The Anti-Alberto Gonzalez

I hope that Will S. Hylton's profile of Eric Holder is getting the attention it deserves. It really is an excellent piece of journalism that zeroes in on Obama's greatest failures on national security. Forgive me for quoting at length:

Throughout the 2008 campaign, Obama was clear in his condemnation of these policies, positioning himself as a constitutional scholar devoted to restoring the rule of law. "No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient," he bellowed in a speech during the summer of 2007. "That is not who we are, and it's not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists." 

By the time of his election fifteen months later, Obama's campaign literature promised not only to ban torture but to offer enemy combatants access to the courts. "The right of habeas corpus allows prisoners to ask a court to determine whether they are being lawfully imprisoned," one campaign document explained. "Recently, this right has been denied to those deemed 'enemy combatants.' Barack Obama strongly supports bipartisan efforts to restore habeas rights." 

Separately, Holder was advocating the same policy. "Our government authorized the use of torture," he said in a 2008 speech, "secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused 'enemy combatants,' and authorized the use of procedures that both violate international law and the United States Constitution.... We owe the American people a reckoning." 

Yet as Holder settled into the Justice Department in February 2009, that "reckoning" would become the first test of his independence as attorney general. On the campaign trail, Obama had blasted torture as illegal, but as president he had little incentive to prosecute the crime, which would be distracting and politically costly. At the DOJ, however, Holder was experiencing just the opposite pull. 

If the abuse of prisoners seemed illegal from the outside, on the inside he was privy to a host of new evidence that painted an even more damning picture. As he flipped through the pages of one report, Holder told me, reading descriptions of field agents holding a power drill to the head of one prisoner, strangling another, battering some, waterboarding others, and threatening to rape their wives and children, he was filled with "a combination of disgust and sadness." "I have a great love for this country," he told me as we sat in his office one day. "I believe in the concept of this country. I believe in the rightness of the way we do things. 

And when confronted with the things I saw in that report--to think that Americans did those kind of things--that's totally at odds with what I believe about our country. At a fundamental, very personal, emotional level, it was inherently un-American." It was also almost certainly illegal. Under the U.S. criminal code, torturing anyone, anywhere, for any reason is a crime, and anyone who "conspires to commit" torture is guilty under the same statute. By crafting the administration's torture policy, Yoo and Bybee could be implicated in thousands of criminal acts. "The memos are criminal," says attorney Ben Wizner of the ACLU's National Security Project. "They weren't written to explain the law--they were written to evade the law. They were part of a criminal conspiracy to create immunity for war crimes."

I also liked the fact that Hylton, while dealing with Rahm Emanuel, did not give Obama a pass by blaming Emanuel. Obama is still the president. Check out the piece. And then by the magazine. There's a great Q&A with Jimmy Kimmel in the same issue.