Lawlessness ... and fecklessness
Yesterday, Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald wrote:
The Washington Post Editorial page has been one of the most establishment-defending organs over the last six years, repeatedly minimizing or dismissing criticisms of the Bush administration and reserving its vigor primarily for attacking Bush critics (and for supporting the Iraq war). That's what makes its Editorial regarding James Comey's testimony -- entitled "The Gonzales Coverup" -- so striking, and potentially indicative of a compelled acknowledgement by the Beltway class of how serious the NSA [National Security Agency] scandal is and how serious it has been all along.
[Washington Post editorial page editor Fred] Hiatt-like protests are welcome (even if inexcusably belated), but they must be accompanied by genuine and relentless demands for follow-up and accountability otherwise they will amount to nothing more than inconsequential rhetoric. The Attorney General lied continuously, and the administration concealed pervasive criminality at the highest levels of our government. Even Fred Hiatt says so. So now what?
As we have long noted, it is the "So now what?" that is the problem.
For all the cheerleading the Post's editorial page has done for various Bush administration blunders, it has also denounced -- in sometimes blistering and blunt language -- the administration's lawlessness.
Lawlessness: that's how the Post editorial board described the Bush administration in Wednesday's editorial about Comey's testimony -- "Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source."
And that's the way the Post has described the Bush administration several times in the past.
- On March 11, the paper described as a "lawless practice" the FBI's use of "exigent letters" to assure telephone companies that federal investigators needed access of phone records due to "an emergency situation and that subpoenas or national security letters would follow," though the "exigent letters" were in fact often used when there was no urgency and no subpoenas followed.
- On September 7, 2006, the Post ran an editorial headlined "Ending the Lawlessness; President Bush wants congressional action on detainees. That's good -- as long as he doesn't get the bill he wants."
- On June 20, 2006, the Post editorialized that, despite passage of "the McCain amendment, which prohibits 'cruel, inhuman, or degrading' treatment of all prisoners in U.S. custody ... the administration has not accepted that ban as the last word. It still has not renounced the right to subject some detainees to practices such as 'waterboarding,' or simulated drowning,even though they violate the law. It has yet to adopt clear standards governing the interrogation and treatment of foreign prisoners, or return to full compliance with such treaties as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. Until this situation changes, there will be more of the lawlessness and simple confusion that have led to hundreds of cases of abuse, and dozens of homicides, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere."
- On June 18, 2006, a Post editorial declared "the Bush administration's lawless practices have so discredited it that it has lost support even for legitimate anti-terrorist measures."
- On March 23, 2006, a Post editorial described the Bush administration's efforts to implement an EPA policy that the District of Columbia Circuit Court had "already rejected" as "simply lawless."
- On December 16, 2005, the Post wrote "Thanks to a belated White House retreat, Congress is on the verge of taking an important step toward curtailing the systematic human rights violations committed by the Bush administrationin its handling of foreign prisoners. President Bush said yesterday that he would agree to an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) prohibiting "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of all prisoners held by the United States. [...]Whether Mr. Bush will heed the message, or the new legal standard, unfortunately remains an open question. [...] [P]assage of Mr. McCain's amendment will not end waterboarding or curtail the administration's policy of abuse unless there is aggressive follow-up by Congress. There must be an independent check on the administration's legal interpretations. [...] In short, restoring the rule of law over an administration that deliberately chose lawlessness in its treatment of detainees may be an arduous process."
- A November 3, 2005, Post editorial denounced "the discredit the United States has earned for its lawless treatment of foreign prisoners" and noted "President Bush has authorized interrogators to subject these men to 'cruel, inhuman and degrading' treatment that is illegal in the United States and that is banned by a treaty ratified by the Senate. The governments that allow the CIA prisons on their territory violate this international law, if not their own laws. This shameful situation is the direct result of Mr. Bush's decision in February 2002 to set aside the Geneva Conventions as well as standing U.S. regulations for the handling of detainees."
- On July 3, 2005, the Post editorialized that the Bush administration's seizure and torture of a "radical Egyptian cleric" constituted "lawless behavior."
Washington Post columnists have also described the administration as "lawless" several times. David Ignatius, for example, described the NSA's wiretapping operation as a "lawless approach" in a December 28, 2005, column that was largely supportive of the program. And David Broder memorably described Bush as "lawless and reckless" in a September 21, 2006, column that noted Bush "started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt and repeatedly defied the Constitution."
The editorial board of The Washington Post has been moved to describe the Bush administration as "lawless" at least nine times. Its columnists have done likewise, and its reporters have detailed some of that lawlessness.
But does The Washington Post actually care that the executive branch has engaged in years of lawlessness -- and lawlessness about important things like torture and spying on Americans?
It is difficult to conclude that the Post does care. Individual reporters may, of course, but institutionally, the Post seems content to occasionally note the administration's lawlessness and stonewalling, then move on.
The Post editorial board's reluctance to deal with the questions raised by its own statements -- what should the nation do about the president's lawlessness? -- and apparent lack of long-term (or even medium-term) memory are particularly breathtaking.
Most people, after concluding for the ninth time, that the executive branch is behaving in a "lawless" way, would begin to wonder what steps -- special counsel? congressional censure? impeachment hearings for Gonzales? for Bush? -- could be taken to force the administration to begin obeying the law.
Most people, after noting again and again and again that the administration is stonewalling and covering up legitimate inquiries into its actions, would realize that expecting the administration to be forthcoming is a fool's errand, and would begin searching for ways to compel the disclosure that isn't coming voluntarily.