October 3, 2007

The other torture memos

We knew there were more disturbing memos floating around somewhere in the Office of Legal Counsel, and they're finally starting to come out. The Times has pieced together a large part of the story of how the OLC authorized the CIA to perform torture on the fly:

"With virtually no experience in interrogations, the C.I.A. had constructed its program in a few harried months by consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods long used in training American servicemen to withstand capture. The agency officers questioning prisoners constantly sought advice from lawyers thousands of miles away... [such as] “These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature — can they be combined?” Or “Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?”

The piece also introduces us to Steven Bradbury, who took over the OLC after the resignation of Jack Goldsmith. He seems to have become the OLC's chief enabler of the administration's torture policy after the departure of John Yoo (nicknamed "Dr. Yes" by John Ashcroft because of his apparent willingness to find a legal rationale for any interrogation technique that the administration could think up.)

One theme that runs throughout the piece is the politicization of the OLC--a once highly respected office whose role is to provide a sound interpretation of the law for the executive branch--not to offer creative suggestions for how the government can get away with what it wants to do. The politicization had already begun before Bradbury's arrival, but the Times points out that the administration “decided to watch Bradbury for a month or two" and put him on probation, making it difficult for him to disagree with the White House if he wanted to make the job a permanent one. I couldn't help but think of the disturbing revelation that the White House was secretly interviewing John Roberts about a Supreme Court vacancy while he was deciding Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld on the D.C. Court of Appeals--effectively turning the case into an audition. (Roberts, of course, passed with honors.)

And here's the thing that tends to get lost in the dramatic stories of the departures of Gonzales and Yoo, the revolt by principled lawyers like Jack Goldsmith and James Comey, and the withdrawal of Yoo's infamous 2002 memo:

"The 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics."

It will take a new administration and a new Congress to repair the damage.