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Context of 'April 1, 2008: 2003 Torture Memo Obtained by ACLU'

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The Justice Department sends a legal memorandum to the Pentagon that claims federal laws prohibiting torture, assault, maiming, and other crimes do not apply to military interrogators questioning al-Qaeda captives because the president’s authority as commander in chief overrides the law. The 81-page memo, written by the Office of Legal Counsel’s John Yoo, is not publicly revealed for over five years (see April 1, 2008).
President Can Order Maiming, Disfigurement of Prisoners - Yoo writes that infractions such as slapping, shoving, and poking detainees do not warrant criminal liability. Yoo goes even farther, saying that the use of mind-altering drugs can be used on detainees as long as they do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.” [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Yoo asks if the president can order a prisoner’s eyes poked out, or if the president could order “scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance” thrown on a prisoner. Can the president have a prisoner disfigured by slitting an ear or nose? Can the president order a prisoner’s tongue torn out or a limb permanently disabled? All of these assaults are noted in a US law prohibiting maiming. Yoo decides that no such restrictions exist for the president in a time of war; that law does not apply if the president deems it inapplicable. The memo contains numerous other discussions of various harsh and tortuous techniques, all parsed in dry legal terms. Those tactics are all permissible, Yoo writes, unless they result in “death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.” Some of the techniques are proscribed by the Geneva Conventions, but Yoo writes that Geneva does not apply to detainees captured and accused of terrorism. [Washington Post, 4/6/2008]
'National Self-Defense' - Yoo asserts that the president’s powers as commander in chief supersede almost all other laws, even Constitutional provisions. “If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo writes. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.… Even if an interrogation method arguably were to violate a criminal statute, the Justice Department could not bring a prosecution because the statute would be unconstitutional as applied in this context.” Interrogators who harmed a prisoner are protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense.” He notes that for conduct during interrogations to be illegal, that conduct must “shock the conscience,” an ill-defined rationale that will be used by Bush officials for years to justify the use of waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods. Yoo writes, “Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification,” explaining that that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.
Memo Buttresses Administration's Justifications of Torture - The Justice Department will tell the Defense Department not to use the memo nine months later (see December 2003-June 2004), but Yoo’s reasoning will be used to provide a legal foundation for the Defense Department’s use of aggressive and potentially illegal interrogation tactics. The Yoo memo is a follow-up and expansion to a similar, though more narrow, August 2002 memo also written by Yoo (see August 1, 2002). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will suspend a list of aggressive interrogation techniques he had approved, in part because of Yoo’s memo, after an internal revolt by Justice Department and military lawyers (see February 6, 2003, Late 2003-2005 and December 2003-June 2004). However, in April 2003, a Pentagon working group will use Yoo’s memo to endorse the continued use of extreme tactics. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/2/2008; New York Times, 4/2/2008]
Justice Department Claims Attorney General Knows Nothing of Memo - Yoo sends the memo to the Pentagon without the knowledge of Attorney General John Ashcroft or Ashcroft’s deputy, Larry Thompson, senior department officials will say in 2008. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, Larry D. Thompson, Al-Qaeda, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Geneva Conventions, US Department of Defense

