Exclusive: Congresswoman Attempts To Blow Smoke Up My Ass

She probably didn’t realize she was corresponding with a blogger.

it began with an email.  After Bush had announced on public television that he gave the okay on torture in advance, and key members of his administration, including the Vice President, were in on meetings regarding the legality of using “enhanced interrogation techniques”, I joined many in the ACLU’s letter campaign to have a special investigator look into the possibility of torture based war crimes.

The letter, sent to Congresswoman Thelma Drake (R), reads as follows:

I urge you to demand an independent prosecutor to investigate possible violations by the Bush administration of laws including the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Act, and federal assault laws.

In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, “I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

Recent reports indicate that high-level advisers including Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and George Tenet were part of the National Security Council’s “Principals Committee” that met regularly and approved the CIA’s use of “combined” “enhanced” interrogation techniques, even pushing the limits of the now infamous 2002 Justice Department “torture memo.” These top advisers reportedly signed off on how the CIA would interrogate suspects – whether they would be slapped, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning.

No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes, since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts.

You cannot look the other way. You must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor.

To be honest, I expected no response, but I did receive an auto-reply email shortly thereafter thanking me for my email and that the congresswoman would reply personally in the near future.

So I waited.  And I waited, and I actually kind of forgot about it.  Curiously enough, it wasn’t until this morning when I woke that I remembered and wondered what happen to the personal response I was supposed to receive.

Ask and ye shall receive, as they say.  In my mailbox was a letter addressed to me from Mrs. Drake.  Even then I was skeptical; occasionally I’ll get mailers from her letting me know what she’s been up to, what she’s working on, all that jazz.  But instead, it was exactly what I was looking for:

Dear Mr. Moore,

Thank you for contacting me to share your concern regarding the U. S. intelligence communitiy’s (sic) treatment of detainees.  It was good to hear from you and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

I understand that the preservation of human rights is important to you.  In fact, you may be pleased to know that a commission to preserve human rights does exist.  In 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was created as an international means by which to enforce human rights laws.  In addition, a body of independent experts, known as the Committee against Torture (CAT), was formed to monitor implementation of the Convention by participating nations.

Congress has approved additional CAT-referencing guidelines concerning the treatment of detainees.  The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2006 (P.L. 109-163) contained a provision prohibiting the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of persons under the detention, custody, or control of the United States Government” and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-366 required the President to establish administrative rules and procedures implementing this standard.

Thank you again for contacting me.  It is an honor to be your Representative in Congress.  I invite you to visit my website at www.drake.house.gov for further information of importance to you.

Sincerely,

Thelma Drake

Member of Congress

So I looked some of this stuff up.  Upon visiting CAT’s page, I immediately checked out the “reservations” from signing parties to the Convention that Drake had mentioned.  The one that immediately jumped out at me was this one:

(e) That with reference to article 1 of the Convention, the Unites States understands that noncompliance with applicable legal procedural standards does not per se constitute torture.

Indeed, the U.S. seemed to have one of the longest laundry lists of reservations (Next to Sweden that seemed preoccupied with complaining about other state as opposed to its ability to circumnavigate the convention), but this one just jumped out and bit me on the leg.

Article one, what does article one say?

  1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

In other words, the United States’ reservation to this very convention that Drake pointed me to was that it did not “per se” agree with the United Nation’s definition of torture, which, of course, we know because they have attempted to define it as being pain equivalent to, “organ failure or death.”

The irony here, folks, is that the very mechanisms that Drake felt I would be pleased to learn about, are essentially mechanisms that the Bush administration blatantly violated.  Under the UN’s original definition of torture, we did in fact torture.  The President knew about it, and under the UN’s definition, waterboarding, along with other techniques under the umbrella of “enhanced interrogation”, are clearly torture.

So why Congresswoman Drake would believe I would be pleased to learn all this is absolutely beyond me.  Nor can I wrap my head around why I should be pleased to learn about legislation enacted in 2006 that is, apparently, inadequate and after the fact.

