In December 2004, Bush’s Justice Department issued a statement insisting that “torture is abhorrent.” It was an encouraging step from administration officials who were willing to concede that there were limits to presidential authority when it came to brutal interrogations.
But it was a lie — shortly thereafter, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed off on a secret legal opinion, which, as the New York Times reported today, endorsed “the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
Josh Marshall noted that “there’s still much we are yet to learn about how far the Gonzales Justice Department took us into the darkness of state-sponsored torture and lawlessness.” That’s true. But the more we do learn, the more we realize that we’re dealing with officials who know no limits and feel no shame. Scrubbing the stain of ignominy will be a weighty challenge for Bush’s successor.
As for other reactions, Kevin Drum wants to know who in Congress knew about all of this; Digby makes the case that stories like this one are “the very definition of the banality of evil — a bunch of ideologues and bureaucrats blithely committing morally reprehensible acts apparently without conscience or regret”; and Hilzoy argues that the administration’s tactics are “not just morally abhorrent; they are flatly illegal.”
I know it’s difficult to muster a new degree of outrage every time the Bush gang sinks to a new low, but today’s revelations highlight American lawlessness at the highest levels of our government.