Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Wurlitzer Prize for Wingnuttery™ for the week ending April 5, 2008

In a world filled with wingnuts working overtime to achieve their unique vision for the 21st 19th 14th century, it can be difficult to single out the work of a particular frothing reactionary upon which to bestow a distinguished weekly award. But given the fact that yet another legal memo justifying torture surfaced this week, and given that document's incalculable impact on liberal democracy (not to mention its impact on our children's testicles should a wartime president ever deem it necessary) I think we can all agree:

This week belongs to Yoo.

Not you, YOO: John Yoo, sometime torture apologist and full-time torturer of the Constitution. Yes Yoo, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General whose claim to fame is having authored a dark menagerie of legalisms in the service of unfettered power. His unclassified memos are like love poems to autocracy, filled with heady superlatives like “sole” and “Unitary” and “unlimited;” buttressed by vague but poetically suggestive terms like “broad” and “grave;” and liberally doused with poetic license – like, say, substituting the phrase “national emergency” for “war” to allow the Article I powers vested only in Congress to be overridden by the Chief Executive.

Somewhere Kim Jong Il is ripping up sonnets to himself in envy.

Among the innovative conclusions reached by Yoo and his active imagination revealed in the declassified memos:

1. The Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military applications. So when a President wants to circumvent the inalienable rights of Americans against illegal search and seizure, all he has to do is employ the military instead of the police – you know, like all good aspiring dictators do.

2. The Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment does not apply when a President is seeking reelection, is too un-American to abide by Constitutional checks and balances decides we're at war, metaphorical though it may be, with a few thousand guys scattered and hiding in remote areas of the world.

So according to Yoo that's all it takes for the great wartime President George W. Bush to throw swaths of the Bill of Rights out the window – the mere existence of a ragtag group whose claim to fame is having successfully purchased airline tickets after decades of skulking around travel agencies and convincing unsuspecting passengers that they were perpetrating an ordinary hijacking.

Maybe it's just me but I don't think Americans are going to be fooled by that one again. So perhaps we can start pasting those crumpled up little bits of Rights back into the Constitution, no?

One wonders had Bush been president during the height of a real existential threat like the Cold War if we would all not be in internment camps by now, segregated by party affiliation and credit rating.

In a footnote to this happy travesty of a legal opinion, Yoo notes with a sort of clinical distance that his office “recently concluded” that Fourth Amendment protections don't apply to citizens when the President is employing the military to spy on them.

As outlandish as his contorted arguments are in and of themselves, WTF is this “recently concluded” legalbabble? Was this some longtime research project of Yoo's that just happened to coincide with 9/11? Did did the supercomputer in his office finally complete its decades-long heuristic analysis of all the relevant case law after having been fed Black's Law Dictionary and transcripts from late night drunken bull sessions at the American Enterprise Institute? Did Yoo's interns finally manage to decipher those lost Sumerian tablets hidden in the secret Masonic vault beneath George Washington's cellar?

If this was an open question, why hasn't someone, ANYONE, reached this radical conclusion before? Excuse me, but was this our first war? I'm no history buff but I'm pretty sure we've been involved in at least a couple since 1776, some even boasting foreign troops on our soil, if the old man down at the feed store isn't pulling my leg. I mean, c'mon – if the Framers of the Constitution had wanted the President to have full authority to ignore laws and wage war at will on the say-so of any mewling second rate shyster, why didn't THEY just say so???

No, there wasn't any “concluding” happening behind the walls of Yoo's firm that was somehow predicated on years of exhaustive research as much as Yoo would like to paint this as some sort of legitimate enterprise. There was only a foregone conclusion that the President had unlimited power just because he said so, and a rush to work backwards from that conclusion to find some kind of bullshit argument to support it. Period.

And not “the President” or “a President” but only George W. Bush. Because if you go back into Yoo's career you'll see that he was positively pained over the undue Executive powers he felt Clinton had gathered unto himself.

Er, right.

In classic wingnut fashion Yoo keeps two sets of legal opinions depending on the party affiliation of the elected official in question. In his world there are stern daddy Republican presidents invested by their office with unlimited Executive power, able to cast aside centuries of law with merely an arch of their brow and to command vast armies at will while a fearful Congress looks on helplessly. Let's call those man/office hybrids “Presidence” (or in private, “My Caesar") .

Conversely there are weak, undeserving Democrats (let's call them “Bubba” or “Billary”) so enfeebled by the Constitution and the harsh limitations that Article II places on members of their party that they lack even the minimum power necessary to fend off nuisance lawsuits by women in curlers and housecoats phoning it in from double wide trailers.

Please dude, you're killing us. And liberal democracy.

As for Yoo's medieval views on civil liberties: if the only sacrifice this government has asked of its citizens in this “time of war” is to shop a little more and make an extra stock trade or two to throw some love to the market; if there are no tanks rolling on our soil or pitched battles on village greens or bombings in the street; then it's pretty clear to anyone with half a brain that there is no legitimate need to suppress the Bill of Rights.

There are only illegitimate, ill-advised, and potentially criminal reasons to do so. And Yoo was the architect of the legal arguments behind those reasons.

[Our apologies to Doug Feith, who managed to get his pointy head into the news this week after years of deserved ignominy but was upstaged by the more prolific Yoo (apparently he can't even succeed at failing). Sorry Doug, but you're through here. No one cares. Time to roll up a new character and get on with something else. Instead of pretending to be a bureaucrat who understands intelligence or geopolitical strategy maybe you can play a wizard this time! The loose fitting robes will allow your brain some desperately needed circulation, and in D&D when you make disastrous errors ...only your party gets killed. And only on paper. - ed.]