Now, you guys know me; I don’t do local politics.  At least, I haven’t up until now.

Frankly, I don’t take none too kindly to having smoke blown up my ass, especially with this stuff which took me all of a half hour to pilfer through and refute.  But what was worse was that she never actually addressed my initial query; that being, we have strong evidence to suggest that our Executive Branch of government crossed the line, what are you, the Legislative Branch, going to do to act as a CHECK in this instance.

Ultimately, Drake’s answer was a couple of laws that “required the President to establish administrative rules and procedures implementing [the Military Commissions Act] standard.”

That doesn’t work, though, as was made clear in my initial correspondence where the letter clearly stated that the Administration can not be trusted to police itself in this instance.

And so, I find myself particularly interested in local politics all of a sudden, and I think it just may be a personal goal to see this guy become my next representative.  After all, my current representative isn’t representing me very well is she?

13 Responses to “Exclusive: Congresswoman Attempts To Blow Smoke Up My Ass”

  1. DrGail says:

    Let us know how that goes. My representative (a Blue Dog, no less) is apparently Rep. Drake’s smokin’ buddy; the smoke has gone so far up my ass it’s coming out my ears.

    If the truth be known, however, Dick Durbin is only slightly better. My mother always called these high-sounding but vacuous responses that never quite seem to answer your initial question “Bedbug Letter #2”.

  2. heh

    Well, I’m planning on sending Glen Nye a pretty simple email. “Where are you on torture?” If I like the answer, then I’m his.

  3. DrGail says:

    And what, pray tell, are you planning to do when you get a response from Glen Nye that is just as smoky? I’m not being facetious here. It just seems that however well-researched and heartfelt your initial letter/email is, you’re bound to get a response that is nicely-crafted and solicitous, but contains no real substance and certainly was written by some low-level worker who, if you’re lucky, was working from a two-word outline provided on a sticky note from the congresscritter himself/herself.

    Oops, I guess I let a little bit of that old bitterness out. We can’t have that.

    But wait a minute.

    Why shouldn’t we get bitter when our representatives, who are there by virtue of our votes and our tax dollars, don’t actually, y’know, represent us?

    Or when the uncommitted superdelegates refuse to show any backbone and declare their endorsements, all the while tsk-tsking that we rude folk in the blogosphere and beyond are tearing the party apart?

    Or when Jay Rockefeller, who utters vague rationalizations for extending retroactive immunity to the telecom companies in a spirit of comity with the Republicans who announced to the press that the Democrats would “cave” on the issue?

    Or when the Democrats we worked so hard to get elected in 2006 because we wanted them to hold the administration accountable and stop the damn war in Iraq eagerly appropriate the money to continue the damn war as long as they can get funding for a few little things that will make it look like they’re doing their freaking jobs?

    Why shouldn’t we be bitter?

    Haven’t we earned the right to have a candidate who has won by every reasonable measure (and many unreasonable ones as well), and then a president who might actually, y’know, get something done? Make life better for all the people of the country? Except maybe the superrich. They’ve had their turn for the past eight years. It’s time to take care of everyone else, the other 99% of the population.

    Of course we’re bitter.

    What’s wrong with bitter?

