No one is above the law


Saturday, April 12
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration suspended the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights and authorized the use of torture.

That the administration was able to get away with it is shameful.

John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003, wrote a memo in October 2001 that declared the Fourth Amendment's protection against illegal searches and seizures to be inapplicable to "domestic military operations" within the United States.

The memo, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act, was apparently the legal justification for the administration's warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.

Yoo also provided the legal justification for the use of what was euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation techniques." He wrote memos in August 2003 and March 2003 that, in effect, told the Pentagon that an act does not rise to the level of torture unless it inflicts the kind of pain associated with "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant bodily function."

If any statute barred a particular interrogation method, Yoo claimed the right of the president to ignore the statute.

If an interrogator were to be prosecuted for torture, Yoo claimed the interrogator would be able to defend himself by arguing that the torture was not inflicted maliciously, but rather as a means of obtaining information.

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As was the case with the memo that justified the suspension of the Fourth Amendment, Yoo claimed that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified the use of torture.

Eventually, the coercive techniques authorized by Yoo on behalf of President Bush caused Congress to pass a law in 2005 limiting the type of interrogation methods that Defense Department officials could use. The CIA was exempted from these rules and President Bush has blocked any attempts to bring them under the same guidelines.

Torture seems to be an obsession with the Bush administration. This week, ABC News and The Associated Press both reported that senior administration officials discussed and approved specific interrogation methods for top al-Qaida suspects. Attending the sessions were Vice President Dick Cheney, then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Reportedly, this group held frequent discussions that were so detailed, they choreographed some of the interrogation sessions right down to the number of times CIA agents could use a particular technique on a subject.

That the top officials in the White House were sitting around debating how many times someone should be waterboarded is disgusting, but not surprising. They have held themselves about all laws and legal standards. They have repeatedly claimed that any action performed during the course of our so-called war on terror -- no matter how illegal or barbaric -- is legally and morally justifiable.

But even as they claim immunity from the legal and moral standards of the civilized world, the reality is that no one in the Bush administration stands above the law. Sooner or later, they must be held accountable.

The ACLU is calling for a congressional investigation. We feel it can't be done soon enough. The damage this administration has done to human rights and the rule of law is so immense that this nation will be paying a steep price for it at home and abroad for decades to come.


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