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Wednesday, December 19, 2007. The House Judiciary Committee convenes a hearing to look into the Justice Department’s handling of allegations of crime involving contractors in Iraq. It started with the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, and we quickly learned that this was just one of a substantial number of cases involving rape and sexual assault. The Justice Department is invited to send a witness to explain its policies and inaction. At the last minute, the Justice Department’s congressional liaison sends a poorly informed letter claiming that the cases the committee will investigate are “under investigation” though, as we learn, the Department of Justice’s “investigation” got launched just about the time the Department learned that Congress was going to take a look. The Justice Department said it would be improper for the Justice Department to respond. Mind you, the Committee’s request was not for the Department to talk about any particular case, but about how it dealt in concept with contractor crimes.
Committee chair John Conyers was outraged. And he wasn’t alone. A group of Republican representatives who participated in the hearing were equally miffed. Everyone agreed, of course, that the Justice Department shouldn’t discuss on-going investigations. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was the how the Department was addressing criminality involving contractors in Iraq generally.
But as became clear from the evidence presented at the hearing, the Department doesn’t deal with crimes involving contractors. It has a policy of official indifference to them. So here we see a clear-cut case where the Justice Department has a law enforcement mandate to deal with serious violent crimes such as murder, assault and rape, and chooses to do nothing. A question of resource allocation, evidently. You see, for the Bush Administration, murder, assault and rape are not as important as other things.
So let’s take a look. Where were the Justice Department’s key figures on December 19, since they couldn’t possibly find the time to speak to the Judiciary Committee, the Congressional organ charged under the Constitution with oversight of the Justice Department?
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey was busy addressing the American Bar Association’s National Security Law Breakfast. He was making an impassioned appeal to the lawyers assembled in that room, quite a few of whom work for him, and most of whom work for President Bush, for acceptance of the Bush Administration’s FISA proposals. And what caused Mukasey to venture out before this hostile audience? He made a pitch for the benefit of the telecommunications industry. To be very specific, he urgently pushed for immunity for telecommunications companies who violated the criminal law by collaborating with the Bush Administration in warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and residences. So for Mukasey the priorities were clear: protecting telecommunications companies who commit crimes is the core function of the Attorney General, requiring his personal attention. Not enforcing the law to protect contractors who are the subject of rape, assault and false imprisonment.
And Mukasey’s deputy to be? Mark Filip was up before the Senate Judiciary Committee which was reviewing his nomination. And just as happened with Michael Mukasey, the subject turned very quickly to the official policy of torture and cruelty with respect to prisoners in the war on terror. Would he recognize that waterboarding was torture, Filip was asked? And the answer? It looks like Filip has the same scriptwriter that Mukasey has, because he gave an identical answer. He finds waterboarding to be “personally repugnant.” But of course that doesn’t mean that the President can’t and shouldn’t use waterboarding if he chooses to do so. In any event, Filip hasn’t been fully briefed on the exact procedures used by the Bush Administration in waterboarding prisoners, so he can’t comment until after the Senate confirms him. Then, of course, the answer will be “no comment,” because we don’t comment on specific interrogation techniques–especially when their use is a criminal act, and we do in fact use them.
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And elsewhere, the Department of Justice was busily obstructing the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into the destruction of tapes made of CIA detainees who were waterboarded and subjected to other highly coercive techniques. It was counseling CIA officials not to respond to the House oversight body’s requirement that they appear and testify. It did this even as the New York Times reports that the four most powerful lawyers in the Bush Administration were intimately involved in discussions about the destruction of evidence—a group including former Attorney General Gonzales, White House General Counsel Harriet Miers, Cheney chief of staff Addington, and Condoleezza Rice’s counsel, John Bellinger. The Justice Department’s national security division was busily explaining that the CIA would be forbidden to cooperate because a Congressional probe might get in the way of the investigation that it isn’t conducting.
So while the Justice Department’s number one was pleading to his own employees for clemency for corporate wrongdoers (a function normally accorded to high-priced lawyers in private practice), its number-two-to-be was giving a series of carefully rehearsed and highly disingenuous answers to an oversight committee designed to shield those who have committed war crimes and to justify the continuing official use of torture—a crime under the laws of the United States and the laws of nations. And its powerful new national security division was busily obstructing a Congressional inquiry into the destruction of evidence sought by two federal judges—destruction in which a bevy of Bush Administration lawyers, including a former Attorney General, are now deeply linked.
So let’s get this right. The Department of Justice has no available resources to deal with contractor crimes. It doesn’t even have a warm body to send before a Congressional probe of the matter to state its position. But it is deploying all its available assets to justify criminal conduct, to secure immunity for persons who unapologetically broke the law based on the criminal solicitations of government officers, to cover up official criminality related to the torture and abuse of persons under detention, and to obstruct Congressional investigations into other potentially criminal acts in which it was involved. A person observing this from some detached point in space might well conclude that the function of the Department of Justice under President Bush is not to enforce the law. It is to commit and promote criminal conduct. At this point, it’s clear that breaking the law is the Justice Department’s number one, two and three priority. And law enforcement? That’s disappeared from the scene.
More from Scott Horton:
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Is it possible to simply disband the partisan FISA court?
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature