by Robert Parry: Why
Journalist Gary Webb Died
If the United
States had a functioning criminal justice system for the powerful
– not just for run-of-the-mill offenders – former Vice
President Dick Cheney would have convicted himself and some of his
Bush administration colleagues with his comments on ABC’s “This
Cheney pronounced himself “a big supporter of waterboarding,”
a near-drowning technique that has been regarded as torture back
to the Spanish Inquisition and that has long been treated by U.S.
authorities as a serious war crime, such as when Japanese commanders
were prosecuted for using it on American prisoners during World
unrepentant about his support for the technique. He answered with
an emphatic "yes" when asked if he had opposed the Bush
administration’s decision to suspend the use of waterboarding
– after it was employed against three “high-value detainees”
sometimes in repetitive sequences. He added that waterboarding should
still be “on the table” today.
went further. Speaking with a sense of impunity, he casually negated
a key line of defense that senior Bush officials had hidden behind
for years – that the brutal interrogations were approved by
independent Justice Department legal experts who thus gave the administration
a legitimate reason to believe the actions were within the law.
Sunday, Cheney acknowledged that the White House had told the Justice
Department lawyers what legal opinions to render. In other words,
the opinions amounted to ordered-up lawyering to permit the administration
to do whatever it wanted.
to a question about why he had so aggressively attacked President
Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism policies, Cheney explained
that he had been concerned about the new administration prosecuting
some CIA operatives who had handled the interrogations and “disbarring
lawyers with the Justice Department who had helped us put those
policies together. …
it was important for some senior person in the administration to
stand up and defend those people who’d done what we asked them
comment about the Justice lawyers who had “done what we asked
them to do” was an apparent reference to John Yoo and his boss,
Jay Bybee, at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), a powerful agency
that advises the President on the limits of his power.
In 2002, Yoo
– while working closely with White House officials – drafted
legal memos that permitted waterboarding and other brutal techniques
by narrowly defining torture. He also authored legal opinions that
asserted virtual dictatorial powers for a President during war,
even one as vaguely defined as the “war on terror.” Yoo’s
key memos were then signed by Bybee.
In 2003, after
Yoo left to be a law professor at the University of California at
Berkeley and Bybee was elevated to a federal appeals court judgeship
in San Francisco, their successors withdrew the memos because of
the sloppy scholarship. However, in 2005, President George W. Bush
appointed a new acting chief of the OLC, Steven Bradbury, who restored
many of the Yoo-Bybee opinions.
In the years
that followed, Bush administration officials repeatedly cited the
Yoo-Bybee-Bradbury legal guidance when insisting that the “enhanced
interrogation” of “war on terror” detainees –
as well as prisoners from the Iraq and Afghan wars – did not
cross the line into torture.
the Bush-Cheney defense was that the OLC lawyers offered honest
opinions and that everyone from the President and Vice President,
who approved use of the interrogation techniques, down to the CIA
interrogators, who conducted the torture, operated in good faith.
that narrative proved to be false – if the lawyers had colluded
with the policymakers to create legal excuses for criminal acts
– then the Bush-Cheney defense would collapse. Rather than
diligent lawyers providing professional advice, the picture would
be of Mob consiglieres counseling crime bosses how to evade the
administration defenders have long denied that the legal opinions
were cooked, the evidence has long supported the conspiratorial
interpretation. For instance, in his 2006 book War
by Other Means, Yoo himself described his involvement in
frequent White House meetings regarding what “other means”
should receive a legal stamp of approval. Yoo wrote:
White House held its procession of Christmas parties and receptions
in December 2001, senior lawyers from the Attorney General’s
office, the White House counsel’s office, the Departments of
State and Defense and the NSC [National Security Council] met a
few floors away to discuss the work on our opinion. …
group of lawyers would meet repeatedly over the next months to develop
policy on the war on terrorism. "
Yoo said meetings
were usually chaired by Alberto Gonzales, who was then White House
counsel and later became Bush’s second Attorney General. Yoo
identified other key players as Timothy Flanigan, Gonzales’s
deputy; William Howard Taft IV from State; John Bellinger from the
NSC; William “Jim” Haynes from the Pentagon; and David
Addington, counsel to Cheney.
In his book,
Yoo described a give-and-take among participants at the meeting
with the State Department’s Taft challenging Yoo’s OLC
view that Bush could waive the Geneva Conventions regarding the
invasion of Afghanistan (by labeling it a “failed state”).
Taft noted that the Taliban was the recognized government of the
Taft’s memo represented the typically conservative thinking
of foreign ministries, which places a priority on stabilizing relations
with other states – even if it means creating or maintaining
fictions – rather than adapting to new circumstances,”
from the Pentagon’s judge advocate generals – who feared
that waiving the Geneva Conventions would endanger American soldiers
– Yoo again stressed policy concerns, not legal logic.
far from obvious that following the Geneva Conventions in the war
against al-Qaeda would be wise,” Yoo wrote. “Our policy
makers had to ask whether [compliance] would yield any benefit or
act as a hindrance.”
book and other evidence make clear is that the lawyers from the
Justice Department’s OLC weren’t just legal scholars handing
down opinions from an ivory tower; they were participants in how
to make Bush’s desired actions “legal.”
Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the
Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck
Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written
with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy
& Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq
History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.