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This Week In Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post


The Bush administration cannot account for millions of emails and a federal judge upheld a ruling (via) “that the White House’s Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.” It had complied with FOIA requests in the past, but that policy was changed when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed this case. Note: Policy change. The president could simply change the policy back, but has not and has given no indication that he will. All those nice words he mouthed upon taking office certainly seem to have soured. The fine oratory isn’t fooling civil liberties groups, though.


Lanny Davis has concluded that Dick Cheney should be indicted. When a member in good standing of the Beltway political class adopts that position it’s noteworthy; the Inner Sanctum is the last and biggest obstacle to an investigation of Bush-era war crimes. Maybe disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters will provide some needed pressure against the message coming from the look forward, keep walking keepers of conventional wisdom.


Harry Reid opposes closing (via) Guantánamo with the almost unbelievably dishonest claim that “We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.” And he doesn’t know how to shepherd legislation through the Senate either. He is a craven, ineffectual joke of a politician and a disgrace to the Senate Democrats he leads. (Which is meant to be an indictment of them as well - they chose him to be their leader.) Perhaps the best portrait of the man was painted by The Editors:

When The Editors asked me to abandon my responsibilities and play second fiddle to an unpopular, corrupt ex-President for this nonsense awards post, I said “No! No! A thousand times no!” For if one does not have principles and the courage of one’s convictions, then one has nothing at all. And that’s the story of how I came to vice-host this awards post.
Worse than worthless. Actively harmful. Trust me, Harry, we’ve all had about enough of this.


The FCC doesn’t want to be left out of the fun in expanding the surveillance state so it has staked its claim to warrantless wiretapping power by invoking the Communications Act of 1934, which has to be the awesomest stretch of logic since the set of regulations adopted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 2004 that shut down state attempts to regulate banks.


Conor Friedersdorf wondered how anyone could think Obama is attempting a socialist dictator takeover of the U.S. AND be in favor of expansive, unaccountable executive power. Olympic caliber mental gymnastics follow as various commenters attempt to establish that they want the president to be an authoritarian abroad but constrained at home. Others attempt to point out that if, say, you allow the president to declare citizens inside the country to be enemy combatants and to imprison them indefinitely without charge - much less a trial - in the name of Keeping America Safe then you are basically depending on the good will of the leader and not Constitutional safeguards to guarantee your rights. (Which is the definition of a nation of men and not laws.) They shot back that when they approved of ceding those powers they had no idea that a president Obama would one day have them at his disposal, to which I can only make the following hilariously obvious point: When you give power away you leave decisions about its use to those you give it to! The whole foreign power/domestic power construct doesn’t really survive contact with reality. No matter how strictly you try to circumscribe it, power is power and grey areas will spring up almost immediately. And as others point out, if Obama was really as scary as they say then he poses a much more grave and immediate threat to the country than all the terrorists in the world; surely getting rid of those expansive powers would be the single most urgent task right now - even more important than dealing with the threat posed by The Terrorists, right?


UNPACKING JANE On page 316 Mayer reports on how a group of lawyers led by Philip Zelikow attempted what they called “The Big Bang” - a secret proposal to end the worst of the detention and interrogation abuses. They begin to move the proposal up the chain of command at the State and Defense departments, with some success. Then on pp.218-9 she describes the culmination of their efforts:

The Big Bang proposal reached Bush, two sources said, proving that as of the summer of 2005, he knew there were senior officials inside his administration, including a deputy defense secretary, who thought the war on terror was being undermined by his detention policies, and that Guantánamo needed to be closed. If he read that report, he also knew that there were credible allegations of CIA abuse and calls for accountability. Nonetheless, said one of its sponsors, “The Big Bang just died on the vine.”
Dick Cheney has gotten most of the attention lately for obvious reasons but that should not obscure the former president’s role. All of it happened with his approval at the very least.

Regulation and the Depository Trust Clearing Corporation

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

On Wednesday lambert pointed me to a Bloomberg article by Robert Schmidt and Jesse Westbrook claiming the Obama administration will call for moving some of the powers of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to the Federal Reserve. While the SEC has come under fire for its reluctance to aggressively monitor Wall Street, the solution (as lambert points out) is to give the agency the resources, incentive and mission to do so, not to transfer authority elsewhere. Schmidt and Westbrook note that it “still has powerful supporters, including a number of Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee who aren’t likely to support having an agency they oversee cut back,” so maybe this is just a trial balloon. Either way it doesn’t deserve to make it past the rumor phase.

Whenever the news turns to the world of financial services, though, it seems like the path grows dark very quickly. (If so, that probably is by design.) I read stories like this and think, Congress oversees the SEC which is as it should be - and the SEC should be regulating…what? One of the most interesting reports I have read this year is The Story of Deep Capture by Mark Mitchell (pdf). First published last year, it is a 69 page report alleging corruption and collusion among hedge funds, regulators and financial reporters. It is tempting to dismiss it as tin foil hat conspiracy paranoia, but Mitchell is a former editor of the Columbia School of Journalism. Maybe he went off the rails after working there or maybe he was a bad hire in the first place, but that is something that should be backed up with evidence. All I have seen so far are ad hominem attacks from targets of his investigation.

The problem with establishing anything with confidence is wrapped up in one of Mitchell’s main contentions: That the world of financial journalism is relatively small; limited - at the time of his reporting, anyway - to one network (CNBC), a couple of newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal) and a handful of magazines (Forbes, Barron’s, Fortune). If the economic news cycle is almost entirely determined by such a tiny group then it is possible to court and capture the prime movers. Even more importantly, the scope of respectable topics and people can be so strictly defined and narrowed that those marked for ostracism can be almost entirely silenced.

This puts the ordinary reader who encounters Deep Capture in a bit of a bind. Anyone coming to it from the world of politics will probably not need to be persuaded that an insular and self-reinforcing elite can decide what is and is not within the bounds of acceptable discourse. It is entirely possible to see a subject like the naked short selling of phantom stock marked as verboten and simply ignored by the most influential outlets. Anyone looking for independent confirmation of Mitchell’s allegations will necessarily be pushed to the fringes of financial journalism, and going there with no prior experience makes it impossible to weigh the credibility of what one finds. You have to go based almost entirely on your intuition and what seems reasonable.

Which is a real shame, because there are some fascinating elements to the story. Sometimes the web he weaves seems a little too sprawling, but other parts ring true. The idea of having a company like Gradient Analytics appear on the scene and almost instantly be hailed as an unimpeachable source of sound research looks a little fishy. So too is the role of an institution I had not heard of before (emphasis in original):

It is also important to recognize the role of The Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), an organization headquartered in New York City. DTCC is where stock trades are processed - more than $1.5 quadrillion worth of them every year. That’s 30 times larger than the entire gross product of the entire planet.

Which brings us back to the SEC. It ostensibly regulates the DTCC, but according to Mitchell that amounts to little more than walking in a couple times per year, kicking the tires and asking, “so how’s everything going?” When I read about moving SEC oversight to the Fed I immediately thought, would they do a better job? Would we know more about how the DTCC operates, and what role it might have played in the meltdown of the financial services industry? What would it take to get some light shining in there? With all due respect to the president, spending time and energy trying to yank pieces of authority out of Congress’ orbit and closer to his helps prevent discussions like that from even starting.

This Week In Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post


What has come to seem like the normal exposure of gruesome new torture details may now be metastasizing into truly horrifying. And even that might not be the worst of it. Human rights researcher John Sifton pointed out that roughly 100 people have died from torture, and memos establishing the chain of command for torture are much more important from a legal standpoint than the photos president Obama doesn’t want released:

“These are operational cables showing the interrogations’ methodologies, what was approved, who knew about them, showing the notes of meetings in the White House between the principals group, people like Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld,” he told Goodman. “These are important documents. I mean, the photographs are important, because they show viscerally what happened, but the memos show who ordered what happened to happen.”

Amazingly, Sifton actually went on to name a CIA interrogator believed responsible for the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, a prisoner who was suffocated to death by hanging.

“And that’s an interesting death, because that was a case where the CIA inspector general referred the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution, possible prosecution, and yet the Department of Justice never took any action,” said Sifton. “The name of the CIA interrogator in that case is actually publicly known: Mark Swanner. […] And he’s, for all I know, still walking around in the United States, even though he is implicated in this homicide.”
Maybe not so amazingly - see last item.


I thought the 9/11 commission was an anemic investigation (real ones don’t need to bargain to secure testimony, they just issue subpoenas and enforce them),and ultimately a whitewash. As it turns out, the information it does contain is tainted by torture as well.


Here is this week’s best reason why I always stop by Avedon’s place to see what she has to say:

I think Eric Martin’s point - that torture is morally indefensible whether it works or not - is a good one, but I think he is too easy in giving in to the “sometimes torture works” argument. I am certain that if torture were in any way a reliable means of getting good information, the anti-torture argument would have been lost a great deal earlier in human history. (Just look at this shameless comment by Harold Ford, for example.) Morality, as we have seen in every other area, disappears pretty quickly when there’s a buck to be made or an enemy to be spited, but this has always been the trump card in the argument: Torture doesn’t work to get good information. Trouble is, it has always been a good way to terrorize people or to get false confessions. It “worked” for Cheney in the same way it worked in the Soviet Union - to get people to say things that weren’t true but were what he wanted to hear.
I don’t like entering into the “is it useful?” discussion because to me that means getting sucked into a utilitarian argument where it seems like you’re bargaining with the devil. I mean, if you can show that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, then it’s great right? And of course you’ll never get a direct smoking gun 1-to-1 correspondence for complex social policy issues (even something like the dispute over the correlation between smoking and lung cancer lived on a lot longer than it should have because it isn’t precisely true that smoking leads to cancer). Going there feels like getting sucked down a rabbit hole; I prefer to stick with the position that torture is wrong, evil and not something that a civilized nation engages in. Avedon provides the always useful reminder that not everyone thinks like me, and practical arguments have to be engaged at some level. Dammit.


The changed position on the abuse photos wasn’t the only egregious mistake by the president this week. Military commissions once again entered the picture as well. I believe he takes these positions because he believes them. It’s the simplest and most sensible explanation. Andrew Sullivan says Obama is playing a long game and that it helps him to “have symbolic spats with those of us who believe we have no choice but to confront the war crimes of the last administration.” Even if Obama is playing some kind of super smart inside game there is a big problem with it: Doing so validates conventional wisdom in Washington. By not releasing the photos and reviving the commissions he validates the talking points about this being a dispute between his hard left civil libertarian base and thoughtful, serious centrists who see both sides of torture and extrajudicial hellholes. It reinforces the lazy thinking of amoral monsters like David Ignatius and allows the David Gregory types to, well, continue being David Gregory types. That is decidedly not helpful.


I made my thoughts on Nancy Pelosi clear last week, but the developing focus on her in the torture debate is insane. It’s about the principals of the Bush administration. Any thorough investigation will probably bring down some pretty high profile Democrats but the primary architects were in the GOP. It would be lovely for the media pack to not so reliably chase after every single rubber ball tossed by Republican strategists.


Valerie Plame was celebrated by the left when she and her husband were going after George Bush. The CIA was seen as thrown under the bus - providing responsible intelligence estimates that were ignored or cherry picked, and hounded by unscrupulous politicians who wanted agency validation of their demented imaginings. Now liberals feel a little differently since the CIA is going after Democrats. First, some thoughts from Spencer Ackerman, whom I don’t read or quote as much as I should:

It’s been my experience that any attempt to generalize about the CIA is wrong. It’s not an organization of liars and it’s not an organization of torturers and it’s not an organization of liberals and it’s not an organization of barbarians and it’s not an organization of brave truth-tellers and it’s not an organization of risk-averse bureaucrats and it’s not an organization of lawbreakers and it’s not an organization of whiz kids and it’s not an organization of mediocrities. But come on. The greatest intelligence officer the CIA ever produced was convicted of lying to Congress. I regret that I don’t have my copy of Tim Weiner’s definitive Legacy of Ashes handy to document quickly how routinely the CIA lied to Congress throughout its history.
Great stuff. Also, here’s why liberals aren’t contradicting themselves on their change of position: The part of the CIA that plows through reams of data and formulates its best analysis based on available information is terrific. We like it a lot and want for it to continue to excel at that. The part of the CIA involved in fomenting coups, assassination attempts and torture…not so much. Stay away from the Mission Impossible stuff and we like you just fine.


Watch for this. Not news yet, but will be.


Sometimes it is the clowns who get most directly at the truth:

What conservatives must try to hide all the time, causing spectacular screw-ups and flame-outs, and ensuring the doom of any sincere effort to ‘reinvent the party,’ is that their core motivator, once you cut through the bread-and-circuses issues like gay marriage, immigration, and abortion, is the removal of governmental and societal checks on the power of private interests, in order to funnel off the wealth collected and held since World War II by a large and prosperous middle class.


UNPACKING JANE: Mayer names Mark Swanner for the first time on page 250, and writes this on 258:

Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA who handled numerous national security cases in his private practice, said it was possible the Office of Legal Counsel’s memos had succeeded in indemnifying CIA interrogators such as Swanner even in cases of homicide. The lawyers may have opened too many loopholes, Smith said, “making prosecution somehow too hard to do.” Smith added, “But even under the expanded definition of torture, I don’t see how someone beaten with his hands bound, who then died while hanging - how that could be legal. I’d be embarrassed if anyone argued that it was.
These actors have been publicly named for a while. Nothing amazing about hearing about them now.

The Biggest Threat To Newspapers is Newspapers

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Journalistic solipsism requires that outside phenomena be treated with clinical detachment but those within the industry be screamed with lights and sirens. For instance, enormous nationwide job losses are dispassionately reported but high double digit layoffs in a newsroom are greeted with bold, caps, updates and overheated rhetoric. It also explains the myopia over what troubles the industry. We are in a recession, so it seems obvious that newspapers would be in the doldrums too. Yet the internet is the focus of their ire. Why? Nothing is on the scene now that wasn’t around five years ago. If the economy tanks then looking at your online operations should be part of weathering the storm, but why make it the primary focus?

In typically self-centered fashion news organizations only focused on the web’s “information wants to be free” ethos and expanded competition now that they are feeling its effects. It is nothing that travel agents, computer programmers and real estate agents have not already experienced. But newspapers observed changes in those industries without understanding their eventual impact on them. In fact, for all the distaste they have for bloggers, the latter have spent more time pondering it. Some, like Allison Hantschel (aka Athenae of First Draft) have a foot in both worlds. She has been posting over and over again for months about how newspapers’ wounds are largely self inflicted; that, for example, they consider a 16.7 percent profit margin cause for layoffs. (Ask someone in the airline or retail industries if they could make do with that.) As she points out:

If there was no Internet, if Craigslist disappeared tomorrow, if nobody ever blogged again, the greed, shortsightedness and selfishness that looks at a 40 percent profit margin and cries poverty - as was the case at some Gannett newspaper properties this year - would still smother newspaper journalism eventually.

Business concerns aside, the deeper problem is with content. Papers have gotten smaller and smaller. Last year I finally decided my local paper was too small to justify a subscription, and others may feel similarly. If you remove stock and mutual fund prices and point people online for them, can you be surprised if they begin to migrate? Also, sometimes the remaining content is shoddy. Bill Kristol offered consistently faulty takes on foreign policy and was rewarded with one of the most prestigious jobs in journalism - where he promptly phoned in more lazy and incorrect commentary. There is no room for a Daniel Larison who might offer a view of conservatism even slightly at odds with received wisdom. Similarly, Richard Cohen can identify himself as at least a tentative liberal but then claim Dick Cheney “poses a hard, hard question: Is it more immoral to torture than it is to fail to prevent the deaths of thousands?” Couldn’t the Post employ a fully self-identifying liberal like digby who both writes brilliantly AND understands that torture is a war crime?

The biggest problem is with the hard news though. Frank Rich issued this caution on Sunday: “without their enterprise, to take a few representative recent examples, we would not have known about the wretched conditions for our veterans at Walter Reed, the government’s warrantless wiretapping, the scams at Enron or steroids in baseball. Whatever shape journalism ultimately takes in America, make no mistake that in the end we will get what we pay for.” But as Walter Pincus points out many investigative pieces are done with an eye on winning journalism awards, not serving the public interest. Even worse than indulgent reporting is that which is flatly wrong. The Iraq war utterly destroyed the credibility of not just the newspaper industry but news outlets in general. Every organization not named Knight-Ridder was more interested in working sources for access than independent reporting. The Bush administration was able to create links in the public’s mind between Iraq and 9/11 only - ONLY - because outlets refused to challenge the self-interested spin of government officials.

The elephant in the room for the industry is that on the most important issue of the last generation it routinely and wildly misinformed its audience. It is a systemic deficiency, not an isolated accident. It wasn’t just Judy Miller then, and it didn’t stop with the Iraq war. The Paper of Record still cannot bring itself to describe torture as torture when Americans do it. On this important issue papers continue (via) to mislead. (For hundreds of years and across all cultures nobody ever suggested waterboarding was not torture until George Bush became president; its defenders are the flat earth lunatic fringe of humanity and need no accommodation.) Subscribers are paying for that too, Mr. Rich. The biggest problem facing newspapers is a well earned skepticism that they will accurately inform their readers.

This Week In Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post


Andy Worthington posted a list of all Guantánamo prisoners a couple of months back and I didn’t notice. Good on him for what must have been a fairly large undertaking. Getting a list like that together is just the first step, of course, but just having a first pass is a big deal.


Say what you will about torture, actual death is even worse.


I’m not sure if there are Jerk Wheaties but if so Lindsey Graham had himself a big ol’ bowl every day for breakfast this week. First he and Joe Lieberman asked the president to ignore a FOIA lawsuit by the ACLU (W. ain’t president anymore, boys. Why do I think there is already great nostalgia for him in Washington?), then (via) he and John McCain teamed up to sing the praises of extra-constitutional detention and call for the continued trashing of habeas corpus.


A couple of reports implicated Nancy Pelosi in CIA torture briefings. Marcy and bmaz promptly went bananas dissecting the lies and half-truths. I like to think of the two of them living in something like the Bat Cave, and whenever a particularly terrible report gets released they see some kind of blogger version of the Bat Signal (maybe a blinking Cheeto) and they swing into action, grabbing their keyboards and methodically dismantling the story. I leave the costume designs for each to your imagination.

A big part of the debate seems to be whether or not Pelosi had been told torture had been used or was just approved to be used.  Chris Matthews of all people hit the nail on the head Friday on MSNBC: That’s akin to someone who voted for the AUMF being shocked that it quickly led to war.  When you approve the prospective use of something, you approve its use.  If it doesn’t get used the way you want then you are either naive or disingenuous.  I’m more receptive to the argument that she was constrained by classification requirements and an anemic briefing/oversight process.  I definitely would like to see more attention to that.  It still doesn’t get her entirely off the hook, mind you.  For an issue as urgent as this maybe you go public even if it means breaking the law.  But the idea that she is blameless because she was told it was on the table but not actually in use yet is deeply, deeply unpersuasive to me.


Some Republican senators were trying to discredit Democrats as well. Larisa Alexandrovna jumped into the fray:

Where are you willing to draw the line Mr. Alexander/Mr. Shelby? Can we go all the way to Iran Contra as well or further? Or how about BCCI or even to Operation 40? Because I sure as hell don’t mind. Let’s rip it all open then, shall we? In fact, how about we keep going after the Jack Abramoff scandal which should have nabbed Mr. Shelby already, but for some reason did not (perhaps a Canary had something to do with it?).

My first impulse is, sure - let’s hear all of it. I don’t think Eric Holder should be above criticism for his role in renditions during the Clinton era. I’ve written before that I’m opposed to the Clinton-era rendition program, so if we’re going to revisit it that’s just fine with me. And I’ve never been satisfied with the Iran Contra investigation either, so I’m good with revisiting that as well. Let’s line them all up in reverse chronological order and go through them one at a time. Let’s throw open all the doors and windows.


I just love that Dick Cheney cannot shut up. Mr. Evil Genius is too dumb to realize that his mouth is a shovel these days, and every word is another little pile of dirt thrown out of the hole he’s dug for himself. He just keeps advancing the story, and the story gets ever more interesting.


Donald Rumsfeld isn’t really digging his hole any deeper, he’s just providing outstanding entertainment value by having his proxies say things like “Between the New York Times and the Pentagon’s inspector general office, it’s pretty clear which is a more credible and non-partisan source” exactly one day before the Pentagon withdraws its report because it “did not meet accepted quality standards for an Inspector General work product.” On a serious note, is that really where the story should end?


