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Andrew C. McCarthy’s Self-Righteous Sophistry

[digg-reddit-me]Andrew C. McCarthy was a prosecutor on a few terrorism-related cases back in the 1990s. But it wasn’t until after September 11, 2001 that he found his true calling – writing opinion pieces for the National Review and Commentary. As a prosecutor, McCarthy had to go through that exhausting process of finding evidence to back up his case – and use that evidence to convince a skeptical audience that his case was right. As an opinion writer for two right-wing publications, McCarthy is free from both constraints as he preaches to the converted. McCarthy – who previously had a career as a criminal prosecutor – now uses this background to give him added credibility when discussing the two issues he cares most about: detainee policy in the War on Terrorism and torture. This is a man who said of McCain’s Anti-Torture legislation that it was “two parts grandstanding and one part suicide” and declared that McCain by supporting it, had “no business serving in a government whose first obligation is the security of the governed.” Of course, McCarthy found it necessary to support McCain over Obama in 2008 – because Obama was “disqualified” from office because of his ties to America-hating leftists – and because his policies were even more suicidal(!) than McCain’s. Yet, even so, over McCarthy’s strongly worded objections, America elected Obama.

You’ll never guess what happened next. Obama – being the partisan, leftist, America-hating, suicidal guy that he is – invited Andrew C. McCarthy to be part of a panel that advised him on the issue which McCarthy had been most vocal – the detention and torture of suspected terrorists. McCarthy, of course, would have none of it – and declined to join the force – taking the unusual step of releasing his letter of declination to the press and writing about it in an opinion piece in the National Review

All’s fair in love and politics – you might say. But it’s clear McCarthy has gone soft from years of presenting his arguments to those already agree with him.

Let’s look at a few of the premises to McCarthy’s piece:

Obama’s Bad Faith. McCarthy knows that Obama – in instructing the Justice Department to determine if any laws had been broken in instituting the torture policy of the Bush administration is acting in bad faith.

“[Obama] has unleashed his Justice Department to criminalize political disputes after claiming for weeks that he did not want to do this. And the president is being a bully about it…Any experienced prosecutor would know there is no criminal case here.” And what nefarious purpose does Obama have for bullying such upstanding citizens? ” McCarthy explains Obama’s prime motivation: “To satisfy his antiwar base and to put paid to commitments offered by his top campaign advisers.”

Obama’s Bad Faith (II). McCarthy also knows that Obama is acting in bad faith in creating this task force to advise him.

McCarthy clearly has divined Obama’s intentions as he declares that “the exercise known as the ‘President’s Detention Policy Task Force’ is a farce. The administration has already settled on a detainee policy: It is simply going to release trained jihadists.”

Bush’s Good Faith. Because McCarthy is so good at divining the intentions of people in the news, he also knows that the legal advisors to the Bush administration – including those who issued binding legal opinions for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department – were acting in good faith when they issued opinions in contravention of every precedent in American history.

“Former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo (now a law professor at Berkeley) and Jay Bybee (now a federal appeals-court judge in California), as well as other government attorneys, were asked during the emergency conditions that followed the 9/11 attacks to advise Bush administration policymakers on U.S. interrogation law. They did that in good faith and, despite the fact that it’s now de rigueur to castigate them, quite reasonably…Bad legal advice given in good faith is not an ethical violation.”

McCarthy doesn’t explain why he knows these men were acting within the legal definition of “good faith.” And for what it’s worth, Jack Goldsmith, a Republican who replaced Jay Bybee, one of the lawyers McCarthy is defending, as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, wrote of the torture memos that they were designed with the purpose of providing a “golden shield” to the interrogators, had “no foundation in prior OLC opinions, or injudicial decisions, or in any other source of law” and were deliberataly biased. That sounds like an acknowledgment of bad faith to me.

Criminalizing Advice. McCarthy – being an expert in national security law apparently – also knows that while the Office of Legal Counsel’s binding legal opinions “are controlling on questions of law within the Executive Branch” [pdf], they are also no different from any advice any lawyer gives. 

That’s why “If the Holder Justice Department decides your good-faith advice promoted what it considers illegal activity, you could face criminal prosecution or ruinous ethical charges.”

Criminalizing Policy Disputes. McCarthy also apparently believes that if an administration sets a policy that is criminal, no one should be held responsible. So, now that it is clear that war crimes were committed – and that any nation in the world can now prosecute those American officials responsible thanks to Ronald Reagan’s Convention Against Torture. The only way to prevent other nations from bringing up Americans on charges of war crimes is to have our own investigation. McCarthy sees all this – yet maintains that instituting a policy of torture is a mere policy decision. Would McCarthy continue to hold this position if the war crime were genocide instead? If the Office of Legal Counsel declared genocide legal, the president ordered it be done, and other carried it out – would it still be a policy dispute that shouldn’t be criminalized? McCarthy’s point about not prosecuting torture only holds then if you first buy his declaration that “torture” isn’t illegal – or at least it shouldn’t be.

Mitigating Circumstances. Despite the fact that these lawyers provided advice that McCarthy still considers sound and McCarthy testifies were acting on good faith, McCarthy still wishes to qualify that these men gave these opinions in “wartime service to the country” under “the emergency conditions that followed the 9/11 attacks.” These facts don’t matter if you believe as McCarthy does that we should still agree with them now – but by bringing them up, the indicate, perhaps a single humanizing glimmer of doubt.

A few odds and ends.

The Uighurs. McCarthy speaks of how Obama is preparing to unleash the Uighurs who are “trained jihadists” who, once released, will be “plotting to menace and murder us” onto American soil! For those ignorant of the plight of the Uighurs, this can sound quite alarming. The facts are a bit less so. The Uighurs have been cleared of any charges as of five years ago, and it was declared that they “pose no terrorist threat” and have “not [been] charged with fighting or plotting against the United States.” Which brings us to the question: Why haven’t we repatriated them to their home country as the Bush administration did with hundreds of detainees? Because they are Chinese seperatists who China has vowed to execute if they return. Why not to a outside state? Because China has made threats against any nation that accepts them. (Albania accepted some of the Uighurs a few years ago – and since has faced threats from China.) McCarthy though – knowing the facts – decides to obfuscate all these “technicalities” – so he can focus on the core “truth” – that Obama wants to unleash trained jihadists in your neighborhood!

The standards of justice. Finally, is a throwaway point McCarthy makes as he concludes his feat of sophistry. He blames Obama for the fact that he has “no plan for what to do about the terrorists there, many of whom cannot be tried under the standards of the civilian justice system.” Those with critical faculties might wonder – why is it that these terrorists can’t be tried in a manner consistent with American traditions of justice? McCarthy himself prosecuted terrorists – and wannabe terrorists – it’s his claim to fame. So why can’t these men who participated in a far worse crime be tried now?

And here we return to the beginning – because our justice system has accepted the long-held truth – that confessions tainted by torture are likely to be untrue – and so are ignored. Thus, these men who attacked America – who killed Americans – who McCarthy is opposed to – can never be brought to justice according to our traditions.

McCarthy does have some good advice for the man he considers unfit for public office – a leftist, America-hating, dangerous man who is aiding our enemy. McCarthy advises Obama: “We can arrive at a sound policy, or not, without demonizing our adversaries as crooks and cads.”

Perhaps – but you can’t write for the National Review with that attitude these days.

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