On John Yoo’s Constitution

Contrary to popular belief, I do not have an Enemy’s List.

Yes, Warren Ellis is my nemesis, but only because his writing makes me feel like an amateur. (Though I’m not sure what to think — yet — about Crooked Little Vein, which makes me realize how completely undepraved I am. That is a good thing, though, isn’t it?)

But if I did have an Enemy’s List, John Yoo would be Allyn’s Enemy #1.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department released a series of ten memos produced by Yoo’s Office of Legal Counsel for President Bush, memos that established the legal backing for warrantless wiretaps, extraordinary rendition, waterboarding and other torture techniques, the suspension of Constitutional rights, and the other depravities perpetrated upon humanity by the Bush Crime Family over the past eight years.

In short, the erosions of civil liberties, the rule of law — all the things that have angered me the past eight years, all the things I ranted and railed about, all the things that I felt should have put Bush out of office through Impeachment and in the dock at the Hague for war crimes. Yes, the basis for those things were laid out in Yoo’s memos.

Scott Horton’s essay for Harper’sGeorge W. Bush’s Disposable Constitution,” writes how Yoo’s legal theories established a Presidency unfettered by laws, and he closes with this:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald at Salon offers some thoughts on the meaning of these legal memos — and what those memos meant over the last eight years and what they may mean for the fabric of the American polis forward. He puts analysis on what it all meant.

One of the central facts that we, collectively, have not yet come to terms with is how extremist and radical were the people running the country for the last eight years. That condition, by itself, made it virtually inevitable that the resulting damage would be severe and fundamental, even irreversible in some sense. It’s just not possible to have a rotting, bloated, deeply corrupt and completely insular political ruling class — operating behind impenetrable walls of secrecy — and avoid the devastation that is now becoming so manifest. It’s just a matter of basic cause and effect.

Greenwald talks at length about the “regime of secret laws” that Yoo’s memos put in place. The checks and balances that the Fourth Estate talked about as a check on the President’s power never materialized — because the press refused to acknowledge that anything was out of the ordinary. It was, Greenwald notes, the people saying, “No, this isn’t right” who were seen as being out-of-touch, not the people tearing down the Constitutional system that had weathered so many storms in the past.

It’s a long essay, and I have nothing I can add to it. If the last eight years bothered you, it’s worth reading. If you think the “left” was rabidly paranoid and anti-Bush the last eight years, it’s still worth reading.

I, like many friends, said on January 21st of this year that “Our long national nightmare was over,” quoting Gerald Ford’s famous line upon assuming the presidency in 1974. Yet, that’s not really true.

Things happened the past eight years. The standing of America in the world was diminished. The moral authority of America was crippled. The notions of justice and fairness that we learn about in school were ignored.

It wasn’t like any of this was a secret. But the public didn’t really know; the guardians of information — the media — didn’t tell them what to think. Uncomfortable facts weren’t just not reported, they were ignored as though they didn’t exist at all.

Like Andrew Sullivan, I think these memos may be just the tip of the iceburg, and that a fuller accounting of the misdeeds of the Bush administration is needed.

I understand the desire on the part of some to turn the page and move on, forward into the future, but you also have to understand what you’re moving on from. I know a little; I’ve been writing about it with both frustration and anger for years. But society as a whole? American society needs to know. The consensus about the actions of the Bush years needs to be built. That historical judgment can’t be built so long as the misdeeds of the Bush era are quietly forgotten.

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