Author: Officials against torture memo feared wiretaps, physical danger
According to Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, two top lawyers in the Justice Department who attempted to push back against the authorization of torture by Vice President Cheney's staff became so paranoid that they worried they were being wiretapped and even feared they might be in physical danger.
Mayer told the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe that Cheney's staff took advantage of 9/11 to enhance presidential power and that -- in the words of Republican lawyer and former 9/11 Commission director Philip Zelikow -- "fear and anxiety were exploited by fools and zealots."
Mayer added, however, that there were also opponents of torture and other extreme powers within the administration. "Almost from the start after 9/11," she stated, "lawyers in the administration have said, 'That's not the American way, we can't do that, it's criminal, it may be a war crime.'"
Mayer pointed out that "two of the top lawyers in the Bush administration, Jim Comey who was the number two in the Justice Department and Jack Goldsmith who ran the Office of Legal Counsel, were trying really hard to put the country back on what they thought was a legal footing when it came to how to treat prisoners. They were trying to take away the torture memo and replace it with something that was more responsible."
"As they were working on this," Mayer continued, "they became so paranoid that the vice president's office was either trying to push back in some way -- they thought they might be being wiretapped, they thought they might be in physical danger. The fights were that intense. I can't tell you how passionate and hard-fought these fights were inside this government."
Host Joe Scarborough appeared less interested in following up on Mayer's statements about Goldsmith and Comey than in her implied characterization of Dick Cheney. "Are you suggesting that the vice president of the United States is a fool?" he asked. "Or a zealot?"
Mayer avoided answering directly, but suggested that "some of the people after 9/11 at the top of our government were so panicked about the need to protect the country ... that they went overboard, and they sacrificed too many of our American values."
Mayer pointed in particular to "the way the CIA became the master of a secret program in which they deliberately used cruelty to coerce people into talking." She noted that these interrogation techniques "are going to make it very hard to get prosecutions through. ... I've been told by a number of people ... that there's no court in the land that would allow people to be prosecuted after they've been through what they went through."
Scarborough, however, appeared determined to elicit a comment on Cheney, asking once again, "Is that primarily who you believe was driving these operations?"
Mayer appeared reluctant to accuse Cheney directly but replied cautiously, "In my effort to figure out where the policy that wound up in torture in everything but name came from, much of it came from Cheney's office."
Scarborough next asked, "Isn't there a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking? ... Now we have the luxury to be shocked and stunned. ... In 2002 and 2003 there was an urgency, not just by an extreme administration ... but by Americans to figure out where the next attack was coming from."
Mayer agreed that right after 9/11 "public opinion supported really brutal policies," but she insisted that "it's not so much Monday morning quarterbacking as people saying seven years later, 'Gee, was this the right thing to do?' ... There's kind of a national debate going on."
"[Torture] hasn't worked very well," Mayer stated. "It's gotten some confessions that worked and a lot of really bad information -- including some that led us into the war in Iraq."
Even after Mayer left, Scarborough continued to argue with Shuster about the efficacy of torture. "It led to results," he insisted. "To say that we were led on too many wild goosechases is just not historically accurate."
This video is from MSNBC's Morning Joe, broadcast July 21, 2008.