The New York Times editorializes on the failure of the Obama administration to release the Office of Legal Counsel torture memos:
Did They Miss the Memo?
On his second day in office, President Obama repudiated George W. Bush’s obsessive and destructive secrecy by ordering his government to obey the Freedom of Information Act. He said it should not withhold documents because they are embarrassing, or reveal failures and errors, or “because of speculative or abstract fears.”
He was right.
And yet last week, the Justice Department was in federal court, asking for another delay in releasing three legal opinions written by Steven Bradbury when he was acting head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The memos provided a legal pretext for interrogations that ranged from merely illegal to outright torture.
Scott Shane reported in The Times that the Central Intelligence Agency, hoping to avoid embarrassment, was fighting the release. That is exactly the sort of obstructionism that Mr. Obama ordered stopped.
The administration, which now has until April 16 to decide about the Bradbury memos, has agreed “to review” for release yet another memo that has been kept secret far too long. Written by Jay Bybee, a former Justice Department lawyer who is now a federal judge, it redefined torture in a way that almost anything, short of murder, would be legal.
But so far, the Obama team has not actually agreed to release those memos. It should do so – and in full.
These memos are years old. There has been more than enough time to make sure that their release will not endanger national security. The administration has already released other documents dealing with torture.
Sadly, the court fight is not the only example of temporizing by the Obama team. The Justice Department is dragging its feet on handing over to Congress the results of an investigation into whether Mr. Bradbury, Mr. Bybee, John Yoo and other lawyers deliberately distorted their legal analyses on detainees, wiretapping and other issues to provide a veneer of legality to the White House’s abusive and clearly illegal policies.
That investigation was completed last November and is said to be extremely critical. President Bush’s last attorney general, Michael Mukasey, quashed the release and demanded “revisions.”
Last week, the Justice Department informed Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, that it still was not ready to hand over the report. Mr. Durbin was rightly outraged that Mr. Yoo, Mr. Bradbury and Mr. Bybee were allowed to review the document and that investigators might alter their findings as a result.
The president and his aides keep saying that they do not want to look backward. We suspect that they do not want the political fight. But Mr. Obama has set higher standards. If he wants to ensure that these horrors are never repeated, the public needs to know what went wrong and why.
For more background on the Obama administration infighting over the memos release, see Michael Isikoff in the latest Newsweek: ‘Holy Hell’ Over Torture Memos. He confirms a previous New York Times report that the main force behind the attempt to stop the memos release is John Brennan, the same John Brennan we helped keep out of the CIA Directorship. Brennan’s actions in covering over CIA torture confirms yet again how right we were to oppose him. He was kept out of the CIA slot, but Obama, apparently ever-ready to compromise with the forces of darkness, gave him another top counterrorism slot.
U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. “Holy hell has broken loose over this,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities.
Brennan is a former senior CIA official who was once considered by Obama for agency director but withdrew his name late last year after public criticism that he was too close to past officials involved in Bush administration decisions. Brennan, who now oversees intelligence issues at the National Security Council, argued that release of the memos could embarrass foreign intelligence services who cooperated with the CIA, either by participating in overseas “extraordinary renditions” of high-level detainees or housing them in overseas “black site” prisons.
Brennan succeeded in persuading CIA Director Leon Panetta to become “engaged” in his efforts to block release, according to the senior official. Their joint arguments stalled plans to declassify the memos even though White House counsel Gregory Craig had already signed off on Holder’s recommendation that they should be disclosed, according to an official and another government source familiar with the debate. No final decision has been made, and it is likely Obama will have to resolve the matter, according to the sources who spoke to NEWSWEEK.
Isikoff makes clear that the buck stops with Obama. If these memos are not released in full, any bond between the Obama administration ad human rights supporters will be broken. This is not a matter for compromise and equivocation. This time, at least, lofty rhetoric must be matched by deeds.
April 5th, 2009
More of America at its worst [Taken , with the title, from Talking Points Memo.]:
According to disclosure documents filed today, Lawrence Summers made almost three million dollars in speaking fees from major commercial banks and investment banks and another $5.2 million as a managing director of D.E. Shaw Group, a large hedge fund.
This is of the two people chosen to formulate economic policy for our country? Perhaps we really are little different from third world kleptocracies. No one can seriously think that making life better for the majority of Americans, or reducing the enormous discrepancy in income between those he represents and the rest of us, figures very highly in Summers’ [or Geithner's] thinking.
