The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they are grinding on. When president Bush decided to use torture as his central tool in the war on Jihadist terrorism, he faced an obvious problem. Torture was plainly illegal - under domestic and international law, under the relevant treaties, under 200 years of American history. Bush and Cheney therefore needed legal cover to break the law. The memos ordered up to accomplish this - concocted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury - read as emptily as you would imagine. They are not good faith memos explaining the law to the president (and forbidding him to torture); they are self-evidently casuistic documents designed to provide phony legal cover (and permitting him to torture anyone to the point of death - a limitation that he nonetheless repeatedly exceeded). As the former president recently said:
I got legal opinions that said whatever we're going to do is legal.
"Whatever we're going to do". Under Bush and Cheney, the law did not exist to bound the president to the Constitution; it was silly putty to enable "whatever we're going to do". The illegal acts that followed were not impeachable offenses like perjury in a sexual harassment civil suit or ordering a break-in to an opponent's election headquarters - but war crimes. Now we discover that the Justice Department's own Office of Professional Responsibility has been forced to the same conclusion - and may publish its findings. No wonder Mukasey is rattled. Isikoff has the scoop:
H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department's ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos "was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys." According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officialsJay Bybee and John Yooas well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said.
The Bush-Cheney team is fighting the conclusion very hard - as well they might. Once it is officially established that the legal work was obviously unprofessional rubber-stamping - the kind of "legal" "work" best known in tin-pot dictatorships - the case for disbarring Yoo et al is strengthened. And the case for war crime prosecutions against their masters deepens.
(Photo: Bush administration "lawyer", John Yoo, by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)
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