Secret Justice Department torture approval revealed
Well, it seems that James B. Comey, the man who threatened to subpoena WW4 Report, was actually the progressive within the context of the Bush Justice Department. From the front page of the New York Times, Oct. 4 (links added):
Secret US Endorsement of Severe Interrogations
WASHINGTON — When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.
But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales's arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of 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.
Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment [Well, not quite.—WW4R], the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard...
Associates at the Justice Department said Mr. Gonzales seldom resisted pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and David S. Addington, Mr. Cheney’s counsel, to endorse policies that they saw as effective in safeguarding Americans, even though the practices brought the condemnation of other governments, human rights groups and Democrats in Congress. Critics say Mr. Gonzales turned his agency into an arm of the Bush White House, undermining the department’s independence.
The interrogation opinions were signed by Steven G. Bradbury, who since 2005 has headed the elite Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. He has become a frequent public defender of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and detention policies at Congressional hearings and press briefings, a role that some legal scholars say is at odds with the office’s tradition of avoiding political advocacy.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.'s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner's cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.
But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls "enhanced" interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in "black sites" overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.
in August 2002, the [Justice] department provided a sweeping legal justification for even the harshest tactics.
That opinion, which would become infamous as "the torture memo" after it was leaked, was written largely by John Yoo, a young Berkeley law professor serving in the Office of Legal Counsel. His broad views of presidential power were shared by Mr. Addington, the vice president’s adviser. Their close alliance provoked John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to refer privately to Mr. Yoo as Dr. Yes for his seeming eagerness to give the White House whatever legal justifications it desired, a Justice Department official recalled.
Mr. Yoo's memorandum said no interrogation practices were illegal unless they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or "even death." A second memo produced at the same time spelled out the approved practices and how often or how long they could be used.
Despite that guidance, in March 2003, when the C.I.A. caught Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, interrogators were again haunted by uncertainty. Former intelligence officials, for the first time, disclosed that a variety of tough interrogation tactics were used about 100 times over two weeks on Mr. Mohammed. Agency officials then ordered a halt, fearing the combined assault might have amounted to illegal torture. A C.I.A. spokesman, George Little, declined to discuss the handling of Mr. Mohammed. Mr. Little said the program "has been conducted lawfully, with great care and close review" and "has helped our country disrupt terrorist plots and save innocent lives."
In late 2003, after Mr. Yoo left the Justice Department, the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, began reviewing his work, which he found deeply flawed. Mr. Goldsmith infuriated White House officials, first by rejecting part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, prompting the threat of mass resignations by top Justice Department officials, including Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Comey, and a showdown at the attorney general's hospital bedside.
Then, in June 2004, Mr. Goldsmith formally withdrew the August 2002 Yoo memorandum on interrogation, which he found overreaching and poorly reasoned. Mr. Goldsmith, who left the Justice Department soon afterward, first spoke at length about his dissenting views to The New York Times last month, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Six months later, the Justice Department quietly posted on its Web site a new legal opinion that appeared to end any flirtation with torture, starting with its clarionlike opening: "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."
A single footnote — added to reassure the C.I.A. — suggested that the Justice Department was not declaring the agency’s previous actions illegal. But the opinion was unmistakably a retreat. Some White House officials had opposed publicizing the document, but acquiesced to Justice Department officials who argued that doing so would help clear the way for Mr. Gonzales's confirmation as attorney general.
If President Bush wanted to make sure the Justice Department did not rebel again, Mr. Gonzales was the ideal choice... Among his first tasks at the Justice Department was to find a trusted chief for the Office of Legal Counsel... Mr. Bradbury soon emerged as the presumed favorite... the White House grew comfortable with Mr. Bradbury's approach.. [H]e signed the opinion approving combined interrogation techniques.
Mr. Comey strongly objected and told associates that he advised Mr. Gonzales not to endorse the opinion. But the attorney general made clear that the White House was adamant about it, and that he would do nothing to resist.
Under Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Comey's opposition might have killed the opinion. An imposing former prosecutor and self-described conservative who stands 6-foot-8, he was the rare administration official who was willing to confront Mr. Addington. At one testy 2004 White House meeting, when Mr. Comey stated that "no lawyer" would endorse Mr. Yoo's justification for the N.S.A. program, Mr. Addington demurred, saying he was a lawyer and found it convincing. Mr. Comey shot back: "No good lawyer," according to someone present.
"On national security matters generally, there was a sense that Comey was a wimp and that Comey was disloyal," said one Justice Department official who heard the White House talk, expressed with particular force by Mr. Addington.
Mr. Comey provided some hints of his thinking about interrogation and related issues in a speech that spring. Speaking at the N.S.A.'s Fort Meade campus on Law Day — a noteworthy setting for the man who had helped lead the dissent a year earlier that forced some changes in the N.S.A. program — Mr. Comey spoke of the “agonizing collisions” of the law and the desire to protect Americans.
"We are likely to hear the words: 'If we don't do this, people will die,'" Mr. Comey said. But he argued that government lawyers must uphold the principles of their great institutions.
"It takes far more than a sharp legal mind to say 'no' when it matters most," he said. "It takes moral character. It takes an understanding that in the long run, intelligence under law is the only sustainable intelligence in this country."
Mr. Gonzales's aides were happy to see Mr. Comey depart in the summer of 2005. That June, President Bush nominated Mr. Bradbury to head the Office of Legal Counsel, which some colleagues viewed as a sign that he had passed a loyalty test.
See our last post on the torture scandal.