Thursday's devastating New York Times expose of the Bush administration's secret endorsement of torture by the CIA only served to confirm the worst what most Americans already suspected. First, Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress regarding the administration's policy on torture of detainees during his 2005 confirmation hearings. Second, President Bush's December 2005 signing statement accompanying the Detainee Treatment Act was expressly designed to exempt the lawbreaking he had already approved.
As Perrspectives has detailed here and here, former White House Counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress repeatedly regarding the U.S. attorneys purge and President Bush's illegal NSA domestic surveillance. But as McJoan at DailyKos details, Gonzales also perjured himself during his confirmation hearings for the AG post on January 6, 2005.
As the Times details, beginning in August 2002, the infamous Bybee memo drafted by torture apologist John Yoo was the basis for the Bush administration's interrogation techniques for terror detainees worldwide. Defining torture as "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death," the White House endorsed brutal techniques up to and including waterboarding. But while the Justice Department in December 2004 publicly proclaimed that torture was "abhorrent," the new Attorney General in February 2005 and again later that same year issued secret memos which "provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."
But that uninterrupted policy of detainee torture is not what Alberto Gonzales described to Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) during his confirmation hearing in January 2005. The August 2002 memo, Gonzales claimed had been withdrawn, and questions about the extent of presidential war powers eclipsing laws and treaties of the United States were merely "hypothetical."
FEINGOLD: The question here is: What is your view regarding the president's constitutional authority to authorize violations of the criminal law, duly enacted statutes that may have been on the books for many years, when acting as commander in chief? Does he have such authority?
The question you have been asked is not about a hypothetical statute in the future that the president might think is unconstitutional; it's about our laws and international treaty obligations concerning torture.
The torture memo answered that question in the affirmative. And my colleagues and I would like your answer on that today...
GONZALES: Senator, the August 30th memo has been withdrawn. It has been rejected, including that section regarding the commander in chief authority to ignore the criminal statutes.
So it's been rejected by the executive branch. I categorically reject it.
And in addition to that, as I've said repeatedly today, this administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture.
And so what we're really discussing is a hypothetical situation that...
With his perjury, Gonzales hoped to conceal President Bush's violations of the Geneva Conventions, past and present. But with his signing statement attached to the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, Bush himself sought to create a legal basis for his administration's past and future criminality. In a nutshell, Bush signed into law a bill he had every intention of continuing to violate.
Bush, of course, had opposed John McCain's torture bill throughout the fall of 2005. But when the House and Senate passed McCain's amendment to the defense authorization bill by veto proof margins, Bush held a press conference on December 15 with McCain, announcing his support for the language explicitly saying that that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody is illegal regardless of where they are held.
As the Boston Globe reported, that supposed compromise lasted just as long as it took for President Bush to issue his signing statement two weeks later on December 30. When it comes to what constitutes "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees," the President proclaimed that he indeed would be the decider:
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.
At this late date, today's New York Times piece, coming as it does on the eve of the confirmation process for Gonzales' proposed successor Michael Mukasey, shouldn't surprise anyone. It provides more evidence of the extent to which President Bush and his enablers in the White House, Office of the Vice President and the Justice Department believe they are above the law.
** Crossposted at Perrspectives **