Wednesday :: Dec 19, 2007

Obstruction of justice. As always.

by Turkana

The story has gotten so much play, today, that there's not much to add. There has been some terrific analysis and opinion, and this will include some of the best. But first, the facts, from the New York Times:

At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged.

Those who took part, the officials said, included Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel.

On face value, that's simply astonishing. Top White House officials were involved in discussions about destroying evidence. But that's not how it plays in the media. At Balkinization, Marty Lederman focuses on the backwards coverage:

The persistent theme of stories about the CIA tape destruction is that countless government officials "advised" the CIA not to destroy the tapes . . . but no one actually instructed the CIA not to do so, nor, presumably, did anyone go so far as to tell the CIA that it would be unlawful to destroy the tapes.

In other words, the concept of government officials doing the right thing is now so unthinkable that the only question is about the depth of their wrongdoing. Lederman bothers to turn that back around. He makes three points:

1) It appears that no authority instructed the CIA not to destroy the tapes. Despite their discussions about the possibility of the evidence being destroyed, no authority said that it might be inappropriate or illegal to do so.

2) Even though highest-level officials were aware that the CIA was considering destroying the tapes, the DOJ's Office of Legal Council was not asked for an opinion on the legality of doing so. In an administration that actually cared about the law, this would have been an obvious step. But doing so would have ensured the tapes' preservation. So, to the Bush cabal, the obvious thing to do was to ignore the obvious thing to do.

3) In Lederman's words:

Third, a slew of people evidently advised the CIA that it would be unwise or even illegal to destroy the tapes. Thereafter, most or all of those officials, in the CIA, in the White House, in Congress, etc., eventually found out that the CIA did destroy the tapes -- and not a single one of them did a thing about it. Why not? Well, perhaps it's because this entire group finally issued a collective sigh of relief that, finally, the CIA had failed to heed their "advice."

Which is why we need someone else to investigate it. With enforced subpoenas. With actual consequences for proven malfeasance. Try to suppress the urge to laugh!

Employing emptywheel's timeline of the entire scandal, drational thinks the evidence was destroyed to cover for Abu Gonzales's perjury:

The heady early days of Alberto Gonzales' reign as attorney general were entered with testimony from Alberto Gonzales that the US did not engage in torture. Yet we now learn that Gonzales knew about CIA Torture tapes long before Gonzales became Attorney General. And we learn that the tapes were destroyed shortly after a Federal Judge asked whether they existed. I suggest that the CIA Torture tapes were destroyed to protect Alberto Gonzales (and his Superiors in the Bush Administration) from his first perjury scandal.

Now, look again at the list of White House insiders who were discussing destroying the tapes, and draw your own conclusions.

Another dimension is added by dday, who thinks it was Addington, that faithful servant of the unitary executive:

Let me have one wild guess who wanted the tapes destroyed: Addington. He's not too interested in constraints on his own power. And Gonzales would go along with whatever his minders told him. This also means that the top official at the Justice Department was privy to discussions about the destruction of physical evidence implicating the federal government in major violations of international law, and said nothing. Because of course, he was knee-deep in it himself.

Keep in mind that the Justice Department is now the agency investigating this.

Again, the rationale is seen to be the protection of Abu Gonzales, but Addington's neo-Royalist conception of government must have been a factor. Neither the Congress nor the Judiciary has any right to question anything done by the Unitary Executive or the Fourth Branch, so the evidence could be disposed of as capriciously as wanted. And that is really the bottom line.

This is the most secretive government in American history. They make the Nixon Administration seem a ray of morning sunshine, in comparison. They hide whatever they can, using whatever means they find necessary. Their crimes are not crimes because they are who they are. When evidence becomes a nuisance, by becoming known about, beyond the White House gates, it must be destroyed. It's no big deal. It's taking out the trash.

At Salon, Glenn Greenwald points out that this has been a pattern, with the Bush Adminisration. He has compiled a long list of requested documents that the Administration has reported to have gone missing. Review it here, and again draw your own conclusions.

Turkana :: 3:31 PM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!