Monday, July 17, 2006


By William Fisher

The punditocracy has lately been waxing eloquent about President Bush’s softer, more conciliatory tone and less hysterical, more humble rhetoric, which many have trumpeted as ‘the end of cowboy diplomacy’.

Not on your Nellie. If you believe our cowboy in the White House has somehow morphed into world statesman, have a look at Dubya’s two most recent choices for big promotions.

They are William Haynes II, the Pentagon’s general counsel, tapped to be a Federal Judge, and Gen. Bantz Craddock, who currently oversees "war on terror" detention operations at Guantanamo Bay, to be commander of US forces in Europe, as well as NATO.

Mr. Haynes has been a key player in shaping some of the Bush Administration’s most legally and morally reprehensible policies, notably on the use of torture. He is one of a small group of insiders who have developed the Bush administration’s policies on questioning detainees and declaring American citizens to be “enemy combatants.” The twisted legal reasoning of this group opened the door to the abusive treatment of US detainees at Guantanamo Bay and helped create the environment that led to the Abu Ghraib scandal. The Supreme Court has repeatedly had to step in to rein them in.

If confirmed by the Senate, Haynes would have lifetime tenure on the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Va. It is this court that has heard some of the most important cases about the constitutional limits on the war on terror. By what stretch of the imagination could anyone see Mr. Haynes as an impartial voice on these issues?

Of course, the Administration lawyers who crafted the Bush ‘torture policy’ and described the Geneva Conventions as ‘quaint’ have a rich history of being rewarded.

In 2002, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to prepare a memo dealing with limits on “standards of permissible conduct” for interrogations conducted “abroad” as found in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The memo concluded that the restrictions were limited only to acts inflicting and “specifically intended to inflict severe pain or suffering,” whether mental or physical. It said it was OK to allow severe mental pain not intended to have lasting effects and physical pain less than that which accompanies “serious physical injury such as death or organ failure.”

The author of that infamous – and now rescinded -- memo was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, one Jay Bybee. President Bush rewarded him with a lifetime appointment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And the man who requested that memo – and recommended it to the President – was then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who was then elevated to Attorney General of the United States – the “people’s lawyer.”

And it may be worth recalling that the Bybee memo was rescinded by the Justice Department virtually on the eve of Mr. Gonzales’s confirmation hearing in the US Senate.

But take heart – all may not be lost. As a New York Times editorial reminds us, “The administration likes to blame opposition to its judicial nominees on “liberal activists,” but Mr. Haynes’s most high-profile opposition comes from the military itself.

Twenty retired military officers, including a retired Army colonel who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, wrote to the Senate to express their concern that the policies Mr. Haynes helped develop “compromised military values, ignored federal and international law and damaged America’s reputation and world leadership.” The officers expressed their “deep concern” about his fitness for the court.

And during Mr. Haynes’s confirmation hearing, some of the most pointed questioning came from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military lawyer who takes the law of combat seriously.

So Democrats may not have to worry about filibustering this grotesque nomination. Enough Republicans in Congress may join with Democrats to actually take their “advise and consent” role seriously.

Then there’s General Craddock. In a White House with a sterling record of PR over substance, only an extreme lack of oxygen inside the bubble can explain the special kind of chutzpah the President showed by nominating the current commander of GITMO to be our Supreme Allied Commander of anything.

As one of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s most trusted aides, Gen. Craddock has ordered investigations into allegations of abuse at the camp but has generally defended it against critics.

Last year, a team of military investigators looked into allegations by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who said they witnessed abusive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. The FBI allegations were contained in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act.

The chief investigator into Guantanamo practices, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, told a Senate panel of the interrogation techniques used on Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Al-Qahtani was thought to be “the 20th hijacker” in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Schmidt said interrogators told him his mother and sisters were whores, forced him to wear a bra and wear a thong on his head, told him he was a homosexual and said that other prisoners knew it. They also forced him to dance with a male interrogator and subjected him to strip searches with no security value, threatened him with dogs, forced him to stand naked in front of women, and to wear a leash and act like a dog.

These techniques were reportedly approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use on al-Qahtani, and were used at Guantanamo in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking him down.

Members of the military team that conducted the three-month investigation told the Senate Armed Services Committee they recommended a reprimand for Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the officer widely reported to have been sent from Guantanamo to Iraq to “GITMO-ize” Abu Ghraib and other US detention facilities.

The Miller inquiry strongly supported the contention that Gen. Miller was the constant in the prisoner treatment equation, first at Guantanamo, and later at military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, where similar interrogation techniques were employed.

Their recommendation for a Miller reprimand, however, was overruled by Gen. Miller’s superior, the very same Gen. Craddock now about to be rewarded with yet another Bush promotion.

Gen. Craddock acknowledged that Gen. Miller had used “creative” and “aggressive” tactics, but did not practice torture or violate law or Pentagon policy. He concluded that Miller’s techniques did not rise to the level of torture, and referred the matter to the Army’s Inspector General. From whom, as far as we know, nothing has been heard since.

It might be reasonable to expect that, in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan decision reining in the unfettered power of the President to ignore Congress and make his own law, that a chastened White House might have given a tad of consideration to the public perception of these two nominations, even if it could care less about the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But that would require some kind of major epiphany from our cowboy president.

Instead, we get more bring-it-on!