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“All Were In The Moral Sewer”: Don’t Let The Bush Administration Off The Hook For Torture

There’s a new report out today from McClatchey on the CIA’s torture program based on that Intelligence Committee report. They got a closer look at it than journalists have before, so there are some more details. But there’s a danger in how this could be interpreted that will serve to let people who were complicit in the torture program off the hook, so we need to be careful about how we deal with this information. But first, here are their bullets:

  • The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
  • The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
  • The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  • The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

And now to put this in context:

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn’t breach the law because those applying them didn’t have the specific intent of inflicting severe pain or suffering.

The Senate report, however, concluded that the Justice Department’s legal analyses were based on flawed information provided by the CIA, which prevented a proper evaluation of the program’s legality.

“The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” the report found.

Several human rights experts said the conclusion called into question the program’s legal foundations.

“Proper legal analysis” my ass. This paints a picture that is completely at odds with everything else we know about what was going on in the Bush administration at the time. The report would have us believe that Bush administration lawyers came up with a reasonable, well-grounded definition of torture that allowed the CIA to interrogate people in an “enhanced” way, but the CIA went rogue and tortured their prisoners. I’m sorry, but that’s a joke.

The truth was this: the administration wanted to torture people. Lawyers in the White House Counsel’s office, then run by Alberto Gonzales, wrote a series of memos justifying it, using positively laughable logic and arguments sending a clear message to any official who might have a prisoner in their custody that you could do just about anything you wanted to him, and we’ll back you up by saying it wasn’t really “torture.” For instance, the infamous “Bybee memo” argued that it’s only torture if you’re acting with “specific intent” to cause pain and suffering, and if the causing of pain and suffering isn’t the intent for its own sake, but rather that using the pain and suffering to extract information is your intent, then presto, you’ve only tortured with “general intent,” and therefore you haven’t actually tortured. Bybee also wrote that though the statute forbidding torture mentioned the infliction of “severe” pain, we could construe pain to be “severe” only if it rose “to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant bodily function.” In other words, if I take a pair of pliers and tear out your fingernails, then I haven’t actually inflicted “severe” pain on you, because you’re still alive, your organs are intact, and you can still use your fingers. And therefore there hasn’t been any torture.

And that wasn’t even the only one; there was another infamous memo from John Yoo arguing that, in effect, if the president orders it, it’s not torture. This is the kind of “legal guidance” the CIA was getting from the White House. So the idea that they just went too far and exceeded the legal justification for what they were doing is baloney. The CIA may have been lying about what kinds of intelligence the torture was yielding, and they may even have been lying about exactly what methods they were employing. But everything they did—every waterboarding session, every use of stress positions, every use of sleep deprivation, and even every impromptu beat-down that may have occurred—happened because George W. Bush, through the lawyers who reported to him, told the CIA that it was A-OK to torture prisoners.

Bureaucratic conflicts between agencies are certainly of interest to historians. But the last thing we should ever do is let a report like this make us absolve anyone of responsibility for the torture program. The President, the Vice-President, the lawyers, the CIA—they all dove into that moral sewer together.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 11, 2014

April 12, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Deepening Criminal Probe”: Christie’s Simmering Scandals Grow More Serious In NJ

Two weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) handpicked legal team issued a report – it was more taxpayer-financed propaganda than legal analysis – clearing their client of wrongdoing. As part of the public-relations push surrounding the stunt, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked the governor, “So this report has just come out, it exonerates you completely. Do you feel exonerated?”

Christie responded, “Yes, I do. But I also always knew that this is where it would end.”

Except, literally nothing about the governor’s ongoing scandals has “ended.” On the contrary, as Rachel noted on the show on Friday night, the probe is growing more serious, not less.

A federal grand jury has begun hearing testimony in the criminal investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal, and Gov. Chris Christie’s chief spokesman is among those who have testified, his lawyer said Friday.

The grand jury action is considered a major development in the ongoing controversy that has enveloped the Christie administration for months. What began as a preliminary inquiry into whether federal laws might have been “implicated” has morphed into a deepening criminal probe to determine whether federal laws have actually been broken.

And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Since these revelations on Friday, the developments have grown even more alarming.

David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official at the center of the George Washington Bridge lane-closings scandal, spent several days meeting with federal prosecutors in Newark last week, according to a report posted online by a Washington-based publication that says it covers “insider news” about the U.S. Department of Justice.

