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Washington Sketch: Kevin Zeese Is Mad as Heck About the Whole Torture Thing

Kevin Zeese proposes a harsh sanction for the men behind harsh interrogation methods: Disbarment!
Kevin Zeese proposes a harsh sanction for the men behind harsh interrogation methods: Disbarment! (By Chris Gardner -- Associated Press)
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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The torture debate is becoming tortuous.

Justice Department lawyers are dragging their feet on whether to sanction their former colleagues who approved over-the-line interrogation methods. Members of Congress, some of whom were briefed long ago about techniques such as waterboarding but didn't object, aren't moving much faster. And President Obama has broken his pledge to release photos of the interrogations.

So Kevin Zeese took matters into his own hands. "We decided to take action today because the federal government seems unable and unwilling to act," he told the CNN and Associated Press cameras outside the Judiciary Square Metro station yesterday. "The people must act to face up to this issue and restore morality and the rule of law to the United States."

Nearby were Zeese's weapons: a dozen five-inch-thick legal binders, one for each of the "Bush-Cheney torture lawyers," packed in FedEx Kinko's cardboard boxes, loaded on a luggage cart and tied down with bungee cords. With cameras rolling, he took the carts into the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel and made his formal request that the lawyers be disbarred.

"Hello, we're here to file some bar complaints," Zeese announced to the receptionist. A cheerful clerk in the office accepted the boxes of binders as if receiving a shipment from Office Depot. "Have a good day!" she called after Zeese as he departed.

Zeese, a Ralph Nader disciple, was rather less cheerful as he explained his hopes for John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury -- the men who wrote the infamous memos -- and supervisors and colleagues such as John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, Michael Chertoff, Douglas Feith, David Addington and Michael Haynes. "I'd like to see them disbarred and shamed," he said. "If these guys aren't disbarred, it means that somebody who facilitates war crimes is meeting the legal ethics standards. That's disturbing if true."

"Disturbing" is putting it mildly. But, then again, Zeese's proposed punishment (disbarment for violating "rules of professional conduct") is fairly tame, too. If they are really guilty of war crimes, as Zeese charges, shouldn't the punishment be a bit more severe -- like, say, subjecting them to the same questioning techniques they approved?

That would have an elegant, eye-for-an-eye quality while avoiding years of messy legal proceedings. And, after all, the Bush administration lawyers said these techniques are perfectly legal and do not cause long-term harm.

So, forced nudity for Ashcroft, the former attorney general who once ordered the covering of the bare breasts of the Lady Justice statue? Sleep deprivation for Chertoff, the former Justice official who, as Homeland Security secretary always looked so tired while giving Hurricane Katrina briefings? Waterboarding for Addington, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, who haughtily brushed off lawmakers?

Zeese admitted that the idea had some cathartic appeal. The "confinement with insects" technique -- sticking the lawyers in a confined space with some pesky pests -- "would really bug them," he allowed. But Zeese found a flaw in the proposal: "Torture is illegal," he said. "For the same reason you can't do it to al-Qaeda, you can't do it to Justice Department lawyers."

Too bad. That leaves Zeese to rely on a labyrinth of due process -- and, likely, more of the frustrations of recent weeks and months. Zeese, representing the groups Velvet Revolution and Voters for Peace, listed the frustrations as he spoke in the Judiciary Square plaza yesterday.

The Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility's investigation into Yoo's and Bybee's actions, he said, has suffered an "inexcusable delay" of nearly five years.


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