As I reported yesterday, FBI nominee James Comey’s testimony that he really believed waterboarding was torture but signed off on it yesterday has set off a furious reaction among those who formerly worked with Comey.
In addition to the two former Justice Department lawyers knowledgeable about the issue with whom I spoke yesterday Tuesday evening, I heard from two more former DOJ lawyers.
One of these officials told me via e-mail Tuesday night that Comey engaged in a lot of “of moral preening” about enhanced interrogation techniques. He cited a letter on enhanced interrogation techniques by Comey’s subordinate, then OLC head Jack Goldsmith, that questioned whether the limitations supposedly applied to waterboarding were adhered to and noted that the practice had ended. However, “the fact remains that they didn’t change any of the legal conclusions as to what techniques were or were not torture.” The former DOJ lawyer continued: “He [Comey] was asked in his official capacity for a legal opinion on the lawfulness of waterboarding within the constraints of the CIA program, and, just like [Jay] Bybee and [John] Yoo before him, he opined that it was lawful.” He added, “That was the right call, and it is unseemly to watch him trying to re-write history, and shift blame to others, now that the tough measures that proved so successful in disabling al-Qaeda and enabling us to kill Osama bin Laden have become politically unpopular.”
A fourth DOJ attorney favorably disposed to Comey told me that he thought Comey was worried or concerned about the program. While noting that now most people had sworn off the technique, he conceded the statute is very vague, and the legal issue difficult.
Frankly, everyone involved with EITs was “concerned” and “worried,” but only Comey has suggested he considered it torture at the time and signed off on it anyway. That is what is striking about his testimony, if it is to be believed.
Comey’s confirmation conversion is not only unbelievable (if he believed it to be torture would he risk his career and more just to be a good trooper?) but it is, in a word, unmanly. If he changed his mind, he should say so. But he shouldn’t try to escape the liberal elite’s ire by saying he authorized actions they abhor — but with his fingers crossed behind his back. He’s attempted to separate himself from the lowly (in his and Democrats’ minds) other attorneys, but in fact the only difference is that others took responsibility for their decisions and never told different stories depending upon who was in the Oval Office.
I have no doubt the self-styled civil libertarians in the Senate will roll over and play dead as his nomination is rubber stamped. Both right and left have apparently decided (surprise, surprise) not to let a little revisionist history get in the way of an FBI confirmation. At least we know Comey will fit right in with the rest of the Obama crew.