  4. That should have been a post.

  5. Ahem…

    Um…

    I meant, that’s a post for you…

  6. Mark says:

    It’s been about 10 years since I was “working” on Capitol Hill, though I did some stuff on the lobbying side of things during and just after law school. But I can pretty much explain step by step what happened here to provide some context for you (in some ways, this makes this story even worse, in other ways less bad because it’s pretty standard procedure…of course, the fact that it’s standard procedure on both sides of the aisle ought to tell you something about the futility of ever achieving good governance):
    1. Sometime in the two years since the watered-down Military Commissions Act passed, and almost certainly well before you sent your letter, some other constituent from your district sent a letter to the Congresswoman about the torture issue. Based on the language of the response you received, I’m guessing that the letter from the prior constituent was written in anger about Bush’s cynical signing statement to circumvent that Act, though I could well be wrong about this.
    2. An intern in the Congresswoman’s office opened the prior constituent’s letter, reviewed it, and determined the Legislative Assistant (“LA”) in the office most likely to be responsible for correspondence on the torture issue.
    3. This LA (most likely in his/her mid-20’s since Republicans aren’t too concerned about torture and would thus likely assign this issue to a junior LA rather than a senior LA or the Legislative Coordinator) then reviewed his/her file of form letters and determined that none of the existing form letters would even remotely apply to this constituent’s letter.
    4. The LA (who was, again, almost certainly in his/her mid-20’s, with no legal background whatsoever) then tried to research the official GOP talking points on this issue; they may have also pulled the Congressional Research Services file on torture and cherry-picked, out of context, the bullet points seemingly most favorable to their boss’ position.
    5. Most likely using a template for constituent correspondence where the constituent disagrees with the Congresswoman, the LA then attempted to draft a letter that was both an inoffensive-sounding non-response response to the original constituent letter and generic enough to be used as a reply to future related constituent correspondence. The LA then gave the draft to the LC and maybe the Chief of Staff for a quick once-over, and the letter was then sent out to the constituent, with a staffer signing on behalf of the Congresswoman.
    6. The LA saved a copy of the “Congresswoman’s” response on the office hard-drive, probably with a file name along the lines of “Torture- Anti” (ok, maybe not that blatant) or “Presidential Position on Geneva – anti”
    7. Several months, and probably over a year later, the Congresswoman’s office received your letter and step 2 was repeated, as was most of step 3.
    8. This time, though, the LA decided that a relevant form letter did exist as a possible response to your letter. Although the existing letter was not 100% on point to your concerns, it was deemed close enough, especially since the ABC report received so little play and was thus unlikely to generate enough constituent letters to warrant a significant redraft of the existing form letter. This is the letter you received.

    This isn’t to say in anyway that the Congresswoman is off the hook for the poorly researched statement of her position on Geneva. Actually, it’s worse: it goes to show the way in which politicians (and believe me, the Dems are just as bad on this stuff) figure out their positions first, and the facts later. In this case, the Congresswoman, like many Republicans, takes the position of “my country and my President, right or wrong.” This position then becomes the position to which the staffers need to reconcile the facts.

  7. Jebus Mark, thanks for that, that was actually a very interesting read.

    You should definitely make that a post, I think, you know, not a lot of people knows what that process is like… I definitely didn’t.

    thanks.

  8. Mark says:

    Oh – one more (much less cynical) point on writing to members of Congress. In my limited experience, it did seem that my Congressmember or (more likely) his Chief of Staff usually reviewed the constituent letters every day or couple of days. Letters that were blatantly form letters (usually postcards sent by union members) would obviously not get read, but even they would be generally noticed, if only for their volume rather than their substance.
    It’s pretty rare – almost unheard of, actually – for a Congressman to completely change their position on something just because of constituent letters/phone calls, but a well-orchestrated campaign can have an effect on the margins. If the campaign is well-targeted, it can even mean the difference between action and inaction on the Congressional floor.
    When I was in law school, I did a summer in the lobbying shop of a pretty far left organization(no joke!); we had a really important (to the organization) bill that we thought would pass if it got to the House floor. Unfortunately, one of the bill’s biggest opponents happened to be the Chair of the relevant subcommittee or committee (don’t remember which), and was doing all he could to keep the bill from coming up for a vote. So we put together a pretty clever letter-writing campaign from members in the guy’s home district; long story short- a few weeks later, the guy decided to let the bill out of his committee. He still voted against it, but all we cared about was that it got to the House floor, where it passed (IIRC, it failed in the Senate thanks to some “poison pill” amendments).

