Jay Bybee's Rules at Home: "Be Nice. Don't Hit." Bybee's Rules for the CIA: Torture Prisoners

Bybee seems to be against corporal punishment at home, but has no problem with slamming prisoners against walls, locking people in boxes and simulating drowning.
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Bybee seems to be against corporal punishment, but has no problem with slamming prisoners against walls, locking people in boxes and simulating drowning.

Jay Bybee authored one of the most chilling of the four Bush-era torture memos declassified last week by the Obama administration. Bybee signed the August 2002 memo in his capacity as a Deputy Attorney General working in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Now he is a federal judge sitting on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest appellate court in the US (Remember, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid helped him get there).

Following the disclosure of the memos and Bybee's role in developing legal strategies for justifying the torture of prisoners, activists launched a campaign to demand that Rep. John Conyers, chair of the Judiciary Committee, hold a hearing to determine whether grounds exist for Bybee's impeachment. As the Center for Constitutional Rights points out:

His flagrant contempt for the rule of law is utterly inconsistent with his judicial position and speaks directly to his competency to function in that office. It is unacceptable for an individual who abused his status as a government lawyer and violated the law in conspiring with other members of the Bush Torture Team to sit as a federal judge, someone who hears and decides issues of constitutional import. At the time of his confirmation hearing, his role in the Torture Program was secret, as was the program itself. Jay Bybee's actions constitute High Crimes and Misdemeanors by any standard.

This morning, an anonymous email I received directed me to a Mormon publication, Meridian Magazine, that profiled Bybee (who is a Mormon) when he was first appointed to the bench. While reading this, keep in mind that Bybee was the author of a memo that gave the legal green light to heinous acts of torture. The Meridian Magazine article is a sappy, fawning profile of Bybee, but there are some gems in the context of the current situation:

Regarding the law itself, Bybee said he appreciates the role of law in a society which must ask the fundamental question, "How are we going to conduct ourselves?" He explained that there is a system of rules and standards in the law as well as in our personal lives. In his own home, for example, a standard is, "Be nice," and a rule to encourage that is, "Don't hit." He also pointed out that standards are always harder to enforce because it is difficult to define exactly what the standard is. "How do you define honesty," he asked, "and who is applying the definition?"


Regardless of his opinions about a specific law, Bybee said, "I will enforce a law even if I wouldn't have voted for the law itself had I been a legislator, and I will apply the law unless it crosses the contours of the Constitution."


It's no surprise that Bybees interest in the rule of law extends to a study of ancient law, notably in Old Testament times. As the Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward, he saw parallels in the way people interpreted and applied ancient law to the way many individuals do so today.

"People in the Old Testament were absolutely devoted to the law of Moses and required exact obedience to it," he explained. "Their main concern was that they not find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and they spent their lives trying to bring themselves and each other into conformity with it. While we should admire their zeal to follow the rule of law, we nevertheless have to recognize that without understanding the spirit or purpose of the law, there arent enough rules in the world to make a person be good."


Bybee believes that society would function better if people demonstrated an attitude of reconciliation rather than revenge. He said some lawyers become entrenched, and instead of finding common ground and shared values between contending parties, such lawyers tend to "litigate to the death."

Wow. "Litigate to the death." That is almost the perfect concept for Bybee's role in the US torture apparatus.

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