Robert Parry | Consortium News, June 27, 2008
All over the world down through history, political leaders who have engaged in torture and other grotesque crimes of state have justified their actions as necessary to protect their governments or their people or themselves.
Kings and tyrants often inflicted special pain on people they viewed as challenging their authority and – at such times – they wiped away the rules of justice. But the United States was supposed to be different.
Indeed, reaction to tyrannical monarchs was what compelled the Founders to establish a government of laws, not men, based on “unalienable rights” for all mankind, including protection against arbitrary detention and prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Which is why it was stunning to watch the June 26 hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution as two representatives of George W. Bush’s presidency responded with disdain when pressed on the administration’s extraordinary vision of an all-powerful Executive operating without legal limits.
While Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington treated the committee Democrats with haughty contempt, former State Department lawyer John Yoo expressed the ultimate arrogance of power with his muddled responses and evasions of direct questions.
The soft-spoken Yoo, who authored some of the key legal opinions justifying the abuse of detainees, wouldn’t even give a clear answer to the simple question of what atrocity might be beyond President Bush’s power to inflict.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, cited a news report quoting an ambiguous response from Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, about whether the President could torture the child of a “war on terror” suspect to induce the suspect to talk.
The Judiciary Committee chairman asked: “Is there anything, Professor Yoo, the President cannot order to be done to a suspect if he believes it’s necessary for national defense?”
When Yoo dissembled, Conyers posed the question more pointedly: “Could the President order a suspect buried alive?”
Yoo continued to fence with the congressman, avoiding a direct answer.
“I don’t think I ever gave advice that the President could bury somebody alive,” Yoo said, adding he believed that “no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.”
Pointedly, however, Yoo avoided a direct response to the question of whether he believed the President had the authority to do it.