The Bush Administration

2008 08 09
Recently read: “The Dark Side”

Jane Mayer. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

After the scandal of Abu Grieb, the Bush administration insisted that the torture and abuse of detainees had been the work of a few bad apples. But of course the abuse was only a manifestation of a much deeper rot, for which top officials bore primary responsibility. I’ve sometimes had the impression of similar excuse-making in the attitudes of even some of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration, in the claim that the Bush administration represents a radical and unprecedented break with the past. It strikes me as naive to depict the Bush administration as a few bad apples, in an otherwise upright tradition legal and ethical conduct. On the contrary, the Bush administration seems to me part of a larger moral and legal rot that is systemic, and has unfortunately deep roots in American political culture (alongside much more admirable tendencies and traditions).

Jane Meyer’s new book The Dark Side has helped me to reflect on, and to a certain extent, modify, these assumptions. Mayer is familiar with the Church Committee, and with past American abuses of power. She doesn’t base her argument for a significant break with the past on what the Bush administration has done so much as on the legal arguments that the administration has advanced, most often in secrecy, to defend and support its policies. Much of this is new, and its long-term consequences are likely to be wretched.

A great deal of the action in Mayer’s book is, for this reason, legal. The new legal doctrines advanced by David Addington, Cheney’s legal counsel for the period covered by the book, and John Yoo, among others, were fiercely resisted by other lawyers in the administration. Meyer meticulously details the legal arguments and maneuvers used by various parties to this debate against the background of events in the so-called War on Terror.

Mayer book is, as far as I can tell, balanced, careful, and accurate, while rarely engaging in the pointless he-said/she-said style of reporting that so many journalists use to avoid the implications of their reporting. When an official lies, she points it out, clearly and unequivocally. A book like this is difficult to ignore, if you care at all about moral and legal issues surrounding torture and the Bush administration’s policies. If even a quarter of the book is accurate, the United States would only need to be a country serious about following its own laws for hundreds of people, from the President on down, to be put on trial for torture and other serious crimes.

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2007 02 02
Leahy meets Gonzales to learn super top secret information demonstrating Arar’s terrible terrorizing terror plans

And comes away underwhelmed, as predicted.

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2007 01 30
Arar, again

This piece by Dahlia Lithwick makes it sound as if the Bush administration has taken the stand it has on the Arar case because it doesn’t like admitting mistakes. But my understanding is that whatever official made the decision to have Arar sent to Syria broke U.S. law in doing so. If the United States applied its own laws to its own government officials, then someone – probably someone high up – would be in serious trouble. There’s not much chance of that happening, of course, but that’s a much better reason to try to avoid discussing the case than simply wanting the better of an argument. If I’m wrong about that, please do let me know in the comments.

By the way, in the video linked to in the last post, Gonzales has this little smirk on his face, as if to say, “Oh you better be careful not to walk too far out on the plank on this one. I know something you don’t. Arar is a nasty fellow.” Now it’s doubtful that Gonzales will tell Leahy more than the Canadian government already knows, and the Canadian government is convinced of Arar’s innocence. But suppose for a moment that Arar is one violent little jihadist, masquerading as a mild-mannered computer programmer. My understanding, again, is that sending him to Syria knowing full well that he would be tortured was against U.S. law. In other words, Gonzales should really just go fuck himself.

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2007 01 30
Leahy and Gonzales on Arar

About halfway through this video Leahy gets really pissed off.

You know, I really appreciate what Leahy says here. It speaks well of him, and anyone who voted for him, and anyone who supports him.

Howls of outrage (3)

2006 02 12
A role to fill

Since Atrios didn’t draw attention to the money quote, I will:

“Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been,” she said. “The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came.”

Since we know that Cheney will unleash shock and awe on a defenseless country as a way to flex its muscles to other nations who might even take steps toward being able to defend themselves, I wonder if yesterday’s hunting incident wasn’t a warning shot aimed at people like this.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 11 02
Cheney’s “superiority complex”

This piece in Slate on Dick Cheney is really unsatisfying. More under the fold, because I can’t bear to push Anne’s “Go” post down the page.
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A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 09 09
Hey, Ya Gotta Hand it To Him…

…Not even Bush is man enough to blame the peons:

“Of course it will. It’s a blot. I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now.”

“George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me. He believed what he was giving to me was accurate. � The intelligence system did not work well,” he said.

Nonetheless, Powell said, some lower-level personnel in the intelligence community failed him and the country. “There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn’t be relied upon, and they didn’t speak up. That devastated me,” he said.

