Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Justice Department Considers Criminal Misconduct Probe Of Bush Torture Policies

The discussion about whether President Obama recommends prosecution of those involved with Bush administration torture policies has obscured the importance of one key governmental figure and institution in deciding how to proceed. Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas, writing in Newsweek, remind us of the primary role played by Attorney General Eric Holder (left) and the Justice Department:

Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers...say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has discussed naming a senior prosecutor or outside counsel to review whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries--and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place. Some Justice officials are deeply troubled by reports of detainee treatment and believe they may suggest criminal misconduct, these sources say.

It would seem that, besides waterboarding, the interrogation techniques described in four recently revealed CIA memos present grounds for prosecution:

Together, the four memos give an extraordinarily detailed account of the C.I.A.’s methods and the Justice Department’s long struggle, in the face of graphic descriptions of brutal tactics, to square them with international and domestic law. Passages describing forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees alternate with elaborate legal arguments concerning the international Convention Against Torture.

A New York Times editorial, "The Torturers' Manifesto," comments on these "elaborate legal arguments," which amount to torturous attempts to render the illegal and horrific as legal:

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.

In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

It now appears that President Obama recognizes the legal obligation of the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute those who formulated and authorized such practices:

The Team Bush brain trust that approved CIA torture techniques faces a roughing-up after President Obama reopened the possibility of investigation - and even prosecution.

Just five days after urging against "recrimination" for the George W. Bush-era torture of terror suspects, President Obama said Attorney General Eric Holder is free to probe the White House higher-ups who authorized the tough treatment.

"With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that," Obama said.

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