Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic wrote a post a few hours ago about a letter written to President Obama, signed by seven former intelligence officials – virtually all of them neo-conservatives and many from the Bush administration – complaining about DoJ investigations into torture at the CIA.
Ambinder dutifully and uncritically transcribed the primary complaints and requests of the letter without noting that what these officials are demanding is the kind of harmful political corruption that the Department of Justice was made famous for under Bush and his many disgraced Attorney’s General.
One hardly has to read the letter to know what it says, once you find out who wrote it. Michael Hayden was NSA director for the entire warrantless wiretapping scandal, and then CIA director under George Bush from 2006 until earlier this year. Hayden’s problems violating federal wiretapping law and the Constitution alone says a great deal about the type of people behind this letter.
Is it at all surprising or noteworthy that someone who oversaw the CIA is deeply opposed to criminal investigations and prosecutions of those crimes committed at CIA? Hayden himself may very well be liable for any acts of torture that happened while he was director. Surely we wouldn’t expect him to support investigations that might reveal his complicity or direct involvement in these crimes, that would be naive.
Virtually every signatory to this letter has a sordid history of their own that is almost as disgusting as Hayden’s. James Woolsey, who was director of the CIA under Clinton from 1993-95, endorsed John McCain for President (despite his claims to oppose torture after being tortured himself as a POW, McCain was instrumental in trying to legalizing torture in this country by allowing the President alone to define what is and is not torture) and holds rather extremist, fringe views that would make him feel very at home with other Bush Republicans.
Woolsey linked Iraq to 9/11 less than 24 hours after the attacks in an interview with CNN’s Dayrn Kagan:
I very much hope the Bush administration, unlike Clinton administration, will not set aside this possibility and assume that everything is just a terrorist group, even a terrorist group as major as bin Laden’s. It really need to look carefully at the possibility there may be state sponsorship here, and I think the most likely, certainly not the only possibility is Iraq.
Woolsey also linked Iraq to both the World Trade Center bombing – the early work of al Qeada for which the United States arrested, tried (in civilian courts) and convicted six terrorists who are now rotting in civilian prisons for life – and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, for which Timothy McVeigh was convicted and executed for in 2001. He was also a member of Project for the New American Century, a neo-con think tank founded by war cheerleaders William Kristol and Robert Kagan. (Iran, Iraq, Syria, pick any of them and you’ll probably find support for dropping freedom bombs on them from PNAC, Kagan, and Kristol.)
Another signatory was Hayden’s predecessor, Porter Goss. Goss, who only lasted two years before having to resign under Bush, attacked the Obama administration for releasing the torture memos and may be subject to investigation and prosecution for the behavior of CIA interrogators every bit as much as Michael Hayden.
Goss made similar arguments against releasing the torture memos in April as this letter does for halting the DoJ investigations, primarily that revealing illegal behavior by America’s intelligence agencies and the executive branch will harm the CIA’s ability to defend the country in the future. No such arguments have ever been substantiated by evidence or even logical arguments made that support claims that obeying the law would somehow make it difficult or impossible to defend America. And as should be obvious by this point, the torture memos can easily be used as evidence in a court of law should Goss and Hayden ever be investigated for war crimes.
That both these men opposed investigations that will probably result in trials and convictions — which will increase public pressure on the Department of Justice to expand those investigations to encompass high officials at CIA and within the Bush administration – should again be pretty obvious.
Stopping these investigations means potentially protecting both Hayden and Goss from prosecution.
Goss’s time at CIA was so controversial and troubled that many career agency officials had threatened to quit if he didn’t leave.
Other letter signatories include John Deutch, who served as CIA director for only a year under Clinton and eventually had to be pardoned for keeping classified information on unsecured computers – hardly a positive character witness for sound intelligence practices; James Schlesinger, SecDef under Nixon and Ford (another defense hawk) was actually fired under Ford; and George Tenet.
Setting aside the stunning lack of credibility amongst the letter authors, which Ambinder didn’t bother to write about, there is the matter of the content of the letter itself.
The implications of a President directly dictating who will and will not be investigated and prosecuted for breaking the law is a serious problem, and I think it could be argued that such interference in criminal investigations by the President could easily been seen as obstruction of justice, a serious felony that would qualify as grounds for impeachment and criminal charges. This is of course one of the many reasons that Bush could and should have been impeached since his interference with the DoJ went beyond imagination, fully transforming the DoJ into just another internal office of the West Wing that does the President’s bidding.
Reporting on the existence of the letter and its contents is fine, that’s not what I’m taking issue with here. Nor do I really have a problem with these former CIA officials advocating for a position they believe in, even though that position is legally suspect and of morally questionable intentions.
Ambinder told his readers that the letter existed, summarized the arguments it made without commenting, and then he called it a day. That’s my beef. Is that any way different than what a professional PR lackey is paid to do? Is the end result of people only getting one side of this story better or worse than simply posting the full letter for people to read like a good little stenographer would?
In a nation subordinate to the rule of law, the only decisions made valid about criminal investigations and prosecutions are those related to the law, and the law alone. What effects those prosecutions would have on morale at the CIA – a common neo-con excuse – isn’t relevant to whether or not someone broke the law, and therefore should be prosecuted for it.
The government does not and should not ever take into consideration how prosecuting someone who embezzled money from their company would affect morale at that company, it’s utterly inconsequential. So why would that standard suddenly change when it comes to high political and intelligence officials?
Taking politics into consideration when making decisions on whom to prosecute, when, and why, is the very definition of political corruption of the justice process. It is the reason this country has yet to resolve the U.S. Attorney firing scandal under the Bush administration, where accusations of political interference were extremely common and ultimately verified time and time again.
Not only would it be inappropriate for the President to dictate matters to the DoJ, which by law is an independent agency that can and is expected to make its own decisions based only on matters of law, it would be borderline illegal.
It was clearly wrong when George W. Bush did it, and it would clearly be wrong if Barack Obama did it. It has nothing to do with a person belonging to a political party or even whether or not you agree with the reasoning for it – such as the unsubstantiated claim that torture prosecutions will harm our ability to defend ourselves.
It simply doesn’t matter, it doesn’t ever figure into the equation. If the rule of law is to stand, we must hold investigations and if necessary, peruse prosecutions if the evidence warrants it, and believe me, the evidence is staggering. And since the Convention Against Torture – a legally binding treaty signed by Ronald Reagan who argued that there is never a valid reason to torture – compels us to investigate and prosecute (we literally have no choi
ce), even if we were to be swayed by arguments or morale and security, it still doesn’t matter.
We are bound by the law to take these actions and carry them out to their natural conclusion. It is wrong to argue that the President interfere in this matter regardless of who that President is, or what the reason is given. In America, ignoring the law for political expedience is simply not an option.