Tag Archives: Office of Legal Counsel

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Barack Obama Isn’t Half the Man of Richard Nixon

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Forty years ago, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he would resign effective the next day.

At the time, aside from a tiny minority of dead-enders and a few desultory Congressional Republicans, an exhausted nation had arrived at a consensus that Nixon had to go. Politics had become too toxic, distrust of government too profound, and – most of all – the seriousness of the president’s crimes couldn’t be ignored. Judicial sanction wasn’t in Nixon’s future — Jerry Ford’s controversial pardon ensured that — but the ultimate political punishment, impeachment, seemed like the absolute minimum sanction in order to send the message that no man, no matter how powerful, was above the law. Nixon’s resignation, Ford assured Americans and the media agreed, proved that the system works.

Looking back now at what felt like a national cataclysm, however, we probably ought to dig up Tricky Dicky’s bones and beg him to accept our big fat apology.

Students of the Watergate scandal that led to that surreal day in August 1974 — the third day, expunged from history for fear of a repeat performance, when great crowds surrounded the White House, demanding that Nixon depart— will recall that it wasn’t the botched 1972 break-in at Democratic national headquarters that did Nixon in, but the cover-up.

By today’s standards, however, Nixon’s efforts to protect his henchmen, including his screwing around with the FBI investigation that led to an article of impeachment for obstruction of justice, look positively penny-ante, more worthy of a traffic ticket than a high crime or misdemeanor. Obstruction of justice, scandalous and impeachable just 40 years ago, has become routine.

Case study: Obama’s cover-up of torture.

Much bigger crime.

Much longer cover-up.

Much less of a problem.

Five and a half years after taking office, President Obama finally admitted what informed citizens have known since 2002: the United States tortures.

Obama has been covering up Bush-era torture throughout his tenure. (Not the act of torture by Americans, which has been widely reported and has inspired best-selling books and hit movies, but the governmental admission that attracts widespread attention and eventually creates pressure for action.) And even now, after finally admitting that the U.S. ranks with Myanmar and North Korea when it comes to this most basic of human rights, Obama refuses to authorize a formal investigation and prosecution of America’s torturers.

Bush’s torturers shouldn’t be hard to find: many of them are still working for the U.S. government, either force-feeding hunger-striking POWs at Gitmo or working for one of the branches specially exempted from Obama’s “no torture” order.

“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe – and I think any fair-minded person would believe – were torture, we crossed the line,” Obama told a press conference last week.

Better late than never. But not much better. Because, like so much of Obama’s rhetoric, they’re empty words.

Normally, when one crosses a line – is there a more clearly disgusting line than torture? – one faces consequences. Thanks to Obama, however, no one from the CIA, US military or other American government employee has ever suffered so much as a 1% pay cut as the result of drowning detainees, many of whom were released because they never committed any crime whatsoever, sodomizing kidnap victims with flashlights and other objects, subjecting people to extremes of heat, cold and sleep deprivation – not even for murdering detainees or driving them to suicide at American-run torture centers like Guantánamo concentration camp.

Though Obama had repeatedly promised throughout the 2008 presidential campaign that he would investigate war crimes under the George W. Bush administration and prosecute anyone found to have committed torture, soon after moving into the White House in 2009 Obama backtracked and infamously said that it was time to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” – in other words, there would never be a serious investigation.

That promise, he kept.

“At the CIA,” Obama said in 2009, “you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

The president didn’t explain why causing concern to torturers would be bad.

Lest there be any doubt about his intentions to kowtow to the national security police state, Obama even traveled to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia to reassure nervous torturers that they would have nothing to fear from him. In 2011, Obama’s Justice Department officially exonerated “anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees” — i.e., pretty much every U.S. government torturer.

Even now, while Obama is supposedly admitting that torture happened, he uses hokey countrified verbal constructions to diminish the horror while making excuses for those who committed them: “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were when the Twin Towers fell,” Obama said, as though there had been a universal demand for indiscriminate torture against teenage goatherds from Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had.”

The torturers, you see, were the victims.

Incredibly, Obama added the following nugget to last week’s some-folks-tortured-some-folks statement: “The character of our country has to be measured in part, not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.”

Richard Nixon covered up political dirty tricks and got impeached for it; Barack Obama is covering up torture and continues to authorize it with impunity.

