Coercive interrogations: Politics and the Law. Then Dick Cheney stars in A Few Good Men.
The Attorney General is a cabinet level official. He/she is appointed by the President and serves at the President’s discretion. Yet, the first responsibility of the Attorney General is to be the chief enforcer of the rule of law, despite partisanship.
The Bush administration’s Department of Justice had three Attorney Generals: John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey. It was under their oversight that John Yoo and Jay Bybee, from the DoJ Office of Legal Council, penned four memos that condoned “enhanced interrogation techniques” (links to the four memos can be found here).
Eric Holder is now the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under his watch is pursuing criminal investigations of the “torture” memos authors and possibly some interrogators.
But what is the motivation behind Holder’s recent inquiries? Is the country’s chief rule of law “enforcer” doing his job or playing politics? Likewise, were the Bush Attorney Generals negligent of their duty to the rule of law, and instead acting towards political objectives?
We know former VP Dick Cheney believes the investigations are a political act. Similarly Joseph Finder has opined in the New York Times that criminal investigations of CIA interrogators would violate the legal principle of (collateral) estoppel, placing interrogators who had already been cleared from prosecution in “double jeopardy” of re-litigation. As Finder writes, “[t]his doesn’t look much like justice; it looks like politics.”
These arguments are loaded contextually. Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General to John Ashcroft, has said one consequence of the DoJ’s Office of Legal Council “power to interpret the law is the power to bestow on government officials what is effectively an advance pardon for actions taken at the edges of vague criminal statutes.” Jack Goldsmith served 9 months in the Bush administration before resigning.
Reminiscent of A Few Good Men, CIA interrogators should be pardonable because they acted in accordance of the law (as it was explained to them). In essence interrogators were following orders. Perhaps their actions were “conduct unbecoming” of federal employees but real fault lies with those who issued the memos that guided their actions.
Yet, the dubious legalese of the memos is inconsequential to Bush administration officials who felt “coercive” interrogation was necessary to protect national security. In their minds, they were doing dirty work that needed to be done.
Perhaps Dick Cheney could conjure up the ‘you can’t handle the truth’ Col. Jessep from A Few Good Men and say:
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it!
Then the question at this point is were the memos justified? Or does our commitment to justice and the rule of law matter more than proclamations that enhanced interrogation techniques saved American lives?