It’s not surprising when political opponents criticize the Bush administration. Actually, it’s not surprising when any rational human being criticizes the Bush administration. But we’re seeing more and more allies, or at least former allies, speaking up, unwilling to shoulder the blame for disastrous decisions and policies that they disagreed with or actually fought against while they were employed by said administration.
Thus a new book by Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, entitled The Terror Presidency. The Office of Legal Counsel advises the president on the limits of executive power, and when Goldsmith was brought in as head in October 2003, he brought impressive legal credentials and a conservative outlook that should have, in theory, guaranteed his support for Bush’s tactics in the War on Terrortm. Instead, Goldsmith resigned nine months later to protest ongoing constitutional excesses, specifically timing his departure to coincide with his withdrawal of a March 2003 opinion regarding interrogation of aliens held outside the United States.
The contents of that memo remain classified, but it’s the companion to John Yoo’s August 2002 torture memo (which defined torture as pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions or even death”), and Goldsmith considered both of them to be “tendentious, overly broad, and legally flawed”. Goldsmith withdrew the opinion in June 2004, a week after Yoo’s memo was leaked. He had also withdrawn Woo’s memo and several other opinions that he won’t discuss. He basically gave the administration a choice: accept the withdrawal and let him leave quietly or fight it and turn his resignation into a big news story.
David Addington, former legal counsel to Dick Cheney and now his chief of staff, had been involved in almost every national security discussion Goldsmith had with then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, and he was predictably enraged by Goldsmith’s temerity, having told him in the past:
“The President has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision,” when Goldsmith determined that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which addresses civilian protections in war zones, also applied to terrorists and insurgents.
“If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands,” when Goldsmith questioned another Bush decision.
Go read the preview in the New York Times magazine. Goldsmith’s description of the Card/Gonzales visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital room is priceless.