenwald suggested in "The Holder Trial Balloon: Abu Ghraib redux" that the Holder leak is "a 'trial balloon' to gauge public reaction," and that any investigation "targeting low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy-makers from prosecution" would be worse than no investigation at all:

That's true not only because it would replicate the disgraceful whitewashing of the Abu Ghraib prosecutions. It would do that, but even worse, it would bolster the principal instrument of executive lawlessness -- the Beltway orthodoxy that any time a President can find a low-level DOJ functionary to authorize what he wants to do, then it is, by definition, "legal" and he's immune from prosecution when he does it, no matter how blatantly criminal it is.

In "Reluctantly Looking Backwards," Steve Benen notes the inconsistencies in Bush-protectors circling the wagons around his disastrous legacy:

America's image in the world was undermined by Bush/Cheney scandals. Holding officials responsible for abuses and possible crimes doesn't make the United States look worse; it makes us look better. Mature, credible, transparent democracies don't ignore official wrongdoing for fear of public embarrassment. [...] That some officials even find this basic concept controversial is depressing.

I wonder...

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...if the average person had previously been exposed to any of these facts about waterboarding, let alone on the comics page:

doonesbury

It's a lesson I should have learned by now: don't write a post on national security stories until making use of Glenn Greenwald's excellent research. Case in point: the latest NSA revelations, which Greenwald analyzes with his usual incisiveness:

Every time new revelations of illegal government spying arise, the same exact pattern repeats itself:

(1) euphemisms are invented to obscure its illegality ("overcollection"; "circumvented legal guidelines"; "overstepped its authority"; "improperly obtained");

(2) assurances are issued that it was all strictly unintentional and caused by innocent procedural errors that are now being fixed;

(3) the very same members of Congress who abdicate their oversight responsibilities and endlessly endorse expanded surveillance powers in the face of warnings of inevitable abuses (Jay Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, "Kit" Bond, Jane Harman) righteously announce how "troubled" they are and vow to hold hearings and take steps to end the abuses, none of which ever materialize;

(4) nobody is ever held accountable in any way and no new oversight mechanisms are implemented;

(5) Congress endorses new, expanded domestic surveillance powers; and then:

(6) new revelations of illegal government spying emerge and the process repeats itself, beginning with step (1).

Greenwald asks, "If that isn't the picture of a rampant, lawless Surveillance State, what is?" and the answer isn't a pretty one for Democratic partisans who wish that only Republicans were guilty of such perfidy.

Risen and Lichtblau have another exposé of NSA spying here at the NYT, where they note "concerns in Congress about the agency's ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis:"

Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans' e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation. [emphasis added]

[...]

The N.S.A. is believed to have gone beyond legal boundaries designed to protect Americans in about 8 to 10 separate court orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to three intelligence officials who spoke anonymously because disclosing such information is illegal. Because each court order could single out hundreds or even thousands of phone numbers or e-mail addresses, the number of individual communications that were improperly collected could number in the millions, officials said.

Marc Ambinder has more at The Atlantic about the NSA's "Pinwale" database, Kevin Bankston has a good summary at EFF, and ThinkProgress notes that one analyst was investigated for spying on Bill Clinton's personal email.

Although conservatives claim to champion fiscal responsibility, the reality is somewhat different. David Leonhardt's NYT article "America's Sea of Red Ink Was Years in the Making" shows how their ire at our current economic situation is somewhat misplaced:

Obama's agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying. [...] About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama's agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

Despite GOP complaints about the deficit, Leonhardt notes that "Republicans favor extending all the Bush tax cuts, which will send the deficit higher." This graph is particularly telling:

20090611-deficit.gif

H/t: Jack Balkin at Balkinization, who observes the Bush administration's "noxious combination of incompetence, arrogance, hubris, and ideological zeal:"

The Bush tax cuts were primarily targeted to benefit the wealthiest Americans, and exacerbated a growing inequality of wealth in the United States. The Iraq War was a war of choice, justified by false claims of weapons of mass destruction and insinuations of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It proved to be a foreign policy disaster and an enormous waste of money which we must still shoulder. Deregulatory financial policies were unwise and unsound and helped push us toward the current Great Recession.

All in all, it is one of the most remarkable displays of ineptitude, greed, and corruption in American history. And now that they have run the country into the ground, President Bush's party, now thankfully out of power, is blaming the party that succeeded them, the Democrats, for the baleful effects of deficit spending. Colossal ineptitude is being followed by equally colossal chutzpah.

Sully concurs:

It is not Obama's debt - or, rather, he owns about 10 percent of it. It's Bush's. And like everything Bush did, he left the wreckage for others to handle after he left the stage. And the bribing, war-making, spending and borrowing didn't even win him any durable popularity. They sold this country, its reputation and its treasure for a one-off re-election.

He follows up here as well, noting the inevitable tax increases:

The magnitude of the damage Bush did is still amazing. But when those tax increases come, they need to have his name attached to them. He made them inevitable; and deserves to go down in history for them.

Dick Cheney should also go down in history for his participation in Bush's budget-busting agenda. I wonder why, not that he's emerged from his undisclosed location to attack Obama, no one in the mainstream corporate media has asked him about his earlier statement that "deficits don't matter." (Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 291)

I guess deficits only matter when they're being blamed on Democrats.

disbar them

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DisbarTortureLawyers.com (h/t: TalkLeft) is recommending disbarment as a suitable punishment for the Bush torture lawyers, stating that "Attorneys who advised, counseled, consulted and supported those memoranda [...] must be held accountable:"

We have asked the respective state bars to revoke the licenses of the foregoing attorneys for moral turpitude. They failed to show "respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others," and intentionally or recklessly failed to act competently, all in violation of legal Rules of Professional Conduct. Several attorneys failed to adequately supervise the work of subordinate attorneys and forwarded shoddy legal memoranda regarding the definition of torture to the White House and Department of Defense. These lawyers further acted incompetently by advising superiors to approve interrogation techniques that were in violation of U.S. and international law. They failed to support or uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the laws of the United States, and to maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers, all in violation state bar rules.

Their list overlaps substantially with the 13 people who made torture possible, which is, of course, why they're so notorious:

Jay Bybee
Douglas Feith
David Addington
Stephen Bradbury
Michael Chertoff
John Ashcroft
Timothy Flanigan
Alice Fisher
Michael Haynes
John Yoo
Alberto Gonzales
Michael Mukasey

Decisively ending Bush's torture regime by disbarring these lawyers would remove significant recruiting tools for terrorists, which have "cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives." That should matter to everyone who really supports our troops, and values their sacrifices--right? (Wasn't there just a holiday about that?)

Talk-radio host Matthew Erich "Mancow" Muller (website, Wikipedia) was waterboarded on air today as a publicity stunt (see pieces at AlterNet and ThinkProgress), and lasted all of six seconds before throwing in the towel and admitting that waterboarding is "absolutely torture." Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors and Swopa at FDL noted the connection to blowhard bullyboy Sean Hannity--who volunteered to be waterboarded for charity and then, well, didn't have the stones to follow through. As Swopa wrote, "there's a point to calling the bluff of the posturing phonies who advocate torture publicly:"

As anyone familiar with framing understands, the purpose of their argument is to shore up the right-wing pose of being morally self-assured tough guys who are willing to do what it takes to defend America.

The truth, which isn't brought up nearly often enough in the cable back-and-forth, is exactly the opposite: At a time when America was tested, these cowards folded, throwing in the hand on the precise values they should have been protecting.

So I'm not above rude tactics in pointing out their weakness, their irresponsibility, and their hypocrisy. If Sean Hannity and others won't back up their talk about waterboarding, I'm fine with humiliating them using the same derisive language they've been aiming at the left for years.

They're cowards, and moral failures. And they need to be told that to their faces.

Sean Hannity, you're a coward and a moral failure. Every day that goes by without you either a). living up to your offer, or b). apologizing to both the victims of torture and those who oppose it, makes your failures more egregious.


update (5/23 @ 7:54pm):
Keith Olbermann has rescinded his offer to Sean Hannity, instead donating $10,000 to Veterans of Valor after Mancow's waterboarding (h/t: ThinkProgress):

OLBERMANN: Mancow Muller had the guts to put his mouth where his mouth was, and the guts to admit he was dead wrong. As you saw, he not only said it is torture, but that he had nearly drowned as a boy, and it is drowning, and that he would have admitted to anything to make it stop.

So the offer to the coward Hannity -- a thousand dollars a second he lasted on the waterboard -- is withdrawn.

For anyone who believes that Pelosi must be lying when she contradicts Porter Goss, blogger extraordinaire Marcy (emptywheel) Wheeler has compiled a handy list of the CIA's briefing list mistakes. Wheeler observes that "CIA has made errors on at least six different briefings...[t]he CIA's own version of when it briefed and whom is riddled with errors." Somehow, though, the corporate media outlets help GOP partisans smear any Democrat (Pelosi, in this instance) with different information.

The ever-astounding Wheeler writes at Salon that we should instead be looking at "The 13 people who made torture possible." She identifies "13 key people in the Bush administration," some of whom "manipulated the federal bureaucracy and the legal process to 'preauthorize' torture in the days after 9/11. Others helped implement torture, and still others helped write the memos that provided the Bush administration with a legal fig leaf after torture had already begun:"

1. Dick Cheney, vice president (2001-2009)

2. David Addington, counsel to the vice president (2001-2005), chief of staff to the vice president (2005-2009)

3. Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel (2001-2005), and attorney general (2005-2008)

4. James Mitchell, consultant

5. George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence (1997-2004)

6. Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor (2001-2005), secretary of state (2005-2008)

7. John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)

8. Jay Bybee, assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)

9. William "Jim" Haynes, Defense Department general counsel (2001-2008)

10. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense (2001-2006)

11. John Rizzo, CIA deputy general counsel (2002-2004), acting general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (2001-2002, 2004-present)

12. Steven Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general, OLC (2004), acting assistant attorney general, OLC (2005-2009)

13. George W. Bush, president (2001-2009)

Where's the special investigator, already?

Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization is reporting that, "According to reports out of Kabul, the Taliban announced that they have waterboarded three U.S. soldiers taken prisoner:"

The Taliban commander asserted that waterboarding is not torture and does not violate the Geneva Convention or U.S. law. He assured everyone that a medical officer monitored all waterboarding sessions to insure that no permanent damage was done to the soldiers. [...]

In support of his assertion that waterboarding is not torture, the Taliban commander cited legal analysis produced by the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice. He pointed out that the authors of this legal analysis are a respected federal judge on the second highest court in America and a professor at a top American law school.

What possible objection could the Bushie wingnuts have if this were a real news story instead of a thought experiment? Their disdain for the law reminds me of this exchange between William Roper and Sir Thomas More from Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast -- man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it -- do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

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