As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

We Can't Have The Attorney General Following Laws

As you may know, John Cornyn has led a revolt that would delay the confirmation of Eric Holder in the Senate Judiciary Committee for at least a week, citing the fact that he might actually prosecute people who have committed crimes, which is simply off-limits to Beltway thinking (at least for people of import, he can prosecute all the poor people he wants for shoplifting, but at war crimes Cornyn draws the line):

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, convened the panel Wednesday and asked for an immediate vote to send Holder's nomination to the Senate. Republicans called for a one-week delay, permitted by committee rules.

Holder told the Judiciary Committee last week that waterboarding is "torture" and therefore illegal. Susan J. Crawford, the top Bush administration official overseeing the trials of detainees, told the Washington Post that at least one individual held at the prison center at Guantanamo Bay was "tortured."

The question Republicans want answered before Holder is confirmed: Will you prosecute those who took part in that torture?

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that he would block committee proceedings, scheduled to resume at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, if he did not receive answer from Holder. "I'm not going to allow things to proceed," he said. He added that it was "physically impossible" for Holder to get the answers to him by then, thus assuring a conflict would ensue [...]

"Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon their understanding of what the law was," said Cornyn.

Well, at least he didn't bring 9/11 into it in a blatant attempt to scaremonger... I'm sorry, what was that next paragraph?

"There were provisions providing immunity to intelligence officials based up on good faith and what they understood the law to be," said Cornyn. "I want to know if he's going to enforce congressional intent not to second guess those things in a way that could jeopardize those officials but also could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse -- the very kind of risk aversion...that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11."

Ah, Republicans. Proudly using victims of terror as a human shield for going on eight years.

I don't need to recapitulate the arguments made by Tom Ricks, Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, the UN special rapporteur on torture, and others. We need a reckoning for torture because if we don't, the successors to this legacy will do far worse in the name of national security; we need to "look back" because it's the basis for jurisprudence and we can't prejudge who or who not to prosecute absent all the facts; we cannot listen to the Beltway insiders who want to protect their friends by saying that ignoring clear crimes is very "appropriate"; etc. I would simply say that Holder would be breaking the law if he DIDN'T prosecute.

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. . . .

That's from the Convention Against Torture, and it's pretty unequivocal. We are legally obligated to prosecute acts of torture, and "promising not to" is as much a crime, under this statute, as the torture itself. As to the argument that top Democrats are complicit in these actions and a Democratic Administration and the whole thing would have a look of a show trial if they were forced to admit that they were aware of but didn't object to these abuses, that's what an independent prosecutor would be for. And by the way, one of those top Democrats assumed to have been read in to the torture policy is open to prosecution, kind of blowing that theory out of the water.

The glib and cynical establishment press, desperate to protect their friends and defend THEIR OWN moral complicity in these crimes, may think this is a legitimate stand to take, but it only reveals their own moral hollowness.

To the standard Washington reporter, nothing is more contemptible than those who want to hold political leaders accountable -- and that fact is as potent a reflection of how diseased our political culture is, since journalists, in theory, ought to be those leading the crusade for such accountability, not leading the lynch mob against citizens who are demanding it. Yet since the zombie-like march behind the Leader during the run-up to the attack on Iraq, there hasn't been a more complete, virtually lockstep consensus among our media class than their vehement opposition to investigating the crimes of our political leaders.

Heck, even Lindsay frickin' Graham understands that no Attorney General could vow to rule out prosecution in a blanket fashion absent knowing what has been committed. He still thinks that "criminalizing policy differences" would be bad for the country, which is absurd, but he at least has enough sense to know that ruling out prosecution of a crime is not really an option for the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

All told, the Republicans don't have the votes to stop Holder, so this is a delay tactic at best. Why? Emptywheel has been working on her theory for a while now, and it's starting to make sense:

Two and a half weeks ago, bmaz predicted that the Bush Administration would appeal Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling requiring the Bush Administration to turn over a document that likely proves they violated FISA by wiretapping American citizens. Sure enough, on Friday and Monday, they did so [...]

Between that appeal and Arlen "Scottish Haggis" Specter's highly unusual one-week hold on Eric Holder's nomination yesterday, it sure does look like my theory--that Republicans are trying to delay the time when a Democrat takes over DOJ and starts reviewing Bush Administration actions and considering prosecutions.

In particular, I believe, they are delaying Holder's nomination to shorten the time between the day Holder takes over and the day the statute of limitations on violations of FISA Bush committed on March 11, 2004 start to expire--that is, March 11, 2009, just seven weeks away.

It would certainly be interesting if this was not about torture at all, but the violations of FISA. Especially given the revelation from Russell Tice that the US Government has been monitoring every single communication made by an American for years.

OLBERMANN: Let's start with the review. We heard the remarks from Mr. Bush in 2005, that only Americans who would have been eavesdropped on without a warrant were those who were talking to terrorists overseas. Based on what you know, what you have seen firsthand and what you have encountered in your experience, how much of that statement was true?

TICE: Well, I don't know what our former president knew or didn't know. I'm sort of down in the weeds. But the National Security Agency had access to all Americans' communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And that doesn't -- it didn't matter whether you were in Kansas, you know, in the middle of the country, and you never made a communication -- foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.

OLBERMANN: To what degree is that likely to mean actual eavesdropping and actual inspection? In other words, if not actually read or monitored by the NSA, everything was collected by the NSA, recorded, archived? Do you have any idea to what degree the information was ever looked at, per se?

TICE: Well, it's actually, even for the NSA, it's impossible to literally collect all communications. Americans tend to be a chatty group. We have the best computers at the agency, but certainly not that good.

But what was done was a sort of an ability to look at the meta data, the signaling data for communications, and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected. Basically, filtering out sort of like sweeping everything with that meta data, and then cutting down ultimately what you are going to look at and what is going to be collected, and in the long run have an analyst look at, you know, needles in a haystack for what might be of interest.

We have never fully known the extent of this lawlessness, and any delay in Holder's confirmation will keep Americans in the dark that much longer, if he chooses to exercise his prosecutorial discretion at all. If he does not, we may have to rely on lawmakers like Sheldon Whitehouse to offer the reckoning that this nation so desperately needs.

Our new President has said, "America needs to look forward." I agree.

Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences. I agree.

And I hope we can all agree that summoning young sacrificial lambs to prosecute, as we did after the Abu Ghraib disaster, would be reprehensible.

But consider the pervasive, deliberate, and systematic damage the Bush Administration did to America, to her finest traditions and institutions, to her reputation and integrity.

Read the whole thing.

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