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

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 pdf file; United Press International, 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” [Cornell University Law School, 8/19/2007] Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), New York Civil Liberties Union, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, Amrit Singh, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responding to a recently released Justice Department memo authorizing a wide array of torture techniques against detainees in US custody (see April 1, 2008), decries both the authorization of torture as an acceptable interrogation methodology and “the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power.” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer adds: “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice, Jameel Jaffer, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A group of congressmen led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) asks for an explanation of a recent statement by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about a pre-9/11 NSA intercept of a call to the 9/11 hijackers in the US (see March 27, 2008 and March 29, 2008). The group calls Mukasey’s statement “disturbing” and says it “appears to suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the federal government’s existing surveillance authority to combat terrorism, as well as possible malfeasance by the government prior to 9/11.” Mukasey had implied that the law prior to 9/11 did not allow the call to be traced, but the congressmen state: “[I]f the administration had known of such communications from suspected terrorists, they could and should have been intercepted based on existing FISA law.… [A]s of 9/11 FISA specifically authorized such surveillance on an emergency basis without a warrant for a 48 hour period.” They ask Mukasey to clarify his comments. The congressmen also ask about a secret Justice Department memo regarding the president’s powers in wartime in the US (see April 1, 2008). [Raw Story, 4/3/2008]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Attorneys for US soldiers charged with abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison say they will use the recently released Justice Department torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) to show that the highest levels of government condoned the harsh interrogations and brutality used against prisoners in US detention facilities. The government argues that the brutal treatment meted out to detainees in Abu Ghraib was performed by low-ranking soldiers without military or government authorization. The Justice Department has already dropped 22 of 24 cases of detainee abuse against civilian employees and contractors referred by the CIA and Defense Department, and a US official says the torture memo’s legal arguments—interrogators are exempt from criminal liability—may have been part of the reason why those cases were dropped. A law enforcement official involved in the decisions says: “Could it conceivably have played a role in deciding whether to prosecute or not? Certainly, in theory. If there was a memo blessing behavior at a certain point in time, and someone relied on legal guidance, could they have formed the necessary intent” to break the law? Lawyer Charles Gittins, representing Army Private Charles Graner Jr. in Graner’s appeal of his convictions stemming from his abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, says the memo seems to show that President Bush suspended maltreatment laws for the military during a time of war. Gittins will submit the document to Graner’s parole board when it meets in May. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Charles Gittins, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Charles Graner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Author and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that he is angered, but not particularly shocked, at the US mainstream media’s failure to provide in-depth, extensive coverage of the recently released 2003 torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) and another memo asserting that the Bush administration had declared the Fourth Amendment null and void in reference to “domestic military operations” inside the US (see April 2, 2008). Greenwald also notes the lack of coverage of a recent puzzling comment by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about 9/11 (see March 27, 2008). Instead, Greenwald notes, stories about the Democratic presidential campaign (including criticism over Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent bowling scores) have dominated press coverage. According to a recent NEXIS search, these various topics have been mentioned in the media in the last thirty days:
bullet “Yoo and torture” (referring to John Yoo, the author of the two memos mentioned above)—102.
bullet “Mukasey and 9/11”—73.
bullet “Yoo and Fourth Amendment”—16.
bullet “Obama and bowling”—1,043.
bullet “Obama and Wright”—More than 3,000 (too many to be counted).
bullet “Obama and patriotism”—1,607.
bullet “Clinton and Lewinsky”—1,079. [Salon, 4/5/2008]
(For the record, on March 30, Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania during a campaign stop, in the company of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Newsmax is among the many media outlets that provided play-by-play coverage of Obama’s abysmal performance on the lanes—he scored a 37. The site reported that Obama lost “beautifully” and was “way out of his league.”) [NewsMax, 3/31/2008]
Media Attacks Obama's 'Elitism' - The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz gives over much of his column to a discussion of Obama’s eating and bowling habits, making the argument, according to Greenwald, that Obama is “not a regular guy but an arrogant elitist.” Kurtz defends his argument by compiling a raft of “similar chatter about this from Karl Rove” and others. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson spent a week’s worth of columns calling Obama’s bowling his biggest mistake, a “real doozy.” MSNBC reported that Obama went bowling “with disastrous consequences.” Greenwald notes that the media “as always,” takes “their personality-based fixations from the right, who have been promoting the Obama is an arrogant, exotic, elitist freak narrative for some time.” In this vein, Time’s Joe Klein wrote of what he called Obama’s “patriotism problem,” saying that “this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right.” Greenwald notes, “He trotted it all out—the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama’s angry, America-hating wife, ‘his Islamic-sounding name.’” Greenwald calls the media fixation on Obama’s bowling and his apparent failure to be a “regular guy” another instance of their “self-referential narcissism—whatever they sputter about is what ‘the people’ care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance. They don’t need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.” [Salon, 4/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Matt Drudge, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Barack Obama, Bob Casey, Jr, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Glenn Greenwald, Margaret Carlson, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Howard Kurtz, NewsMax

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

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