President Bush is showing Mayor Daley how to do it. Daley’s been haunted for years by questions about police torture–about what he knew and did or didn’t do to stop it while he was state’s attorney back in the 80s, and about what he’s done or hasn’t done as mayor to get to the bottom of it. One of these days Daley might find himself so cornered he’ll have to produce some answers. President Bush is way ahead of him. On Thursday, for example, Bush summoned reporters, told them, “We stick to U.S. law and international obligations,” and sent them on their way. The only reason Bush thought he needed to say something at all is that the day before the New York Times ran a story about a couple of secret memos from Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department in 2005 that OK’d waterboarding, head slapping, starving, freezing, and like techniques for cutting War on Terror suspects down to size. The Times pointed out that the memos contradicted the Justice Department’s public position that torture was “abhorrent,” and were sent to the White House even though Gonzales’s deputy attorney general told colleagues that one day they’d all be “ashamed” when the world found out about them.
So when Bush blithely insisted the country was doing nothing wrong he was simply repeating what his Justice Department had told him. (What a waste of the taxpayers’ money it would be if the president ignored the advice of his own lawyers!) For good measure the president added, “And by the way, we have gotten information from these high-value detainees that have helped protect you.”
Daley’s got his own slick lawyers. There’s corporation counsel Mara Georges, whose gift for reneging on an apparent deal is recounted here and here. And we shouldn’t forget the dazzling footwork shown in 1994, when after years of denying the police had ever tortured anyone, the corporation counsel’s office accused former police commander Jon Burge of “savage torture” – not to bring him to justice but in order to argue that he’d exceeded his instructions and therefore the city bore no liability in a civil suit against him.
But despite all this talent, no city lawyer has slipped Daley the kind of opinion Bush could count on. One that says that when electric prods, rubber hoses, and suffocating typewriter covers are employed by Chicago officers against suspected perpetrators they–well, they advance Daniel Burnham’s vision of a secure and vibrant city and fall well within the law. “By the way,” Daley might think to mention, “the murder rate has fallen since the 1980s, so there’s no telling how many Chicagoans owe their lives to Jon Burge’s sense of duty.” George Bush is not embarassed to make this sort of reasonable argument. Why is our mayor?