File this under legacy maintenance.
Five years along in his new life as a federal judge, Bybee gathered the lawyers and their dates for a reunion, telling them he was proud of the legal work they had together produced.
And then, according to two of his guests, Bybee added that he wished he could say the same about his previous position.[…] “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” said a fellow legal scholar and longtime friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity…
Wait. Strike that post title. Comparing this indirect, self-pitying mea culpa to George Wallace is an insult to George Wallace. When Wallace changed his mind he publicly apologized. Wallace dedicated his last term of governor to correcting his earlier mistakes. Unless Bybee plans to dish more thoroughly in the future, this Friday night bombshell deserves to be filed with other empty political non-apology apologies.
Let’s start with the last line above. Bybee “express[es] regret at the contents of the memo.” The contents of the memo should reflect Bybee’s thinking. Does that imply that he regrets what he was thinking at the time? The comment makes more sense if Bybee regrets letting someone else dictate the contents of the memo to him. That is a moment of professional weakness that a sensible person would regret. Naturally that would indict Bybee (for legal malpractice, among other things) rather than exonerate him, but John Amato has hints that this might be the case. Otherwise Bybee should explain what about his inner thought process he finds regrettable.
You might wonder whether Bybee’s non-apology could get any weaker. Oh yes it can.
Says the same friend,
“I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused.”
Every interrogator in the US government looked to Bybee’s memo for guidance on what they could and couldn’t do to helpless prisoners. It is not clear how such a document could be misused. If the US grabbed an innocent muslim off the street, locked him in a box with spiders, starved him, froze him, beat his head against walls, shackled him to the ceiling and left him standing for more than a week without sleep then Bybee’s little note would serve exactly the purpose for which it was written.
Nobody with the brains to earn a law degree* could possibly believe that a binding legal opinion authorizing torture by government interrogators would not lead to torture by government interrogators. Bybee feels legitimately anxious because the act of writing his memo, whose legal impact guaranteed abuses that followed it, was perhaps the greatest crime of all.
Maybe Bybee regrets the agents who went farther than his torture guidelines allowed, but that doesn’t make sense either. Those interrogators did not ‘abuse’ the memos; they exceeded their legal guidelines. Ashcroft or Gonzales could have prosecuted them if either of the two did not use their soul to store oily rags. I am not even sure how a series of memos that permissive could be abused. Did they waterboard Jane Harman?
If Jay Bybee regrets what he authorized then he can cooperate with the investigations to come. Until then I will cry a little tear for how uncomfortable he must feel at cocktail parties. I bet it feels like torture.
(*) Regent grads excepted.