The NYT's Continuing Slide On Torture

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 responsibilty.

Glenn homes in on the critical revelation:

Comey described exactly what was happening with this process:  that the White House was demanding and pressuring the issuance of these memos, but that once the torture regime became public -- as Comey warned that it would -- White House officials would defend themselves by heaping the blame on Gonzales and other DOJ lawyers, deceitfully pretending that they were merely following in good faith DOJ advice about what was and was not legal.

This is their shell-game now. And it's working! The lawyers were at the heart of the golden legal shield, and were willing to go through any legal hoops and shenanigans to call what is illegal "legal" because their political masters demanded it. (Notice that Comey even uses quotation marks around "legal" in a memo to Gonzales). He knows what's going on, and while too cowed to actually call unlawful acts unlawful, he nonetheless tries to stop them - because he knew that if people actually knew what Cheney authorized, behind the euphemisms and legal shenanigans, then the Bush administration would go down in history as torturers and pariahs. As they should.

So they destroyed the evidence - the CIA tapes, the last interrogation tape of Padilla, the records at Camp Nama (overseen by McChrystal), and suppressed as many photographs from Abu Ghraib and elsewhere that they could. Without the Abu Ghraib photographs, they would have gotten away with all of it.

Actually, of course, they have gotten away with all of it, subjecting the reservists at the very bottom of the heap to take the fall, as they continue to spin and lie and dissemble and reinvent the past. All with the help, of course, of the New York Times. But Comey was right. This will all come out. And we must not flinch or falter in exposing every single aspect of it.