I meant to write about this sooner, but I’m still recovering from the shock of it all. While riding home from work yesterday I happened to catch this NPR report on a couple of memos, one from the Department of Defense and the other from the Justice Department, that were leaked to media outlets which attempt to outline possible legal loopholes or arguments that could be use to justify the use of torture by the administration. Amazingly, the memos completely contradict public statements on other administration policies on torture including arguments presented by the administration to the Supreme Court.
Naturally this has led to Congressional calls for public release of the memos and during a Senate Judiciary Committee session on Tuesday various Senators asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to do just that. Shockingly not only did Ashcroft absolutely refuse to release the two memos, but he also refused to discuss anything about their content or even who wrote them. He did this without invoking Executive Privilege or any of the other possible legal justifications he might use to avoid having to address the questions. Without a justification he has no legal basis to refuse to answer the questions of Congress and this was pointed out to him by Senator Richard Durbin.
June 9, 2004—Attorney General John Ashcroft refuses senators’ demands for copies of legal memos, prepared by Bush administration lawyers in 2002 and 2003, that reportedly state the president has the right to order torture in his role as commander in chief.
One memo was prepared by the Justice Department in August 2002 in response to a request from the CIA for guidance on how far it could go in conducting interrogations. A second memo, dated March 2003, was prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by a team of lawyers from many parts of the Bush administration, including the office of the vice president. Ashcroft is refusing senators access to both memos, which were revealed in media reports this week.
In refusing to discuss the contents of the memos before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Ashcroft said his department’s advice to the president must remain confidential. Ashcroft also refused to say whether President Bush has authorized force or other techniques in interrogation.
The folks at NPR have a link to a copy of the memos in PDF format for you to read for yourself. The audio version of both news items is well worth listening to just to hear some of the justifications these guys tried to come up with. Meanwhile, President Bush spent today dancing around any questions about the memos as best he could manage.
Asked whether he has seen the memos, Bush replied, “I can’t remember if I’ve seen the memo or not.” But he reiterated that he had instructed that the treatment of terror suspects stay within U.S. and international laws.
Bush was asked, “If you knew a person was in U.S. custody and had specific information about an imminent terrorist attack that could kill hundreds or even thousands of Americans, would you authorize the use of any means necessary to get that information and to save those lives?”
“What I’ve authorized is that we stay within U.S. law,” he responded.
I have to admit that I was personally very surprised to think that anyone in this administration would stoop so low as to try and justify the use of torture. I consider this to be one of the worst administrations this country has ever seen, but somehow I managed to convince myself that even these assholes, as bad as they are, wouldn’t pause to consider the possibility of using torture. I chalk this up to the last vestiges of youthful idealism I might have stashed away someplace.
I missed last night’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where Jon rips Ashcroft a new asshole over his testimony. You can see the clip at the official website, but only if you have Real Player (blech!) installed. Fortunately the folks at Everything Isn’t Under Control have been kind enough to host the clip in DivX format for the rest of us and it is definitely worth the download. There’s also a BitTorrent seed for the clip if you want to avoid sucking up all of their bandwidth. If you’re as stunned and pissed off about this whole turn of events as I am then you’ll want to watch Jon Stewart’s report so you can laugh at it at least a little. Best of all is Senator Biden’s comments about why the U.S. signed those treaties banning torture in the first place.
It’s getting pretty fucking sad around here when one of the best news sources out there is on a friggin’ comedy channel.