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Justice in the Gutter

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Saturday the New York Times alerts us to a new opinion issued deep in the bowels of the Bush Justice Department. The decision emanates from the Office of Legal Counsel, an outfit stuffed to the gills with partisan hacks whose other criminal mischief includes a series of decisions issued to induce government operatives to engage in torture and other acts of official cruelty. The same hacks blessed the felonious surveillance of the communications of American citizens on terms which Attorney General Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General Comey, neither a lion of civil liberties, considered untenable. According to the man who attempted in vain to clean up the office for Ashcroft, some of the opinions he was asked to render were designed–like the works of mafia consigliere–to provide a “golden shield” to protect policy makers at high ranks in the Administration from the near certain prospect of criminal prosecution. So dark are the works of this office that the Bush White House fervently wants to avoid them seeing the light of day.

When sunlight touches these writings, they tend to turn to dust. Exposed to the sanitizing criticism of the public, of Congress, and of the legal profession, they are revealed for works of glaring hackery. No proposition is too preposterous that it cannot be advanced in an OLC memorandum these days. They are now taught in law schools around the country as models of substandard, unprofessional and incompetent legal work.

But this week, the OLC coughed up another furball. This opinion is designed to grease the tracks for payoffs to the Karl Rove’s Christianist buddies, who were essential to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and who hit paydirt almost immediately when team Bush moved into the White House. Still, the Christianists have faced some irritating restrictions in their prolific consumption of taxpayer dollars. One is the requirement that a federally funded entity not discriminate in hiring on the basis of confession. OLC has now opined that this presents no problem. In concept there is no reason why faith-based organizations should not be eligible to receive taxpayer money for the performance of services that serve a public need. But if they elect to take this money, they cannot be allowed to discriminate in hiring to exclude persons of other faiths. That is a fundamental principle.

The OLC opinion is obviously false as a proposition of law—it squarely contradicts a series of Supreme Court holdings. But the more troubling aspect of the opinion is that it reeks of corruption. It is designed to clear hurdles that stand in the way of the Administration’s voracious funneling of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of its loyal political retainers on politically skewed criteria. The scandal in the Office of Juvenile Justice, which I explored here and which was subsequently the subject of an exposé on ABC’s Nightline, shows just the sort of mischief which this OLC memorandum is calculated to enable.

It will be interesting to see after January 20, 2009, what other little presents remain hidden for us in the file drawers of the Office of Legal Counsel. One thing is clear, however. OLC will require a fully staffed special prosecutor working overtime for years just to craft a good catalogue.

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