moral compass?

Posted on Wednesday 19 December 2007

At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials. The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged.

Those who took part, the officials said, included Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel.

It was previously reported that some administration officials had advised against destroying the tapes, but the emerging picture of White House involvement is more complex. In interviews, several administration and intelligence officials provided conflicting accounts as to whether anyone at the White House expressed support for the idea that the tapes should be destroyed. One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. The former official did not specify which White House officials took this position, but he said that some believed in 2005 that any disclosure of the tapes could have been particularly damaging after revelations a year earlier of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Some other officials assert that no one at the White House advocated destroying the tapes. Those officials acknowledged, however, that no White House lawyer gave a direct order to preserve the tapes or advised that destroying them would be illegal.

The current and former officials also provided new details about the role played in November 2005 by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the chief of the agency’s clandestine branch, who ultimately ordered the destruction of the tapes. The officials said that before he issued a secret cable directing that the tapes be destroyed, Mr. Rodriguez received legal guidance from two C.I.A. lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger. The officials said that those lawyers gave written guidance to Mr. Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.

The agency did not make either Mr. Hermes or Mr. Eatinger available for comment. Current and former officials said the two lawyers informed the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, about the legal advice they had provided. But officials said Mr. Rodriguez did not inform either Mr. Rizzo or Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director, before he sent the cable to destroy the tapes

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff advised the CIA between 2002 and 2003 that its agents had the legal authority to use techniques that included waterboarding on one of the agency’s so-called "high level detainees," according to a little-known report published in January 2005.That interrogation was videotaped and the tape later was destroyed. Chertoff was head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division when CIA officials inquired whether its agents could be charged with violating the federal anti-torture statute for employing interrogation methods such as waterboarding. The tactic is intended to make detainees feel as if they are drowning.

"The CIA was seeking to determine the legal limits of interrogation practices for use in cases like that of Abu Zubaydah, the Qaeda lieutenant who was captured in March 2002," says a January 29, 2005, New York Times story. That story quoted unnamed sources who told the newspaper that "Chertoff was directly involved in these discussions, in effect evaluating the legality of techniques proposed by the CIA by advising the agency whether its employees could go ahead with proposed interrogation methods without fear of prosecution."

During his Senate confirmation hearing in February 2005, Chertoff maintained that he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods and never specifically addressed the legality regarding waterboarding or other techniques.

However, Chertoff, according to intelligence sources who spoke to Truthout, told former CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that an August 1, 2002, memo widely referred to as the "Torture Memo" put the CIA on solid legal ground and that its agents could waterboard a prisoner without fear of prosecution. The memo was written by former Justice Department attorney John Yoo. Yoo’s memo said that Congress "may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."

The videotaped interrogations were destroyed in November 2005, after The Washington Post published a story that first exposed the CIA’s use of so-called "black site" prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects, using techniques that were not legal on US soil. The Post’s story discussed Abu Zubaydah and the harsh methods the CIA used when questioning detainees. However, it’s unknown whether the Post’s story directly led to the destruction of the videotapes.

An intelligence official told Truthout that the CIA’s Muller and Rizzo feared that the Justice Department’s issuance of a new legal opinion defining torture in broader terms than Yoo’s August 2002 memo would expose its agents – specifically those who interrogated Abu Zubaydah – to prosecution and so Rizzo had approved the destruction of the videotapes. That reported approval followed publication of The Washington Post story exposing the CIA’s secret prisons, and the new legal opinion defining torture

Here we go again. The Bush Administration decides to do something positively aggregious and so their lawyers get together to figure out some way to rationalize doing it [in secret]. Then, they begin to worry somebody might find out what they did and so their lawyers get together and figure out some way to cover their tracks and rationalize doing the covering [in secret]. Then they get exposed and their lawyers get together and try to figure out some way to not talk about the first two times they got together in the first place and cover-up the cover-up. Blah, Blah, Blah. Or who was the moral giant who said, "If we can’t torture them on U.S. soil, how about moving them somewhere else and torturing them." Or "That Judge ordered us not to destroy evidence in Gitmo, so it must be okay to destroy evidence in some other prison overseas." Or, "I’ve got an idea! Let’s film it so when he breaks and tells us where Osama is, we can show it on T.V. so they’ll understand why torture is a good idea." Or, "Didn’t we film that waterboarding thing? That stuff has to go." The Legal section in the George W. Bush Library will have Volumes like:
  • "How to Break the Law Without Being Culpable"
  • "Living In The Loopholes: How To Find Them"
  • "How To Rationalize That The Law Doesn’t Apply"
  • "Executive Privilege: What Doesn’t It Cover?"
  • etc.

The Freudian view of morality was some of Freud’s best thinking. How does a person develop a moral compass, something he calls the Superego. At first it’s personified. The little kid sees some forbidden object and looks around to see if Mom’s around, watching him. Later it gets inside. The kid might looks at the forbidden object, and say, "no, no" – speaking for the Mom. Later it just becomes his or her own thought, "no, no." In these early years, it’s fear of reprisal that drives things. It’s only later that the reasons for the "no, no" become associated – "it will burn my fingers." And even later when the empathy of the "Golden Rule" get tacked on – "It would hurt me or others if someone else did it."

Our leaders and their lawyers are operating at some of these more primitive levels. They all remind me of that period in child development that drives parents absolutely crazy – early adolescence. It’s an age when the child has become able to use logic correctly, and they have a field day finding loopholes in everything you say. It’s an age of rationalization and misuse of logic. They are at war inside with their moral compass [and their hormones] and can be absolutely maddening. Bush’s morality challenged lawyers have spent the last seven years masterbating with legal principles like 12 year olds to rationalize their bosses doing monsterous things. The legal oversight is as corrupt as the Administration they serve. David Addington, Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Chertoff – how the hell did they even find each other?

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