out from under the rock…

Posted on Sunday 29 June 2008

The Hidden Power
July 3, 2006

…Another memo sanctioned torture when the President deems it necessary; yet another claimed that there were virtually no valid legal prohibitions against the inhumane treatment of foreign prisoners held by the C.I.A. outside the U.S. Most of these decisions, according to many Administration officials who were involved in the process, were made in secrecy, and the customary interagency debate and vetting procedures were sidestepped. Addington either drafted the memos himself or advised those who were drafting them. “Addington’s fingerprints were all over these policies,” said Wilkerson, who, as Powell’s top aide, later assembled for the Secretary a dossier of internal memos detailing the decision-making process.

On November 13, 2001, an executive order setting up the military commissions was issued under Bush’s signature. The decision stunned Powell; the national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; the highest-ranking lawyer at the C.I.A.; and many judge advocate generals, or JAGs, the top lawyers in the military services. None of them had been consulted. Michael Chertoff, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, who had argued for trying terror suspects in the U.S. courts, was also bypassed. And the order surprised John Bellinger III, the National Security Council legal adviser and deputy White House counsel, who had been formally asked to help create a legal method for trying foreign terror suspects. According to multiple sources, Addington secretly usurped the process. He and a few hand-picked associates, including Bradford Berenson and Timothy Flanigan, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, wrote the executive order creating the commissions. Moreover, Addington did not show drafts of the order to Powell or Rice, who, the senior Administration lawyer said, was incensed when she learned about her exclusion.

The order proclaimed a state of “extraordinary emergency,” and announced that the rules for the military commissions would be dictated by the Secretary of Defense, without review by Congress or the courts. The commissions could try any foreign person the President or his representatives deemed to have “engaged in” or “abetted” or “conspired to commit” terrorism, without offering the right to seek an appeal from anyone but the President or the Secretary of Defense. Detainees would be treated “humanely,” and would be given “full and fair trials,” the order said. Yet the order continued that “it is not practicable” to apply “the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.” The death penalty, for example, could be imposed even if there was a split verdict. Moreover, in December, 2001, the Department of Defense circulated internal memos suggesting that, in the commission system, defendants would have only limited rights to confront their accusers, see all the evidence against them, or be present during their trials. There would be no right to remain silent, and hearsay evidence would be admissible, as would evidence obtained through physical coercion. Guilt did not need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The order firmly established that terrorism would henceforth be approached on a war footing, endowing the President with enhanced powers.

The precedent for the order was an arcane 1942 case, ex parte Quirin, in which Franklin Roosevelt created a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs who had infiltrated the United States via submarines. The Supreme Court upheld the case, 8–0, but even the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia has called it “not this Court’s finest hour.” Roosevelt was later criticized for creating a sham process. Moreover, while he used military commissions to try a handful of suspects who had already admitted their guilt, the Bush White House was proposing expanding the process to cover thousands of “enemy combatants.” It was also ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which, having codified procedures for courts-martial in 1951, had rendered Quirin out of date.
Under attack from defense lawyers like Mori, the military commissions have been tied up in the courts almost since the order was issued. Bellinger and others fought to make the commissions fairer, so that they could withstand court challenges, and the Pentagon gradually softened its rules. But Administration lawyers involved in the process said that Addington resisted at every turn. He insisted, for instance, on maintaining the admissibility of statements obtained through coercion, or even torture. In meetings, he argued that officials in charge of the military commissions should be given maximum flexibility to decide whether to include such evidence. “Torture isn’t important to Addington as a scientific matter, good or bad, or whether it works or not,” the Administration lawyer, who is familiar with these debates, said. “It’s more about his philosophy of Presidential power. He thinks that if the President wants torture he should get torture. He always argued for ‘maximum flexibility.’ ”
Meanwhile, Addington has fought tirelessly to stem reform of other controversial aspects of the New Paradigm, such as the detention and interrogation of terror suspects. Last year, he and Cheney led an unsuccessful campaign to defeat an amendment, proposed by Senator John McCain, to ban the abusive treatment of detainees held by the military or the C.I.A. Government officials who have worked closely with Addington say he insists that legal flexibility is necessary, because of the iniquity of the enemy; moreover, he does not believe that the legal positions taken by the Bush Administration in the war on terror have damaged the country’s international reputation. “He’s a very smart guy, but he gives no credibility to those who say these policies are hurting us around the world,” the senior Administration legal adviser said. “His feeling is that there are no costs. He’ll say people are just whining. He thinks most of them would be against us no matter what.” In Addington’s view, critics of the Administration’s aggressive legal policies are just political enemies of the President.
When President Bush signed the appropriations bills into law, he appended “signing statements” asserting that the Commander-in-Chief had the right to collect intelligence in any way he deemed necessary. The signing statement for the 2005 budget, for instance, noted that the executive branch would “construe” the spending limit only “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations.”

