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Context of 'Before April 22, 2009: Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility Launches Probe of Bush Torture Memo Authors'

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A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. [Public Record, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Bush administration (43), Office of Professional Responsibility, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), H. Marshall Jarrett, Alberto R. Gonzales, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft, Jay S. Bybee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) begins an investigation of the department’s lawyers who signed off on the Bush administration’s torture policies, in particular John Yoo (see Late September 2001 and January 9, 2002), Jay Bybee (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), and Steven Bradbury (see May 10, 2005, June 23, 2005 and July 2007). The OPR investigation will determine whether these lawyers shirked their professional responsibilities in deciding that particular torture techniques were, in fact, legal; if that conclusion is reached, then prosecutors could make the case that the lawyers knowingly broke the law. Today, the press learns that the OPR has obtained archived e-mail messages from the time when the memorandums were being drafted. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has urged President Obama “not to rule out prosecutions of those who implemented the program” until the OPR report, along with a long-awaited report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see April 21, 2009), become available. Former Bush White House lawyer Bradford Berenson says he has seen a surge in “anxiety and anger” among his former colleagues, and says they should not be investigated. [New York Times, 4/22/2009] The Justice Department will refuse to bring sanctions against Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury (see February 2010).

Entity Tags: Office of Professional Responsibility, Bradford Berenson, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John C. Yoo, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Jay S. Bybee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The US Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility refuses to refer two former Bush administration officials to authorities for criminal or civil charges regarding their authorizations of the torture of suspected terrorists (see Before April 22, 2009). John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, two senior officials in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal groundwork that allowed American interrogators to use sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other torture methods against terror suspects (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, and August 1, 2002). The report finds that Yoo and Bybee, along with former OLC head Steven Bradbury, exhibited “poor judgment” in their actions. The OPR refuses to make the report’s conclusions public. It is known that senior Justice Department official David Margolis made the decision not to refer Yoo and Bybee for legal sanctions. [Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, 7/29/2009 pdf file; Washington Post, 1/31/2010]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), David Margolis, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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