We should also remember, about Summers, that in 2002, as the Boston Globe reports, then Harvard University endowment manager Iris Mack attempted to warn the brilliant Dr. Summers about the risky investments being made by the Harvard investment people and was fired for her troubles.
In the letter, dated May 12 of that year, Mack told Summers that she was “deeply troubled and surprised” by things she had seen in her new job as a quantitative analyst at Harvard Management Co.
She would go on to say, in later e-mails and conversations, that she felt the endowment was taking on too much risk in derivatives investments, and that she suspected some of her colleagues were engaging in insider trading, according to a separate letter written by her lawyer that summarized the correspondence.
The wonderful Dr. Summers immediately had her fired:
Mack, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Harvard, had been with Harvard Management for just four months when she approached Summers. She asked him to keep her communications confidential, or risk making her life “a living hell.”
But on July 1, Mack was called into a meeting by her boss, Jack Meyer, then the chief of Harvard Management.
The next day Meyer fired her, according to the letter from her attorney, Jonathan Margolis, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe. Meyer told Mack that she was fired for making “baseless allegations against HMC to individuals outside of HMC,” according to the Margolis letter.
BTW, Mack had previously been a trader for Enron, so she knew something about risky investments.
David Bomwich, in his Huffington Post piece, Economic Adviser to Aristocracy, masterfully sums up the problem with Summers:
The point about such a private counselor who becomes a public servant is not that he is corrupt. He need not be. Rather, he is predictable within the world he knows and believes in, which is the world that honors him. He does not have to be told what to do. When he thinks of the American family, these banks and investment groups, and the too-big-to-fail insurance colossus, are in fact his extended family. They are the people he talks to and jokes with and eats with, the people he thinks of in his spare time. They are the people he knows.
One sees in the recent career of Summers–and not least, in his ascent to the position of economic adviser to President Obama–how subtle, consistent, and pervasive are the means by which an aristocracy perpetuates itself. How it doles out its rewards to maintain its power. How it buys the talents and shapes the careers it needs, so that even a general crisis brings only a second layer of bribed servants, and the medicine is administered by doctors whose judgment is bought and paid for. One sees, too, what drove the rage against such a class in earlier times–the feeling that its power is a monstrous imposition; the fear that no cry or protest will ever penetrate from outside the closed circle.
We also should remember that the Washington Post has reported that the Obama administration has been playing the American public for fools:
The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay, according to government officials….
The administration believes it can sidestep the rules because, in many cases, it has decided not to provide federal aid directly to financial companies, the sources said. Instead, the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.
Although some experts are questioning the legality of this strategy, the officials said it gives them latitude to determine whether firms should be subject to the congressional restrictions, which would require recipients to turn over ownership stakes to the government, as well as curb executive pay.
The administration has decided that the conditions should not apply in at least three of the five initiatives funded by the rescue package….
In one program, designed to restart small-business lending, President Obama’s officials are planning to set up a middleman called a special-purpose vehicle — a term made notorious during the Enron scandal — or another type of entity to evade the congressional mandates, sources familiar with the matter said.
In another program, which seeks to restart consumer lending, a special entity was created largely for the separate purpose of getting around legal limits on the Federal Reserve, which is helping fund this initiative. The Fed does not ordinarily provide support for the markets that finance credit cards, auto loans and student loans but could channel the funds through a middleman.
I was so excited by Obama’s victory and innauguration. I want to maintain hope. But it gets more difficult by the day.
April 5th, 2009
One of the sickest stories I have ever read, for what it says about American culture, is this one about the visit to the Guantanamo prison by Miss USA and Miss Universe.
“It was a loooot of fun!,” Mendoza wrote, describing how she and Stewart met U.S. military personnel and took rides around the camp, which is encircled by a barbed-wire fenced, minefields and watchtowers. She said they also visited a bar on the base and the “unbelievable” beach there.
“We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the(y) recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting,” she wrote.
“I didn’t want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful,” she added.
Presumably they didn’t spend 22 hours a day locked in a tiny cell, for months and years on end, as has been the case for 70% of the detainees. One wonders if they visit the sites where years of torture occurred. Maybe then they wouldn’t find it so “relaxing…, calm and beautiful.”
They did meet the wonderful military dogs that used to be used to terrorize detainees:
“We also met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us.”
Maybe they can next visit lovely Darfur.
April 5th, 2009