Saturday, June 19, 2004


Great American Myth #1

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some fictions in our political life. I'll call them the "Great American Myths." Where to begin?

Great American Myth #1: A conspiracy is impossible among a large group of people. Someone will always blab.

By ‘conspiracy’ I mean an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot1

The strange affair of Strom Thurmond’s daughter.

For those of you who were on another planet in December of last year, I will summarize the facts: In 1925 a white Strom Thurmond, lately of the United States Senate, sired a daughter by his black maid, Ms. Carrie Butler. The daughter, Ms. Essie Mae Williams, revealed this voluntarily to the press upon her father’s death.

The Thurmond family attorney made this statement –
As J. Strom Thurmond has passed away and cannot speak for himself, the Thurmond family acknowledges Ms. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' claim to her heritage. We hope this acknowledgment will bring closure for Ms. Williams.

After 78 years, the story—which had actually been told in several outlets over the course of the years—ceased to be “rumor,” “conjecture,” or “politics.” It became a “fact.” We, of course, at that point “moved on.”

Now I really don’t care about Strom, or his hypocrisy. But I do care that he carried four states as a “Dixiecrat” when he ran for President while campaigning on an antimiscegenistic platform, which is to say that he was totally against blacks and whites getting together and doing the nasty.

I care because it says something about us as voters – how we are manipulated, and ultimately disenfranchised. To be sure, if had I been voting in one of those states, I would have voted against him. But I also believe that most of those voters were sincere, and that they deserved a better racist than Strom Thurmond.

I believe they deserved a press that would have exposed his hypocrisy. It would have almost certainly made a difference.

First, I doubt the Dixiecrats could have come up with a more compleat racist than Strom Thurmond after his hypocrisy had been revealed. Left without a viable candidate, many Southern voters would have turned their attention to more pressing issues. Harry Truman won the general election anyway for the Democrats, but it was a squeaker. And the whole affair was later to give Republicans ideas, the consequences of which are still with us today – if you know what I mean.

Second, he might not have been allowed to stay in the Senate until the lights went out. (I haven’t the heart to review his record in the Senate.)

But I was talking about conspiracies, wasn’t I? So you might wonder if this was really a conspiracy.

Referring back to the definition, Was it “evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious”?

Well, I’ll give you "evil, unlawful or treacherous,” if you’ll give me “surreptitious.”

Was it a “plan?”

Yes, it was “a scheme of action or procedure.” The plan was first to remain silent, then to issue a demurrer2, should the question be raised.

Was it “formulated in secret between two or more people”?

You bet it was!

So here we have a conspiracy initiated by Strom and his paramour that was extended to include his family, her family, many of his daughter’s university classmates,3 his office staff,4 and major newspapers5 along with the leadership of the two parties, and all well-connected South Carolina politicos.6

I think we’re going to have to accept more responsibility for the world around us, folks. And that means, among other things, that the job of spotting frauds and conspiracies cannot be left solely to the lunatic, the holy man and the intelligence services.

There is a type of conspiracy that really might better be called a “metaconspiracy,” because it inheres in the very definition of ‘conspiracy,’ and that is—the conspiracy of silence. And sometimes it's so all-encompassing that it doesn't even matter if someone blabs.


1 Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1989. I know I could have gotten a definition from the Internet, but I like my definitions to remain stable. [back]

2 As was related in the Washington Post
In 1972, the senator exploded in anger when an Edgefield newspaper editor and longtime enemy, W.W. Mims, printed a front-page headline that Thurmond had sired "colored offspring." The headline offered no supporting evidence, and Thurmond called it "too scandalous" to warrant comment.

3 The Black Commentator carries a recollection of Strom while he was Governor of South Carolina—

... Leo Kerford, a professor at the law school at the time, recalls seeing Thurmond and Washington together on campus. "He would come and visit and sit out on the center court with her," Kerford said. "He wasn't trying to hide it.

It was so well-known," he said, "I believe it was a fact. The talk was that he would visit her and hand her money. Her girlfriends in the dormitory would wait for her to come back with money from Daddy."


