“Here I stand, I can do no other,” James Comey told President George W. Bush in 2004 when Bush pressured Comey - who was then Deputy Attorney General - to approve an unlawful antiterrorist policy.
Comey, who was FBI chief from 2013 to 2017, was quoting a line reputedly uttered by Martin Luther in 1521, when he told Holy Roman Emperor Charles V that he would not recant his sweeping criticisms of the Catholic Church. Comey’s quotation of himself quoting the father of the Reformation is par for the self-reverence of his new memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews recently declared, “James Comey made his bones by standing up against torture. He was a made man before Trump came along.” Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria, in a column declaring that Americans should be “deeply grateful” to lawyers like Comey, declared, “The Bush administration wanted to claim that its ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were lawful. Comey believed they were not... So Comey pushed back as much as he could.”
Martin Luther risked death to fight against what he considered the heresies of his time. Comey, a top Bush administration policymaker, found a safer way to oppose the worldwide secret U.S. torture regime widely considered a heresy against American values. Comey approved brutal practices and then wrote some memos and emails fretting about the optics.
Comey became Deputy Attorney General in late 2003 and “had oversight of the legal justification used to authorize” key Bush programs in the war on terror. At that time, the Bush White House was pushing the Justice Department to again sign off on an array of extreme practices that had begun shortly after the 9/11 attacks. A 2002 Justice Department memo had leaked out that declared that the president was entitled to ignore federal law in approving extreme interrogation techniques. Photos had also leaked from Abu Ghraib prison showing the stacking of naked prisoners with bags over their heads, mock electrocution via a wire connected to a man’s penis, guard dogs on the verge of ripping into naked men, and grinning U.S. male and female soldiers celebrating the bloody degradation. A confidential CIA Inspector General report had just warned that post-9/11 CIA interrogation methods may violate the international Convention Against Torture.
Rather than ending the abuses, Comey repudiated the memo. Speaking to the media in a not-for-attribution session on June 22, 2004, Comey declared that the 2002 memo was "overbroad," "abstract academic theory," and “legally unnecessary." Comey helped oversee crafting a new memo with different legal footing to justify the same interrogation methods.
Comey twice gave explicit approval for waterboarding, which sought to break detainees with near-drowning.
Comey wrote in...