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Torture memos at the heart of nomination dispute

March 27, 2009

Scott Horton, at the Daily Beast, has a story about Republican Senators’ efforts to block the nomination of Dawn Johnsen as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Though part of their opposition comes from her former position at the National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League,

[t]he real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance, which clip the wings of the imperial presidency. Even more menacingly (from their perspective), she is committed to shining a light on some of the darkest skeletons of the Bush years. Already, publication of OLC memoranda authorizing torture, approving warrantless surveillance, and pronouncing the First and Fourth Amendments a dead letter in connection with domestic military operations has rocked the public. More memos, potentially even more disturbing, I have learned, are about to be made public soon.

I tend to be suspicious when one side in a debate claims to have revealed the “real” reason for the other side’s opposition. It’s easy enough to demonize an opponent with allegations. In the instance of Ms. Johnsen’s appointment to the OLC, however, I have to believe that Republican Senators are extremely wary of having their support of the Bush administration’s abandonment of constitutional protections come to light. From graphic descriptions of torture, to the de facto revocation of habeas corpus, to the expansion of extraordinary rendition–the most sordid details of which appear to have been kept secret by the Bush administration–an appointee to head the OLC who is bent on bringing those activities to light would understandably face harsh opposition from the Senators she would be in position to embarrass.

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