By the early 1990s, Thurmond's staff conceded to a Penthouse magazine writer that the senator had frequent visits in Washington from his friend "Essie Williams." (Washington Post)

5 WaPo relates, in its own demurrer.

Williams's account resurrects one of the oldest stories in 20th-century southern political folklore.... Noted political writer Robert Sherrill described an alleged daughter without providing a name in a 1968 book. The Post identified Williams by her maiden name in 1992, in a lengthy account of Williams's relationship with Thurmond. The article reported that "both Thurmond and the supposed daughter have denied that he is her father, and no one has provided evidence that he is."

6 According to Ms. Washington's attorney's press statement,

... Essie Mae Washington would visit her father and renowned segregationist Strom Thurmond in the private quarters of his senate office in Washington D.C. She would always be given money for support and then chauffeur driven to the train station for her trip back home. All of the Washington and South Carolina staffers knew who she was to the Governor and later Senator Thurmond.
If the staffers knew, so did the rest of Congress. [back]

Quote of the Day

I feel strongly that Oliver Wendell Holmes was right. Not to share in the activity and passion of your time is to count as not having lived. I don’t claim virtue. I claim a low level of boredom. —William Sloan Coffin

Friday, June 18, 2004


Lend Bev Harris a hand and make your vote count

I will say unreservedly that Bev Harris and her organization Black Box Voting have done more to try to assure the integrity of free and fair elections in the United States than any other individual or organization, including the U.S. Congress.

Without going into the details of her work, I'll just say that she's trying to guarantee that your vote gets counted instead of falling into a computer-generated black hole, or maybe even gets changed. If you're not familiar with her work, please click on over to her site and learn about it.

She's lining up volunteers for the August primaries, and she needs thousands of volunteers. Not all voting districts in the U.S. have problems, but there are an incredible number of them that do.

Email her and find out if you're in one of them, then volunteer to help. Her email is

Tell her I sent you!

Thursday, June 17, 2004


The blind leading the blind

I had long been puzzled by the opposition of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to the implementation of an auditable voting system. I understood that touch-screen voting offered the blind a heretofore unrealized independence in the voting booth. But it seemed evident that if your vote were to be lost or manipulated, it didn't really matter whether you cast your ballot independently or with the assistance of another person.

But that was not the position of the NFB. They insisted that the independence that paperless touch-screen voting offered overrode all other considerations. Their voice was heard repeatedly in the voting-machine debates, which you will notice if you read almost any newspaper article on the topic.

Theirs was a powerful voice. What politician, what organization wants to take a stand against blind people?

On Monday, June 7, Bev Harris of Black Box Voting posted an appeal to her readers. The League of Women Voters had opposed requiring auditable methods of voting, and among the reasons the League had listed for opposing them was "undermin[ing] access for people with disabilities."

At the end of her post, she noted,
The National Federation of the Blind has, however, been promoting unauditable paperless voting on DREs [direct record electronic voting system], without disclosing that other methods are available. This organization did not mention to the League of Women Voters or to local voting officials that it took a $1 million contribution from Diebold Inc., and that it has formally announced that it is in partnership with Diebold on ATM machines. This failure to disclose alternate methods, when combined with nondisclosure of fiduciary relationships with a vendor, should be considered by the League in making a decision to rescind its earlier opposition to paper ballots. [boldface mine]

For me, this was the grand Ah-hah! So I went to the NFB's website to check them out. Following the links, you come to some interesting information.

Begun in 1940, the NFB took a different tack from other organizations for the blind. Instead of offering services, it monitored the programs of those groups who did.

By the 1980s it was raising quite a ruckus, finding misfeasance and malfeasance in the programs and services of a number of organizations for the blind, some of them government-supported. It also found itself under investigation by the Justice department in what was apparently a conflict-of-interest allegation, from which it was absolved.

According to a speech given in 1981 by Kenneth Jernigan, their president at the time, the internicine warfare among the groups for the blind had reached the point of break-ins of the homes of the NFB staff. Furthermore,
Our headquarters building in Baltimore has been broken into, and a bottle of gasoline containing a wick was found by our boiler room door. During the past year both Harold Snider and Rami Rabby have had acid thrown at them on the streets. Recently Rami received in his mail box a cardboard with his initials formed in Braille dots made of eight live rifle bullets.

And here I was, thinking that blindness was a handicap! It's nothing compared with rattling the cages of the Powers That Be.

By 1990, they were still hard at it, battling the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). Barbara Pierce wrote an article for The Braille Monitor that began—
Maybe there is something about work with the blind that attracts disreputable people or encourages the proliferation of despicable human impulses. Maybe, like televangelists, agency personnel in this field are held in such reverence by the public at large that some of them begin to think they are above the law. Or perhaps it is merely the presence in the field of an accrediting body (NAC) that provides protection for virtually any shoddy practice (as long as only the blind are injured), perpetuating a network that inflates or fumigates professional reputations as required.
Go, Barbara! Couldn't have said it better myself.

But something has gone terribly wrong with this organization.

Bev Harris began to investigate, and she and Andy Stephenson, her research partner, found this:
1. The NFB sued Diebold and NCR over ATMs that weren't accessible. They settled with NCR and Diebold, and the two firms retrofitted -- but only Diebold paid money to the National Federation of the Blind. Diebold paid $1 million.

2. Then the NFB went on a lawsuit spree, suing a whole string of banks to get them to buy retrofitted ATMs.

3. The National Federation for the Blind announced a formal partnership with Diebold on the ATMs. This was announced by NFB president Betsy Zabrowski on Dec. 7, 2000 in an interview with the Daily Record, of Baltimore, MD. The NFB embarked on a partnership -- or a shakedown cruise, depending on how you look at it. NFB sues -- then says "We make this go away if you buy Diebold."

4. ... The banks that got sued then bought Diebold.

5. ... At least six banks are now considering dropping Diebold ATMs. When Diebold did the redesign, quality problems arose and the banks are unhappy. These banks include the biggies, reportedly Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank.
The NFB also brought lawsuits against all 31 counties of Ohio, "threatening to sue for civil rights violations unless they bought touch screens."

Bev Harris also got the NY Times interested, which editorialized
The National Federation of the Blind ... has been championing controversial voting machines that do not provide a paper trail. It has attested not only to the machines' accessibility, but also to their security and accuracy - neither of which is within the federation's areas of expertise. What's even more troubling is that the group has accepted a $1 million gift for a new training institute from Diebold, the machines' manufacturer, which put the testimonial on its Web site. The federation stands by its "complete confidence" in Diebold even though several recent studies have raised serious doubts about the company, and California has banned more than 14,000 Diebold machines from being used this November because of doubts about their reliability.

Disability-rights groups have had an outsized influence on the debate despite their general lack of background on security issues.

So what happened?

If you read over the biographies of the Board of Directors of the NFB, you will notice that many of them are "entrepreneurial" either currently or by background. They eschew condescension and have made their way often "by the boostraps."

Marc Maurer, the current president, "ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother."

Laudable as this undoubtedly is, it is my observation (with which many will disagree) that such folks, in getting caught up in the business of doing business, can easily lose their perspective on any matter other than business. If the bucks are coming in, I must be doing something right, right?

One member, Carlos Serván, is originally from Peru and lost his sight from a grenade while at the National Detective Academy of Peru, which, "in addition to investigation, prepares trainees to combat guerrillas and conduct counter-terrorism activities."

Their previous president, in the speech noted above, said during the Reagan administration,
We do not want (and I doubt that the Administration wants) to eliminate needed services to the blind or any meaningful program; but more money for an agency does not necessarily mean more help or a better life for those who are supposed to be served by that agency.... With a revamped and diminished bureaucracy (one with enough personnel to carry out legitimate duties but not enough to conduct wars against the blind) we might actually get more and better programs with less expenditure.

I came away with the impression of an organization with a right-wing libertarian tilt that, despite having done much good, has unfortunately embraced the spirit of the times.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


A strange little flutter

UPI, the Moonie-owned news service, carried a remarkable story yesterday that was picked up, as best I can tell, by only one newspaper in the country—the Washington Times, the Moonie-owned newspaper that provides an outlet for all sorts of rumors that the Bush administration wishes to propogate.

When only the Times carries a story, you should definitely watch out. So here it is, quoted in its entirety.
Iran massing troops on Iraq border

Beirut, Lebanon, Jun. 15 (UPI) -- Iran reportedly is readying troops to move into Iraq if U.S. troops pull out, leaving a security vacuum.

The Saudi daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, monitored in Beirut, reports Iran has massed four battalions at the border.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted "reliable Iraqi sources" as saying, "Iran moved part of its regular military forces towards the Iraqi border in the southern sector at a time its military intelligence agents were operating inside Iraqi territory."

This was promptly followed by the US government's own right-wing outlet, the Voice of America, reporting the Iranian denial.
Iran's state-run news agency IRNA quotes what it calls "an informed source" as denying a report in a Saudi-owned newspaper that says Iranian troops are massing on the border with Iraq.

The report in the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat, or "Middle East" newspaper, quotes what it calls "reliable sources" who say four Iranian battalions have moved to the southern border with Iraq. The sources say the troops are preparing to move into Iraq to fill a security vacuum if U.S. forces pull out after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30.

But IRNA quotes its source as saying the report is "fabricated and baseless" and is meant to help the United States continue its occupation of Iraq.

Iranian officials have previously said the Tehran government supports full sovereignty for Iraq.

Now what do you reckon they were up to? What new little scheme is in the works?

The idea that four battalions could gather at the Iraqi border without detection by both government and private satellites is laughable. Surely the Washington Times has the means to verify such an important allegation without resorting to "reliable Iraqi sources" in a Saudi newspaper. And surely the VoA doesn't need to depend upon the Iranian state-run news agency as a source for the denial.

Haven't we already been treated to enough information from "reliable Iraqi sources" via the CIA, not to mention Judith Miller at the NY Times?


Why isn't the press defending freedom of the press?

When Bush went to London last November, he was to speak to a joint session of the Lords and Commons. That came to nought when Team Bush realized that they couldn’t set up a “free speech” zone inside Parliament. Some members of Parliament just might walk out, and—well, how would that look. So they cancelled the speech at the last minute, and had him speak instead to an invitation-only gathering at the Palace at Whitehall.

The speech was to be a major foreign policy address. Since it was full of historical allusions, showed awareness of current events and demonstrated a sense of humor, we know that Bush could have had little to do with the writing of it. (Indeed, it would have been better if he had had nothing to do with the reading of it, since he managed to misread the copy.)1

The speech came to be known as the “Three Pillars” speech, because he grandly laid out three tenets of American foreign policy upon which the peace and security of the world would depend. The third of those pillars was “our commitment to the global expansion of democracy.” The speech was hailed by the diplomatic corps, discussed by some talking heads on the PBS NewsHour, and then promptly forgotten.

Well, I haven’t forgotten it, because among its polished phrases was this:

Arab states should end incitement in their own media, ...

Simply appalling. Here was an American President exhorting Arab governments to control their media —and this in a speech that purported to assert “our commitment to the global expansion of democracy”—especially among the Arabs, of course. Before Bush, as a part of a true American commitment to the expansion of democracy, it had been the practice of Presidents to exhort other countries to allow freedom of the press.

“Surely,” I thought, “the press is certain to go after him on this one.” After waiting a few days for the press reaction, I began to worry. Had no one seen it? So I sent emails—to columnists, reporters, anybody I thought might give a damn. Result: No replies and no comment in the news.

Since I was editing Danny Schechter’s NewsDissector blog at the time, Danny let me insert a mention of it.2 Still no reaction.

Here’s a little Google experiment: Google link

If you clicked the link you will see 9 unique links out of 141. All the omitted links are just copies of the speech, and indeed most of the 9 “unique” links are just copies of the speech larded with right-wing fulminations. One person—“Dori,” God bless her—saw the mention of it in the NewsDissector and brought it up in an Alternet forum.

How loudly can I say this, folks?


If you didn’t know, it’s hardly your fault, because the American press refuses to mention it.

All this was brought back to me in living color when I saw Condoleeza Rice at her G8 summit press conference. Here’s Condi—
Q: ... [I]t was reported in The New York Times yesterday, the Emir of Qatar was not invited because of al Jazeera. The U.S. government wants to shut down al Jazeera, and how can it talk about democracy if you are hostile to the only free media medium in the area?

DR. RICE: I don't think anybody has suggested the shutting down of al Jazeera. I do think people have suggested that it would be a good thing if the reporting were accurate on al Jazeera, and if it were not slanted in ways that appears to be, at times, just purely inaccurate. And so that's been the issue with al Jazeera.

So what difference does it make?

Now you might think, “Okay, but governments do this all the time. The sky hasn’t fallen,” which is to say that there are no consequences for you and me.

And I would answer that this policy has had major, disastrous consequences in Iraq. It has also, as the reporter quoted above noted, exposed the American hypocrisy toward democracy in the Arab world.

Those of you who follow events in Iraq are aware of the Sadr rebellion among the Shiites that began this April. The precipitating event was the closing of Muqtada al-Sadr’s newspaper.

Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East and talking head on the news, had this to say about it:
I have long been a trenchant critic of the Sadrists. But they haven't been up to anything extraordinary as far as I can see in recent weeks. Someone in the CPA sat down and thought up ways to stir them up by closing their newspaper and issuing 28 arrest warrants and taking in people like Yaqubi. This is either gross incompetence or was done with dark ulterior motives that can scarcely be guessed at.
The problem began in some ways on Sunday March 28, when Paul Bremer decided to close the main Sadrist newspaper, al-Hawza, purportedly for publishing material that incited violence against Coalition troops. Many observers in Iraq said that move was a mistake, since no specific violence could be traced to the newspaper, and closing it was itself a provocation. As it turns out, it seems clear that the newspaper closing played into Muqtada al-Sadr's apocalyptic mindset. He became convinced that it meant the US planned to silence him and destroy his movement, leaving him no choice but to launch an uprising. [4/4/04]

So let me put it plainly, this un-American policy has unquestionably caused the deaths of American and British soldiers and led to an uprising among the Shiites, which had been the one sector of the Iraqi population that was tolerating the occupation.

Why isn’t the press defending freedom of the press?

Related posts:
Why isn’t the press defending freedom of the press? (revisited)
Allawi stands up for freedom of the press — Yeah, sure


1This is from the White House's edition:
The second pillar of peace and security in our world is the willingness of free nations, when the last resort arrives, to retain* {sic} aggression and evil by force.

The asterisk leads to a footnote—*restrain [back]


One of the most remarkable of Bush's remarks has gone "unremarked" in the media. In his speech at Whitehall Palace yesterday, Bush held forth on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Of Israel he demanded that they "freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences."

Then, addressing the Arabs, he said, "Arab states should end incitement in their own media. . . ."

Could he mean the ending of reporting on Israeli settlement construction, unauthorized outposts, the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and the placement of walls and fences?

So much for a free Arab press! [back]

Monday, June 14, 2004


Quote of the Day

I hope that I'll live long enough to see American politics return to vigorous debates where we argue who's right and wrong, not who's good and bad.Bill Clinton, speaking at the unveiling of his portrait in the White House Monday

Sunday, June 13, 2004


It depends on what the meaning of the word "law" is ... [updated 6/14]

When Bill Clinton was asked before a grand jury if telling his aides that he was not having an affair with Monica Lewinski was a lie, he made what will unfortunately be the most remembered response of his presidency.
It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is. If the--if he--if "is" means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.

As it turned out, "is" does mean is, even when rendered into the past tense, as in "Was that your penis in her mouth?" In the end, there was a lot more brouhaha about the "is" than about the penis. And I do not wish to deprecate Mr. Clinton in any way.

George Bush, unfortunately, has not learned from his predecessor. Don't parse questions! Especially if you're George Bush. Especially if you don't know what "parse questions" means.

But alas, I fear he has attempted the impossible, and I believe he's going to end up with a bigger one in his mouth than Clinton's—legalism, that is.

Since the nation, having gone into collective mourning for Ronald Reagan, was somewhat less than glued to President Bush's post-G8-summit press conference, I'd like to share what you may have missed. [Italics are mine.]
QUESTION [David Sanger, NY Times]: Mr. President, the Justice Department issued an advisory opinion last year declaring that as Commander-in-Chief you have the authority to order any kind of interrogation techniques that are necessary to pursue the war on terror. Were you aware of this advisory opinion? Do you agree with it? And did you issue any such authorization at any time?

THE PRESIDENT: No, the authorization I issued, David, was that anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations. That's the message I gave our people.
From this point in the press conference, Bush sticks to his one idea—It all depends upon what the definition of "No" means. But along the way he lets some information escape.

First, the President is acknowledging here that he issued at least one authorization, which in the context of the question must relate to the use of force in interrogation.

