An embarrassment to the judiciary

AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE JUDICIARY…. The question shouldn’t be whether to impeach Jay Bybee, but rather, how quickly the impeachment hearings can begin.

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity…. In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary. […]

As Mr. Bush’s lawyers were concerned, it was not really torture unless it involved breaking bones, burning flesh or pulling teeth. That, Mr. Bybee kept noting, was what the Libyan secret police did to one prisoner. The standard for American behavior should be a lot higher than that of the Libyan secret police.

Unlike memo authors like John Yoo and Steven Bradbury, Jay Bybee currently enjoys a lifetime appointment on a federal appeals court. The nomination was an insult, and his confirmation was absurd. But as the NYT editorial notes today, “These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him.”

Of course it should. As Jeffrey Toobin noted the other day, Bybee was confirmed before his torture memos became public (though there were serious questions about his White House work at the time), and he “has never answered questions about them, has never had to defend his conduct, has never endured anywhere near the amount of public scrutiny (and abuse) as Yoo.”

And while prosecuting top former Bush administration officials may be a contentious point, Senate consideration of Bybee’s fate is quite straightforward. As digby noted, judicial impeachments are “not unprecedented.” What’s more, dday explains that while removing Bybee from his position would be difficult with at least “34 Republicans in the Senate willing to go on record as objectively pro-torture,” Congress “should be compelled to do this anyway.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.