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For legal commentators, the Bush White House and Justice Department are the gift that just keeps giving. Never before has such a torrent of inanities and absurdities gushed forth from official apertures. It’s the sign of a government that truly disdains the rule of law, indeed, it hates law almost as much as it hates law enforcement and lawyers. Is anyone making the Herculean attempt to catalogue them all? Dahlia Lithwick produces a real gem over at Slate. Here’s a sampling:
The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope.
Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched earlier than we’d been led to believe, scooped up more information than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored, as we’d been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.
The corollary: trotting out men in uniform to say it doesn’t make it any less of a falsehood. And it dishonors the uniform they wear. (This means you, General Hayden and Admiral McConnell).
Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive.
Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was found guilty of perjury and obstructing justice in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame. In July, before Libby had served out a day of his prison sentence, President Bush commuted his sentence, insisting the 30-month prison sentence was “excessive.” In fact, under the federal sentencing guidelines, Libby’s sentence was perfectly appropriate and consistent with positions advocated by Bush’s own Justice Department earlier this year.
But let’s contrast this with the sentence of more than seven years given to Alabama Governor Don Siegelman for accepting a six-figure campaign donation from an insurance executive and then appointing the insurance executive to an oversight board. Slightly higher than the average sentence handed down for a homicide. Hmmm… how many times did George W. Bush commit the “crime” of which Siegelman was convicted? Answer: 146, and counting. But then, he’s a Republican, so he’s entitled to do it.
The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch.
We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that his fight with Cheney’s office was a “contributing” factor in his decision to quit after 34 years.
Indeed, the man who shoots a lawyer in the face, and then has the lawyer formally apologize to him; the man who keeps a man-sized safe in his office; the man who has invented and used his own system of bogus national security classifications. And the man who told the U.S. that we faced thermonuclear war with Iran, evidently the same week he had read an intelligence community consensus analysis saying that Iran had discontinued its nuclear program in 2003–an analysis he fought tooth and nail to suppress. Cheney, the man who makes up his own laws as he goes along.
And then, of course, we come to State Secrets. What is a State Secret? Well, let me give you a clue. If you’re in the White House and you committed a serious criminal offense as to which your legal staff and the Consigliere (errr, Attorney General) can’t craft a plausible cover or defense, then it’s certainly a “State Secret.” It’s called the “get out of jail free card.” See, no need even to resort to the Pardon Power!
But what comes in as number one. That’s right, the unchallenged most unbelievable legal assertion made by President Bush, himself, over and over and over:
The United States does not torture.
First there was the 2002 torture memo. That was withdrawn. Then there was the December 2004 statement that declared torture “abhorrent.” But then there was the new secret 2005 torture memo. But members of Congress were fully briefed about that. Except that they were not. There was Abu Ghraib. There were the destroyed CIA tapes. So you see, the United States does not torture. Except for when it does.
Bush has made America the torture nation in the eyes of the world. And most Americans are too busy watching Fox News and reruns of “24” to even take notice. Let’s have a New Year’s Resolution: when presented with moral depravity and criminality at the height of our government, let’s start getting angry! And lawyers: here’s a place to put your signature, on the American Freedom Pledge.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”