The Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year.
4. Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason.
Of course, the great legal story of 2007 was the unprecedented firing of nine U.S. attorneys who either declined to prosecute Democrats or were too successful in prosecuting Republicans. After months of congressional hearings, subpoenas, and investigations, the mastermind behind the plan to replace these prosecutors with "loyal Bushies" has yet to be determined. The decision is instead blamed on a "process" wherein unnamed senior department officials came to a "consensus" decision. No one is willing to name names, even though the firings were ostensibly legal, because, in the words of the president himself, these prosecutors all "serve at the pleasure of the president" and can be fired for any reason. Nevertheless, the firing of the nine U.S. attorneys—many of whom had stellar records and job reviews—remains shrouded in secrecy, although at least according to everyone who's testified, they were all fired for good reasons (which also cannot be articulated).
3. Alberto Gonzales.
I am forced to put the former attorney general into his own category only because were I to attempt to round up his best legal whoppers of the calendar year, it would overwhelm the rest of the list. As Paul Kiel over at Talking Points Memoso aptly put it earlier this year, Gonzales was and is clearly "the lying-est attorney general in recent history." Kiel went on to catalog Gonzales' six most egregious legal lies of the year, but I'll focus here on just two. First, his claim at a March press conference that he "was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" with respect to the U.S. attorney firings. This was debunked shortly thereafter when Kyle Sampson testified that Gonzales was frequently updated throughout the process. Second, his April testimony that he had not "talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations," which was promptly contradicted by Monica Goodling's testimony about his efforts to coordinate his version of the story with hers.
2. State secrets.
Again, it's virtually impossible to cite the single most egregious assertion by the Bush administration of the state-secrets privilege, because there are so many to choose from. This doctrine once barred the introduction into court of specific evidence that might compromise national security, but in the hands of the Bush administration, it has ballooned into a doctrine of blanket immunity for any conduct the administration wishes to hide. The privilege was invoked in 2007 to block testimony about its torture and extraordinary rendition program, its warrantless surveillance program, and to defend the notion of telecom immunity for colluding in government eavesdropping, among other things. No longer an evidentiary rule, the state-secrets privilege has become one of the administration's surest mechanisms for shielding its most egregious activities.
1. The United States does not torture.
First there was the 2002 torture memo. That was withdrawn. Then there was the December 2004 statement that declared torture "abhorrent." But then there was the new secret 2005 torture memo. But members of Congress were fully briefed about that. Except that they were not. There was Abu Ghraib. There were the destroyed CIA tapes. So you see, the United States does not torture. Except for when it does.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of Alberto Gonzales by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.