OLC's Dawn Johnsen Shares Our Outrage

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    Bob Fertik
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Barack Obama today chose Indiana U. Law Professor Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel. This once-obscure job, which advises the President how to interpret the Law, became infamous under John Yoo, who advised the President that he could torture, wiretap, and defy Congress with impunity.

Glenn Greenwald calls her "impressive" but that's an understatement. After the infamous Yoo memo appeared in April 2008, Johnsen wrote:

I want to second Dahlia's frustration with those who don't see the newly released Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) torture memo as a big deal. Where is the outrage, the public outcry?! The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it--all demand our outrage.

Yes, we've seen much of it before. And yes, we are counting down the remaining months. But we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power. Otherwise, our own deep cynicism, about the possibility for a President and presidential lawyers to respect legal constraints, itself will threaten the rule of law--and not just for the remaining nine months of this administration, but for years and administrations to come.

As Nick Baumann notes, Johnsen opposes secret government - probably including warrantless wiretapping:

[W]e are growing immune to just how outrageous and destructive it is, in a democracy, for the President to violate federal statutes in secret.

Beyond outrage, Johnsen also wants accountability:

The question how we restore our nation's honor takes on new urgency and promise as we approach the end of this administration. We must resist Bush administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists. . . .

Here is a partial answer to my own question of how should we behave, directed especially to the next president and members of his or her administration but also to all of use who will be relieved by the change: We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation's past transgressions and reject Bush's corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation's honor be restored without full disclosure.

Now that's change we can believe in!