Rewriting the Dictionary

Impunity and Immunity
The Bush Administration Enters the Confessional

By Karen Greenberg

Confession, the time-honored, soul-soothing last resort for those caught in error, may not survive the Bush administration. It has, after all, long made a mockery of such revelations by manufacturing an entire lexicon of coercive techniques to elicit often non-existent “truths” that would justify its detention policies. And yet, without being coerced in any way, administration officials have been confessing continually these past years — in documents that may someday play a part in their own confrontation with justice.

The Bush administration trail of confessions can be found in the most unlikely of places — the very memos and policy statements in which its officials were redefining reality in their search for the perfect (and perfectly grim) extractive methods that would give them the detainee confessions they so eagerly sought. These were the very documents that led first to Gitmo, then to Abu Ghraib, and finally deep into the hidden universe of pain that was their global network of secret prisons.

Strangely enough, the administration confessional was open for business within weeks of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. It could be found wrapped in persistent assertions of immunity, assertions that none of their acts to come could ever be brought before the bar of justice or the oversight of anyone. The first of these documents was issued on September 25th, 2001. Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, writing for the Office of Legal Counsel, laid out the reasons for the President of the United States to assume broad executive powers in the war on terror. The last footnote of the memo declared, “In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the President’s decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable.”

This notion of unreviewable behavior, then still buried in the land of footnotes, has characterized the administration’s general stance on its war on terror policies. On January 9th, 2002, just as Guantanamo opened for business as a detention facility supposedly beyond the review of American courts, John Yoo and fellow Office of Legal Counsel member Robert Delahunty explained why a breach with international law would not constitute a crime for the Bush administration. In their secret memo, the United States, through the Justice Department, was to exempt itself ahead of time from the laws it was about to break. In essence, it was to give itself the equivalent of a hall pass for future illegal activities in the new policies and practices of detention.

Read this entire, remarkable analysis here.

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