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Context of 'June 27, 2002: OLC Concludes President Has Absolute Authority over All US Military Operations'

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Law professor John Yoo writes a lengthy essay for the California Law Review entitled “The Continuation of Politics by Other Means: The Original Understanding of War Powers,” in which he argues that the Founding Fathers intended to empower presidents to launch wars without Congressional permission. Yoo has clerked for conservative judge Laurence Silberman and equally conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and served for a year as counsel to then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He has become a regular speaker at Federalist Society events, the informal but influential group of conservative lawyers, judges, and legal scholars who will come to have so much influence in the Bush administration. You argues that for generations, Constitutional scholars have misread the Constitution: the Founders actually supported, not repudiated, the British model of executive power that gave the king the sole power of declaring war and committing forces to battle. The Constitution’s granting of the legislature—Congress—the power to “declare war” is merely, Yoo writes, a reference to the ceremonial role of deciding whether to proclaim the existence of a conflict as a diplomatic detail. The Founders always intended the executive branch to actually declare and commence war, he writes. Most other Constitutional scholars will dismiss Yoo’s arguments, citing notes from the Constitutional Convention that show the Founders clearly intended Congress, not the president, to decide whether to commit the country to war. One of those Founders, James Madison, wrote in 1795 that giving a president the unilateral ability to declare war “would have struck, not only at the fabric of the Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments. The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it, is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 80-81] Yoo will go on to join the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, and write numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002).

Entity Tags: Federalist Society, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin sends a classified memo to Daniel Bryant, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, concerning the “Swift Justice Authorization Act.” The memo states that Congress has no power to interfere with President Bush’s authority to act as commander in chief to control US actions during wartime, including Bush’s authority to promulgate military commissions to try and sentence suspected terrorists and other detainees taken by the US as part of its “war on terror.” Philbin’s colleague, OLC lawyer John Yoo, will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [US Department of Justice, 4/8/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo will be made public in early 2009 (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Patrick F. Philbin, US Department of Justice, Daniel Bryant, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to Daniel J. Bryant, another OLC lawyer. Yoo concludes that the Constitution “vests full control of the military operations of the United States to the president,” and denies Congress any role in overseeing or influencing such operations. The memo is consisent with an earlier Justice Department memo (see April 8, 2002). Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [US Department of Justice`, 6/27/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo ignores the Non-Detention Act, which states, “No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an act of Congress.” [ProPublica, 4/16/2009] It will be made public in early 2009 (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Daniel Bryant, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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 Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/7/2005 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 211-212]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Harold Koh, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’ [Source: University of Maryland]Libertarian law professor Cass Sunstein reviews a recent book by former Bush legal adviser John Yoo, who authored several of the Bush administration’s most controversial legal opinions concerning terrorism and executive power (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 4, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 2, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 15, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, April 8, 2002, June 27, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and October 11, 2002). Yoo’s book, The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11, is a compendium of his pre-9/11 academic writings that landed him his job at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Sunstein notes that Yoo, perhaps more than any other single legal scholar, has reshaped the government’s legal stance on any number of issues. He argued for the president’s unilateral ability to declare war without the approval of Congress, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on suspected terrorists, the withdrawal of essential civil liberties and legal rights from suspected terrorists and enemy collaborators, the right of the administration to electronically eavesdrop on the American citizenry without judicial consent or oversight, the ability to ignore or withdraw from international treaties without congressional approval, and more besides. Sunstein writes: “[T]aken as a whole, the claims of the Bush administration may be properly regarded as an effort to create a distinctive set of constitutional understandings for the post-September 11 era. The White House is attempting to create a kind of 9/11 Constitution. A defining feature of these understandings is a strong commitment to inherent presidential authority over national security, including a belief that in crucial domains the president can act without congressional permission, and indeed cannot be checked by congressional prohibitions.” Yoo is a key figure in that effort. Sunstein calls his work interesting but completely one-sided, simply ignoring “the mountainous counter-evidence” against most of his constitutional claims. “Yoo’s reading would require us to ignore far too many statements by prominent figures in the founding generation,” Sunstein writes. “There are not many issues on which James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Wilson, John Adams, and Pierce Butler can be said to agree. Were all of them wrong?” Sunstein concludes: “[W]ith respect to war, there is no reason for a 9/11 Constitution. The old one, read in the light of our traditions, will do just fine.” [New Republic, 1/9/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 81-82]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Cass Sunstein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, celebrates the passage of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Yoo writes that Congress has ordered “the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror.” The bill is not so much a victory for the presidency, Yoo writes, as it is a loss for the judiciary, a “stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” It supersedes the Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which Yoo calls “an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy… [a] stunning power grab.” Now, he writes: “Congress and the president did not take the court’s power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court’s habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions. The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.” Yoo had previously authored numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 10/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, John C. Yoo

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

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