Friday, June 27, 2008

The Faces of Evil

Contempt of Congress is part of the American character.  As Mark Twain once said, "reader, suppose I were a congressman.  Now suppose I were an ass -- oh, but I repeat myself."  Or as the delightful C.J. Cregg put it more recently, "We need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?"

That said, Dana Milbank's WaPo description of recent testimony by David Addington and David Yoo should cause the blood of even the Twains and C.J.s among us to boil.

These are the two men who, while working for Dick Cheney, did more than any others to chart the course which cost America its credibility as a voice for morality, human rights, or the rule of law.  These are the men who turned us into a nation of torturers.

And when asked about it by Congress, they did not attempt to defend their behavior, nor even to lie about it.  Instead, they simply mocked the Congress itself -- over and over again.  Their favorite dodge was to pretend that they could not answer questions because they did not understand them, and to run out the clock.  Oh, it was all very lawyerly, on the order of Bill Clinton's exegesis of the word "is."  

But this was not a discussion of an embarrassing comic-opera adultery.  This was about the systematic torture of prisoners by a nation that claims not to torture; this was about elaborate steps which these men personally took to change our nation's policies in ways that violated the international agreements by which we are bound, and which when revealed would imperil the delicate diplomatic relationships necessary to effectively combat terrorism

This was not, in short, a matter on which their preening and posturing is welcome, or should be tolerated.  These men are criminals.  They are traitors.  They should be punished.

It may very well be that Addington and Yoo cannot be prosecuted under American law -- that remains to be seen, but they are smart, smart lawyers and have probably kept their hands clean enough to pass muster in our courts.  Probably.  But this does not mean that the cannot be punished.  First off, it is unlikely that either will ever travel to Europe again; they are likely to wind up in a dock at the Hague, like Milosevic and all the other international war criminals.  But for many Americans, America is all the world they need, and travel restrictions inflict no pain.  So what else can we do?

Ruin them.  These men should be disbarred.  Failing that, any firm that hires them should be subjected to intense public pressure to reconsider.  So too should any law school.  Clients and students should be urged to avoid them.  Journals should refuse to publish their articles, publishing houses should reject their books.  Having squandered it before Congress, they should never be given another forum in which to defend their indefensible behavior.  

But neither should they be allowed to slip away, gracefully, into either a peaceful retirement or the dimly-lit world of policy intellectuals, from which they might someday return to harm their country further.  Their government papers should be released, so that their monstrous activities should be investigated and reported to the public, and become a cottage industry for historians.  Their secret work is should be made public, over and over, with the inevitable result that their names (like McCarthy's) become codewords for behavior which is unacceptable to America or to Americans. 

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