Yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee questioned two notorious architects of the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation policies, John Yoo and David Addington. Mr. Yoo, who is now a professor at Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law, worked for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and was the author of the now infamous “torture memos” that paved the way for abusive interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Mr. Addington is Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and serves as his most trusted legal advisor.
Facing tough questions from committee Democrats regarding their attempts to justify the Bush administration’s broad use of executive power and disregard for domestic and international law in shaping interrogation policy, the two men remained defiant – despite the fact that the Justice Department has since abandoned many of the policies they worked so hard to rationalize. While Mr. Yoo sheepishly invoked executive privilege to avoid answering the committee’s most piercing questions, Mr. Addington displayed attributes of his boss and mentor by flouting the authority of committee members, attacking anyone who questioned his reasoning.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, several exchanges between Mr. Addington and committee Democrats grew quite heated, prompting Subcommittee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to call Mr. Cheney’s confidant “smug.” When the representative from New York asked Mr. Addington if he would bear any responsibility should the interrogation program he designed be deemed illegal, Mr. Addington curtly responded, “Is that a moral question or a legal question?” He went on to assert that he would in fact not bear any responsibility, legal or otherwise.
The arrogance displayed by these two men yesterday serves only to highlight the superciliousness of the Bush administration in its countless abuses of power over the past seven years. Under the guise of its “War on Terror,” this administration has attempted to claim for itself unfettered authority, as if our system of checks and balances was merely a suggestion by our Founding Fathers.
The audacity of the administration is shown most clearly through an exchange between Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Mr. Addison. The representative from Massachusetts asked if waterboarding was specifically discussed during meetings regarding the interrogation programs. Mr. Addington apparently felt that this issue was a matter of national security and, in a dodge that would make his boss proud, he responded, “I can’t talk to you…Al Qaeda may watch these meetings.”
As most of you have already heard, the Supreme Court released its long-awaited decision in District of Columbia v. Heller today, in which it struck down DC’s handgun ban in a split 5-4 decision. Despite the fact that no federal court in the history of our nation has ever understood the Second Amendment to grant an individual right to bear arms – at least until last year’s DC Circuit Court decision – the majority decided not to rely on precedent and instead simply reinterpret the Constitution as they would like it to read.
In a Washington Post editorial, Colbert King wrote that Scalia “said that the Constitution doesn’t allow ‘the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.'” He went on to discuss Scalia’s determination that “the American people consider the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon,” and asked, “If machine guns one day should become the weapon of choice for home protection — what say ye then, Justice Scalia?”
In a statement released this afternoon, Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said, “once again, Justice Scalia’s Originalism is…little more than a convenient buzzword…His latest opinion, in DC v. Heller, exposes [his] hypocrisy and results-oriented…approach to the law.” She went on to say that, “today’s decision…should come as no surprise to those who recognize that Justice Scalia and his conservative counterparts, for all of their professed deference to legislatures and precedent, are willing to reject even those precedents they penned themselves when it interferes with the policy results they seek.”