In the United States, what Obama did yesterday is simply not done. American Presidents do not disseminate to the world documents which narrate in vivid, elaborate detail the dirty, illegal deeds done by the CIA, especially not when the actions are very recent, were approved and ordered by the President of the United States, and the CIA is aggressively demanding that the documents remain concealed and claiming that their release will harm national security. When is the last time a President did that?
Sullivan yesterday noted an odd silence over the torture memos, and I predict that will end now that the new talking points have been released in the WSJ op-ed pages. For fun, look for instances of the phrase “tied his own hands” in the right-wing blogosphere when they discuss the subject.
Amidst the uproar over the torture memos, it's important not to lose sight of a crucial fact: its responsible author, Jay S. Bybee, is now a federal appeals court judge. Thus, apart from any issue of criminal prosecution, he can be impeached by the House and removed by the Senate.
This would be appropriate. Having judges declare that torture is legal does not serve as a good precedent. Perhaps more significantly, the memo's legal analysis was so shockingly incompetent that Bybee's successor, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew it, noting subsequently that he was appalled by its incompetence.
Joe Klein talks to some intelligence community insiders:
Not many Presidents have had good relationships with the CIA. George W. Bush's was particularly dreadful, with Dick Cheney constantly pushing for intel that reflected his ideological predilections rather than reality. (You may remember that a series of damaging anti-Bush leaks seemed to seep out of the Langley environs during the 2004 campaign.) The release of these memos may cripple Obama's relations with the clandestine service--or not, especially if the President and Leon Panetta continue to make clear that they appreciate and stand behind the clandestine service, so long as the operators act within the new ground rules.
And Abe Greenwald continues to excuse torture:
As these memos are pored over in the hours and days ahead, we must be prepared to hear details about Operation Harmless Squishy Thing that may rock the very moral foundations of our country. The caterpillar is likely just the beginning. Slugs, inchworms, centipedes, millipedes a whole backyard of horror could be exposed.
This is the primary technique of those who endorse Bush's torture regime focus on the particular and ignore the whole. Any act slapping, running prisoners headfirst into walls, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, use of insects in confined spaces is bad enough on its own, but can be made to seem minor annoyances in isolation. But when these techniques are combined they become deadly. We have the bodies to prove it.