“probable cause”…

Posted on Thursday 30 April 2009

The looming question, "Is the legal pursuit of the use of torture by our C.I.A. in the lead up to the Iraq War politically motivated?" It strikes me that this isn’t the only question of this type on the table at the moment. How about, "Did torture produce intelligence that saved American lives?" or as Cheney frames it, "Did harsh interrogation techniques work?" He wants to release memos from his files that proved that it did "work." As a matter of fact, those questions sound a lot like the question Bush liked to talk about, "Did the Surge work?"

It goes without saying that neither the former Bush Administration officials nor the Republican Party and its media outlets will be much help here. Their pattern is fixed. They deny all allegations of wrong-doing. When pinned to the wall, they move to some next level of denial. The torture issue is only one example of this pattern. When the Abu Ghraib story broke, they first denied that it happened – then quickly moved to the "a few rogue soldiers" thesis. Then we found out about the "torture memos" which were kept secret for a long time. Then they moved to "we don’t torture" – "waterboarding isn’t torture" and "we didn’t do it very much."  Now they’re at "torture harsh interrogation methods worked."

In his New York Times op-ed of July 6, 2003, Joseph Wilson asked and gave his own answer to a question:
    Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
In response, his wife was "outed" as a C.I.A. Agent, and he was discredited as being on a "junket" arranged by her. He was later accused of being a Liberal [who went to Bruce Springsteen concerts]. Whatever the case, what he said is true by any account. The evidence is overwhelming – the Downing Street Memos, Paul O’niell’s and Richard Clarke’s reports, all analyses of the evidence [Niger, Aluminum tubes, al Qaeda/Saddam Hussein connections, everything Colin Powell said at the U.N.]. So, it really doesn’t matter why he said what he said [even though the correct assessment of his motivation seems to be that he is a patriot]. So, here we are almost six years later with Joseph Wilson’s question still on the table. What is the allegation being debated at this point? It’s simple to say:
    The Bush Administration is accused of using torture of prisoners to extract a confession that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in league with each other. They sought that confession to justify invading Iraq.
There’s a slightly darker version:
    The Bush Administration’s desire to go to war with Iraq antedated 9/11 and their use of extreme measures to find a way to justify an invasion  had little to do with a real attempt to get intelligence. They didn’t care about the truth. What they cared about was extracting a statement that they could use to justify their war.
So, the motives of their prosecution aren’t the question on the table. Whether torture worked or not isn’t something that matters. In fact, whether it was right or wrong for the country to unseat Saddam Hussein and participate in his execution doesn’t even matter. What matters is the answer to a question very similar to the one Joseph Wilson asked in the first place:
    Did the Bush administration torture prisoners in an attempt to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Is there probable cause to make that allegation formal by appointing a Special Prosecutor and convening a Grand Jury? That is the question before Eric Holder. He’s is a double bind because he is an Obama appointee and will be accused of partisanship if he appoints a Special Prosecutor. He will also be accused of avoiding doing his job if he does not appoint a Special Prosecutor.

Notice anything? All of these questions put people in double binds. In fact, Jay Bybee and John Yoo were themselves put in double binds by the White House questions way back in 2002. Consider Bybee’s response in yesterday’s New York Times:
    “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” … “The legal question was and is difficult, and the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.”
That’s the kind of thing people say when they’re in double binds. What can it possible mean "locate … the thin line between harsh treatment … that is not torture and harsh treatment that is"? That’s not a good faith question by any stretch of the imagination. It is patently obvious that the real question is, "What can we get away with?" And reading Bybee’s Memo [penned by John Yoo,] it’s obvious that they knew what they were being asked, because their response is garbled and filled with C.Y.A. provisos [full text of Bybee Memo].

Double binds make people crazy. That’s the bottom line – it’s just the way it is. In fact, one might say that "terrorism" hinges on that kind of technique – making the target look, act , and go crazy. So, I’d like to take this post’s exploration one step further. Did the Bush Administration initiate this whole torture debacle because the 9/11 attack put them in such a double bind that their seemingly crazy response was understandable?

Put another way: Did the 9/11 terrorists have other equally diabolical attacks waiting in the wings that justified our compromising our own committment to civilized behavior in order to fend off future horror? That’s the explanation that has been in the air since the attack, the reason we went along with the Bush Administration’s antics for such a long time. They bent the rules, but the reason was to protect us from yet another monstrous attack. In that scenario, the originator of our double bind was Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. At some level, that is, of course, true.

Recent evidence multiplies the suspicion that whether that scenario was true or not, there was another compelling thread to the story. The Bush Administration came into power determined to go to war with Saddam Hussein and unseat him ["regime change"]. In response to 9/11, they saw the chance to use al Qaeda’s attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. They spent 2002 combing through the data trying to find an way to justify attacking Hussein, and the real motive for their torture policy was to extract an excuse to go to war. In the course of things, our own Executive Branch put the DoJ, the C.I.A., the Congress, and the American people in a double bind – abusing their power, other countries, the P.O.W.’s, our soldiers, the Iraqis, and the rest of us in the process.

Is there a "probable cause" to formalize an investigation? That is the only real question on the table. The motivations of  Holder, Obama, Congess, or even 1boringoldman are not in question. It’s the motives and actual behavior of the Bush Administration Principals that’s on the line. The obvious answer is "Yes, there is adequate ‘probable cause’ to formalize an investigation."

And in terms of the dilemma [double bind] for Eric Holder, Obama, Congress, and the country, we are better served to get this debate out of the public sector, the media, and the blogs at this point, and into the Institution of our government designed to handle such matters fairly – the Courts. The whole point of this tangled web is the supremacy of the Rule of Law in our country. Let it reign

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