Illegal, and Pointless


Today’s New York Times editorial.

July 17, 2009
Illegal, and Pointless

We’ve known for years that the Bush administration ignored and broke the law repeatedly in the name of national security. It is now clear that many of those programs could have been conducted just as easily within the law — perhaps more effectively and certainly with far less damage to the justice system and to Americans’ faith in their government.

That is the inescapable conclusion from a devastating report by the inspectors general of the intelligence and law-enforcement community on President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The report shows that the longstanding requirement that the government obtain a warrant was not hindering efforts to gather intelligence on terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the argument that the law was an impediment was concocted by White House and Justice Department lawyers after Mr. Bush authorized spying on Americans’ international communications.

We know less, so far, about the Bush administration’s plan to send covert paramilitary teams to assassinate Al Qaeda leaders. But what is overwhelmingly clear is that there was no legal or rational justification for Vice President Dick Cheney’s order to conceal the program from Congress. The plan was never put into effect, apparently because it was unworkable. But it’s hard to imagine Congress balking at killing terrorists.

So why break the law, again and again? Two things seem disturbingly clear. First, President Bush and his top aides panicked after the Sept. 11 attacks. And second, Mr. Cheney and his ideologues, who had long chafed at any legal constraints on executive power, preyed on that panic to advance their agenda.

According to the inspectors general, the legal memo justifying warrantless wiretapping was written by John Yoo, then the deputy head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and author of other memos that twisted the law to justify torture.

In this case, the report said, he misrepresented both the law and the details of the wiretapping operation to make it seem as if the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was outdated and that Mr. Bush could ignore it. And, according to the report, Mr. Yoo bypassed his bosses at the Justice Department and delivered his reports directly to, you guessed it, Mr. Cheney’s office.

For four years, until The Times revealed the warrantless wiretapping, Mr. Bush reauthorized the eavesdropping every 45 days based on memos from the intelligence community and Justice Department. The report said that when the “scary memos,” as they came to be called, were not sufficiently scary, lawyers under the direction of Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and later attorney general, revised them or ordered up additional “threat information.” Each ended with a White House-written paragraph asserting that communications were intercepted from terrorists who “possessed the capability and intention” to attack this country.

After Mr. Yoo and his boss, Jay Bybee, left the Justice Department, their replacements concluded that the wiretapping program was illegal. The White House did eventually change parts of the program and then demanded that Congress legalize it, but only after the White House tried to force the Justice Department to ignore its own conclusions and after Robert Mueller, the director of the F.B.I., threatened to resign.

Mr. Cheney has tried to head off a reckoning by claiming that the warrantless wiretapping saved thousands of lives. The report said the C.I.A. could point to little direct benefit. The F.B.I. said most of the leads it produced were false. Others never led to an arrest.

This is not an isolated case. Once the Bush team got into the habit of breaking the law, it became their operating procedure that any means are justified: ordering the nation’s intelligence agents to torture prisoners; sending innocents to be tortured in foreign countries; creating secret prisons where detainees were held illegally without charge.

Americans still don’t have the full story. Even now, most of what the inspectors general found remains classified, including other wiretapping that Mr. Bush authorized. Mr. Yoo’s original memo is also classified.

President Obama has refused to open a full investigation of the many laws that were evaded, twisted or broken — pointlessly and destructively — under Mr. Bush. Mr. Obama should change his mind. A full accounting is the only way to ensure these abuses never happen again.

Of course, it editorial fails to mention how the NY Times so often aids and abets in the cover-up.



Filed under Essays

9 responses to “Illegal, and Pointless

  1. ReWrite

    Excellent post.

    I would add three things: first none of this is breaking news. This has been a major concern since 11/2001.

    And I still do not think the media is informing us on how serious this issue actually is; not just the implications of the above practices, but the practices are actually much worse. The article makes the very important point that the marching orders came from the Executive branch (I actually think David Addington is much more culpable than John Yoo, see and the fact that the executive branch purposely hid this from Congress is huge. But the conclusion is wrong, the gov’t practices were (and are) much more illegal than this article assumes. I think the issues not yet discussed, but of ‘grave’ concern is which intelligence agencies were gathering information/spying/torturing and upon whom. It makes a huge difference if the FBI is doing an illegal search and seizure of a US citizens’ home versus the CIA or the US Army coming into a citizens’s home on US soil. Even the FBI coming into your home w/out a warrant is facially unlawful, but imagine if it was the Army? This would be an unprecedented violation of the Constitution. Or if the executive branch outsourced such tasks to pvt corporations. I think these are some of the issues that the media, Congress and the public should be gathering the answers to… as much as I don’t want the FBI coming into my home illegally, instructing the military to spy on citizen’s is a hugely bigger issue.

    Lastly, the article seems to assume that these practices (and worse ones) have stopped. I think that is a false and/or unsafe assumption.

