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It's worth making sure we don't lose sight of the apparent price that the Obama administration paid to the intelligence community to mollify them over the release of the torture memos: a pledge not to prosecute agency personnel for waterboarding.

Here's a statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led the fight against torture, calling the decision "one of the deepest disappointments of this administration".

CCR Decries Immunity for Torture, Secrecy

April 16, 2009, New York - In response to President Obama's decision to guarantee immunity to CIA officials who carried out the drowning torture known as waterboarding, which his attorney general has classified as torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:

"It is one of the deepest disappointments of this administration that it appears unwilling to uphold the law where crimes have been committed by former officials. Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high level officials who conceived, justified and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted. In the president's statement today, the most troubling contradiction is the contrast of the words, 'This is a time for reflection, not retribution,' followed shortly by, 'The United States is a nation of laws.' Government officials broke very serious laws: for there to be no consequences not only calls our system of justice into question, it leaves the gate open for this to happen again."

Since the first days of the public revelations regarding the Bush administration's torture program, the Center for Constitutional Rights has made efforts to hold high level officials and their lawyers accountable for their crimes. CCR, along with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), has tried three times, twice in Germany and once in France, to bring criminal cases in Europe against former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet, and former White House Counsel/Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as well as the other lawyers who were part of the conspiracy that authorized the torture program in Guantanamo, Iraq, secret CIA sites, and elsewhere. The German case is still pending. CCR also has torture cases pending in U.S. courts.

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Here are the OLC torture memos just released by the Justice Department...

An 18-page memo [PDF], dated August 1, 2002, from Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA.

A 46-page memo [PDF], dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA.

A 20-page memo [PDF], dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA.

A 40-page memo [PDF], dated May 30, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA.

Go to it!

Norm Coleman strongly denies the allegation that his lawsuit in the Minnesota Senate race is being pursued for the purposes of delaying the Democrats from getting a 59th Senate seat.

"In spite of what some say, that somehow this is an effort to delay something -- no," Coleman told the Star Tribune. "There are very legitimate, important constitutional questions regarding whether or not people's vote should count."

Norm also said he wasn't concerned that keeping this fight going is damaging his future political prospects: "I say this humbly, I don't spend 30 seconds worrying about my political future."

In other news, Coleman's home in St. Paul was egged on Tuesday night.

Via Matt Yglesias, we find that yesterday didn't bring out the best in Texas Governor Rick Perry alone. Here we see Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) telling tea party attendees to bring armed revolution:

It's about our founding fathers who in 1773 threw a little party called the Boston tea party. And fought against tyranny and oppressive taxes, does that sound familiar? We're continuing that revolution right here in Austin, TX today. Thomas Jefferson once said that the tree of liberty will be fed with the blood of tyrants and patriots. You are the patriots.




And then there's Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in Frederick, MD, wishing (about 4:45 into the video) that President Obama was on hand to "see that you're all out here in revolt," adding that "he needs to see your signs"--signs which, of course, ran the gamut between anti-tax slogans through confederate flags in to outright racism.

Earlier today, I noted that, at the Austin tea party yesterday, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that his state might secede from the union under circumstances unclear.

I've put in a call to his office to see if we can't get a better explanation of the scenario he's contemplating. But in the meantime, Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) is saying, in no uncertain terms, that the governor crossed the line.

"There are some issues that simply should not be legitimated in any way, shape or form, and secession is one of them," said Ellis. "By not rejecting out of hand the possibility of secession, Governor Perry is taking a step down a very dangerous and divisive path encouraged by the fringe of Texas politics."

I'll post the full statement below the fold. We're trying also to get responses from Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, but, perhaps not coincidentally, the phone lines for both offices are completely tied up.

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Earlier today, two former Bush intelligence chiefs -- John Negroponte, who was director of national intelligence, and Michael Hayden, who was CIA director -- went on MSNBC to push back against that New York Times report about wiretapping by the NSA.

Negroponte said "I have no question about the legality" of the program. Hayden used a different formulation: "National Security Agency follows the law." For whatever it's worth, those claims contradict the Times' report.

Watch:

In a statement from President Obama, the administration announced that it would release four of the Bush Justice Department memos justifying harsh interrogation techniques that had been sought in an ACLU lawsuit.

One of the memos is from 2002, the other three are from 2005.

According to the AP:
One memo specifically authorized a method for combining multiple techniques, a practice human rights advocates argue is particularly harmful and crosses the line into torture even if any of the individual methods do not.

...

The methods include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee's cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee's family were also used.

Among the things not allowed in the memo were allowing a prisoner's body temperature or caloric intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage, the officials said.

The techniques were applied to 14 suspects considered very senior terrorists.


In addition, the Justice Department announced in a statement that CIA employees won't be tried for waterboarding.

Here's the full statement from the White House. The statement from DOJ follows it.

Statement of President Barack Obama on Release of OLC Memos

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

But that is not what compelled the release of these legal documents today. While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program - and some of the practices - associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security. This is an extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States.

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.


Here's the statement from Attorney General Eric Holder:

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE RELEASES FOUR OFFICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL OPINIONS

In connection with ongoing litigation, the Department of Justice today released four previously undisclosed Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") opinions - one that OLC issued to the Central Intelligence Agency in August 2002 and three that OLC issued to the CIA in May 2005.

"The President has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law."

Holder also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.

The Attorney General has informed the Central Intelligence Agency that the government would provide legal representation to any employee, at no cost to the employee, in any state or federal judicial or administrative proceeding brought against the employee based on such conduct and would take measures to respond to any proceeding initiated against the employee in any international or foreign tribunal, including appointing counsel to act on the employee's behalf and asserting any available immunities and other defenses in the proceeding itself.

To the extent permissible under federal law, the government will also indemnify any employee for any monetary judgment or penalty ultimately imposed against him for such conduct and will provide representation in congressional investigations.

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

After reviewing these opinions, OLC has decided to withdraw them: They no longer represent the views of the Office of Legal Counsel.

A great point from Salon's Glenn Greenwald, to keep in mind as we wait for more information about the possible release of those torture memos:

I want to underscore one vital point about this controversy that is continuously overlooked and will be undoubtedly distorted today in the event of non-disclosure: these documents are not intelligence documents. They are legal documents and, more specifically, they constitute what can only be described as secret law under which the U.S. was governed during the Bush era. Thus, the question posed by the release of these OLC memos is not whether Obama will release to the public classified intelligence programs. The question is whether he will release to the public the legal doctrines under which the U.S. Government conducted itself regarding interrogation techniques he claims are no longer being used.

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration has decided to release the "torture memos" written by the Bush Department of Justice, that justify harsh interrogation techniques.

It's not clear from the Times's unsourced report whether this is a compromise, in which only some of the memos will be released, or whether they all will.

Today is the deadline for the administration to weigh in on a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, which is seeking the memos.

We'll have more as things become clearer.

Those of you eager to see Blago getting his day in court may be waiting a long time.

At a hearing today, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said that the former Illinois governor's trial "will take six months, and likely will not begin for two years," reports CBS.

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