Steven Bradbury’s Revenge

Since I noted in August 2011 that Mitt had named two torture architects to his legal advisory committee (Tim Flanigan and Steve Bradbury), I have had zero doubt that Mitt would embrace torture if he were President. So Charlie Savage’s story–reporting on a September 2011 memo confirming that fact–wasn’t surprising in the least to me. Here’s the key recommendation from the memo:

Governor Romney has consistently supported enhanced interrogation techniques. Governor Romney is also on record as stating that he does not believe it is wise for him, as a presidential candidate, to describe precisely which techniques he would use in interrogating detainees. The combination of these two positions, as well as the information presented above, leads to two principal options in this area for his campaign.

The first option is that Governor Romney could pledge that upon taking office, he will rescind and replace President Obama’ s Executive Order restricting government interrogators to the Army Field Manual. Consistent with the authority reserved for the President under the Military Commissions Act, he could commit his Administration to authorizing (classified) enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal, and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives. But because President Obama’s release of the OLC memos has reduced the number of available techniques that meet these criteria, Governor Romney should not commit in advance to a timetable for implementing this plan; it may well take time to identify potential techniques and analyze their effectiveness and legality.


The Subcommittee recommends the first option. Governor Romney has recognized for years that the sounder policy outcome is the revival of the enhanced interrogation program. And a reluctance by the Governor to expressly endorse such an outcome during the campaign could become a self-fulfilling prophecy once he takes office by signaling to the bureaucracy that this is not a deeply-felt priority. [my emphasis]

Mitt is pro-torture. We knew that, and he hasn’t hidden that fact.

But there are a couple of details about this that are curious.

First, note the language here. The advisors worry that if Mitt doesn’t explicitly endorse getting back into the torture business during the election, he might not do so. They want to force his hand before he’s elected to make sure he’ll carry through.

That is not the language of advisors. It’s the language of puppet-masters (though I’m sure the equivalent memos from inside the Obama camp aren’t much different). That is, the legal advice here is designed not so much to provide the best advice (if it were, then the support used in the memo wouldn’t be such discredited propaganda). Rather, it is to force Mitt’s hand in the eventuality he becomes President.

The other interesting aspect of this are the people. Savage provides this list of the advisors, in addition to Steven Bradbury, in the loop on this memo (he notes that it’s unclear whether they have bought off on the advice).

The list also included Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary; Cully Stimson, the Pentagon’s detainee policy chief; and many other Bush-era executive branch veterans: Bradford Berenson, Elliot S. Berke, Todd F. Braunstein, Gus P. Coldebella, Jimmy Gurule, Richard D. Klingler, Ramon Martinez, Brent J. McIntosh, John C. O’Quinn, John J. Sullivan, Michael Sullivan and Alex Wong. Three others — Lee A. Casey, Maureen E. Mahoney and David B. Rivkin Jr. — served in earlier Republican administrations.

First, note where Savage starts this list: Michael Chertoff, who as Criminal Division head in 2002 refused to give Bush’s torturers an advance declination on prosecution. That refusal ultimately led to the contorted form of the original Yoo memos authorizing torture. If Chertoff supports this policy (Savage’s caveat noted), then it’s a pretty clear indication that Chertoff was cautious in 2002 because people like Ali Soufan were running around saying mock burial was torture, and not because he had any qualms about torture himself. That’s not surprising in the least, but still worth noting.

Maureen Mahoney (who defended Jay Bybee in the OPR investigation) and David Rivkin (who defended Rumsfeld in civil suits for torture) have also backed their earlier legal representation with their own reputation (or lack thereof).

Finally, note who’s not on this list: Tim Flanigan, who with Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney, and David Addington, was one of the most central architects of torture and other illegal counterterrorism approaches.

It’s sort of odd that Mitt advisor Tim Flanigan, one of the original architects of torture, wasn’t the one leading this effort last year.

Obama Administration Deliberates Whether to Tack to the Right of David Rivkin

Go read this entire Charlie Savage article describing the deliberations within the Administration on how to respond to ACLU/CCR’s lawsuit challenging the government’s ability to target American citizens for assassination with no due process. The whole thing makes me want to cry about what our country has become (Congratulations Osama bin Laden! You’ve won!).

