Sunday, May 4, 2008

down under

Roger Fitch Esq • April 25, 2008

Our Man in Washington

A.J. Liebling was right – the press is asleep on the big stories affecting our freedoms … Bush lawyers looking for soft landings in the corporate sector – although Freddo still can’t find a job … Copyright violations by Pentagon in use of rap music to torture detainees

imageAs recently reported, a newly-released “torture memo” of the Justice Department’s former lawyer John Yoo purports to authorise the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects”.

Yet there would be no need to use these techniques, if the designated terrorists would only confess their crimes as gracefully as does George W. Bush.

For instance, when Mr Bush chose to admit he had been spying on Americans for years without warrants (under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a felony attracting five years in prison), he did so before millions of Americans on national TV, and never looked back.

When he subsequently disclosed he had violated multiple international treaties by abducting, disappearing and detaining prisoners secretly in foreign prisons, for the purpose of illegal interrogation, Dubya did so at a well-publicised press conference where he announced the men were being rendered to the ultimate dungeon – Guantánamo.

He connected the dots for the media, and nothing happened.

Now, on a major US television network in prime time, Mr Bush has cheerfully acknowledged that he knew and approved of the events reported in my last post: the operation within the White House of what might be called an interrogation strike force.

With cabinet members present, it was a virtual torture subcommittee of the President’s “war cabinet”.

So much was revealed by ABC TV, but Dan Froomkin of The Washington Post put it best:

“Top Bush aides, including Vice President Cheney, micromanaged the torture of terrorist suspects from the White House basement.”

As Froomkin noted in a follow-up article, there was very little fall out among complacent Americans, even when their leader openly admitted – on national television – that he had approved torture.

Certainly the press wasn’t interested, except for such journals as The Washington Independent and, in a belated editorial, The New York Times.

It all seems to confirm what the noted American journalist A.J. Liebling said about the press: “it’s the weak slat under the bed of democracy.”

And who were these “top Bush aides”?

Well, Cheney, Condi, Rummy, Colin, AG Ashcroft and the CIA’s George Tenet. When you add in various flunkeys such as John Bellinger, then a mere National Security Council lawyer, but now the top State Department lawyer, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, you have a blue-ribbon board representing the top government departments and the White House itself.

What did they do? Well, they approved tailored torture programs for those “High Value Detainees” being tormented at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the name of freedom.

British QC Philippe Sands has continued his reporting on this, including extracts from the torture log of Mohammed al-Qahtani.

Of course, Mr Sands only has a copy of the torture log because it was leaked and published in Time Magazine three years ago. Sands was told by Major General Mike Dunlavey, the army’s former head of interrogation at Guantnamo, that the Pentagon had mysteriously lost their copy.

* * *

The misnamed Justice Department continues its downward spiral, under new leadership.

When I reported last year on Washington crime, I had no idea that a government crime wave would become a tsunami of lawbreaking, much of it criminal neglect.

According to the House Judiciary Committee, the department has been selectively prosecuting political enemies, and helping friends.

While it’s been busy helping Republicans win elections, the department has shown a singular lack of interest in enforcing domestic criminal sanctions, not only for torture and war crimes, but tax evasion and corporate violations.

Moreover, the Justice Department and FBI have been neglecting to investigate and prosecute the crimes of ordinary white-collar villains and scam artists across the country, while diverting resources to “terrorism”.

At the same time, the hyped “terror trials” are being lost, perhaps because they’re brought before the crime occurs, just as Gitmo “war crimes” prosecutions have been brought for things that happened before or outside a war.

At least, here in Washington, Main Justice claims it is investigating a lawyer’s crime, i.e. John Yoo’s “legal advice”, as The Nation reports.

Even the Court Circular, i.e. The Washington Post, would now like to hold Bush lawyers mildly accountable for their crimes, though not to Nuremberg standards.

* * *

Not surprisingly, Bush administration lawyers are busy looking for soft landings with private law firms and corporations who are not too fussy about their past misdeeds.

And, as I’ve often noted, no bad deed of a Bush Warrior goes unrewarded. So it was not unexpected when William “Jim” Haynes, the departed and unlamented General Counsel of the Defence Department, landed on his feet at the legal department of Chevron, the oil company with a tanker named The Condoleezza Rice.

Happily, Haynes has arrived just in time to help Chevron harvest the fruits of his own endeavours in Iraq.

Some unkind people suggested Jim left just in time to avoid a subpoena from the Senate.

While life with Chevron may be sweet, Haynes will find any travel outside the United States fraught with danger.

Certainly, it will be a comedown to go from directing 10,000 military and civilian lawyers to a mere 45 in Chevron’s corporate law department.

That’s better, however, than being unemployed.

For Alberto Gonzales, the outlook is bleaker. The New York Times reports that even though Freddo is a former Attorney General, he can’t find a job.

Scott Horton – who regrettably is packing up his Harper’s blog – contrasted the employment prospects of the Guantánamo whistleblowing lawyer, Lt Cmdr Diaz, with that of the suspects Haynes and Yoo.

* * *

In the event John Yoo’s torture memo should fail to provide the ammunition needed to pry loose Gitmo detainees facing military commissions and/or lifetime detention, the British human rights law firm Reprieve has a novel solution.

When all else fails, there is intellectual property law, and Clare Algar, an IP partner in a UK law firm, has been hired to look into the matter.

Noting that the music of rap artists such as Eminem was used extensively to terrorise detainees, Algar is interested in, “using copyright laws to challenge the music of certain artists being used as a torture weapon [and wants] to work closely with the artists” to do something about these shameless IP violations.

I fear this will not be enough. Either the Pentagon will pay royalties, or worse, will simply switch to the (shudder) generic, copyright-free, “wailing woman” music so favoured by Australian supermarket chains.

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