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2005 09 09
Did I mention his penmanship?

Brown, fatally incompetent Bush-appointed head of FEMA, padded his resume to make it sound like a college internship was actual relevant disaster-management experience. Time magazine calls him on it. And they call his supervisor from that job, who says:

Former Edmond city manager Bill Dashner recalled for Time that Brown had worked for him as an administrative assistant while attending Central State University.

“Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I’d ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt,” Dashner told Time.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 09 09
Kass steps down

Leon Kass is stepping down as chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Kass is a moron, I hate his work, and I’m glad he’s going.

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 09 08
In my mind, this is always the caption

Spencer found this delight, purportedly from Ireland’s Sky News. Ah, cheap thrills. He also points out that there’s a growing collection of Katrina stuff on Snopes, the essential urban legends reference page.

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2005 09 06
Sounds Familiar

Government officials should be able to take a vacation. But nothing–nothing–of importance to national security should fail to get done because they are on vacation. Surely there’s an easy way to accommodate these two truisms.


“One reason for the slow White House response, said a Republican who has been in contact with several officials, is that so many high-level officials and aides were on vacation. Vice President Cheney, for instance, was in Wyoming and did not return unil Thursday, and Nicolle Devenish, the president’s top communications adviser, is getting married in Greece with a number of mid-level aides in attendance.”

Aug./Sept. 2001:

Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, asked him when he first found out about the report from the FBI’s Minnesota field office that Zacarias Moussaoui, an Islamic jihadist, had been taking lessons on how to fly a 747. Tenet replied that he was briefed about the case on Aug. 23 or 24, 2001.

Roemer then asked Tenet if he mentioned Moussaoui to President Bush at one of their frequent morning briefings. Tenet replied, “I was not in briefings at this time.” Bush, he noted, “was on vacation.” He added that he didn’t see the president at all in August 2001. During the entire month, Bush was at his ranch in Texas. “You never talked with him?” Roemer asked. “No,” Tenet replied. By the way, for much of August, Tenet too was, as he put it, “on leave.”

Oh, and…:

CLARKE: That process probably ended, I think in July of 2001. So we were ready for a principals meeting in July. But the principals calendar was full and then they went on vacation, many of them in August, so we couldn’t meet in August, and therefore the principals met in September [2001].

CLARKE: I was sufficiently frustrated that I asked to be reassigned.

ROEMER: You then wrote a memo on September 4th to Dr. Rice expressing some of these frustrations…A memo comes out that we have seen on September the 4th [2001]….You urge policy-makers to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home or abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done. You write this on September the 4th, seven days before September 11th.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 07 21
Rove in deep trouble

Finally, the President loses his patience.

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2005 05 31
Bush and the Amnesty Report

I see that Bush apparently doesn’t think much of the recent Amnesty Report blasting his administration for Guantanamo, etc. etc. etc. Not too long ago, Timothy Burke wrote a very nice post on a relatively neglected aspect of the larger debate about torture and abuse. It’s unfortunate that Bush doesn’t understand the main point Burke makes there.

Update: Ah, and if there’s anything to this, then it’s an even greater shame that Bush doesn’t get Burke’s point.

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2005 05 28
Movin’ on up

I start to laugh, but it comes out all twisted and bitter: Analysts Behind Iraq Intelligence Were Rewarded.

Like this: Ha ha ha hmmmph.

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2005 04 24

John Bolton seems to have lied in his congressional testimony, and no one cares. The Young Bearded One writes:

Bracketing John Bolton and all partisan considerations, this is an odd and distressing development and I think it’s genuinely weird that conservatives in general and Senate Republicans in particular are brushing it aside so casually. It’s not as if Democrats are such paragons of virtue that the executive branch appointees of the next Democratic administration will be above engaging in such things when it suits them if it’s been made clear that dissembling in congressional testimony is now going to be treated on the level of dissembling during a Meet The Press appearance. Our system of government relies, informally but crucially, on the proposition that people will be motivated not only by partisanship, but also by a sort of institutional jealously. Senators are supposed to stand on their privileges. Every member of the body loses a lot of authority when the “don’t lie to the committee” norm collapses.

But when executive branch appointees of the next Democratic administration dissemble in congressional testimony, it surely won’t be treated by anyone as equivalent to dissembling during a Meet The Press appearance. It will surely be treated as a very big deal. Republican casualness about the issue is perfectly comprehensible if we assume that they’re assuming the same thing that I’m assuming about American political culture: That consistency will count for nothing and Democrats will be judged on a blatantly unfair double standard.

Howls of outrage (2)