No Legal Immunity for Clearly Illegal Acts

The New York Times has a strong editorial today about the OLC torture memos. They cover it all: the vileness of what is in the memos, the repellent, clinical coldness of the language, the inadequacy of the “I was just following orders” defense, and the obligation — both moral and legal — to prosecute what are clearly war crimes.

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.

In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

The Times calls specifically for legal action against the high-profile lawyers who wrote these memos:

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

7 Responses to “No Legal Immunity for Clearly Illegal Acts”

  1. Booogie-Mann says:

    In the past Psycological Ops were the rave, the new medium for interrogation without permanent harm nor physical injury. Playing loud music, sleep deprivation, stress positions … now apparently all these techniques are to be labeled “torture” and terrorists are to be interrogated as if they just robbed the 7-11.

    I really see no comparison between humiliation, wearing women’s underwear or being hooded naked to the horriffic act of butchering a Human Being by slitting their throat, letting them bleed and scream, then slowly hacking off their head. Anyone see the Al Queda Beheading Video’s here?? Prisoners in Gitmo were responsible for beheadings of American’s in Iraq, yet the NY Times and this Blog lament the fact that they were slapped in the face.

    George Tenant is on record saying “actionable intelligence” was wrought from Gitmo interrogations, plots were foiled, yet here we’re crying that a terrorist was slapped in the face or had a bug put in his cell. This is NOT torture people !!

    We are slitting our own throats without the help of Al Qaeda ….

  2. Booogie-Mann says:

    Seems the Left is more concerned about interrupting the sleep cycle of Terrorists, than protecting American lives. Here is a more sane interpretation of Obama’s release of these memo’s;

  3. Kathy says:


    There is nothing at all new about the use of sleep deprivation and stress positioning as torture techniques. Both were used by the Nazis, by the Soviet Union, by North Korea, and by many other regimes the U.S. used to consider human rights violators.

  4. booogiemann says:

    Kathy, yea I know they are not new and have been used in various forms throughout history. Promoting the success of this latest form of Psych Ops in the USA started for me when … do you remember when Manuel Noriega was captured and there was all this hubub about playing Loud Rock Music to get him out?? Anyway, that’s what I was referring to. Since then there’s been all this development and use of “Non-Lethal” means throughout Law Enforcement and the Military. Loud Music or noises, bean bag guns, stun guns, “Smart” weaponry, pulse guns, etc. continue this effort.

    Do you believe Stress Positions and sleep deprivation are torture?? How about a slap in the face or putting a bug in their cell??

    Seems to be a lot of outrage about these techniques. Which ones do you consider Torture and which are acceptable??

  5. booogiemann says:

    Kathy: Does it bother you that Democrats approved these techniques, were briefed dozens of times on this issue and in some cases asked if they could do more?? Seems in 2009 Democrats have made an about face from their position in 02′-03′ …..

    Here’s how General Hayden thinks Obama’s policy will affect CIA Ops;

  6. Kathy says:

    Do you believe Stress Positions and sleep deprivation are torture?? How about a slap in the face or putting a bug in their cell??

    Yes to the first question, and you are not describing those actions accurately to the second question.

    The larger point about defining torture, however, is the one Andrew Sullivan made today, and I’ll quote him:

    What defines torture is not this or that specific technique. We could spend hours poring through the countless ways in which human beings have devised to torture defenseless captives over the centuries. What defines torture is applying sufficiently severe mental or physical pain or suffering to force a victim to say anything to make it stop. In terms of time, you can go from the 15 seconds of waterboarding or electrocution to the days, weeks and months of Chinese water-torture, or days and weeks of sleep deprivation. The point is to break people.

  7. Jack Walts says:

    Unlike many of you, and your opinion is valued, I served in battle and was given the choice to shoot unarmed women and children, or not. No one would have prosecuted me as it was in the heat of battle. Bullets were passing through my aircraft from other guns. Two things kept me from killing helpless people, the Geneva Convention, and my own integrity. I’ve never been sorry to have stayed my trigger finger. Unlawful orders are just that, we should never cross the line. And once we shatter our integrity, like a fine wine goblet, it can never be repaired.

    Argue as you will, I never killed or tortured anyone even though my very life was in danger as well as the lives of my crew. When you amass my credentials, credentials earned in the heat of battle, come talk to me.

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