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Will Republicans “Go Nuclear” Over Torture Memos?

April 6, 2009

Another one from The Daily Beast, a follow up to my recent post about the appointment of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel (the “OLC”). This time the stakes are higher. Scott Horton has the story of the Republican threat to filibuster the nominations of Johnsen and Harold Koh as the State Department legal counsel if the Obama administration releases memos written during the Bush administration authorizing the use of specific torture techniques. According to Horton,

[a] source suggests that concern about the G.O.P.’s roadblock in the confirmation process is the principle reason that the memos were not released. Republican senators have expressed strong reservations about their promised exposure, expressing alarm that a critique of the memos by Justice’s ethics office (Office of Professional Responsibility) will also be released. “There was no ‘direct’ threat,” said the source, “but the message was communicated clearly—if the OLC and OPR memoranda are released to the public, there will be war.” This is understood as a threat to filibuster the nominations of Johnsen and Koh. Not only are they among the most prominent academic critics of the torture memoranda, but are also viewed as the strongest advocates for release of the torture memos on Obama’s legal policy team.

The Obama administration’s promise of transparency is at stake here. And, just as damaging, any attempt to thwart the release of memos damaging to the Bush administration will only have the effect of tying Obama more closely to his predecessor, a result the President will surely want to avoid. In addition, if the Republicans do make good on their threat to block the nominations with a filibuster, their action will only serve to remind the American people what the Bush Presidency represented and that it is current Republican officials who are still pushing its failed policies and tactics. For reasons of principle and politics, Obama should risk the filibuster and keep his promise to release the memos.

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