Dan Froomkin has a thorough rundown on recent reporting on the Bush Administration’s torture policy, conversations prompted by Jane Mayer’s book — The Dark Side — which will be released today. Jane will be here for a book salon (more on that soon), but a review of her book in the LATimes today caught my eye with this:

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

Justice Louis Brandeis wrote those lines 80 years ago, but as Jane Mayer’s brilliantly reported and deeply disturbing new book, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals," more than amply illustrates, they’ve never been more relevant….

Former Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), for example, tells Mayer how George W. Bush’s then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sought a last-minute congressional resolution that "would give President Bush the authority to round up American citizens as enemy combatants, potentially stripping them of their civil liberties."

As Daschle subsequently learned, the White House was relying on opinions from John Yoo and other authoritarian ideologues in the Office of Legal Counsel who secretly told the president and vice president that they enjoyed inherent powers to overturn any law restraining surveillance, searches and seizures within the United States….

Mayer does a superb job of describing how the trauma of 9/11 all but unhinged Bush and Cheney and predisposed the chief executive to embrace the ready-made unitary executive theory of presidential power, which the vice president and his chief aide, David Addington, had come to Washington prepared to promote. In the opinion of the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, "the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history."…

It’s the Padilla case writ large on every one of us. And strikingly unAmerican and undemocratic and antithetical to the ideals on which this nation was founded.

So why wasn’t this exposed fully to the American public well before now? I get that people were running around like terrified ninnies after the 9/11 attacks and throwing civil liberties to the winds for protection from the daddy state, but this is an attempt at grabbing dictatorial power outright akin to Mussolini on a bender. As if the wholesale torture policies weren’t bad enough.

This deserved full public scrutiny, whether or not it was enacted — because we had a right to know that our own government considered the rule of law as fully malleable to their own lust for more power. As Jane herself says in an interview with Scott Horton:

…although President Bush has argued that “enhanced” interrogation had led to numerous breakthroughs he has never publicly acknowledged the false and fabricated intelligence it has yielded, too. One former top CIA official told me, “Ninety percent of what we got was crap.”

Doesn’t the American public have a right to know that we have sold our collective national souls and forfeited essential civil liberties in the face of Bush/Cheney fear-mongering for a load that is known to be 90% crap? Sound familiar — Pizza Hut leads, anyone?

Strikingly this week, the national Catholic weekly, America, addresses a number of salient points on the ethical, moral and legal obligations of the nation to look — really look — at the implications of this behavior and it’s long-term impact on the nation as a whole:

Three tasks lie ahead for the government, the military and the legal profession. First, the courts, the military and the Department of Justice must find ways to adjudicate speedily the pending and potential cases of Guantánamo detainees. Second, the three branches of government must institute policies to implement habeas corpus in cases of alleged terrorism. Third, new ways to prevent terrorist acts must be explored and developed without creating obstacles to legal review or allowing unlimited executive discretion in the name of national security. Any new preventive measures must be reconciled with the protection of personal rights. Furthermore, identification of people as enemy combatants, except on the battlefield, must be abandoned; and indefinite detention without legal supervision or appeal should be proscribed as an instrument of tyranny.

Finally, in the years ahead our country must still come to grips with our national acquiescence to the politics of fear, which has led to the detention and abuse of hundreds of individuals. Among the necessary steps will be restoration of freedom to innocent detainees, accompanied by public apology and some monetary restitution for the years they lost to incarceration. Furthermore, Congress needs to accept responsibility for its complicity with the executive in laws that denied suspects rightful appeal. A national truth commission should be instituted to establish political accountability for the decisions, policies and statutes that placed suspects outside the protection of the law.

I suppose it’s a start. Perhaps we should ask Maher Arar what he thinks? Perhaps the House Judiciary Committee can ask John Ashcroft about it tomorrow morning beginning at 10 am ET Thursday morning at 10 am ET. Because I’m certain Walter Dellinger, who will also be testifying, will have a thing or two to say on the subject…

(YouTube — interview of Jonathan Turley on Countdown, discussing recent revelations in Jane Mayer’s book of the Red Cross recommendations for potential war crimes tribunals on US torture conduct. Turley says the question of whether the US has been torturing is "not even close.")

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.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com