I recently examined how the Bush Justice Department was developing a “Culture of Torture,” that is, the Bush Administration’s addiction to torture has become its defining element. Opposition to torture policies is not tolerated, as Daniel Levin and Michael Mukasey have learned. Silence can be tolerated among career employees, perhaps, but it will certainly check their advancement.
And now, courtesy of the ACLU, we learn some more about the logical corollaries of the culture of torture: secrecy and lies.
Legal papers filed in federal court Monday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations disclose that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for the Department of Justice issued three secret memos in May 2005 relating to the interrogation of detainees in CIA custody. Until now, the existence of only two of those memos had been reported and it was not known precisely when the memos had been written. The memos are believed to have authorized the CIA to use extremely harsh interrogation methods including waterboarding.
“These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.”
The ACLU had previously sought disclosure of Justice Department torture memoranda, and the Justice Department responded with a list that excluded the OLC memos. On October 4, the New York Times reported on the two torture memoranda authored by Steven Bradbury—the OLC head who was appointed by Alberto Gonzales and who it now appears was placed in the office for the specific purpose of being a torture “yes man.” The ACLU noted that the Bradbury memoranda had not been revealed in the Justice Department in their response, triggering an admission that the documents had been “missed” coupled with an embarrassed and hardly tenable explanation.
With the disclosures about Daniel Levin’s dismissal from OLC, it becomes increasingly apparent that Steven Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators. Like his soulmate John Yoo, Bradbury clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a position long thought to reflect the inside track for Kool Aid-drinking Republican Party legal warriors. He departed that position to work at the feet of the master of Republican legal trickery, Ken Starr. Bradbury could, therefore, be counted upon to render up to his bosses whatever they desired in the form of legal opinions. He is also suspected of deep involvement in the process of crafting warrantless surveillance programs which violated the FISA statute, and an internal inquiry into the legal ethics of his conduct was quashed by the Saturday-Night-massacre like direct intervention of President Bush. Today Bradbury’s nomination to serve as head of OLC is viewed as “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and his legal power to issue opinions is subject to legal question, as is his right to sit in his office in the Justice Department.
The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence. On November 13, the Justice Department will be invited to explain itself in a federal courtroom in New York. No doubt we’ll hear a lot about super-dupper national secrets that justify its practices of falsehood and evasion. The major question is whether at this point there is a court in the country gullible enough to believe these absurd claims.
This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush Administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.