A measured, appropriate, sober take: >John Yoo’s Defense of Himself Is as Persuasive as Most of His Legal Opinions: This is your horrible, dystopian future: John Yoo, the former Office of Legal Counsel official who had a hand in crafting the Bush administration’s detentions, interrogations and warrantless surveillance abuses, writes endless and endlessly misleading defenses of himself. Some people die because of Yoo’s cavalier relationship with the law — about 100, actually — and others get law school sinecures and limitless op-ed real estate to explain away what they did. Few people write so much for so long with so little self-reflection. You’ll be reading these op-eds in the nursing home. Yoo’s latest comes in response to Friday’s report from five inspectors general about the warrantless surveillance and data-mining escapades of the Bush administration. Welcome to your future. >Yoo starts things off with his typical flourish of disingenuousness: >>Suppose an al Qaeda cell in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles was planning a second attack using small arms, conventional explosives or even biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies faced a near impossible task locating them. Now suppose the National Security Agency (NSA), which collects signals intelligence, threw up a virtual net to intercept all electronic communications leaving and entering Osama bin Laden’s Afghanistan headquarters. What better way of detecting follow-up attacks? And what president — of either political party — wouldn’t immediately order the NSA to start, so as to find and stop the attackers? >>Evidently, none of the inspectors general of the five leading national security agencies would approve. >Those inspectors general, in Yoo’s imagination, aren’t overworked bureaucrats in wrinkle-free shirts, cotton Dockers and overgrown haircuts, buried under endless reams of paper. They’re useful idiots for Osama bin Laden. In truth, the reason why the inspectors general don’t entertain that scenario is because it’s absurd. If the intelligence community knew what the “electronic communications” signatures heading into and out of Osama bin Laden’s Afghanistan headquarters were, they could very easily obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, because they’d possess individualized suspicion. This is an unproblematic case, fitting easily under the aegis of the law on Sept. 12, 2001. It has absolutely nothing to do with what the inspectors general call the “President’s Surveillance Program.” That’s also why the battery of Justice Department leaders like Acting Attorney General Jim Comey, Associate Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Philbin fought to rein in the surveillance activities — because they were overbroad and outside of FISA, which Congress explicitly made the “exclusive means” for conducting legal foreign surveillance. Yoo continues: >>It is absurd to think that a law like FISA should restrict live military operations against potential attacks on the United States. >Actually, it’s absurd to think that a law like FISA does. Yoo cites the 9/11 Commission, saying it found that “FISA’s wall between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence” proved to be such a hindrance, but that’s a misrepresentation. FISA has no such wall. The “wall” was an invention of the Justice Department under Janet Reno to separate foreign-collected surveillance from criminal investigations, nothing even close to “live military operations,” and in practice that bureaucratic restriction went too far and inhibited necessary FBI-CIA collaboration. The Bush administration’s response wasn’t to get Congress to change FISA; it was to entirely circumvent it. >>Clearly, the five inspectors general were responding to the media-stoked politics of recrimination, not consulting the long history of American presidents who have lived up to their duty in times of crisis. More than a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the FBI to intercept any communications, domestic or international, of persons “suspected of subversive activities . . . including suspected spies.” >You know what law, passed in 1978, didn’t exist when FDR was president? Yoo goes even further, and takes selective quotations from Jefferson and Hamilton to suggest that his long-discredited theory that presidents have king-like powers during times of war, and yet he never comes out and says it, because even in The Wall Street Journal people can recognize absurdity. >What’s amazing about Yoo’s caustic attack on the inspectors general report is that the report itself embarrasses Yoo but does little else. There’s no suggestion of prosecution, no recommendation of additional investigation, no harsh language. It says simply that Yoo says what he says in this op-ed and that his superiors at OLC were cut out of that loop. That’s all. Yoo’s not even in danger, if reports about Attorney General Eric Holder’s potential new investigation are to be believed, of moving into the crosshairs of the Justice Department. Today’s attack on the inspectors general is Yoo’s response to having his own words quoted back at him. Which, perhaps, is insult enough. It’s like seeing the next 30 years of your life unfold before your horrified eyes.