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Context of 'February 6, 2003: JAG Officer Protests Justice Department Approval of Torture'

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Major Jack Rives, a top Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in the US Air Force, writes a memo challenging the legal opinion issued by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo justifying “harsh interrogation methods” (see January 9, 2002). Rives is representative of a large number of JAG officers who have sent fiercely worded memos calling torture and “harsh interrogation methods” illegal, regardless of what Yoo may have written. Rives writes, “[S]everal of the exceptional techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law,” and notes that US interrogators who use such techniques risk prosecution. And, telling soldiers it is permissable to brutalize prisoners could lead to a general breakdown in discipline and morale, Rives adds, “We need to consider the overall impact of approving extreme interrogation techniques as giving official approval and legal sanctions to the application of interrogation techniques that US forces have consistently trained [as being] unlawful.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 180]

Entity Tags: Jack Rives, John C. Yoo, US Department of the Air Force, Judge Advocate General Corps

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Alarmed by several attempts by Vice President Cheney’s office to place the independent Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of military lawyers under the control of the military branches’ general counsels—all of whom are political appointees—a group of retired JAG officers asks the Senate Armed Forces Committee to intervene. Cheney has tried off and on for years to place the JAGs under political control (see June 1991-March 1992), but has pushed harder in the past year because of his belief that, as military law expert Scott Silliman will later explain, “the political appointees will not contest what the president wants to do [with detainees captured and held without trial or legal representation], whereas the uniformed lawyers… are going to push back.” The JAGs find an advocate in Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), himself a former JAG officer, who quickly pushes a new law through Congress forbidding Defense Department employees, including general counsels, from interfering with the ability of JAG officers to “give independent legal advice” directly to military leaders. The law also rescinds an effort by the Air Force to place its senior JAG officer under its general counsel. President Bush signs the law into effect, but issues a signing statement saying that the legal opinions reached by his political appointees will still “bind all civilian and military attorneys within the Department of Defense.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 286-289]

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, George W. Bush, Judge Advocate General Corps, Lindsey Graham, Scott L. Silliman, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Air Force, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Armed Forces Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Following up on the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan ruling that the Bush administration’s military commissions trial system is illegal (see June 30, 2006), a dozen members of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps meets with a team of White House lawyers. The JAG officers are experts in military law; much of their training centers on how to best conduct their legal proceedings in line with the Geneva Conventions. Most JAG officers had opposed the Bush administration’s decision to ignore Geneva (see June 8, 2004) in its treatment of detainees; in return, the White House’s civilian lawyers had dismissed the JAG officers as, in author and reporter Charlie Savage’s words, “closed minded, parochial, and simplistic.” The JAGs view the Hamdan ruling as vindication of their objections; for its part, the Justice Department is eager to be able to say that it incorporated the JAGs’ views in its proposed legislation for a new system of detainee trials. The JAGs’ overriding concern is to ensure that no secret evidence can be used against detainees in future trials. Defendants must be able to see and respond to all evidence used against them, the JAGs believe, otherwise the trials are not in compliance with Geneva. The original military commissions required that defendants and their lawyers be removed from the courtroom when classified evidence was introduced, a practice that the military lawyers believe was a basic violation of defendant rights. Unfortunately for the JAGs, they quickly learn that the White House lawyers are uninterested in their views. When they take their seats in a Justice Department conference room, the White House lawyers inform them that there is no reason to discuss the secret evidence question, because more senior officials will ultimately make that decision. Instead, the JAGs are limited to discussing minor technical issues and typographical changes. The meeting does allow Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to testify to Congress in early August that “our deliberations have included detailed discussions with members of the JAG corps,” whose “multiple rounds of comments… will be reflected in the legislative package.” Unlike the White House lawyers, Congress will listen to the JAG officers, and will outlaw the use of secret evidence in detainee trials. [Savage, 2007, pp. 279-281]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Geneva Conventions, Judge Advocate General Corps

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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