The Bush administration torture team, with Cheney chief among them, has obviously rolled out a major public relations campaign these past two months. One of their enablers in all this has been – surprise! – the New York Times. The NYT – which changed its own prose style (they stopped using the t-word to describe what they had long always called torture to comport with Bush policy) – followed up its recent Bumiller belly-flop on Jihadist recidivism with another surreal spin of the facts in front of it. Leaked memos reveal that even those who objected to the moral and constitutional bases for the Bush-Cheney torture policy nonetheless rubber-stamped the Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Gitmo techniques as somehow fitting the “legal” standard (although even they got queasy about the idea of them being used in combination as they routinely were). But this piece of news is nothing compared with the real story buried beneath the spin. (The best summaries of the latest piece of Bush administration stenography are from Marcy Wheeler and Glenn Greenwald. Read them both in full.)
The gist: if you actually read the leaked memos, and absorb the details of the NYT piece, you find the actual story: that the OLC lawyers were under enormous pressure to approve whatever Cheney wanted, were denied time to get the whole thing right, (Bradbury was even kept on probation until he spat out the “legal” approvals they wanted), were told that the president himself was pushing hard, and that a couple of them, Comey and Goldsmith, believed that the torture techniques, although technically “legal” in their judgment, were “simply awful” and would come back to haunt them.
Among the political interference in the OLC process (eerily reminiscent of the pressure on the CIA with respect to Saddam’s WMDs), we learn the following:
This was the kind of political pressure applied to lawyers who were supposed to be interpreting the law, regardless of policy positions by their superiors, free of political pressure or duress. And this was long, long after the initial period of terror after 9/11 and in Bush’s second term. Moreover, the lawyers’ belief that combining all these torture techniques was extremely dangerous was completely ignored. Here’s Comey desperately trying to get them to realize the Rubicon they were crossing:
Notice how Rice was demonstrating the moral courage she recently showed in front of some amateur (i.e. not supine MSM) questioners on the question. She wanted to give the president anything he wanted while remaining in total denial – and deniability – on the torture question. In some ways, her position is more contemptible than Cheney’s. At least he knew what he wanted to do, and is now proud of his record of torture and abuse of prisoners. Rice simply facilitated everything, while closing her eyes to reality, and abandoning any moral responsibility.