Now I do not believe for a moment that he was—or at least that his advisors were—dumb enough to issue a Presidential authorization going like this:
Under the authority of the President, anything is permitted. And while you're at it, kick some ass for me!

A more considered memo would say:
The President hereby authorizes all field commanders of the U.S. military, all other agencies of the U.S. government and any civilians under contract with the U.S. government to take whatever action necessary with regard to prisoners, so long as those actions are pursuant to U.S. law and consistent with international treaty obligations. Any question with regard to the legality of a particular action should be submitted for review to the Department of Justice.

Since you already know that Justice has said you have the authority to do whatever you damned well please, you have just created what is known as a "bureaucratic singularity," to borrow from black-hole theory.

Ah, but does Bush know about that Justice department opinion?
QUESTION [still Sanger]: Have you seen the memos?

THE PRESIDENT: I can't remember if I've seen the memo or not, but I gave those instructions.

So President Bush has made an authorization that contained instructions. As for his recollection of that Justice department memo, he pulls a "Reagan." But would Bush issue an authorization without running it by Justice? I think not.

Of course, that's not the same as saying that the authorization contains anything for which the Justice department memo would be relevant. It may be perfectly innocent. If you'll show me yours, I'll show you mine.

Later, a reporter presents a hypothetical question—
QUESTION: Returning to the question of torture, if you knew a person was in U.S. custody and had specific information about an imminent terrorist attack that could kill hundreds or even thousands of Americans, would you authorize the use of any means necessary to get that information and to save those lives?

THE PRESIDENT: Jonathan, what I've authorized is that we stay within U.S. law.

That's downright ominous if you think he's thinking what the Justice department is thinking.

Finally, the BBC gets to the point.
QUESTION: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law. So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

[The reporter takes special care here to emphasize that he is asking a question about the morality of torture, not its legality.]

THE PRESIDENT: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. If I -- maybe -- maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions out of -- from me to the government.

Here he's beginning to get weird. "You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you"? As for answering the question "Is torture ever justified?"—he returns to his legalism.

At this point, President Bush attempted to leave, but was held by a question about Saddam's pistol, which I will leave for another day.

So far the media have done their usual shoddy job of pointing out the President's efforts at legalism. has one of the more accurate accounts, but it makes no effort to "connect the dots."

The Detroit Free Press opens with "President George W. Bush said Thursday that he ordered American troops to follow U.S. laws and international treaties banning torture, but he sidestepped a question about whether torture was ever justified." The casual reader of the article will take that as a Presidential reassurance. I fear that that sort of report is typical.

Anyway, we must hope that in the end, it's all going to depend upon what the definition of "law" is.


Late on Sunday, carried a strange little story by Dana Priest that announced that the Post was putting the August 1, 2002 memo (PDF) by the Office of Legal Counsel online. This is one of the memos that Ashcroft refused to release to the Senate.

Priest writes,

The Office of Legal Counsel is the federal government's ultimate legal adviser. The most significant and sensitive topics that the federal government considers are often given to the OLC for review. In this case, the memorandum was signed by Jay S. Bybee, the head of the office at the time. Bybee's signature gives the document additional authority, making it akin to a binding legal opinion on government policy on interrogations. Bybee has since become a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Another memorandum, dated March 6, 2003, from a Defense Department working group convened by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to come up with new interrogation guidelines for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, incorporated much, but not all, of the legal thinking from the OLC memo. [Italics mine]

Clearly WaPo is hedging its bets here, since neither you nor I nor the Washington Post knows what an opinion "akin to a binding legal opinion" is.1

What impresses me, though, is that the Post seems to be turning up the heat. Dana Priest is a good reporter and covers the intelligence community, among other things.

I'm not suggesting that we pin all our hopes on the Post, but aside from the NY Times, it is about the only medium left with the power and connections to do serious investigative work into the government. Now let's hope that they have the will to do it.


1 The article ends by linking to the Post's version of the transcipt to which I linked above, with the odd remark in the final paragraph that
The Post deleted several lines from the memo that are not germane to the legal arguments being made in it and that are the subject of further reporting by The Post.
This was so intriguing that I compared the two transcripts rather carefully (using software), and could not find any differences other than format and banter. Then I realized that the critical word here is "memo." It is the Justice department memo from which they have removed some lines. [back]

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