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Context of 'March 3, 2009: Law Expert: Memos Prove US a ‘Dictatorship’ for Last Seven Years of Bush Presidency'

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John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Inspectors General, 7/10/2009]
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Bellinger, National Security Agency, Bryan Cunningham, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009] The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009; Ars Technica, 3/2/2009] There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009] Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” [Salon, 3/3/2009] If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Michael Chertoff, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn Greenwald, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to William Howard Taft IV, the chief counsel of the State Department, titled “The President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations.” The memo, actually written by Bybee’s deputy John Yoo, says Congress has no authority to block the president’s power to unilaterally transfer detainees in US custody to other countries. In essence, the memo grants President Bush the power to “rendition” terror suspects to countries without regard to the law or to Congressional legislation, as long as there is no explicit agreement between the US and the other nations to torture the detainees. [US Department of Justice, 3/12/2002 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 148; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009] The memo directly contradicts the 1988 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which specifically forbids the transfer of prisoners in the custody of a signatory country to a nation which practices torture. Once the treaty was ratified by Congress in 1994, it became binding law. But Yoo and Bybee argue that the president has the authority as commander in chief to ignore treaties and laws that supposedly interfere with his power to conduct wartime activities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 148-149] In 2009, when the memos are made public (see March 2, 2009), Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says she is shocked at the memo: “That is [the Office of Legal Counsel] telling people how to get away with sending someone to a nation to be tortured. The idea that the legal counsel’s office would be essentially telling the president how to violate the law is completely contrary to the purpose and the role of what a legal adviser is supposed to do.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), says that the US has the absolute right to detain US citizen Jose Padilla without charge and without legal representation (see May 8, 2002). Bybee also claims that the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the US military from operating inside the US itself, “poses no bar to the military’s operations in detaining Padilla.” [US Department of Justice, 6/8/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The day after this memo is issued, Padilla is classified as an “enemy combatant” and transferred to the US Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Posse Comitatus Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), New York Times, Walter Dellinger, Jay S. Bybee, Jack Balkin, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Some of the Justice Department memos released today.Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Jennifer Daskal, Patrick J. Leahy, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jameel Jaffer, Kate Martin, John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Scott Horton, Steven Bradbury, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Bush administration (43), Defense Intelligence Agency, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Orin S. Kerr, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Balkin, Walter Dellinger, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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