Sunday Torture News

From Calitics, the California Democratic Party has resolved to support an impeachment inquiry into Jay Bybee, author of torture memos and federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. Congratulations to DDay (David Dayen) who launched petition to have the resolution adopted at this weekend’s state party convention. The text of the resolution is below the fold.

Meanwhile, at Firedoglake, George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science at UC Berkeley, makes a novel argument for torture investigations:

President Obama has argued that empathy is the basis of our democracy. It is because we care about others, he has argued, that we have principles like freedom and fairness, not just for ourselves but for everyone.  I have found, in studies of largely unconscious political conceptual systems, that empathy is the basis of progressive political thought, and the basis for the very idea of social, not just individual, responsibility. Conservative political thought is otherwise structured, based on authority, discipline, and responsibility for oneself but not others. The major moral, social, and political divide in America centers around empathy.

[Snip]

Torture violates empathy in the most direct way. The very neural system we use in creating inhuman, unbearable pain in someone you are looking at, hearing, and touching is the same neural system that equips us to feel the pain we are creating. It is the same neural system that creates human connections with others. And the same neural system that lies at the heart of political democracy. Turning it off is turning off humanity, and with it democracy.

It’s interesting. Go read the whole thing.

(more…)

Tu Quoque (Updated)

The lastest pushback from the Republican party on the released torture memos is the claim that Democrats knew about the techniques – waterboarding in particular – and raised no objections.

[A] full-blown battle has opened between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and her GOP counterpart, Ohio’s John Boehner about how much top Congressional leaders knew about water boarding in 2002. It is being fueled in part by a timeline released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by another California Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.

Boehner released news reports from 2007 that seemed to contradict Pelosi, and Pelosi’s office fired back with their own. Boehner said Congressional leaders “received an awful lot of information” about interrogations, and that “not a word was raised at the time, not one word. And I think you’re going to hear more and more about the bigger picture here, that … the war on terror after 9/11 was done in a bipartisan basis on lots of fronts.”

I agree entirely. In fact, this has been a long-running complaint among most progressives that the cotton candy ass Democrats in Congress did nothing to stop the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law over the past eight years. But this misses the point. Whether and when Congressional leaders knew about waterboarding is of no import on the question of whether Bush officials violated the law. It is of political import, of course, and of moral import. It may even be of legal import for those Congressional leaders (see: the Ministry Cases from Nuremberg). But on the sole question of whether war crimes were committed, it doesn’t matter.

I also think that this argument from Boehner evinces a basic misapprehension about what is going on here. Republicans are making a political defense because they believe all of this ‘torture stuff’ to be a political attack. Likely because if roles were reversed it would be a political attack. But it isn’t now. The D.C. political class is frankly doing everything in its power to avoid dealing with this, largely, I suspect, because they do know they face a serious political downside both for being seen as partisan and for having ignored the issue for so long. If not complicit they were at least complacent.

For most, if not all, prosecution advocates, it doesn’t matter who committed the crimes. I would want prosecutions just as strongly if a Democratic administration had been the bad actor. War crimes should never be swept under the rug. And, just to head you off at the pass, the Clinton impeachment was different. I would have been perfectly happy to have had Bill Clinton arrested and tried for perjury the minute he left office, but impeachment is a political process in a way that a criminal investigation and prosecution is definitively not. And, of course, perjury cannot really be compared to war crimes in any meaningful way.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi, this response you’ve developed isn’t going to work.

At that or any other briefing, and that was the only briefing that I was briefed on in that regard, we were not — I repeat, we were not — told that water boarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel — the Office of Legislative Counsel [sic] opinions that they could be used, but not that they would. And they further — further, the point was that if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time, A.

B, I know that there are some different interpretations coming out of that meeting. My colleague, the Chairman of the committee, has said, ‘Well, if they say that it’s legal, you have to know that they’re going to use them.’ Well, his experience is that he was a member of the CIA and later went on to head the CIA. And maybe his experience is that if they tell you one thing, they may mean something else. My experience was they did not tell us they were using that. Flat out. And any — any contention to the contrary is simply not true.

Speaker Pelosi, you had at the very least a moral obligation to prevent the administration from violating the law and committing a war crime. The mere fact that they believed they could torture people should have prompted all kinds of outrage. When the first reports about Abu Ghraib came out in January 2004, it should have been easy to connect the dots. By the time the Bybee memo leaked in the summer of 2004, you had no excuse whatsoever for not addressing this. Do not play coy. You hold a great deal of moral responsibility for what happened here, even if it is nowhere near the amount that accrues to the Bush administration. You can begin to redeem yourself by admitting your failures – the public loves a mea culpa. But more than being the correct political move, confession is good for the soul.

