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Neocon Judge's History of Cover-ups

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 6 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Consortium News

Laurence Silberman, a U.S. Courts Appeals Court judge and a longtime neoconservative operative -- part of what the Iran-Contra special prosecutor called "the strategic reserves" for convicted Reagan administration operatives in the 1980s -- is back playing a similar role for the Bush-43 administration.

On Sept. 11, the eighth anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Silberman issued a 2-to-1 opinion dismissing a lawsuit against the private security firm, CACI International, brought by Iraqi victims of torture and other abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

Silberman declared that CACI was immune from prosecution because its employees were responding to U.S. military commands. The immunity ruling blocked legal efforts by 212 Iraqis, who suffered directly at Abu Ghraib or were the widows of men who died, to exact some accountability from CACI employees who allegedly assisted in the torture of prisoners.

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"During wartime, where a private service contractor is integrated into combatant activities over which the military retains command authority, a tort claim arising out of the contractor's engagement in such activities shall be preempted," Silberman wrote.

But Silberman is not a dispassionate judge when it comes to the crimes of Republicans committed in the cause of advancing the neocon cause.

In the 1980s, Silberman played behind-the-scenes roles in helping Ronald Reagan gain the White House; he helped formulate hard-line intelligence policies; he encouraged right-wing media attacks on liberals; and he protected the flanks of Reagan's operatives who were caught breaking the law.

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Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a Republican himself, counted Silberman as one of "a powerful band of Republican [judicial] appointees [who] waited like the strategic reserves of an embattled army," determined to prevent any judgments against Reagan's operatives who broke the law in the arms-for-hostage scandal.

In his 1997 memoir, Firewall, Walsh depicted Silberman as a leader of that partisan band, even recalling how Silberman had berated Judge George MacKinnon, also a Republican, who led the panel which had picked Walsh to be the special prosecutor.

"At a D.C. circuit conference, he [Silberman] had gotten into a shouting match about independent counsel with Judge George MacKinnon," Walsh wrote. "Silberman not only had hostile views but seemed to hold them in anger."

In 1990, after Walsh had secured a difficult conviction of former White House aide Oliver North for offenses stemming from the Iran-Contra scandal, Silberman teamed up with another right-wing judge, David Sentelle, to overturn North's conviction in a sudden outburst of sympathy for defendant rights.

Trashing Anita Hill

Less publicly, in 1991, Silberman also went to bat for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, working with right-wing operatives to destroy the reputation of Anita Hill, a former Thomas employee who testified about his crude sexual harassment.

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Author David Brock, then a well-paid right-wing hatchet man who published what he later admitted were scurrilous attacks on Hill, described the support and encouragement he received from Silberman and Silberman's wife, Ricky. Even after Thomas had won Senate confirmation, Silberman still was pushing attack lines against Hill, Brock wrote in his book, Blinded by the Right.

While George H.W. Bush's White House slipped Brock a psychiatric opinion that Hill suffered from "erotomania," Silberman met with Brock to suggest even more colorful criticism of Hill.

"Silberman speculated that Hill was a lesbian 'acting out'," Brock wrote. "Besides, Silberman confided, Thomas would never have asked Hill for dates: She had bad breath."

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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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