The publication, called “Main Justice,” is also reporting that Charlie McKenna, former chief legal counsel to Gov. Chris Christie, met secretly in mid-January with investigators in the office of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

 Esquire’s Scott Raab had a related report on Wildstein cooperating with federal prosecutor’s office, which has reportedly added to the number of attorneys working on this case.

If Christie thinks his own lawyers freeing him of responsibility “ended” the scandal, he’s going to be awfully disappointed. Look for more on this on tonight’s show.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2014

April 8, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , | Leave a comment

Suspending Preschoolers?: Troubling Pattern Of Zero-Tolerance School Policies That Disproportionately Impact Minority Students

There’s nothing especially surprising about the notion that some kids will get into trouble and face school suspensions. But the fact that in the United States, thousands of preschoolers get suspended, and the pattern disproportionately affects African-American children, is very surprising, indeed.

A staggering new report released by the Department of Education and the Justice Department on Friday highlights a troubling pattern of zero-tolerance school discipline policies that disproportionately impact minority students in general, but also trickle down to the nation’s youngest students.

Overzealous enforcement of school discipline policies and all of the negative outcomes associated with them are often framed around older children and middle and high school students, but the government’s report shows just how deeply the disparities extend.

The entirety of the report is online here.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this morning. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, told the AP, “I think most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-years-olds as being innocent.”

“Shocked” is certainly the right word. Trymaine Lee’s report included this remarkable statistic: “While black children represent only 18% of preschool enrollment nationally, they make up 42% of students suspended once and nearly half of students who are suspended more than once.”

Let’s also not overlook the consequences of such punitive measures.

Jamelle Bouie had a good piece on this.

Suspensions lead to more absences, as students become disconnected from the school. In one study of 180,000 Florida students, researchers found that just one suspension in ninth grade can drastically reduce a student’s chance of graduating in four years. What’s more – compared to their white peers – black teenagers are more likely to be stopped by the police and arrested for drug possession, despite similar rates of drug use.

When you put all of this together, you have a world where African American youth – boys and girls – have vastly higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison…. In other words, we have a status quo that’s nearly designed to deliver the worst outcomes to African American students.

Good for Duncan and the Department of Education for shining a light on the problem. Now it’s time for educators to address these policies in practical, sensible ways.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2014

March 24, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Adegbile’s Denied Confirmation Is Affront To Our Principles”: A Handful Of Democrats Help Launch The Explosives

Last week, the floor of the U.S. Senate was the scene of a bipartisan travesty, an affront to the principles of the Constitution, an assault on the notion of American exceptionalism. With the help of several Democrats, Republicans refused to confirm Debo P. Adegbile, President Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

The GOP’s resistance was expected since its senators oppose every nominee the president puts forward. But this time, Adegbile’s new job was torpedoed because a handful of Democrats stepped forward to help launch the explosives. They found objections in Adegbile’s résumé, despite his impeccable credentials, sterling reputation and years of advocacy in the causes associated with civil rights.

Indeed, it is precisely that advocacy that led to the assault on his qualifications. His alleged misstep? Adegbile, a lawyer, was tangentially involved in filing a court challenge on behalf of a former Black Panther named Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Adegbile was litigation director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it filed a brief contesting the jury-sentencing instructions, an argument which resulted in commutation of Abu-Jamal’s sentence from death to life in prison in 2012.

That process is embedded in decades of case law. Defense attorneys are supposed to vigorously represent accused criminals — no matter the crimes with which they have been charged, no matter their guilt or innocence, no matter how radical their demeanor or vile their behavior — especially in capital cases.

Among the people who ought to understand that is Pennsylvania’s senior Democratic senator, Bob Casey. If he had any decency, any gumption, any courage, Casey would have helped to smooth Adegbile’s path.

He would have noted that American justice rests on the idea that each person stands equally before the bar, a credo that cannot be upheld without defense attorneys for the accused. The senator might have pointed out that in the U.S. armed forces, even the most heinous criminals are represented by competent defense counsel. And he might have reminded Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police that Adegbile did not spare Abu-Jamal’s life. A federal court did so because it agreed that instructions to the jury were unconstitutional.

Instead, Casey led the Democratic opposition. He explained his refusal to support the nominee with this statement:

“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. (But) it is important … citizens … have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the city of Philadelphia.”