According to the Boston Globe, Addington has been the “leading architect” of these signing statements, which have been added to more than seven hundred and fifty laws. He reportedly scrutinizes every bill before President Bush signs it, searching for any language that might impinge on Presidential power. These wars of words are yet another battlefront between Addington and Congress, and some constitutional scholars find them troubling. Few of the signing statements were noticed until one of them was slipped into Bush’s signing of the McCain amendment. The language was legal boilerplate, reserving the right to construe the legislation only as it was consistent with the Constitution. But, considering that Cheney’s office had waged, and lost, a public fight to defeat the McCain amendment democratically—the vote in the Senate was 90–9—the signing statement seemed sneaky and subversive.

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association voted to investigate whether President Bush had exceeded his constitutional authority by reserving the right to ignore portions of laws that he has signed. Richard Epstein, the University of Chicago law professor, said, “What’s frightening to me is that this Administration is always willing to push the conventions to the limits—and beyond. With his signing statements, I think the President just goes too far. If you sign these things with a caveat, do the inferior officers follow the law or the caveat?”

Bruce Fein argues that Addington’s signing statements are “unconstitutional as a strategy,” because the Founding Fathers wanted Presidents to veto legislation openly if they thought the bills were unconstitutional. Bush has not vetoed a single bill since taking office. “It’s part of the balancing process,” Fein said. “It’s about accountability. If you veto something, everyone knows where you stand. But this President wants to do it sotto voce. He wants to give the image that he’s accommodating on torture, and then reserves the right to torture anyway.”

David Addington is a satisfactory lawyer, Fein said, but a less than satisfactory student of American history, which, for a public servant of his influence, matters more. “If you read the Federalist Papers, you can see how rich in history they are,” he said. “The Founders really understood the history of what people did with power, going back to Greek and Roman and Biblical times. Our political heritage is to be skeptical of executive power, because, in particular, there was skepticism of King George III. But Cheney and Addington are not students of history. If they were, they’d know that the Founding Fathers would be shocked by what they’ve done.”

I reviewed all the articles about David Addington I could find [being obsessed with him after watching him prance and preen through the Congressional Hearing last week]. This one that I’ve quoted liberally was the most helpful of them all – by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, two years ago.

As I read through these articles and Charlie Savage’s book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, I got clearer about why I’ve been so obsessed with this man for the last few days. It’s like each time one of these shadowy figures in the Bush Administration comes out from under the rocks, we get a new piece of this macabre tale to put into the puzzle. Addington is clearly in the center of much of the craziness. He, himself, is obsessed with maintaining the supremacy of the executive. He pores over Congressional Bills and negates anything that hints of limiting Presidential power by undoing Congressional will using Signing Statements – a strategy he apparently thought up all by himself. In doing this, he places himself at the top of the power grid – essentially above Congress since he unilaterally decides what part of the Congressional Menu to serve, and what to discard. He bases these decisions on his unique and idiosyncratic interpretation of the Constitution.

It’s also clear that he’s a sneak. In those hearings, he presented himself as the author of nothing – just a humble servant advising. Mayer makes it clear that he’s anything but either humble or a servant, he is a driven ideologue that stamps everything the Administration does with his arrogance – peeing on every bush, as we say in the country. And he does it in secret, denying his authorship. In that regard, he’s very much like his boss – Dick Cheney. Working in the shadows, these guys set the tenor and run the show. I expect they get off on being the unseen puppet-masters.

I was musing about whether to engage Addington or not the other day. I think I’d like to see Congress engage him specifically on the issue of Signing Statements. He is the author of those documents, many of which are absurd. I think a Congressional Hearing on Signing Statements followed by a Supreme Court challenge is the way to go. Even with this biased Supreme Court, there’s a good chance to challenge this loophole. Constitutionality is for the Court, not the Executive.

That aside, David Addington is all over the shadiness of this Administration – Presidential Powers, Torture, Spying, the immunity of the Vice President from anything, Priviledge, etc. A Dark Figure has been flushed out and we don’t need for him to be allowed to return underground…

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