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Dark Days

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The Justice Department finally released their review of the conduct of the authors of the Torture Memos (Yoo, Bradbury, and Bybee, primarily). The Office of Professional Responsibility found that the lawyers were guilty of professional misconduct. However, that conclusion was watered down, as Eric Licthblau and Scott Shane report in the New York Times:

But David Margolis, a career lawyer at the Justice Department, rejected that conclusion in a report of his own released Friday. He said the ethics lawyers, in condemning the lawyers' actions, had given short shrift to the national climate of urgency in which Mr. Bybee and Mr. Yoo acted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Among the difficulties in assessing these memos now over seven years after their issuance is that the context is lost," Mr. Margolis said.

What Margolis calls the 'national climate of urgency,' I call The Dark Days theory of leadership, and it has no shortage of supporters. From former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

Unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans.

The current Director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, wrote in an internal memo regarding the torture and abuse of detainees:

Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at the time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.

When I took the oath as a military officer, I don't remember any mention of sunny or dark days. I swore to support and defend the Constitution and to faithfully discharge my duties on all days. Isn't this the essential element of leadership? A ship doesn't need steering when the river is its steady guide.

Rudyard Kipling's magnanimous poem, If, begins,

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you

It is on the dark days that we look to our leaders for guidance, trusting in their ability to keep their emotions in check and make rational, informed decisions. General George C. Marshall, the orchestrator of the Allied victory in Europe during World War II, said,

Once an Army is involved in war, there is a beast in every fighting man which begins tugging at its chains...a good officer must learn early on how to keep the beast under control both in his men and in himself.

After 9/11, senior leaders in the previous Administration failed to keep that beast on its chains and their conduct rose to what Billy Mitchell called "...incompetence and criminal negligence." The torture and abuse of detainees was the result of professional misconduct that gave birth to war crimes. Those are the dark days.