That statement is confusing, contradictory and just plain dumb. Casey will ignore the system of law because of the awful grief borne by Maureen Faulkner? I cannot begin to imagine what her family has endured since her husband was gunned down shortly before his 26th birthday, but we don’t allow the anguish of families to dictate justice. If we did, they could serve as jurors, judges and executioners. But that wouldn’t be any different from a lynch mob, would it?

Similarly, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) explained his stick-in-the eye to Adegbile by speaking of the pain endured by the Faulkner family, even while acknowledging that “an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client.” That wasn’t as outlandish as the rhetoric from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who claimed that Adegbile was “seeking to glorify an unrepentant cop-killer,” but it was a non sequitur.

In this shameful episode, the person who best represented American values was Adegbile, the son of a Nigerian father and an Irish immigrant mother. He clearly puts more faith in the fundamental principles of his homeland than the 52 senators who voted against him.

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 8, 2014

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Something Very Twisted Instead”: Straightforward? Not The Best Description Of Chris Christie, Or His Pal Karl Rove

When Karl Rove praises a politician’s “straightforward” approach to an erupting scandal, it seems wise to expect that something very twisted will instead emerge in due course – and to consider his real objectives.

In this instance, the former Bush White House political boss – and current Republican SuperPAC godfather – was discussing Chris Christie’s response to “Bridgegate,” as the events surrounding the vengeful closure of part of the George Washington Bridge by the New Jersey governor’s aides is now known.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Rove said that Christie “did himself a lot of good” during the famous two-hour press conference on the scandal, when he sorrowfully announced the firing of a deputy chief of staff and a top state party official, for “lying” to him about the bridge affair.

“I think his handling of this, being straightforward, taking action — saying, ‘I’m responsible’ — firing the people probably gives him some street cred with some Tea Party Republicans, who say that’s what we want in a leader, somebody who steps up and takes responsibility,” said Rove. Pandering to the Fox audience, he went on to contrast the righteous Christie with Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as Barack Obama, and to note that the IRS and Benghazi “scandals” hadn’t gotten nearly enough attention compared with Bridgegate.

While Rove sticks a halo on the man his old boss Dubya used to call “Big Boy,” everyone else might want to wait for the documents and testimony forthcoming from investigations at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, in both houses of the New Jersey legislature, in the Department of Justice and in the United States Senate.

Observers dazzled by Christie’s press conference performance should perhaps ask themselves how his top aides managed to pursue this scheme – evidently in revenge against the mayor of Fort Lee, the New Jersey commuter town so badly damaged by the closing of traffic lanes – under his nose.

They might ask why the governor continued to believe, as he says he did, that the controversial action resulted from a “traffic safety study” for almost a month after the Port Authority’s top executive and two other PA officials testified last December 9 that no such study ever existed.

They might further ask about the curious photograph published by the Wall Street Journal on January 14, showing Christie yukking it up in public with David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who ordered the lane closures at the behest of Bridget Anne Kelly, last September 11 — three days into the traffic crisis in Fort Lee.

And they might then ask why Christie insisted — at the endless press conference where his candor so impressed Rove — that he has had “no contact with David Wildstein in a long time, a long time, well before the election.”

Christie’s description of his supposedly distant relationship with Wildstein is only one among many of his claims of innocence that contradict either the public record or common sense — or both. While awaiting additional information from Wildstein and other potentially immunized defendants, however, it may be worth considering the history that links Christie to Rove – and why the Republican strategist is so enamored of the New Jersey governor.

Their relationship was first exposed during the Bush administration’s U.S. Attorneys scandal, when investigations of the gross political abuse of the Justice Department by the Bush White House clearly implicated Rove. Among the U.S. Attorneys cited as dubious political appointees was Christie, whose law partner, a top Bush fundraiser and Republican operative, had forwarded his résumé to Rove. Later, while still in the U.S. Attorney’s office – where he stage-managed a blatantly political election-year probe of Democratic senator Robert Menendez – Christie consulted with Rove about running for governor.

Christie is exactly the sort of presidential hopeful that a notorious bully like Rove prefers: a blustering loudmouth with a common touch; an experienced fundraiser who knows how to find the money; a Wall Street conservative capable of stirring up the base without scaring the independents. Without Christie as the GOP’s 2016 frontrunner, Rove has no plausible alternative to Tea Party hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz – and may see his own power, already waning, finally eclipsed.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 16, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Child Labor, Karl Rove | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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