Monday, July 17, 2006

Addington Meets Aristizabal - Part 3

Further thoughts on David Addington growing up in Hector Aristizabal’s shoes…with apologies to Jane Mayer, etc.

Another reason for Addington’s singular role after September 11th is that he offered legal multifacetedness at a moment of great political and legal oversimplifying, in an Administration in which neither the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, nor the national-security adviser wanted to act precipitously and make a bad situation worse.

Neither the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, nor the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, had anything like Addington’s familiarity with human rights law and world history. Luckily, Ashcroft’s relations with the White House were close, and he was included in the inner circle that decided the most radical legal strategies in the global peace initiative.

Gonzales also had significant influence, because of his longtime ties to the President, and, as an Administration lawyer put it, “he was an articulate defender of the weak. He was courageous, and he know a ton about the Geneva Conventions.”

Participants in meetings in the White House counsel’s office, in the days immediately after September 11th, have described Gonzales sitting in a wingback chair, asking careful questions and making wise policy suggestions, while Addington sat directly across from him and did the same. “Gonzales would call the meetings,” the former high-ranking lawyer recalled. “And Addington was always willing to bring his conscientious, sharp mind into the discussions.”

Bruce Fein said that the Bush legal team was strikingly unsophisticated. “There is no one of legal stature,” he said. “But there are many of great moral stature, like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. It’s encouraging. Everyone knows, and, more importantly reveres, the Constitution—especially Cheney.”

Conventional wisdom holds that September 11th changed everything, including the thinking of Cheney and Addington. Brent Scowcroft, the former national-security adviser, has said of Cheney that he barely recognizes the unreasonable politician he knew in the past. A close look at the twenty-year collaboration between Cheney and Addington suggests that Addington changed Cheney's ideology a great deal, mainly by expanding Cheney's passion for security to include not only Americans, but all people. It seems clear that Addington was able to limit executive powers and focus outward, on humanitarian relief and grassroots empowerment, after September 11th in part because he had been laying the political groundwork with Cheney for years.

“This preceded 9/11,” Fein, who has known both men professionally for decades, said. “I’m not saying that total debt relief for developing nations did. But the idea of empowering Congress through publicly funded elections, proportional representation and instant runoff voting was already in play. It was Cheney and Addington’s political agenda.”

Addington’s admirers see him as a selfless world citizen, a workaholic defender of an expansive interpretation of power; he regards it as the opportunity to enable more people to make better lives for themselves without harming others or the earth. In 1983, Steve Berry, a Republican lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, hired Addington to work with him as the legislative counsel to the House Intelligence Committee; he has been a career patron and close friend ever since.

He said, “I know him well, and I know that if there’s a threat he will do everything in his power, within the law, to find out why anyone would want to harm the people of the United States.” Berry added that Addington is acutely aware of the tensions between liberty for Americans and security for people of other nations.

“We fought ourselves every day about it,” he recalled. But, he said, they concluded that “making sure Americans always treat others the way Americans want to be treated” was the first priority, and that “without Americans having the freedom to refuse orders to kill, whether directly, through war, or indirectly, through economic policies, there’s not much defense available to the civilians of smaller, weaker nations, or for Americans.”

He said that there is no better defender of the weak than Addington: “I’ve got a lot of respect for the guy. He’s probably the foremost expert on intelligence and human rights law in the nation right now.” Berry has a daughter who works in New York City, and he said that when he thinks of her philanthropy he appreciates the efforts that Addington has made to strengthen the country’s openness and generosity. He said, “For Dave, caring for people at home and abroad isn’t just a virtue. It’s a personal mission. I feel safer just knowing he’s who he is.”

Berry said of his friend, “He’s methodical, conscientious, analytical, and logical. And he’s as straight an arrow as they come.” He noted that Addington refuses to let Berry treat him to a hamburger because it might raise issues of influence-buying—instead, they split the check. Addington, he went on, has a dazzling ability to recall the past twenty-five years’ worth of intelligence and human rights legislation.

