The Bush administration torture team pressured lawyers

By | June 8, 2009

From 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.

via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.

5 thoughts on “The Bush administration torture team pressured lawyers

  1. hoboduke

    Just having to work with lawyers is cruel torture. It is hard to stay on the moral high ground working with them. Stalin was extreme in his view to kill all the lawyers. However, the worker’s paradise did know how to keep the press focused on praising the reforms of their labor camps; aka death camps. As disgusting as the photos is of President Bush eating popcorn, it is hard to remember that only on September 11, 2001 no one in these United States knew how many citizens were to be killed. Let the suspected terrorists loose in Detroit, that would be a swift end to the whole business. They would be in the morgue on slab the next morning.

    1. Xeno Post author

      Are you suggesting that lawyers could lie? 😉

      We should put people in jail based on crimes they did or attempted, not based on what we fear they might do.

      If you approve of torture of US enemies, then you are approving torture being used on US citizens when they are captured by US enemies. Not acceptable.

      It is my understanding that most of the people in Gitmo had nothing to do with 9/11.

      1. hoboduke

        I don’t approve of our US enemies torturing our citizens. However, they do. Recently North Korea sentencing 2 young women into a “prison” that is comparable to the Russian gulag.

        My suggestion still stands. Release all of the detainees into Detroit. They would be treated as any US citizen. They would be robbed, and shot by our citizens, not by our government. If they survive, then they would help our country in a 3rd world zone of our country.

  2. TRO

    This story is confusing criminal actions that happened at Abu Ghraib (for which people were tried and punished) with the non-criminal actions at Gitmo. Even this picture is from Abu Ghraib.

    I’m disappointed.

    1. Xeno Post author

      I’m disappointed too. A connection between Gitmo and Abu Ghraib does exist based on what I’ve read. If you have facts which contradict this, please let us know:

      A bipartisan report from the Senate Armed Services Committee released in December definitively concluded that the administration’s repeated explanations of the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was a pack of lies. “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own,” the report found. “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

      Similarly, in his book “The Torture Team,” [Phillipe] Sands documents how the Pentagon initially tried to blame officers at Guantanamo for the brutal interrogation regime there. As Sands wrote in this Vanity Fair excerpt, Bush administration officials insisted that “techniques were not imposed or encouraged by Washington, which had merely reacted to a request from below.” They even maintained that the legal justification was initiated there as well. “It was not the result of legal positions taken by politically appointed lawyers in the upper echelons of the administration, and certainly not the Justice Department.”

      But, Sands wrote: “The real story, pieced together from many hours of interviews with most of the people involved in the decisions about interrogation, goes something like this: [The February 2002 memo in which Bush exempted war-on-terror detainees from the Geneva Conventions] was not a case of following the logic of the law but rather was designed to give effect to a prior decision to take the gloves off and allow coercive interrogation; it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall. The new interrogation techniques did not arise spontaneously from the field but came about as a direct result of intense pressure and input from Rumsfeld’s office. The Yoo-Bybee Memo was not simply some theoretical document, an academic exercise in blue-sky hypothesizing, but rather played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantánamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.

      “The fingerprints of the most senior lawyers in the administration were all over the design and implementation of the abusive interrogation policies. Addington, Bybee, Gonzales, Haynes, and Yoo became, in effect, a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse.”

      It’s important to note that President Barack Obama’s decision to not release the most recent spate of detainee photos, is one that will preserve the disinformation spread by his predecessor .. –

Leave a Reply