No Comment — May 7, 2009, 9:51 am

Bolton’s Spanish Delusions

In an op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post, John R. Bolton—the man that a Republican Senate refused to confirm as Bush’s U.N. ambassador—discusses the pending criminal proceedings in Spain concerning the Bush torture policies. The piece provides evidence once more that Post op-eds are not fact-checked. Let’s take a look at Bolton’s misfires:

  • “Although he immunized intelligence operatives who conducted the interrogations, morale at the CIA is at record lows.” That perfectly explains the rock-star reception that Obama received when he went to Langley to address the agency. Take a second to watch it and form your own conclusion about how demoralized CIA agents are by their new president.
  • “Spanish Magistrate Baltasar Garzón opened a formal investigation last week of six Bush administration lawyers for their roles in advising on interrogation techniques.” Not quite. In fact, Garzón opened an investigation into unidentified persons who were the “intellectual authors” of the Bush torture policies. My bet would be that the Bush Six are in there, but it’s still too early to say definitively. What Bolton neglects to tell the readers is that the probe focuses on two or more Spanish subjects who were tortured while in U.S. custody at Guantanamo—as the Spanish Supreme Court found in a judgment of June 2006. There is a criminal complaint involving the Bush Six, pending before Judge Eloy Velasco, who has not opened a formal investigation into it, yet. He did, however, just formally inquire whether the U.S. was investigating the same matter, and it is clear that the Spaniards will suspend their investigations if the Americans open one. But that’s just the outcome that has Bolton all worked up. He’s not really concerned about what will happen in Spain; he’s concerned about a U.S. prosecutor—or at least he should be.
  • “Under Spain’s inquisitorial judicial system, Garzón is essentially unaccountable, whatever the views of Spain’s elected government.” Actually, under the Spanish system, exactly like the American system, judges do not answer to orders issued by politicians about how to conduct proceedings before them. We call that an “independent judiciary,” obviously a wholly alien concept to Bolton. An independent judiciary is a central pillar of democratic society. It’s how citizens protect their rights against overreaching by the state. It’s how political figures are kept accountable before the law. And Garzón is absolutely accountable for his conduct—the decisions he makes are subject to review and appeal, just as is the case in most court systems. Why is Bolton so frightened about independent judges? (Clever use of the word “inquisitorial,” by the way. The Inquisition or Holy Office was an ecclesiastical court which was shut down in the Napoleonic era, largely because of public outrage over the use of torture tactics–stress positions and waterboarding, in particular. These are tactics that the Bush team approved and introduced over the opposition of career military and intelligence officers. The tools of the Inquisition are defended by John Bolton, not Baltasar Garzón.)
  • “If Obama is attempting to end the Garzón investigation, it is one of our best-kept secrets in decades.” This is only a well-kept secret for people who don’t follow the news. In an interview with CNN Español, President Obama openly acknowledged that his administration had been in talks with the government of José Zapatero about the Spanish court’s investigation. And the results became apparent within forty-eight hours of his statement. Spanish attorney general Cándido Conde Pumpido, a member of Zapatero’s cabinet, overruled career prosecutors, instructing them to oppose the investigation. As I reported based on Spanish government sources, this shift occurred in response to an appeal from the Obama administration. But I hope that Barack Obama takes note of Bolton’s comment. It shows that Obama can strain to try to bail out the Bushies, but he shouldn’t expect anything other than contempt in response.
  • “Obama appears to be following the John Ehrlichman approach, letting the U.S. lawyers ‘twist slowly, slowly in the wind.’” Who could better respond to that whopper than John Dean, the man to whom Ehrlichman uttered those words. Here’s what he had to say:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

  • Then we come to the point of Bolton’s rant: Obama must “pronounce unequivocally that Spain should take whatever steps are necessary to stop Garzón.” Let’s see, Obama persuaded Zapatero to oppose the investigation. What else does Bolton want? To send a hit squad to gun the judge down? Bomb the courthouse? Lest you consider that speculation absurd, remember that Bolton once suggested taking out ten stories from the Secretariat Building in midtown New York.

John Bolton’s problem isn’t with Judge Garzón, it’s with the notion of accountability of political actors before the law. The Bush Administration gave a green light to torture, Spanish subjects were victims of this policy, and now a Spanish court is investigating what happened to them. Why is Bolton afraid of that? Because he knows that they were tortured, and that the trail leads straight to the White House. As his op-ed says: “Although the six lawyers are in a precarious position, they are only intermediate targets. The real targets are President Bush and his most senior advisers.” Given his insider position in the Bush White House, Bolton would obviously know much better than Garzón where the torture trail leads.

Perhaps with the help of Bolton’s boosterism, Baltasar Garzón is gathering a following in the U.S. these days. Visit the Fans of Baltasar Garzón Facebook page here.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2019

The Wood Chipper

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Common Ground

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love and Acid

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Black Axe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Wood Chipper·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

Article
Common Ground·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

Article
The Black Axe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

Article
Who Is She?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

Article
Murder Italian Style·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

After not making a public appearance for weeks and being rumored dead, the president of Turkmenistan appeared on state television and drove a rally car around The Gates of Hell, a crater of gas that has been burning since it was discovered in 1971.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today