House Democrats held one of their Kangaroo Court-type hearings yesterday ostensibly on Administration decisions regarding detainees and, specifically, the approved torture techniques that the government authorized interrogators to carry out against prisoners.
I say ostensibly because anyone out there believing that the House Democrats were truly interested in getting to the bottom of anything probably also believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and a World Series Championship for the Cubs in 2008. Please don’t insult our intelligence by claiming otherwise.
In fact, almost all high profile hearings on the Hill now degenerate into the most ridiculous posturing and preening by Members who rather than seek the truth, seek to score pure political points.
Truth be told, the Administration makes an unbearably easy target.
But those on the receiving end usually play along by being polite, pretending to be respectful of the power and duties of Congress, and are expected to sit there and take their medicine as they are raked over the coals by ignoramuses who are usually laughably ill prepared. We saw it with the Petreaus hearings as each Congressman got their chance to spout and then would ask the same question over and over; when are we leaving Iraq. Petreaus, maintaining as much dignity as he could muster, tried to come up with different language to use in answering the question, playing the game of trying to make the Member look good for the TV cameras.
But yesterday, we saw what happens when two of our branches of government are at war – and politics and policy don’t matter as much as the personal dislike felt by the two sides for each other.
Testifying yesterday were the Devil and the Devil’s Familiar. John Yoo is the guy who wrote a memo trying to legally justify torture – a dubious and ultimately incoherent attempt to excuse the inexcusable. Also in the dock was David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney and suspected of all sorts of misdeeds and wrong headed thinking.
They were both reluctant witnesses having been subpoenaed by the Committee – a waste of good paper as it turns out because Addington especially decided to act the part of a 15 year old smart ass kid being interrogated by the cops. He lounged in his chair as if he was at a bar. Every ounce of body language, every fiber of his being screamed contempt for his interlocutors. His voice dripped with sarcasm and malignant scorn.
Dana Milbank – something of a contemptible creature himself – recognized Addington’s performance as akin to his writing; “nasty, brutish, and short:”
There he sat, hunched and scowling, at the witness table in front of the House Judiciary Committee: the bearded, burly form of the chief of staff and alter ego to the vice president—Cheney’s Cheney, if you will—and the man most responsible for building President Bush’s notion of an imperial presidency.
David Addington was there under subpoena. And he wasn’t happy about it.
Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of,” Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? “That’s irrelevant,” he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee’s child? “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee,” he snarled. “You do have attorneys of your own.”
He had the grace of Gollum as he quarreled with his questioners. In response to one of the chairman’s questions, he neither looked up nor spoke before finishing a note he was writing to himself. When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) questioned his failure to remember conversations about interrogation techniques, he only looked at her and asked: “Is there a question pending, ma’am?” Finally, at the end of the hearing, Addington was asked whether he would meet privately to discuss classified matters. “You have my number,” he said. “If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.”
A bundle of joy, that one.
The left likes to throw around terms like “imperial presidency” because it makes them sound smart when they talk about their political enemies. In truth, most of what they complain about – signing statements (where there has not been one single instance of the president invoking), a “unitary executive” that even they can’t define, and “tearing up the Constitution” which again, they come up short when asked for examples (Habeas Corpus is alive and well thank you and was in danger only in the fevered imaginations of the left).
But Addington is a tool for acting like an idiot and Yoo wasn’t much better. The more Addington gave the Democrats attitude the more desperate they became to have their talking points confirmed. At times. they didn’t even bother getting confirmation from the witnesses. They simply put words in their mouths and falsely claimed that the witnesses had “confirmed” the absolute worst of the charges against the Administration:
Far left radio station Pacifica carried the proceedings live–with unhinged commentators and callers griping afterwards that Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and his fellow witch-hunters didn’t stab their pins in far enough.
The two-hour hearing was an absolute travesty. Nadler and the Dems shamelessly badgered and harangued the witnesses; Yoo, polite to a fault, repeatedly attempted to answer questions, only to be cut off by foaming jerks who twisted his words or indignantly claimed he was “conceding” some point that he had just established himself.
Malkin’s description is 100% accurate as anyone who watched the hearing could testify. Frequently cutting off Yoo’s answers was one of the most despicable tactics I’ve seen in a while. Of course, it didn’t help that Yoo was doing his best to obfuscate the issues but, as James Joyner points out, most of the questions had little to do with the subject matter the hearing was supposed to be about:
Then again, it’s easy to have contempt for this particular process. Unlike Phil, I’m not an attorney. But it seems to me that these are precisely the kind of answers one ought expect from a hostile witness presented with inane, hypothetical questions.
Congress has every right — indeed, a duty — to investigate suspected wrongdoing on the part of the executive branch. But it’s far from clear how this set of questioning was supposed to be helpful toward that end. The man is an adviser to the vice president, not a would-be Supreme Court Justice. What difference does it make what his pet theories of executive power are? What matters is what actions the president and his team actually took.
Wouldn’t it have been far more useful, then, to ask specific questions about specific activities that took place in Addington’s presence? Indeed, it appears that, in the rare times that was the case, Addington was much more forthcoming.
As I said, a farcical exercise.
And Addington? He repeated his incredible assertion that the Vice President is not part of the Executive Branch:
Cohen asked Addington to explain his curious theory that the vice president is not part of the executive branch. Addington explained that the vice president “belongs to neither” branch but is “attached by the Constitution” to Congress.
“So he’s kind of a barnacle?” Cohen inquired.
“I don’t consider the Constitution a barnacle,” Addington said reproachfully
This is a man seriously in need of a remedial course in the organization of the government of the United States. And the idea that he is serious about believing that nonsense makes one dread what other “advice” he gave to Cheney about Constitutional issues.
The final idiocy of the hearing occurred when Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) expressed the desire that al-Qaeda was watching the hearing – all the better to come after Addington and kill him. He didn’t say that but the meaning was absolutely crystal clear:
Cheney’s Cheney continued to dole out the scorn (“You asked that question earlier, today, and I’ll give you the same answer”) until Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), the last questioner, inquired about waterboarding. “I can’t talk to you—al-Qaeda may watch these meetings,” Addington said.
“I’m glad they finally have a chance to see you, Mr. Addington,” Delahunt joked.
“I’m sure you’re pleased,” Addington growled.
Milbank incredibly and dishonestly refers to Delahunt’s wish to see Addington in the clutches of al-Qaeda as a “joke.” Others, perhaps less of a lickspittle than Milbank, disagreed:
I almost drove off the road when Delahunt sarcastically told Addington that he was “glad” al Qaeda finally got the chance to watch him on TV. He can spin it all he wants, but the gloat in his voice is unmistakable.
Indeed, Malkin has the video and Delahunt’s wish was not made in jest but was spoken as a devout hope – the inference more than clear.
Shocking? Not terribly. The hearing had been building to something like this for a couple of hours. Still, actually watching a Member of Congress wish for the death of his political enemy elicited feelings of nausea – like watching a plane go down with you in the cockpit.
Addington, and to some extent Yoo, refused to play by the rules. They didn’t allow the petty ass Congressmen to walk all over them. They weren’t the polite, obeisant servants of the people executive branch employees are supposed to be (Yoo teaches at Stanford now). But Addington could have at least made a small effort to respect the notion that Congress – for all its flaws and stupidities – had every right to interrogate him and that copping an attitude of disdain for that idea did a disservice to his boss and to our republic.
What a gross, depressing, spectacle the two sides made of themselves yesterday.