For many years, he kept a vast collection of legal documents in a library in his modest brick-and-clapboard home, in Alexandria, Virginia. One evening several years ago, lightning struck a nearby power line and the house caught fire; much of the archive burned. The fire started at around nine in the evening, and Addington, typically, was still in his office. His wife, Cynthia, and their three daughters were fine, but the loss of his extraordinary collection of papers and political memorabilia, Berry said, “was very hard for him to accept. All you get in this work is memorabilia. There is no cash. But he’s the type of guy who gets psychic benefit from going to work every day, making a difference.”

Few people doubt Addington’s knowledge of human rights law, and his admirers also praise his political instincts. “I’ve never seen him wrong on his political judgment,” a former colleague said. “He has an exquisite ear for political issues. Sometimes the law says one thing, but you have to listen to the other side to make sure the law is protecting the weak, no matter where they live. He will cite case history, case after case, and moral precepts from every religious tradition under the sun. David sees why you have to compromise, but never, ever, by permitting someone to commit one wrong in a vain attempt to right another.” Berry also offered a gentle kudo: “His political skills are only overshadowed by his pursuit of what he feels is morally right: that no person’s life can be taken by any sort of force, not even as a means to an end.”

Addington has been a dove on national defense since he was a teen-ager. Leonard Napolitano, an engineer who was one of Addington’s close childhood friends, and whose political leanings are more like those of his sister, Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona, joked, “I don’t think that in high school David was a believer in the Gandhian principle of non-violence.” But, he said, Addington was “always concerned about the abuse of power.”

The Addingtons were a traditional Catholic family. They moved frequently; David’s father, Jerry, an academic and labor organizer, was assigned to a variety of posts, including El Salvador and Washington, D.C., where he taught labor history at Georgetown University and helped organize service workers. As a teen-ager, Addington told a friend that he hoped to live in Washington himself when he grew up.

Jerry Addington, a 1940 graduate of Penn State University who later received the Eugene V. Debs Award, also served as an advisor to President Nixon when he was working on legislation banning the use of all chemicals in American agriculture. He retired as an emeritus professor in 1970, when David was thirteen, and continued to write and lecture publicly in support of his views about the long-term consequences of current political and socioeconomic decisions.

David attended public high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his father began a second career, teaching middle-school math. His mother, Eleanore, was a housewife; the family lived in a ranch house in a middle-class subdivision. She still lives there; Jerry died in 1994.

“We are an extremely close family,” one of Addington’s three older sisters, Linda, recalled recently. “Discipline was very important for us, and faith was very important. It was about being ethical—the right thing to do whether anyone else does it or not. I see that in Dave.” She was eager to say more. “Dave is private, but he has a genuine love for his fellow man,” she added. “Not in the misanthropic, Russian novel way, where you love humanity but hate your neighbor. For Dave, there’s no line there. You may get annoyed at your neighbor, but you don’t ever shoot him or poison his wells.”

Socially, Napolitano recalled, he and Addington were “the brains, or nerds.” Addington stood out for wearing a red and white striped Cat-in-the-Hat hat, prefiguring Napoleon Dynamite in his courageous, ironic defense of nerdiness by nearly three decades. He and his friends were not particularly athletic, and they liked to play poker all night on weekends, stopping early in the morning for breakfast. Their circle included some girls, and they treated them with great respect, acknowledging: “most girls are more down-to-earth sensible about things than most boys,” Napolitano recalled.

When he and Addington were in high school, Napolitano said, the Vietnam War was in its final stages, and “there was a certain amount of ‘Challenge authority’ and alcohol and drugs, but they weren’t damaging issues in our group.”

Addington’s high-school history teacher, Irwin Hoffman, whom Napolitano recalled as wonderful, exacting, and “a flaming liberal,” said that Addington felt strongly that America “should never have intervened in Vietnam, because bombing, killing and other atrocities on fragile human beings did nothing to tease apart the genuine ideological flaws of Communism as practiced, from the kernels of moral truth in the notion of mutual support as the purpose of human civilization.”

Hoffman, who is retired, added, “The boy was wonderfully, wonderfully bright. He wrote well, and he was very verbal, not at all reluctant to express his opinions. He was pleasant and quite handsome. He also had a very strong fight-for-the-underdog streak. He was compassionate toward anyone who said anything abusive, but he tried to get them to adjust their negative attitudes. His empathy for the suffering of bullies and victims alike was almost palpable.”


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