  2. eric

    What is so disturbing is how the entire conversation is manipulated by faux leaks by the CIA that try to make us believe that what happened wasn’t so bad and then the press picks up on and then CIA uses the press report to justify what they themselves had leaked. It would be comic if it weren’t so inherently dangerous.

    And what are we left with. Absurd justifications like we had the best intentions or investigating wouldn’t be too political, it would strengthen our enemy, or my favorite, it would hurt CIA morale (as if they were babies). Since when were any of those every arguments against prosecution?

  3. So ….

    What would you say about the video released today, from Taliban scumbags, forcing a captured soldier to perform via their instructions, for a bogus video attempt at showing their “sympathy” and “care” of the captured soldier?

    This act, which they and their ilk have been engaging in, long before 9/11 or the Patriot Act, and continue to do, invioloation of a number of International laws …

    The first one of these videos came from Tehran in the 1980’s …

    Hydrogen bomb time. Turn it all to nuclear glass, and walk away ….

  4. eric

    I would say it is illegal, like the photos from Abu Ghraib or the waterboarding someone 180 times. It is all illegal, that is why we shouldn’t be doing it.

    What will be fun, though, is when the U.S. government fails to comply with its treaty obligations and then foreign courts, as a result, will have the jurisdiction to prosecute American high officials (because the U.S. has refused to do so), turning our guys into International pariahs incapable of traveling abroad for fear of being taken into custody a la Pinochet. Gotta love it!

  5. Reciprocity; it’s about time we returned the favor, they’ve asked for it, and more than earned it with their cowardice.

    I’m bored with torture and child’s play, while American soldiers die needlessly for a cause much easier won by technology …

    The Machiavellian perspective wins, as always, yet again. Remove all possiblity of revenge/retaliation and what is left to fear?

    ..tick..tick..BOOM: “Poppie fries and a goat burger come to 12 afghani, thank you and pull around.”

  6. eric

    You mean that the Taliban is seeking reciprocity for us invading them or we’re seeking reciprocity for them seeking reciprocity? I don’t understand the part about cowardice. First if they are using cowardice and we “return the favor” then isn’t that just using cowardice?

    The reason American soldiers die needlessly is because we are fighting a needless war. What do we care about Afghanistan or the Taliban?

  7. If you even have to ask the question, then your agenda is such that you would invariably be blind to the answer’s meaning.

    Your football, your rules, whatever makes you comfortable.

    Cowardice: torture/abuse/murder of men, women and children not even involved ~ even their own ~ for a religious agenda, then claiming “Allah wanted me to do it […]”

    We don’t use IED’s; cowards do.
    We don’t use human shields; cowards do.
    We don’t gas innocents; cowards do.
    We don’t knowingly, with planning, bomb hotels full of non-combatants; cowards do.
    We don’t use our own children to detonate bombs to kill other innocents/non-combatants; cowards do.
    We don’t hide in with the populace, our soldiers are plainly and lawfully marked according to International law, even to their own hazard/detriment; cowards aren’t.

    I can keep going, the list is quite extensive. Need more?

    Don’t even come at me with any of that “baby killers” bullshit from the American media either, they’ve never been able to prove one instance.

    Anyone disgracing the American soldiers/military with such vitriolically putrid, unproven/unprovable commentary should be given the opportunity to voluntarily recind their citizenship ~ or take two to the back of the skull; involuntarily.

    Afghanistan, like 90% of the ME, is a cesspool; drugs, murder, oppression, slavery, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum …

    We are the big dog on the block, no apologies. We got there by doing it better, for a longer period of time, than anyone else can/has done it ~ just like the Romans in their time. Doing what needs to be done, the unpleasant thing, is never easy, never popular ~ but that doesn’t make it wrong by default either.

  8. eric


    So nobody gets confused. I really enjoy our back and forth! For sport, of course.

    We got drones. Can’t be more wimpy than that. But I guess that is what technology does. It allows you to be the opposite of “up close and personal”.

    Look, I agree that the Taliban are as low a form of humankind as possible, though I have not been as eloquent in expressing it. You’re definitely getting better with age. Seriously, though, I just don’t see how they are relevant enough for our soldiers to get killed over.

  9. I don’t “know” that they are relevant either … but their activities in Pakistan are worrisome. Pakistan is one of the most unstable states on the map, and unlike Iran, they are nuked to capacity …

    I prefer caution. There is no desire to see any of our soldiers die, for any “cause”, that is the humanity of it. But, sadly, in this world, “humanity” is meaningless in the face of power and those willing to go to any end to express power.

    I’m sure you’re bored with my quoting Machiavelli, but he just has it right: any country who drops their arms, opens the gates to their cities, and signs the invitations to invaders who will come to conquer.

    Not my world, never has been, never will be, the rules of game set in stone, long ago. I just have to live on this accursedly illogical ball, and accept having no choice in the matter.

    Vae victus.

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