How the Torture Report Will Reshape Politics

The aftermath of the Yoo-Bybee report

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Late on Friday, the Department of Justice released a report by the Office of Professional Responsibility on Bush-era DoJ lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote the authorization for torture. As expected, the OPR report condemned Yoo and Bybee for "poor judgment" but not professional misconduct. Analysts think the report could reshape our view of the Bush legacy, our national security policy, and perhaps even American identity.

Within The Atlantic, be sure to read James Fallows's comparison of Bush-era torture to Hiroshima, Adam Serwer's exploration of law versus ideology, and Marc Ambinder's parsing of the report. Here's what the rest of the Web is saying.

  • This Is 'Just The Beginning'  National security law think-tanker Daphne Eviatar calls this "just the beginning of a bigger and more important battle ... over whether the U.S. government will meet its obligations to thoroughly investigate what happened and hold the perpetrators accountable." She insists we not focus on punishing Yoo and Bybee but ask, "who ordered these lawyers to come up with legal reasoning to justify torture? The OPR report suggests that David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, played a significant role. Who was he getting his orders from?"
  • Americans Unwilling to Confront True Villains  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias suggests Yoo and Bybee are mere scapegoats for a nation incapable to admitting the real culprits. "The crux of the matter is that serious violations of domestic and international law were committed thanks to orders given at the highest level. But it would be politically unthinkable to hold the front-line perpetrators of the torture accountable while ignoring the fact that their conduct was specifically authorized by the relevant officials. And it would also be politically unthinkable to put Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. on trial for their lawbreaking. So the idea of John Yoo as the villain began to take shape."
  • Reveals Dept. of Justice In Crisis  Law blogger John Balkin says the report reveals that "the standard for attorney misconduct is set pretty damn low, and is only violated by lawyers who (here I put it colloquially) are the scum of the earth. Lawyers barely above the scum of the earth are therefore excused."
These rules are set up by jurisdictions to weed out the worst offenders, leaving the rest of the legal profession to make entirely stupid, disingenuous and asinine arguments that normal people with functioning moral consciences would not make. That is to say, rules of professional misconduct are aimed at weeding out sociopaths and people driven to theft and egregious incompetence by serious drug and alcohol abuse problems; they do not guarantee that lawyers will do right by their clients, or, in this case, by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America. In effect, by setting the standard of conduct so low, rules of professional conduct effectively work to protect all those lawyers out there whose moral standing is just a hair's breadth above your average mass murderer. This is how the American legal profession simultaneously polices and takes care of its own.
  • National Security, Law and Politics  The Wall Street Journal worries the three fields are merging into one, to the detriment of all. "Democrats wanted to appease the anti-antiterror left, and they fixed on punishing mid-level officials as prominent enough to get public attention but not so prominent as to seem like a banana republic seeking revenge against a former President or Vice President. Their campaign has now been exposed as a partisan, and unethical, smear."
  • Dept. of Justice Split With CIA  Newsweek's Michael Isikoff says it began under Bush and continues today. "The report provides some fascinating new glimpses into the inner battles within the Bush administration over these issues ... while the turmoil within the Bush administration may now belong to the history books, the real news from the OPR report is that the fall-out from the CIA’s practices is far from over—and almost certainly will resurface again if and when any of the detainees make it into a courtroom."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.