  9. Kat says:

    About the only thing worse than Congresscritters’ canned replies to constituents are their websites. With homage to Obi Wan’s description of Los Isley, you will never find a more insipid dodge of issues and responsibility.

  10. Jebus Mark, learn more about you every day. law school? I feels la dumb. As for massive campaigns in my district, yeah, fat chance. I remember working the phone bank for Tim Kaine, and they were saying that they needed to hit this area hard out of hopes of maybe getting a win, but no one was all that hopeful. I live in a sucky district.

    Kat; I live in Virginia, there are definitely areas around here where the locals are hardly distinguishable from Sandpeople (with the slight exception of having bigger trucks with confederate flags on their back windows.)

  11. Mark says:

    Yeah, well – I’m a self-hating lawyer!
    Totally OT – and just because you mentioned Kaine. How has VA gov’t been doing the last few years with him at the helm? I moved only a few months after he took over for Warner, so I haven’t had the chance to follow him. He and Warner were probably the first two Dem politicians who I authentically liked (rather than viewed as just the lesser of two evils, as was the case with Kerry), and were partly responsible for my eventual abandonment of the GOP (though I am still not, and probably never will be, a Democrat).

    But when I lived in VA (encompassing the last year of Gilmore’s tenure, all of Warner’s, and the first few months of Kaine’s), it was staggering to me how efficient the state government was as compared to the other two states I had previously lived (NY and NJ). Having returned to NJ the last couple years, I’ve been constantly frustrated by the bureaucratic nightmare that is this piece of crap state government

    Though, to be fair, Corzine is making an honest, if very ill-fated, effort to get the People’s Republic of New Jersey to more resemble a functioning state. It’s really not his fault that he can’t get enough support from either party for common-sense reforms like ending the totally idiotic law against self-pumping at the gas station. Unfortunately, Florio, Whitman, and (perhaps most of all) World’s Biggest Scumbag McGreevey left him with a really big mess. Add to that the level of corruption existing in NJ’s massive political machines, and you’re left with a governor in an impossible situation.

  12. Mark says:

    One other thing that more directly returns to the original topic. Campaigns don’t have to be massive to be successful (in fact, I probably shouldn’t have used that word in my original comment – it was a “massive” campaign in terms of involvement of the local membership, but that local membership was not overly large). It just has to be large enough to show the Congressperson that there is a highly motivated and organized local effort in support or opposition to a law, and (importantly) that there is little or no highly motivated and organized local effort on the other side. In other words: 90% of the voters in a district could support a Congressperson’s position, but the 10% of dissenters can still have at least a marginal effect on that position if they are organized and motivated on the issue, while the other 90% don’t really give a hoot.
    The biggest problem you run into on the torture issue is its high profile with right-wing talk radio and TV news. This high profile almost guarantees that there will be a fairly organized group in support of the local majority/Republican Party line position, eliminating most (but by no means all) of the effect of the anti-torture effort.
    If it were a lower profile issue, then your ability to overcome the local majority position would be improved by orders of magnitude. This is what happened in the case I was referring to where we successfully got the Congressman to allow the bill out of committee. It was an issue where our position was in the distinct minority in the guy’s district, and the guy’s seat was about as safe as could be. But we succeeded because there was little point in him fighting us tooth and nail- the local majority who disagreed with us didn’t care enough to make his continued opposition beneficial to him, while our members did care enough that they would have caused a minor stink for him if he didn’t allow the bill out of committee.

    …Anywho…this is one of my best comments in awhile, and it happens to be dead on point with the stated mission of my blog. Which is to say that this comment needs its own more fully explained post at PE, stat!

    Since I’m currently in the realm of the completely and utterly sleep-deprived, could you do me a favor and leave a nasty comment for me on my blog if I don’t follow through and make a post on this by the end of the weekend. Something along the lines of “Mark! Wake up and stop being a dumass- where’s this totally awesome post you promised?”

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