No Comment — January 4, 2008, 8:32 pm

The Torture President Wields His Veto

President George W. Bush got through his first term without a veto, but now he’s learning to make use of the power the Constitution gives him to veto legislation. Nothing surprising there. But the last veto victim is something of a surprise. Bush vetoed the 2008 Defense Authorizations Act and now he’s rushing Congress back to deal with it.

Why? We all remember those pesky Democrats were threatening timetables, measures against permanent bases and a number of other pieces that drew the White House’s ire. But then, the Democrats folded on everything. They are, after all, “White Flag Democrats.” That’s a point on which their Republican critics, and the overwhelming majority of the U.S. electorate, which wants an end to the war, agree.

So what on earth caused Bush to veto the bill, and thus leave those in Iraq in connection with the war effort without funds in the pipeline? The answer is torture. You should have guessed it.

A number of American veterans who fought in the First Gulf War brought suit against Iraq to be compensated. They all had something in common. They had been captured by Saddam Hussein and had been subjected to torture. They wanted to be compensated from Iraqi Government assets. Senator Frank Lautenberg tried to give them a leg up. He attached an amendment to the defense bill that would allow victims to sue “state sponsors of terrorism” accused of torture. Like Saddam Hussein’s regime. At the time the amendment went up, not a peep was to be heard from the White House. Now, after it was enacted, they say this justifies a veto.

The White House wants us to believe that it is jealously protecting the rights of the Iraqi Government. To this, I say: bullshit. The “principle” that motivates the Bush Administration is far closer to home. It is positively hysterical about the prospect of sovereigns being sued for torturing people. Can you imagine why? Can you imagine that it might have something to do with its own torture policies?

Why, do you think, when the Department of State’s top lawyer is asked whether it would be lawful for Iranians to waterboard a captured U.S. pilot, he sputters and can’t manage to utter the simple word “no”? Why do you think an Air Force Brigadier General, a senior lawyer associated with the Military Commissions, similarly finds it impossible to say that waterboarding is illegal—to the disgust of a Senate Committee before which he is testifying?

The Philadelphia Inquirer sees this very clearly:

Bush knows that if Iraq can get sued for torture, so can the United States. Even now, the CIA is trying to keep secret all of the ways it pulled information from captives.

That’s the slippery slope the Bush administration has tumbled down by using waterboarding and other torturous methods to fight terrorism. Bush’s latest contortion shows how hard it is to take the moral high ground when you’ve been swimming in the gutter.

The moral depravity of the Bush Administration continues to take its toll, and this time, as usual, the victims are the men and women serving in uniform in Iraq, as well as the veterans of the First Gulf War.

Holding a War Criminal to Account
Can a lawyer at the Department of Justice be criminally liable for giving opinions that lead to the torture and abuse of prisoners in war time? The answer is: Yes. The precedent is United States v. Altstoetter. The sentence handed down was ten years, less time served awaiting trial. It’s a case for John Yoo to study in the period leading up to his inevitable prosecution.

In the meantime, John Yoo merely has to address his reprehensible conduct in a civil setting. A suit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, on behalf of Jose Padilla. The Chicago Tribune reports:

“John Yoo is the first person in American history to provide the legal authorization for the instiution of torture in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney representing Padilla in the suit. “He [Yoo] was an absolutely essential part of what will be viewed by history as a group of rogue officials acting under cover of law to undermine fundamental rights.it never would have happened without the legal green light. That made it possible.”

In an added twist, it seems that the suit against Yoo, a graduate of Yale Law School, is being supported and managed by lawyers and law students at his own alma mater. Perhaps some of Yoo’s fellow faculty and students at Boalt Hall would like to join in?

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More from Scott Horton:

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