But it was this paragraph that really made me nauseous:

“I’m a huge fan of executive power, but if someone came up to you and said the government wants to target you and you can’t even talk about it in court to try to stop it, that’s too harsh even for me,” [David Rivkin] said.

Rivkin is, of course, the former Reagan and Poppy Bush official that Republicans like to roll out any time they need an absolute unquestioning supporter of unlimited executive power. His job is effectively to put legal lipstick on the power hungry pig that has grown out of 9/11.

But he refuses to endorse the legal approach Obama’s DOJ is reportedly considering: to try to get the Awlaki suit dismissed by invoking state secrets.

And it’s not just Rivkin being contrary for partisan reasons. He endorses another of the approaches the Administration is considering, just telling the judge to butt out because this is a matter of politics.

Mr. Rivkin said he favored a different argument: a declaration that in war who can be targeted — and where — is a “political question” for the executive branch to decide, not judges.

Yup, according to Savage’s report, a Democratic DOJ is actually contemplating arguing to a judge that during wartime, the President can choose to kill anyone he wants to anywhere he wants to.

If the President kills someone, they’re preparing to argue, it’s legal.

Which gives Savage another opportunity to rely on a right wing lawyer to point out just how crazy are the arguments the Obama DOJ is contemplating. In this case, former W Administration official Matthew Waxman notes that even if it were true that the President can choose to kill whoever he wants whereever he wants during war, we’re not at war with Yemen!

Inside the administration, that argument is also seen as attractive. But invoking it could give the court an opportunity to reject the idea that an armed conflict with Al Qaeda exists in Yemen, said Matthew Waxman, who was the Pentagon’s top detainee affairs official under the second President Bush.

“The more forcefully the administration urges a court to stay out because this is warfare, the more it puts itself in the uncomfortable position of arguing we’re at war even in Yemen,” he said. “The worst outcome would be if the court rules that the president is not authorized to wage war against Al Qaeda beyond combat zones like Afghanistan.”

Of course, no one seems to be contemplating actually litigating this case, actually allowing a judge to rule on whether it is legal to assassinate American citizens with no due process.

And these are the lawyers guarding our Constitution.

Sheldon Whitehouse Destroys David Rivkin’s “Gallery of Horribles”

As I liveblogged here, the Republican response to Pat Leahy’s proposal to have a Truth Commission on Bush era crimes is to establish a set of straw men and then shoot them down, without ever addressing the problem that a number of high level Administration officials broke the law.

This exchange between Sheldon Whitehouse and designated Republican shill David Rivkin gets to the key aspects of tactic. Rivkin repeatedly introduced his own assumptions into what the Commission would do, all so he point to the constitutional challenges that only his imagined committee would have. And repeatedly during the hearing, Rivkin claimed the whole point of the commission was to select 12 to 13 high level officials and lay out the evidence of their criminal culpability.

I’m curious, though. If Rivkin has such an exact number of Bush Administration officials who broke the law, why hasn’t he called them out himself as prosecution targets? Or has he simply put his Republican affiliation before our Constitution? 

And isn’t it charming that Rivkin is so concerned about the civil liberties of those who in 37 pages claimed to eliminate both the First and Fourth Amendment?

Here’s my liveblogged transcript (with all the errors that implies):

Whitehouse: Rivkin. You raise the gallery of horribles that might go wrong. If you assume that the purpose is advisory in policy only. If you assume that criminal law enforcement is properly cabined in Exec as it should be. If you assume coordination on issues like immunity. And if it is set up not as private entity but as delegated Congressional oversight authority. Still oppose, even in the absence of parade of horribles.

Rivkin: This assumes too much. To me law enforcement function has variety of aspects. Ultimate decision to proceed with prosecution. 

Whitehouse: no one is suggesting otherwise. 

Rivkin: Deciding as threshold determination whom to investigate.

Whitehouse: We do that in COngress every moment.

Rivkin: RIght in Congress.

Whitehouse: Right to delegate.

Rivkin: I do not beleve it is readily delegable.

Whitehouse: Now you use another hedge word. Properly appointed commission.

Rivkin: Appointments clause? If you could configure commission that makes it an extension of Article I branch. I don’t see how you can delegate oversight responsibility. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck. WE’ve heard today about criminal investigation, PIN does, on 12 or 14 people, then passes the buck to PIN in public spotlight. If this were contemplated in different context, every law professor would be screaming about it.

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