The key players in the U.S. Senate have agreed with the Bush administration to retroactively legalize torture by U.S. government agents. The compromise deal struck yesterday will block prosecution for CIA officials who tortured detainees since 9/11. I would expect that, in the name of “fair play,” someone will begin pushing similar legislation to give immunity to U.S. military officials who tortured detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The legislative “compromise” blocks detainees from suing in federal court after they have been tortured. Game, set, match.
And it is worse than naive for Americans to comfort themselves with the notion that the U.S. government will only torture “Islamo-fascists.” The administration’s Enemies List is far more expansive.
The deal is not yet carved into the statute book, so….
On the same topic - The American Conservative posted online today my review of John Yoo’s new book, War by Other Means. Here are some outtakes of the review:
George W. Bush has made absolutism respectable among American conservatives. And no one has done more pimping for president-as-Supreme-Leader than John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who helped create the “commander-in-chief override” doctrine, unleashing presidents from the confines of the law. At a time when Bush is pushing Congress to approve the use in military tribunals of confessions that resulted from torture, it is vital to understand the thinking of the Bush administration’s most visible advocate of “coercive interrogation.”
Yoo’s new book, War by Other Means: An Insider’s Account of the War on Terror, reads like a slippery lawyer’s brief submitted to a dim judge who gets all his information from Fox News. Though Yoo’s misrepresentations and omissions should provoke outrage, his book will likely receive accolades from many conservative reviewers. This new volume compliments Yoo’s first book, The Powers of War and Peace, which revealed that the Founding Fathers intended to permit presidents to start wars on their own whims, regardless of what the Constitution says.
Perhaps Yoo’s authoritarian tendencies resulted from his time at Harvard, where empowering an elite is always in fashion. Yoo paints every proposal for limiting the president’s power as a dangerous novelty. He is always trying to shift the burden of proof onto anyone who thinks the president should not be a czar.
While curtsying to the prevailing rhetoric on democracy, Yoo shows contempt for “government by consent.” He claims the 2004 election vindicated Bush’s torture policy: “Our nation had a presidential and congressional election after Abu Ghraib and the leaking of the  memos. If the people had disagreed with administration policies, they could have made a change.”
How could the people judge the policy when the Bush administration was suppressing almost all information about it? There were no independent probes into the torture scandal during 2004. All the investigators were under the thumb of the Pentagon. The investigations were designed to look only downward—with no authority to pursue wrongdoing to the highest branches of the Pentagon and the White House. The Bush team succeeded in delaying the vast majority of damning revelations until after he was re-elected. Presumably, the public can “approve” atrocities even when the government deceives them about the actual events.
Yoo reasons like a devious personal-injury lawyer—yet it is the rights of the American people that are being run over. He is being feted by conservative foundations and think tanks, and often treated deferentially by liberals, for a theory of presidential power that would make Hobbes proud.
Yoo believes Americans should presume that the government always has a good reason for violating the law, even when it deceives the citizens about the reasoning. Yoo’s doctrines are absolutely unfit for any system with a pretense of self-government.