At a time when the top DOD adviser to military commissions has been barred from participation in hearings at Gitmo, questions are being asked — and ought to be — about the propriety, legality, and politicization of what should have been a whole host of decisions founded in the rule of law and in pursuit of justice. That this is no longer the first expectation when examining the record is testament to how far we have fallen in the last few years.

Last week, several policy experts testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding torture and the betrayal of American values and the rule of law. One of the experts was Philippe Sands, human rights lawyer and author of Torture Team, whose preview in Vanity Fair exposed a whole new level of depravity within the Bush Administration for throwing aside prior restraint and morality and, instead, turning to the very actions we once officially reviled.

Bill Moyers had an extraordinary interview with Philippe Sands recently that deserves a much wider viewing. You can watch it here, but I want to highlight a specific segment:

PHILIPPE SANDS:So take Diane Beaver….She had been the person down at the bottom who’d signed off on aggressive interrogation….But she described to me the pressure she felt herself under, the anniversary of 9/11 coming up.

This man, detainee 063, al-Qahtani, present and caught. Tremendous pressure coming from the upper echelons of the administration. She described to me a visit that the administration has never talked about in which the three most important lawyers in the administration, Mr. Gonzales, who’s the president’s lawyer, Mr. Addington, who is the vice president’s lawyer, and Mr. Haynes, who is Secretary Rumsfeld’s lawyer– came down to Guantanamo at the end of September, talked to them about interrogations and other issues, watched an interrogation, and left with the message, do whatever needs to be done. Now, put yourself in Diane Beaver’s situation. You’re getting a signal from the main man at the top of the administration: do whatever needs to be done. That takes the lid off and opens the door.

BILL MOYERS:Was there a single architect of the decision, the person who said, "Take the gloves off?"

PHILIPPE SANDS:There was one lawyer in particular who everyone kept referring to as being, if you like, the brains. I’m slow to use that word for such an awful series of events. But the driving force behind it, and that was David Addington. I know Diane Beaver and Mike Dunleavy, who was her boss, the head of interrogation at Guantanamo, told me that when they came down, it was obvious that Addington was the main person. He was the leader of the team. He was, I think they were very anxious around him, with his big booming voice, his big beard. Nothing is known about him in detail. He’s never, previously, I gather, appeared before Congress. And he’s now, just been subpoenaed. I think he may well have been the driving force. But he wasn’t speaking off his own back. I mean, he was speaking for the vice president. And I think that the finger of responsibility in the end, will most likely go to the vice president. But Mr. Rumsfeld was deeply involved. And, of course, the president has indicated just within the past month, that he signed off on everything.

PHILIPPE SANDS:Yeah. It’s called the U.S. Army Field Manual, and it’s the bible for the military. And the military, of course, has fallen into error, and have been previous examples of abuse. But never before–

…No one is saying it hasn’t happened before. But apparently, what hasn’t happened before is the abandonment of the rules against cruelty. And the Geneva Conventions were set aside, as Doug Feith, told me, precisely in order to clear the slate and allow aggressive interrogation. (emphasis mine)

David Addington has been subpoenaed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding these interrogation policies and other issues on June 26th, along with John Yoo, author of a number of the legal documents ginned up to provide cover and justification for these actions. The ACLU, whose work on civil liberties issues, FOIA requests and with detainee treatment specifically has been an enormous part of exposing some of this illegal behavior, had this to say about the House Judiciary hearing:

"The House Judiciary Committee is setting in motion something that should have started four years ago when the public learned about the torture of prisoners in US custody at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo bay detention facilities." said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. Fredrickson added that the ACLU urges the committee to "focus clearly on who did what at the highest levels of government, and whether crimes were committed. It’s time to legally compel Bush’s team to tell the truth."

I discussed these issues a bit yesterday on Sam Seder’s show, with Glenn Greenwald and Cliff Schecter. (You can listen to the podcast, linked at The Sideshow.) We all agreed that a lot of this information has been out there for a while, but it is the filling in of the details on the whos and whats that has had real value in understanding how things could have gone so wrong.

During the Libby trial, David Addington’s testimony was one of the bigger puzzles — remember what Marcy saw was a quiet, professorial personality type in Addington, who just spilled and spilled while Fitz was questioning him on the stand. But Sands characterizes him as a forceful fellow with a booming voice — which matches up with Jane Mayer‘s and others previous reporting on Addington when he’s functioning as Cheney’s enforcer. It will be interesting to see which Addington shows for Congressional testimony.

Leaving aside the potential for delusional sadism brought on from too much exposure to fictional television, just how did we get here from being the nation that previously championed the rule of law and human rights? And how to we bring ourselves back from this betrayal of American values at the highest levels of our own government? And, worse, how do we assure ourselves that we are getting information from a properly skeptical media — and not some propaganda arm of the Administration?

(YouTube of Sands’ testimony before HJC.)

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

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