Center for Constitutional Rights President: Coverup of Anti-Torture Memo Is Bad News for Bushies

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

I just got off the phone with Columbia Law School professor Michael Ratner, who is also the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a human rights nonprofit. Ratner read our story this morning about Philip Zelikow’s allegations that Dick Cheney’s office may have “collected and destroyed” an anti-torture memo Zelikow wrote in 2005. Any such coverup could present a significant problem for the defense in any potential torture trial targeting Bush administration officials, Ratner says:

If this memo’s out there, an important part of it goes towards mens rea, which is a guilty mind. A lot of the question here is did they know [torture] was wrong, did they know it was criminal. If they suppressed opposite opinions, that’s some indication that they had guilty minds. If there were memos that were intentionally suppressed, it would be one of the elements that go towards a conviction.

Ratner says that if Zelikow’s anti-torture memo was suppressed, it probably wasn’t just because Bush White House bureaucrats wanted to ignore opinions they disagreed with:

I think they wanted a clean slate so they could later say that our legal conclusions were reasonable and they were made in good faith. [A coverup] undercuts that… It undercuts the lawyers’ defense that this was in good faith and objectively reasonable and it also puts out there that there’s an alternative view of the legality of [torture].

It remains unclear what actually happened. Ratner says the smart legal move would probably have been to ignore Zelikow’s memo rather than trying and failing to suppress it, Ratner says: “The suppression of it stings more because it indicates that they didn’t want to know.”

More on this as it develops.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend