!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'January 23-Late January, 2003: Navy General Counsel Shocked at Justice Department Torture Memo'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event January 23-Late January, 2003: Navy General Counsel Shocked at Justice Department Torture Memo. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is angered at the lack of response to his attempts to persuade the Pentagon to stop abusing prisoners at Guantanamo and is particularly frustrated with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes (see December 20, 2002 and January 9, 2003 and After). Mora decides to take a step that he knows will antagonize Haynes, who always warns subordinates never to put anything controversial in writing or in e-mail messages. Mora delivers an unsigned draft memo of his objections to Haynes, and tells him that he intends to “sign it out” that afternoon—thereby making it an official document—unless the harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo stop. Mora’s memo describes the interrogations at Guantanamo as “at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and, at worst, torture.”
'Working Group to Be Created - Haynes calls Mora later that day with good news: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is suspending his authorization of the disputed interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) and is appointing a “working group” of lawyers from all branches of the armed forces to develop new interrogation guidelines. Mora will be a part of that working group. An elated Mora begins working with the group of lawyers to discuss the constitutionality and effectiveness of various interrogation techniques. In 2006, he will say that he felt “no one would ever learn about the best thing I’d ever done in my life.”
Mora Outmaneuvered - But Haynes has outmaneuvered Mora. A week later, Mora sees a lengthy classified document that negates every argument he has made. Haynes has already solicited a second, overarching opinion from John Yoo, a lawyer at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, that supersedes Mora’s working group (see January 9, 2002). Mora is astonished (see January 23-Late January, 2003). He will later learn that the working group’s report will be forced to comply with Yoo’s legal reasoning. In fact, the group’s final report is never completed—though the draft report, which follows Yoo’s memo, is signed by Rumsfeld without Mora’s knowledge. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] Mora later says that while Yoo’s memo displays a “seeming sophistication,” it is “profoundly in error,” contradicting both domestic law and international treaties. Mora and the other “dissident” members of the working group are led to believe that the report has been abandoned. [Savage, 2007, pp. 181] He will learn about Rumsfeld’s signature on the draft report while watching C-SPAN in mid-2004. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 189]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Alberto Mora, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Donald Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is shocked when he reads a legal opinion drafted by John Yoo, of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, about techniques that can be used in prisoner interrogations (see January 9, 2002). Mora has been fighting the use of questionable techniques and was part of a working group that was reviewing them (see January 15-22, 2003). The opinion was sought by Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes and not only counters every legal and moral argument Mora has brought to bear, but supersedes the working group. Only one copy of the opinion exists, kept in the office of the Air Force’s general counsel, Mary Walker, the head of the working group.
'Catastrophically Poor Legal Reasoning' - Mora reads it in Walker’s office with mounting horror. The opinion says nothing about prohibiting cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of detainees; in fact, it defends such tactics. While sophisticated, it displays “catastrophically poor legal reasoning,” he will later recall. Mora believes that it approaches the level of the notorious Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that upheld the government’s detention of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mora is not aware that Yoo, like Haynes, is a member of an informal but extremely powerful “inner circle” dominated by David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. In fact, Yoo and Haynes are regular racquetball partners. Like Addington and Cheney, Yoo believes in virtually unrestricted executive powers during a time of war. Yoo wrote that almost any interrogation methods used against terror suspects is legally permissible, an argument that shocks Mora.
Mora's Response - In his June 2004 memo on the subject (see July 7, 2004), Mora will write, “The memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority.” Yoo’s reasoning is “profoundly in error,” Mora concludes, and is “clearly at variance with applicable law.” In 2006, Mora will add, “If everything is permissible, and almost nothing is prohibited, it makes a mockery of the law.” He writes to Walker shortly thereafter, saying that not only is Yoo’s opinion “fundamentally in error” but “dangerous,” because it has the weight of law and can only be reversed by the Attorney General or the President. Walker writes back that she disagrees, and she believes Haynes does as well. Two weeks later, Mora will discuss the memo with Yoo (see February 6, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, David S. Addington, Alberto Mora, John C. Yoo, Mary L. Walker, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, invites Justice Department lawyer John Yoo to his office to discuss Yoo’s recent memo defending the legality of extreme interrogation techniques used against terror suspects (see January 9, 2002). Mora has been working to put an end to such tactics at the Pentagon, but was horrified when his supervisor, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, outflanked him with the Yoo memo (see January 23-Late January, 2003). Mora wants to know if Yoo believes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can be allowed at Guantanamo, and if that the president’s authority to order torture is virtually unlimited. During the meeting with Yoo, Mora asks him, “Are you saying the President has the authority to order torture?” Yoo replies, “Yes.” “I don’t think so,” Mora retorts. “I’m not talking policy,” Yoo replies, “I’m just talking about the law.” Mora responds, “Well, where are we going to have the policy discussion, then?” Yoo has no idea. Perhaps it will take place within the Pentagon, where the defense-policy experts are. Mora knows that no such discussion will ever take place; the Bush administration will use Yoo’s memo to justify its support of torture. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2008]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, John C. Yoo, Alberto Mora, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora writes a secret, but unclassified, memo to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Mora writes the memo in an attempt to stop what he sees as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruel and inhuman treatment of terror suspects. The memo details in chronological fashion Mora’s earlier attempts to speak out against the Bush administration’s decision to circumvent the Geneva Conventions (see January 9, 2002 and January 11, 2002).
Specific Problems - Mora, a veteran of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and a strong supporter of the “war on terror,” argues that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward US-held terrorist suspects is an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also writes that the Bush administration’s legal arguments that justify an expansion of executive power in everything from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping are “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” legal theories. Not only are they wrong in granting President Bush the right to authorize torture, he warns that they may leave US personnel open to criminal prosecution. While the administration has argued that it holds to humane, legal standards in interrogation practices (see January 12, 2006), Mora’s memo shows that from the outset of the administration’s “war on terror,” the White House, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department intentionally skirted and at times ignored domestic and international laws surrounding interrogation and detention of prisoners.
Cruelty and Torture - Mora will later recall the mood in the Pentagon: “The mentality was that we lost three thousand Americans [on 9/11], and we could lose a lot more unless something was done. It was believed that some of the Guantanamo detainees had knowledge of other 9/11-like operations that were under way, or would be executed in the future. The gloves had to come off. The US had to get tougher.” But, Mora will say, the authorization of cruel treatment of detainees is as pernicious as any defined torture techniques that have been used. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he says. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.… The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.” [Mora, 7/7/2004 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, Alberto Mora, Albert T. Church III, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Alberto Mora, Bush administration (43), Antonio M. Taguba

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike