Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Senate Tells Justice Department Not to Investigate Torture

I picked this up off of TPM Muckraker, and it seems to have slipped my notice yesterday...

There are literally dozens of these types of stories--you never want for material when you're blogging about the state of American political discourse and policy here in the last year of the Bush Administration. No sector of our government has suffered more than the small, elite sector of "inspector generals" or IGs. These people were supposed to be fair, tough, independent and unassailable. And yes, every time you turn around, the Congress or the Executive is finding a new and creative way to stymie or block these people from doing their jobs:

From the National Law Journal:
Congress is close to enacting the most significant boost in three decades in the independence of the cadre of government watchdogs -- federal inspectors general -- but the lawmakers have retreated from a key change involving the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Senate on April 23 approved, by unanimous consent, S. 2324, the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. But the bill passed only after the lawmakers agreed to an amendment by Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., which, among other items, deleted a provision giving the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) jurisdiction to investigate misconduct allegations against department attorneys, including its most senior officials.

Unlike all other OIGs who can investigate misconduct within their entire agency, Justice's OIG must refer allegations against department attorneys to the department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). The latter office, unlike the OIG, is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general....

President Bush had threatened to veto the House bill for a variety of reasons. The Kyl amendment to the Senate bill was seen by many as a vehicle for the White House's objections.

OPR, which reports to the attorney general, is currently conducting a variety of very sensitive investigations for the administration. The office is probing the Department's approval of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. And recently it announced that it is investigating the Department's legal memos authorizing the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by CIA and military interrogators.

It is conducting those probes because Inspector General Glenn Fine cannot. The bill which passed the House would have changed that, as Fine himself pointed out in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) back in February, when he told them that he could not investigate the Department's authorization of torture because "under current law, the OIG does not have jurisdiction to review the actions of DOJ attorneys acting in their capacity to provide legal advice." Fine added: "Legislation that would remove this limitation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, but at this point the OIG does not have jurisdiction to undertake the review you request."

Now, I don't know about you, but at some point, the Republicans are going to be screaming to put that provision of investigating "senior officials" back into effect once they lose control of the Executive Branch. This kind of thing is extremely damaging to the credibility of Attorney General Michael Mukasey--is he presiding over the most corrupt Justice Department ever, as a kind of traitorous caretaker, ordered to run out the clock?

One would think he'd at least try, right? Pretend to be acting as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America? Instead, he's running cover like a thug, barely able to keep up with the latest outrage, and willfully ignorant to this day of what it must have been like for our enemies to be waterboarded.

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