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The Underwear Bomber, the OPR Report, and Torture

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January 4, 2010

It’s hard to ignore the ongoing coverage of the underwear bomber and the TSA’s new security regulations. We think Amy Davidson of The New Yorker‘s Close Read blog put it best, writing of the Christmas Day bombing attempt:

It’s a bit hard to follow the arguments Cheney et al. are making about how the near-miss over Detroit on Christmas Day shows that we really need to waterboard people and lock them up in places like Guantanamo. This is especially odd because, in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, we seem to have had the raw intelligence we needed, and just didn’t use it intelligently—it was more a failure of reading comprehension than information gathering. (It might also have helped to read his Facebook page.)

More important: look at the way we got that intelligence. It wasn’t by illegally tapping phones, or snatching some guys off the street, or beating it out of them. We got it because someone in Nigeria respected, trusted, and cared enough for the safety of the United States to walk into our Embassy and alert officials there to what his son might do. A cousin told the Times that Abdulmutallab’s father showed C.I.A. agents his son’s text messages from Yemen. Would he have done so if he believed that our default reaction would be to throw his child into a secret prison and torture him? What is it that keeps us safe?

We have an idea. Former FBI agent and ACLU national security policy counsel Mike German said in a statement today:

We should be focusing on evidence-based, targeted and narrowly tailored investigations based on individualized suspicion, which would be both more consistent with our values and more effective than diverting resources to a system of mass suspicion. Overbroad policies such as racial profiling and invasive body scanning for all travelers not only violate our rights and values, they also waste valuable resources and divert attention from real threats.

In times of hardship and ease, it is of utmost importance that we protect the values that make America great, and stay focused on upholding the rule of law.

Which reminds us: where’s that Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report? You know, the internal Justice Department watchdog report that criticizes the work of former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers and torture memo authors John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee? Marcy Wheeler writes:

[I]t has been 48 days since Eric Holder said the OPR Report on John Yoo and other OLC lawyers would be released by the end of November. And yet we still don’t have that report.

(BTW: Did anyone else find it shocking that John Yoo never even met former President Bush or former Vice President Cheney? We did.)

Sometimes we need reminders about the importance of upholding the rule of law. Like this op-ed in today’s New York Times about the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Rasul v. Rumsfeld, the case of four British citizens who challenged their detention at Guantánamo:

[T]he rule of law rests on scrutinizing evidence of past behavior to establish accountability, confer justice and deter bad behavior in the future.

Accountability. That rings a bell. Accountability for past actions that will prevent future abuses of power. It isn’t too late: tell the DOJ you demand accountability for torture.

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