A cautionary tale for bloggers. A TV station reported that the FBI raided a North Carolina family’s house, arrested the sixteen year old son living there, whisked him away to South Bend, Indiana, and detained him on a terrorism charge - all with a lack of due process rights because of the USA Patriot Act. Then Kevin Poulsen reported that the Patriot act had nothing to do with it, and followed up with a post detailing allegations of the boy’s history of prank phone bomb threats. In other words, it very quickly went from Police State Horrors to a drama queen mother (Happy Mother’s Day!) overstating the reasons for her son - who has a suspicious history - being arrested. Now, it looks like the main problem is a reporter uncritically passing along the overwrought claims of a worked up source, but a number of sites I respect picked this up and ran with it as well. I can’t claim any special powers of discernment either; if I posted more often I probably would have jumped on it as well. It’s human nature to gravitate towards those stories that conform to our worldview. Sometimes that means they don’t get the skeptical treatment they deserve.


Since I’m issuing warnings I should also point out (to me as much as anyone) that Jay Bybee and John Yoo are presumed innocent unless a conviction is returned against them. Paul at Power Line points out that the leaking of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report on wrongdoing at OPR. He claims “the draft was leaked before Bybee, Yoo, or their lawyers had an opportunity to comment and before the Department of Justice determined that the preliminary report should become final,” which may or may not be true - both may have already happened, just not publicly - but it’s definitely a legitimate issue. There may well be enough smoke to warrant an investigation of whether the Privacy Act was violated.


The GOP established that it is still fully committed to scaring the hell out of the country this week, but the ground has (stop me if you’ve head this before) shifted beneath them. From the halls of Congress to Hardin, Montana folks are deciding to confront the fear being thrown at them by neoconservatives and their supporters instead of shrinking away from it. It won’t take too many examples of people standing up, squaring their shoulders and saying “let’s deal with this already” for the Republicans’ bedwetting hysterics to become universally scorned, ridiculed and despised.


Linda Sanchez, please stop the demagoguery.


Avedon pointed me to this by Rude Pundit: “Here’s where we stand as a nation: Right now, it is more likely that someone or some entity will be punished for the split-second exposure of Janet Jackson’s naked titty during the 2004 Super Bowl than for authorizing the torture of detainees at our prison in Guantanamo Bay.” Mark Kernes then followed up with “it’s more likely that Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski will be punished for having a website with (mostly softcore) porn on it than will Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Jay Bybee be punished for writing legal opinions detailing how to torture prisoners without (supposedly) violating the Geneva Conventions.” We have curious standards for obscenity, don’t you think? I know which I’d rather have my kids exposed to.


This really pissed me off:

But executives at the Big Four broadcast networks are seething behind the scenes that President Obama has cost them about $30 million in cumulative ad revenue this year with his three primetime news conference pre-emptions. Now top network execs quietly are hoping that Fox’s well-publicized rejection of the president’s April 29 presser will serve as precedent for denying future White House requests for prime airtime.

Those are public airwaves. Show the press conferences. The shows getting pre-empted suck anyway. While there’s no formal requirement for the president to hold prime time press conferences it seems to be a useful way to get him answering questions before the public. Folks can decide whether they think he’s full of crap for themselves, but just showing the damned thing helps to create a more informed and engaged electorate. Get over your precious selves already, and by the way you’ve lost orders of magnitude more money from illegal and unethical behavior on Wall Street. If you really want to protect your stock price start a continuous drumbeat for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act


UNPACKING JANE: On page 223 (and also here) Mayer describes this scene between general counsel of the Department of Defense William J. Haynes II and his subordinate, Navy general counsel Alberto Mora. On December 2nd, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld issued a memo approving tactics forbidden by the Army Field Manual.

Mora drew Haynes’s attention to a comment that Rumsfeld had added to the bottom of his December 2nd memo, in which he asked why detainees could be forced to stand for only four hours a day, when he himself often stood “for 8-10 hours a day.” Mora said that he understood that the comment was meant to be jocular. But he feared that it could become an argument for the defense in any prosecution of terror suspects. It also could be read as encouragement to disregard the limits established in the memo. (Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired military officer who was a chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, had a similar reaction when he saw Rumsfeld’s scrawled aside. “It said, ‘Carte blanche, guys,’ ” Wilkerson told me. “That’s what started them down the slope. You’ll have My Lais then. Once you pull this thread, the whole fabric unravels.”)

Rumsfeld is a terribly clever man, isn’t he?