Update: Glenn Greenwald makes this same point quite a bit better than I do.

Update 2: It is worthwhile to remember that whatever Congresswoman Harman’s other flaws, she did protest the torture program.

Impeach Jay Bybee

I wrote yesterday about David Dayen’s petition to have the CDP adopt a resolution calling for Judge Bybee’s impeachment. Today, the Courage Campaign has joined the call. Sign their petition here. The deadline is Friday 9am – so sign now.

When President Barack Obama released the contents of President Bush’s torture memos, America learned the full extent of the horror that was unleashed at Guanatanamo Bay on detainees. One of the memos was written by Jay Bybee in August 2002. It authorized the use of waterboarding, “cramped confinement”, “walling” — where a detainee’s head is repeatedly pushed against a wall — and even putting insects into a confined space with a detainee.

Jay Bybee is now a federal judge here in California, serving on the important Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. He has not been held accountable for the lawbreaking he committed and enabled.

The California grassroots are determined to change that. Los Angeles Democratic activists John Heaner, Agi Kessler and Richard Mathews have sponsored a resolution calling on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Jay Bybee.

Update: And here is a petition to John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from the People For the American Way.

Impeach Jay Bybee

One of the more disturbing issues arising from the torture memos that have been slowly released by the Obama administration is the presence of one of their authors, Jay Bybee, on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case for his impeachment by Congress has been made elsewhere, citing both the poor quality of the legal reasoning the memos and their criminality.

For California Democrats, David Dayen has prepared an online petition urging the state party to adopt a resolution calling for Judge Bybee’s impeachment at this week’s convention. Go sign it online or contact the party leadership directly.

Sacramento Office
(916) 442-5707 phone
(916) 442-5715 fax

Los Angeles Office
(310) 407-0980 phone
(310) 407-0981 fax

email contact form

Department of “Huh?”: LA Times 9th Circuit Reporting

I don’t particularly understand what prompted this article in the LA Times on the 9th Circuit.

If I were a suspicious conservative, I might suspect that it was an attempt by the liberal media to rally the troops in preparation for confirmation battles. However, I don’t see this as being particularly effective in that regard (and if the goal was to arrest the conservative trend, then the article was needed years ago to rally opposition to Bush appointments.)

Frankly, given the current and future openings on the court, it seems strange to describe the court at ‘trending conservative’ – that trend is very likely to be reversed in the relatively short term. Especially if the court is expanded, as it should be, to reflect its increased work-load, allowing Obama to appoint a full quarter of the judges.

More importantly, though, the article is all over the place. It discusses dissents from denial of rehearing en banc. It mentions briefly and in passing Bybee’s role in authorizing torture, but has no comment. It uncritically accepts conservative arguments that the traditionally liberal bent of the court is encouraging forum shopping, as if forum shopping wasn’t a major component of the justice system in general and as if there isn’t similar forum shopping in, say, the 4th Circuit.

I don’t really see how this kind of poorly explained judicial reporting sufficiently informs the public to participate in debates over judicial reform and judicial appointments.

Addendum: Credit where credit is due, they do refer to Bybee as authorizing “torture” instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It is good to see the media using the word torture in a straight reporting piece.

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Newly Released OLC Torture Memos: First Thoughts

I don’t have the time to read them completely, nor to respond in any kind of detail, but here is my first thought. Doesn’t this (h/t Glenn Greenwald):

bybee2-insects

Remind you of this?

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four metres away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water.

Lovely.

Here are the links to the memos themselves care of the ACLU (h/t emptywheel):

August 1, 2002 John Yoo memo

First May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury memo

Second May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury memo

May 30, 2005 Steven Bradbury memo

Finally, I agree entirely with emptywheel that the ACLU deserves more support. Like so many other organizations that rely on donations, they’ve been hard hit by the economic downturn, but they’re still fighting the good fight.

Update: Firedoglake has a petition asking Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor who will determine whether criminal prosecutions are warranted. Sign it here.

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bush Administration Legal Memos

ProPublica has published an interactive list of Bush Administration ‘secret’ memos on torture, wiretapping, and the scope of executive authority. It is an important reference on the subject.

Ultimately, President Obama and the Attorney General will have to decide whether to release these memos to the public. Regardless of whether investigations or prosecutions of Bush officials occur, these memos should be released so the nation can appropriately discuss and repudiate the actions and legal positions of the last eight years.