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Dog Bites Man: Tom Friedman Mischaracterizes US Interventions. « The Inverse Square Blog: Atrios sent me in search of Tom Friedman’s latest, and, like its author, it’s a bizarre piece of work. Backstory: back in the dawn of time, when giants still walked the earth (Mays in center field; McCovey at first base, Marichal on the mound), and humans preserved their communications in scratches on clay, Tom Friedman was a real reporter and a good one. He spent time in country, he worked sources, he could write. Somewhere along the line, though, during the Clinton years, I believe, he seems to have convinced himself that his wealth of experience had given him the key to all mythologies. Hence such trifles as his “argument” that we should invade Iraq to show that the US could punch somebody, the endless iteration of “Friedman Units” and so on. And now, with the war in Iraq now in its Pilate phase... Friedman comes up with a column that captures so many of his deficiencies in one place. There is the complete abandonment of the reportorial function. He doesn’t talk to folks, he tags along (his phrase) with US JCS Chairman Admiral McMullen. Nice company, to be sure, but not that in which you will find unvarnished opinions being expressed. He doesn’t seem even interested in testing his assumptions against any possibility of contrary information anymore: >In the dining hall on the main base, I like to watch the Iraqi officers watching the melting pot of U.S. soldiers around them — men, women, blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics — and wonder: What have they learned from us? Wonder? WONDER? You’re a journalist — or rather you used to be! You don’t blow wonder through your ass. You go find out what they have learned from us. But no…that would be (a) heavy lifting and (b) dangerous... so much so that it might render this kind of conclusion not merely pathetic, but simply unsayable: >We left some shameful legacies here of torture and Abu Ghraib, but we also left a million acts of kindness and a profound example of how much people of different backgrounds can accomplish when they work together. Well, how much have we and they accomplished? Some, I’m sure…... ut given this kind of news, buried in what used to be called the b section, but popping up with depressing regularity, perhaps not as much as Friedman’s breezy tour with the brass may indicate. And in any event — how is it possible that a Serious Foreign Policy Thinker™ no matter how burnt out, overly comfortable, and generally hackified could actually bring himself to write such a Hallmark Card notion: that the events of the last six years (12 F.U.s, if you’re counting) are coming to rest in a satisfactory state because, hey, we can all work together? I guess there is a thread of naivete left to me. I grew up thinking that there was something special about the New York Times. I met Tony Lukas when I was 18, Tony Lewis some time later — and people like that impressed me for the fire they had, that seemed to come from that newsroom. You didn’t get comfortable there, it seemed to my juvenile eyes. Even when you got big, you felt the pressure the place forcing you to make that last call to get it right. I know that’s a fantasy, and I’m sure it was never as true as I wanted it to be. And even with the decline of the Times (Judith Miller, anyone... Ross freaking Douthat?) it’s still better than the whatever that other emblem of journalistic moxie, the Post has become. But that’s kind of like saying that liver is better than spam… But still... Friedman could once actually do the job he mails in now. It’s painful to watch. He should pack it in. Otherwise it’s just going to go ever further down hill. For, in this column as in this post, he and I save the best/worst for last. If Friedman hopes to hang on above Kristol territory, he has to find a way to stop writing stuff like this: >After we invaded and stabilized Bosnia, we didn’t just toss their competing factions the keys. Except, of course, we did not invade Bosnia. The American led NATO intervention in the Bosnian War occured in 1995, just as Friedman was making his ultimately disastrous move to the NYTime’s Opinion pages, so he perhaps may have been distracted, but the military action taken by the US and its allies consisted of 3515 aerial sorties: a hellacious bombing campaign. If this seems like a distinction without a difference, think again: many DFHs without Friedman’s bully pulpit tried to suggest that the range of analogies being drawn to justify the Iraq War back in 2002-2003 were false. Iraq wasn’t Japan in August 1945; Bagdad was not Berlin; displacing Saddam was more like witnessing Tito’s death and the start of the Yugoslav disintegration than it was our ratification of Balkan partition in 1995 — and not much like that either. Friedman chose then not to know any historical complexity. He still does. And as he continues to scrabble to find justifications for his own disastrous cheerleading for the Iraq war, he’s willing to get basic facts wrong to prevent the slightest dissonant fact from disturbing the eternal sunshine of his mind. If it were me, or any other mere blogger, or even one of the deranged commenters at Redstate thus deluded — who cares. But despite the evident decline of even the flagship mass media organizations, the power that comes with the NYT platform and the inertial weight of Friedman’s own brand means that when he says stupid sh-t, he can get people killed. And that’s why this matters. ----  From Wikipedia: >In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2003, Friedman said: >>What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?” You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This. ..We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth... >Similarly, in NPR’s Talk of the Nation, September 23, 2003: >>...and sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message.
Posted by brad on 7/15/2009