Monday, December 11, 2006

Tomgram: Greenberg, In a Confessing State of Mind

An early impulse of Bush administration officials after the attacks of September 11, 2001 was to take off "the gloves," or, as CIA Director George Tenet put it (so Ron Suskind tell us in his book, The One Percent Doctrine), "the shackles." Those were the "shackles" that they believed had been placed on the imperial presidency after Richard Nixon came so close to committing the constitutional coup d'état that we have come to call Watergate, but that involved an illegal war (in Cambodia), illegal wiretapping, illegal break-ins, robberies, black-bag jobs and so many other crossing-the-line events. That was the moment that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and all the Bush administration advocates of a "unitary executive theory" wanted to return us to -- the impeachable moment.

The neocons and their patrons, especially our Vice President, wanted to unchain executive power, but that wasn't all. They weren't about to waste perfectly good shackles. Another impulse of theirs after the 9/11 attacks was to capture or kidnap, detain, secretly imprison, shackle, and torture their enemies, picked up on battlefields as well as peaceful city streets around the world. The accumulation of leaked documentation from their secret world has long indicated that they had torture on the brain. The urge to institute a torture regime had, perhaps, less to do with torture itself than with the knowledge that if you somehow gained the right to torture, you could gain the right to do just about anything; you could, in short, unchain the presidency in a major way.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Bush administration officialdom was that, before they reached for their waterboards, they reached for their dictionaries; and so, out of their world of secret imprisonment, humiliation, and pain emerged an unending stream of twisted definitions of otherwise common terms in classified but quickly leaked documents. Karen Greenberg, executive director of NYU's Center for Law and Security and co-author of The Torture Papers (which collected all those grim classified memorials to these last years of excess), now considers the most secret impulse of all revealed by this sordid collection of documents -- the impulse to confess. Tom

Impunity and Immunity

The Bush Administration Enters the Confessional
By Karen Greenberg

Confession, the time-honored, soul-soothing last resort for those caught in error, may not survive the Bush administration. It has, after all, long made a mockery of such revelations by manufacturing an entire lexicon of coercive techniques to elicit often non-existent "truths" that would justify its detention policies. And yet, without being coerced in any way, administration officials have been confessing continually these past years -- in documents that may someday play a part in their own confrontation with justice.

The Bush administration trail of confessions can be found in the most unlikely of places -- the very memos and policy statements in which its officials were redefining reality in their search for the perfect (and perfectly grim) extractive methods that would give them the detainee confessions they so eagerly sought. These were the very documents that led first to Gitmo, then to Abu Ghraib, and finally deep into the hidden universe of pain that was their global network of secret prisons.

Strangely enough, the administration confessional was open for business within weeks of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. It could be found wrapped in persistent assertions of immunity, assertions that none of their acts to come could ever be brought before the bar of justice or the oversight of anyone. The first of these documents was issued on September 25th, 2001. Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, writing for the Office of Legal Counsel, laid out the reasons for the President of the United States to assume broad executive powers in the war on terror. The last footnote of the memo declared, "In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the President's decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable."

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