The Attorney-Client Two Step
Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff David Addington has been referred to as “Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney” for the enormous influence he wields in the Office of the Vice President (which, as we’ve been finding out, more or less runs the country.) He’s so secretive he hasn’t allowed himself to be photographed, so the prospect of him testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties attracted quite the crowd: staffers, interns and members of the public clogged the hallway outside the Rayburn committee room where Addington, along with infamous torture lawyer John Yoo were testifying.
Inside the committee room, subcommittee Chair Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, Artur Davis, Keith Ellison and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz all took turns grilling Yoo and Addington on the role they played in creating the policy framework for the administration’s use of torture on detainees. Yoo was plaintive and bumbling; Addington was defiant. Addington has a reputation as being a monumental prick, and today he didn’t disappoint. It only took a few minutes into the proceeding before Nadler was rolling his eyes with frustration and Conyers was cutting off Addington and telling him to answer the question. Addington and Yoo both played dumb: at one point Addington said he didn’t know what the unitary executive theory was, while Yoo requested a definition of the word “implemented.”
When Wasserman Schultz made a statement about Addington visiting Guantanamo soon after 9/11 and offered Addington the chance to respond he said. “Is there a question in there?”
Like I said, colossal prick.
There wasn’t, alas, a whole lot disclosed in the hearing. Indeed, members of congress were primarily quoting from published accounts in newspapers and magazines, and getting the run-around from Yoo and Addington. Yoo refused to answer a number of questions about his role in crafting the notorious Bybee memo, invoking his attorney client privilege with the Justice Department. He later claimed he couldn’t answer a question from Keith Ellison about how his memo was implemented because it would involve classified information.
What did become clear is the two-card monty the administration has been using to justify their torture regime. It works like this. You have a client, in this case, say, the Justice Department, which has attorneys, in this case John Yoo. (Indeed, at one point Addington, very nobly rose to defend Yoo by saying that since he was Yoo’s client, he could disclose things about how awesome Yoo was that Yoo couldn’t. Or something)
So. Just after 9/11 the client (the government) wants to know: just how much can we imitate Jack Bauer and not run afoul of the law? So they go to their lawyers. Now, when you confront the lawyers, in this case Yoo with writing a memo that, it seems justifies all manner of insane and barbaric practices, such as burying someone alive, Yoo responds by saying he “wasn’t making policy.” See? He’s just a lawyer, investigating the possible legal options and rendering an advisory opinion. Just doing his job. The NSC and the White House make policy.
OK? So go ask the White House (say, David Addington) and what do they say? We vetted the policies with the lawyers! In describing the administration’s approach to interrogation policy Addington he asked himself:
How within the law, I emphasize that, within the law, I help maximize the president's options in dealing with this...You want to make sure that whatever orders [interrogators] are given, they're legally protected.
So, to sum up the administration’s defense of its torture policy: the lawyers aren’t responsible because they were simply providing legal advice to the clients, who actually make policy. And the clients aren’t responsible, because they vetted all the policies with the lawyers.
Nifty how that works. Can’t help but wonder, hypothetically, what international war-crimes tribunals would make of that.