Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Once again, our own John Cornyn, junior senator from the great state of Texas, is taking up his cudgels to protect that other Texan, George W. Bush, and erstwhile Texan and sometime Texas hunter Dick Cheney, as well as former Texan Alberto Gonzales. It seems that John is worried that if the truth gets out about the torture they authorized, and the methods they approved while serving as president, vice-president, and legal counsel, respectively, they may be accountable for their actions.
I always thought that accountability was the byword of the Republican Party. At least, that’s what they tell us. Perhaps it applies only to holding lesser human beings responsible for their actions. Now, John Cornyn and some other like-minded Republicans are threatening President Barack Obama with withholding approval of his selections for certain key Justice Department positions if Obama releases memos about the torture that Bush and others in his administration approved and abetted. What a patriot that John Cornyn is!
Now, after two weeks of waiting to see if the Obama administration would honor its promise to release the memos, they are in the public domain, and they provide ample evidence that our laws were broken by the last group that was in control of our government.
On April 16th, in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the President released four lightly redacted Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memoranda from the Bush administration to the CIA justifying torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. As Bruce Fein (associate deputy attorney general under Ronald Reagan and a conservative constitutional scholar) has pointed out, “the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were modeled on the Chinese Communist coercive brainwashing program against Americans captured in the Korean War to induce false confessions.” Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, said, “These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law.”
What has caused Cornyn to become dyspeptic about the release of these policy memoranda? As Attorney General for Texas between 1999 and 2002, Cornyn was all for open government, espousing the doctrine that the government’s work should be done in the open and that citizens had the right to know about the inner workings of their government. But when it comes to memos approving and promoting torture, apparently our junior senator is a little queasy about the citizens’ knowing what has been done by members of his party.
I wondered whether Cornyn had taken a position in favor of torture, but I could find no mention of torture in the issues found on his website. I couldn’t tell if he was for or against torture. During Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing for Attorney General in January, Cornyn stated emphatically, however, that “torture’s illegal under international treaties and under domestic laws.” After that statement, one would assume that Senator Cornyn would want to learn whether our government had engaged in torture. If a law has been broken, the former chief law enforcement authority for Texas would want the guilty persons prosecuted, wouldn’t he? Apparently not. After all, they are Republicans.
Shortly after the Holder hearing, Cornyn made clear that anyone guilty of torture, or approving torture, should not be prosecuted because the country should be “looking forward and not backward.” Those are words that would be music to the ears of anyone caught for committing a crime. In fact, if we followed Cornyn’s standard, no one would ever be prosecuted. Our prisons would empty and our parole and probation officers would all be retired. We wouldn’t have criminals because whatever crimes they may or may not have committed would all be in the past, and we don’t want to look backward, as the senator said.
Why would Cornyn be afraid for the public to learn directly about these scurrilous memos? It appears that these memos constitute a “smoking gun” that could be used both here and abroad to bring indictments against the officials responsible for them. Unlike other more general documents justifying torture, the memos approved specific torture techniques. Spanish courts are already investigating allegations that five Spanish citizens once held in Guantanamo were tortured. These memos could become prime exhibits if indictments are brought against California law professor John Yoo, federal appellate judge Jay Bybee, former Justice Department lawyer Stephen Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, and three other Bush lawyers involved with giving a green light to the specific torture techniques used against the Spanish detainees. Of course, those indictments have now been called into question by a key Spanish official.
Sen. Cornyn had nothing to worry about. There was no need for him to start foaming at the mouth over the release of these memos. As Bruce Fein has explained, “Obama (has) promised non-prosecution of all CIA personnel complicit in torture who relied on the flawed OLC advice. He further pledged to defend them from criminal investigations initiated by foreign jurisdictions and to indemnify them if they are held liable in damages for constitutional or statutory wrongdoing.”
President Obama is also defending former OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo against a torture suit initiated by Jose Padilla, and Obama also promised to follow the Bush-Cheney claim of secrecy for alleged “national security secrets” on the premise that “the world is dangerous.” As Fein has pointed out, the President is also following the Bush-Cheney “state secrets” arguments to block lawsuits challenging the legality of spying on Americans without warrants in contravention of the Fourth Amendment or federal law, and in damage suits for torture. Fein argues that “Obama has been unable to recite a single instance where transparency proved more dangerous to the liberties of the American people than has secrecy….”
Anthony Romero remarked that deciding against prosecutions before a thorough investigation is indefensible in our legal system, concluding that, “enforcing the nation’s laws should not be a political decision.”
The New York Times wrote in an editorial on April 19: “Until Americans and their leaders fully understand the rules the Bush administration concocted to justify such abuses — and who set the rules and who approved them — there is no hope of fixing a profoundly broken system of justice and ensuring that that these acts are never repeated.”
Fein concludes that “the evidence is now undeniable. President Barack Obama is flouting his unflagging constitutional obligation enshrined in Article II, Section 3 to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’ He is also reneging on his signature campaign promise to restore the rule of law, transparency, and accountability to the White House. He is displaying the psychology of an arrogant Empire as opposed to a modest Republic in continuing and escalating the Bush-Cheney duumvirate’s global and perpetual war against international terrorism heedless of foreign sovereignties or the lives of civilians.”
Sen. Cornyn has nothing to worry about. The same interests that called the shots for the last eight years are still having their way, protecting our elite lawbreakers, proving once again that we are a nation controlled by the influential, where (for the most part) only average people will be punished for breaking the law. The senator’s junk-yard dog act can be put back in the closet for another day. Our Texans – Bush, Cheney, Gonzales – are not in danger of imprisonment. All we, the people, are left with is the knowledge that, at the least, we know what torture is, even if our public officials seem incapable of using a dictionary.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins