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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/17/09

How Bush's Tortured Legal Logic Won

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Another approved technique was "water dousing" in which a detainee is sprayed with water that can be as cold as 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 20 minutes. Slightly warmer water could be used to douse a prisoner for longer periods of time.

Both the 2002 and 2005 memos permitted the "waterboard," a technique that involves covering a prisoner's face with a cloth and pouring water on it to create the panicked sensation of drowning. The interrogators also were authorized to prevent a detainee from trying to "defeat the technique" by thrashing about or trying to breathe from the corner of his mouth.

"The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff, in which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water," the May 10 memo reads. "In addition, you have informed us that the technique may be applied in a manner to defeat efforts by the detainee to hold his breath by, for example, beginning an application of water as the detainee is exhaling."

At least since the days of the Spanish Inquisition, waterboarding has been regarded as torture. The U.S. government prosecuted Japanese soldiers who used it against American troops in World War II. But the legal reasoning of the Bush administration's memos transformed waterboarding into an acceptable method of interrogation.

Lawyer-Shopping

Although the four released memos included the most famous one--from Aug. 1, 2002, which provided the initial legal cover for abusive interrogations--the three others from May 2005 may be more significant in destroying the legal cover that President Bush and his senior aides have hidden behind.

Their claim has been that they were simply operating within legal parameters set by lawyers at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which is responsible for advising Presidents on the limits of their authority. In other words, professional lawyers provided objective legal advice and the administration simply followed it.

But that claim now collides with the reality that other Justice Department lawyers--from 2003 to 2005--overturned the initial memo and resisted its reimplementation until they were ousted. In effect, the Bush administration appears to have gone lawyer-shopping for attorneys who would craft opinions that the White House wanted.

Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee signed the original Aug. 1, 2002, "torture" memo and other opinions granting expansive presidential powers (drafted by his deputy John Yoo).

However, Bybee quit in 2003 to accept President Bush's appointment of him as a federal appeals court judge in San Francisco, and his successor as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, withdrew many Bybee-Yoo memos as legally flawed.

Goldsmith's actions angered the White House, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney's legal counsel David Addington. In a 2007 book, The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith described one White House meeting at which Addington pulled out a 3-by-5-inch card listing the OLC opinions that Goldsmith had withdrawn.

"Since you've withdrawn so many legal opinions that the President and others have been relying on,"- Addington said sarcastically, "we need you to go through all of OLC's opinions and let us know which ones you will stand by."

Though supported by Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Goldsmith succumbed to the White House pressure and quit in 2004. Still, despite Goldsmith's departure, Comey and the new acting head of the OLC, Daniel Levin, resisted restoring the administration's right to use the harsh interrogation techniques.

That didn't occur until White House counsel Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General in 2005 and made Bradbury the acting chief of the OLC. After signing the three "torture" memos in May, Bradbury was rewarded with Bush's formal nomination in June to be Assistant Attorney General for the OLC (although he never gained Senate confirmation).

Comey Departs

With the OLC reaffirming the administration's interrogation techniques, Comey's days were numbered.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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