It hardly seems fair. But when we measure Nixon’s character against that of Obama’s, we’ll take note of the one who finally did the right thing and resigned.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Professionals Behaving Badly

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The Drone Memo’s Hack Author Should Be In Prison. Instead, He’ll Be a Judge.

Conservatives say, and this is one of their more successful memes, that poor people are immoral. The proles have sex and kids out of wedlock and expect us (i.e., upstanding middle- and upper-class patriots) to pay for them. They steal Medicare and cheat on welfare. They don’t follow The Rules (rules written by, let’s just say, not them). Which makes them Bad.

This was always hogwash, of course. Though it is true that poverty causes people to do bad things, class and morals are uncorrelated. But who’s worse, the poor thief or the wealthy person who refuses to pay him a living wage?

America’s professional class has traditionally enjoyed a privileged position at the top of middlebrow America’s aspirational hierarchy. At the core of our admiration for doctors, lawyers and bankers was the presumption that these learned men and women adhered to strict codes of ethics. Doctors healed, lawyers respected the law and bankers didn’t steal.

When they did, there’d be hell to pay, not least from their brethren.

Evidence abounded that the clay content in the professional class’ metaphorical feet was no lower than anybody else’s. Thanks to recent developments, not least since 2008’s save-the-banks-not-the-people orgy of featherbedding at taxpayer expense, the fiction that we should look up to the technocracy is dying fast.

Not only are some physicians crapping on their Hippocratic oath by carrying out executions of prisoners and participating in the horrific torture of innocent concentration camp inmates, the associations charged with enforcing professional ethics sit on their old-boys-club hands. Big-time judges, depicted in movies as moral giants who love to get medieval on evil dirtbags whether in the mafia or the CIA, act like wimps instead, grumbling under their mint-flossed breath as they sign off on the federally-funded insertion of needles into innocent men’s penises.

Thurgood wept.

I got to thinking about the fall of the professional class after hearing that the White House has finally relented in its incessant stonewalling on the Drone Memo. Finally, we peons will get a peek at a legal opinion that the White House uses to justify using drones to blow up anyone, anywhere, including American citizens on American soil, for any reason the President deems fit.

When the news broke, I tweeted: “This should be interesting.”

I’m a cartoonist, but I can’t imagine any reading of the Constitution — left, right, in Swahili — that allows the president to circumvent due process and habeas corpus. I can’t see how Obama can get around Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, even after Bush amended it. Political assassinations are clearly proscribed: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” (Yes, even bin Laden.)

I have no doubt that David Barron, who is a professor at the very fancy Harvard Law School and held the impressive title of Former Acting Chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and who furthermore is President Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, did his very bestest with his mad legal skillz to come up with a “kill ’em all, let Obama sort ’em out” memo he could be proud of.

Still, this topic prompts two questions:

What kind of human being would accept such an assignment? Did anyone check for a belly button?

How badly would such a person have to mangle the English language, logic, Constitutional law and legal precedent, in order to extract the justification for mass murder he was asked to produce?

I haven’t seen the drone memo, but Senator Rand Paul has. Whatever legal hocus-pocus Barron deployed didn’t convince Paul. “There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court,” Paul said in a statement.

I’ll bet my next couple of paychecks that Paul is correct — and that Barron’s sophistry wouldn’t withstand a serious court challenge, not even before a panel of a dozen Antonin Scalias. After all, we’ve been here before.

Shortly after 9/11, Dick Cheney and his cadre of neo-con fanatics ordered the White House Office of Legal Counsel, the same entity behind Barron’s drone memo, to come up with a legal justification to give Bush legal cover for torturing suspected terrorists. When they emerged, the Torture Memos were roundly derided by legal experts as substandard, twisted and perverse readings of the Constitution, treaty obligations and case law. Read them. You’ll see.

In 2010, the Justice Department decided not to file charges against Torture Memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee on the grounds that the two men weren’t evil — just dumb. (Can’t they be both?) The Torture Memos, they ruled, were shoddy. That, I’m as sure as I can be about something I haven’t seen yet, will be the case with the drone memo.

As with Yoo and Bybee, both of whom went on to prosper in the legal profession rather than warm the prison cells they both richly deserve, Barron probably won’t lose anything as the result of his work on the drone memo. He’ll be a federal judge.

Yet another heavy stone on the grave of America’s once-vaunted professional class.

(Ted Rall, staff cartoonist and writer for Pando Daily, is author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.” Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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