Jay Bybee: Self-Pitying Torturer

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The functionaries who implemented policies of torture and mass murder on behalf of the National Socialist regime “were not sadists or killers by nature,” observed Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. This meant that some method had to be devised “to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering.”

“The trick used by Himmler … was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self,” Arendt continued. “So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!”

Judge Jay S. Bybee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who played a key role in devising the Bush junta’s torture policies, appears to have mastered Himmler’s method of redirecting pity from his victims to himself.

On May 26, Bybee testified in a closed-door meeting of the  House Judiciary Committee regarding his role in devising a legal rationale for torture of detainees.

Bybee — described in a flattering profile as a pious man, a Sunday School teacher who established a household rule forbidding his children to hit each other — signed off on a series of memos written by John C. Yoo that “authorized” the torture of detainees.

Although he told the House committee that certain degrading techniques employed by the CIA “were not authorized,” the memos he and Yoo devised purported to offer legal shelter for a torturer in the employ of the president who killed a detainee.

Bybee was appointed assistant Attorney General in charge of the “Justice” Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) on the understanding that he would receive a coveted judicial appointment if his performance pleased his boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

For his part, Yoo had designs on Bybee’s position, which — although all but unknown to the public — offers access to lucrative and powerful positions in both the government and major government-aligned private law firms.

Yoo dutifully devised specious arguments in favor of unlimited presidential “war powers,” and Bybee eagerly gave them the OLC’s imprimatur. As Judge Andrew Napolitano points out in his book Lies The Government Told You, this is exactly the opposite of how the OLC is supposed to function: “[T]he OLC is supposed to work as a check on the executive branch, representing a line of defense against unlawful executive activity.”

In search of personal gain, Bybee and Yoo perverted the law in order to enable torture. They are therefore liable to prosecution under bribery statutes. At the very least, Bybee should face impeachment, since bribery is specifically mentioned in the Constitution as an impeachable offense.

Obviously, Jay Bybee has ample cause for remorse — even leaving aside the fact that he enabled the torture of human beings, many of whom were (and are) completely innocent.

Yet when asked during the May 26 hearing if he had any regrets, Bybee displayed what Glenn Greenwald correctly describes as “sociopathic self-absorption.”

According to the New York Times, Bybee described himself as “proud” of the suborned memos he signed at the OLC,  insisting that they were “well researched” and “very carefully written.”

“Still, he said the controversy surrounding his tenure there had been difficult,” observed the Times:

“`I have regrets because of the notoriety that this has brought me,’ he said. `It has imposed enormous pressures on me both professionally and personally. It has had an impact on my family. And I regret that, as a result of my government service, that that kind of attention has been visited on me and on my family.'”

Weep not for those drowned, beaten, blinded, suffocated, subjected to genital mutilation, and murdered because of policies Bybee crafted in the service of fuhrerprinzip and his own ambition. Spare your tears instead for Bybee himself, who has suffered the indignity of being criticized for the pivotal role he played in institutionalizing such barbarism.

Himmler would recognize, and most likely admire, the ease with which Bybee has mastered the Nazi tactic of moral displacement.

12:59 am on July 20, 2010