Johnsen To Head OLC

January 5, 2009

Glenn Greenwald is over the moon with this one. I’ll quote Greenwald at length, as he aptly describes the role of the OLC and the appointment:

“The Office of Legal Counsel, inside the Justice Department, is probably the most consequential federal government office that remains relatively obscure. The legal opinions which it issues become, more or less automatically, the official legal position of the Executive Branch. It was from that office that John Yoo, Jay Bybee and others did so much damage, issuing now-infamous memoranda that established the regime of lawlessness that has dominated our political institutions over the last eight years. Other than Attorney General-designate Eric Holder and Obama himself, there is probably no official who will have a more significant role in determining the extent to which the Obama administration really does reverse the lawlessness and legal radicalism of the Bush years.
Today, as The Boston Globe just reported, Barack Obama announced several new appointments to key DOJ posts, including Dawn Johnsen to head the OLC. Johnsen is a Professor of Law at Indiana University, a former OLC official in the Clinton administration (as well as a former ACLU counsel), and a graduate of Yale Law School. She’s become a true expert on executive power and, specifically, the role and obligation of the OLC in restricting presidential decisions to their lawful scope.”

Greenwald cites several remarkable articles written by Johnsen that are extremely critical of the Bush administration’s handing of executive power. Here’s what Greenwald considers to be the money quote:

“I felt the sense of shame and responsibility for my government’s behavior especially acutely in the summer of 2004, with the leaking of the infamous and outrageous Bush administration Office of Legal Counsel Torture Memo. . . .
The same question, of what we are to do in the face of national dishonor, also occurred to me a few weeks ago, as I listened to President Bush describe his visit to a Rwandan memorial to the 1994 genocide there. . . .
But President Bush spoke there, too, of the power of the reminder the memorial provides and the need to protect against recurrences there, or elsewhere. That brought to mind that whenever any government or people act lawlessly, on whatever scale, questions of atonement and remedy and prevention must be confronted. And fundamental to any meaningful answer is transparency about the wrong committed. . . .
The question how we restore our nation’s honor takes on new urgency and promise as we approach the end of this administration. We must resist Bush administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists. . . .
Here is a partial answer to my own question of how should we behave, directed especially to the next president and members of his or her administration but also to all of use who will be relieved by the change: We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.”

Wow. This is the real deal. Read Greenwald’s article here.

Also, here’s a link to a Dawn Johnsen article in Slate.

Say what you want about Obama’s ealier appointments (and personally I have few problems with them), this appointment at OLC has to be making a lot of liberal-minded people very, very happy.

Here’s a link to Prof. Johnsen’s webpage at Indiana law school.

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