More Documents, Another Signature

The other day I had on my desk those six samples of Jose Padilla's signature; today it's the signature of President Bush on this November 20, 2005 order transferring Padilla “from detention by the Secretary of Defense” and “to the control of the Attorney General for the purpose of criminal proceedings against him.”

While the far more controversial Bush-signed document relating to Padilla is this one, the June 9, 2002 order transferring him into military custody where he was held for almost 2 ½ years, much of it in nearly complete isolation, there's a starkness and imperiousness of tone in the November 20, 2005 memo that hints at the essential issue Padilla's detention in military custody raised: does one man have such absolute and unchecked power to decide the fate of another?

Tempering that impression of authority, of course, is the fact that the November 20, 2005 memorandum, one of a small bundle of Defense Department and Justice Department Office of Legal Council documents delivered to the ACLU last week, was issued six days before the White House would have had to file arguments in the Supreme Court's review of Padilla habeas corpus petition—a review the administration looked destined to lose.

This and most of the other documents in this bundle were already public, like this speech Alberto Gonzales delivered on February 24, 2004 to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and Security that seeks to justify the administration's losing position on Padilla. But even these are worth reading or rereading, because documents have a way of accruing meaning over time, the way the president's November 5, 2005 order and Gonzales's defense of the legally indefensible have.

My favorite document in this just-released group is this one, a sequence of entirely redacted emails back and forth to Stephen Bradbury following a White House press conference on the day the New York Times broke the news of the existence of the two secret May 10, 2005 Bradbury torture memos. The email chain attaches a transcript of the press conference, notable for the aggressive questioning of the press corps, including this exchange between White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Helen Thomas;

Q: How can you say that—how can you say with assurance that we don't torture if you don't know what was in the—

 MS. PERINO: Because we follow the law.

 Q: --if you don't know what was in the other opinions, the classified opinions?

 MS. PERINO: Because all of the opinions and all of the discussions, everything has to be within the law and the policy, and the policy of the United States is that we don't torture.

 Q: Well, we'd like to believe that, but there's no way to assure us, is there?

 MS. PERINO: I think to a certain extent, yes, and that's why we have, for example, that December 4 2004 opinion that lays out broadly how we interpret the law.

 Q: Taking your word for it, though, is not true—

 MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the American people can understand—I believe that the American people can understand why there are certain pieces of information and tools that we use in the global war on terror that remain classified in order to protect them—

 Q: Why do you believe that?

 MS. PERINO: --and I believe they have every right to know that.

 Q: Why do you believe they are not disgraced and shamed when torture is attached to our name?

 MS. PERINO: Helen, the United States policy is not to torture, and we do not.

 Q: I hear what you're saying, the policy. But what do we really do—

 MS. PERINO: The American people have every right to be very proud of what we've done, and we have not had another terrorist attack on this country. And they should be glad of that, as well.

 Q: So the end justifies the means.

 MS. PERINO: Our end is that we don't—our means are that we don't torture, and the end result is that we've not had a terrorist attack.

 Oh, to read Bradbury's reaction in those redactions.

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