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Context of 'October 6, 2007: Bush Denies US Tortures Prisoners, Says CIA Interrogations Legal'

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Jay Bybee.Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 pdf file] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith

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

Quiet opposition builds within the Justice Department against the White House’s attacks on civil liberties and governmental process in the name of national security. The opposition is led by James Comey, the deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, and includes the chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and other like-minded Justice Department lawyers and officials. Comey, Goldsmith, and many of their colleagues will resign from their posts, some perhaps pressured by the White House to get out without making a fuss (see June 17, 2004). Comey and Goldsmith are the point men of this opposition group, though they will speak little in public about their experiences until they testify before the Senate in 2007 (see May 15, 2007 and October 2, 2007).
Standing 'Up to the Hard-Liners' - Newsweek, one of the only mainstream media outlets to report on this “insurrection” at any length, will call it “one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.” The magazine will report in 2006: “These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as far-fetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law.… These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.” Comey, Goldsmith, and their colleagues do not oppose the war on terror in principle, and share the administration’s concerns about the restraints imposed on the government in compiling intelligence on suspected terrorists. Their opposition centers on the process used by the White House, which routinely ignores and runs over Congress, the judiciary, and the law in implementing its agenda.
White House Denial - The White House will continue to deny that this opposition group ever existed, with a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney saying in 2006: “The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn’t based in fact. This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.” [Newsweek, 2/6/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

CIA Director George Tenet orders a suspension of waterboarding and some other aggressive interrogation techniques. Intelligence officials will later claim that the Abu Ghraib scandal publicized in April 2004 (see April 28, 2004), is a major factor in the decision. Additionally, the CIA’s Inspector General finishes a secret report around the same time the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks, an it suggests that many aggressive techniques may violate an international treaty against torture that the US has signed (see May 7, 2004). NBC News will later claim that the biggest reason is the worry: “Could CIA officials, including both the interrogators and their superiors, ultimately be prosecuted?” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] The CIA approved a list of about 10 aggressive techniques, including waterboarding, in March 2002 (see Mid-March 2002), and used them on many high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees until this time (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). But the CIA suspends their use until the Justice Department can conduct a legal review. One former senior CIA official will say in June 2004, “Everything’s on hold. The whole thing has been stopped until we sort out whether we are sure we’re on legal ground.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] In December 2004, the Justice Department will publicly issue a new and public memo allowing the use of some aggressive techniques (see December 30, 2004). Then, in February 2005, it will secretly issue another memo that goes further, and will even allow the CIA to use waterboarding again. The New York Times will later call it “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency” (see February 2005). The CIA presumably then resumes using most of these techniques but it does not resume waterboarding, as it had already stopped doing that in 2003 (see May 2002-2003).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush names White House counsel and close personal friend Alberto Gonzales to succeed John Ashcroft as the new attorney general. Ashcroft submitted a letter of resignation on November 2. [Bloomberg, 11/10/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Daniel Levin.Daniel Levin. [Source: ABC News]Daniel Levin, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), goes to a military base near Washington and has himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to judge for himself whether or not the interrogation tactic is torture. Levin then tells White House officials that he found the experience terrifying, and he is sure it simulates drowning. Levin concludes that waterboarding clearly qualifies as torture and should not be used by US personnel except in a highly limited and closely supervised fashion. Levin, who like his predecessor Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004) is deeply troubled by the White House’s advocacy of torture as a method of securing information from terror suspects, and by its refusal to issue clear guidelines as to what is and what is not torture, decides to prepare a memo—legally binding—to replace the August 2002 Justice Department memo that established torture as an acceptable method of interrogation. Goldsmith had already withdrawn the memo after finding it deeply flawed (see December 2003-June 2004). In December 2004, Levin issues his new memo, which flatly states that “[t]orture is abhorrent” (see December 30, 2004), but he notes that the Justice Department is not declaring any previous positions by the administration illegal. Levin is planning a second memo that will impose tighter restrictions on specific interrogation techniques, but he never gets the chance to complete it. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales forces him out of the department instead, and replaces him with a much more compliant OLC chief, Steven Bradbury (see June 23, 2005). Most experts believe that waterboarding is indeed torture, and that torture is a poor way of extracting accurate information. Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson will say, “There is no question this is torture—this is a technique by which an individual is strapped to a board, elevated by his feet and either dunked into water or water poured over his face over a towel or a blanket.” [ABC News, 11/2/2007; Think Progress, 11/3/2007; GulfNews, 11/5/2007] Gonzales is widely believed to have been selected as the new attorney general in part to ease the way for the Bush administration to continue its support for torture as a valid method of interrogation. Shortly after taking the office, Gonzales pressured Levin to add the footnote exculpating the administration from any legal responsibility for its previous positions, and shortly thereafter, Gonzales has Levin removed from the department. In November 2007, the Washington Post’s editorial board will decry Gonzales’s ouster of Levin, and the administration’s support for torture, as a blatant “disregard for principle.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2007] MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, will later call Levin “an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.” He will fire a broadside directly at the president: “Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now. Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.” [MSNBC, 11/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Daniel Levin, Bush administration (43), Keith Olbermann, George W. Bush, John D. Hutson, Jack Goldsmith, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department issues a 17-page memo which officially replaces the August 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002), which asserted that the president’s wartime powers supersede international anti-torture treaties and defined torture very narrowly, describing it as a tactic that produces pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The new memo, authored by acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, is ostensibly meant to deflect criticisms that the Bush administration condones torture. In fact, the very first sentence reads, “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” But the White House insists that the new memo does not represent a change in policy because the administration has always respected international laws prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. The primary concern of the new memo is to broaden the narrow definition of torture that had been used in the August memo. Levin adopts the definition of torture used in Congressional anti-torture laws, which says that torture is the infliction of physical suffering, “even if it does not involve severe physical pain.” But the pain must still be more than “mild and transitory,” the memo says. Like the original memo, Levin says that torture may include mental suffering. But to be considered so it would not have to last for months or years, as OLC lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had asserted two years earlier. The most contested conclusions of the August 2002 memo—concerning the president’s wartime powers and potential legal defense for US personnel charged with war crimes—are not addressed in the Levin memo. “Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture,” the memo says. [US Department of Justice, 12/30/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/31/2004]
National Security Not a Justification for Torture - The memo also attempts to quell concerns that the administration believes national security may be used as justification for tactics that could be considered as torture. It states, “[A] defendant’s motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute.” [US Department of Justice, 12/30/2004 pdf file]
Memo Divided White House Officials - Many in the White House opposed the issuance of the memo, but were rebuffed when other administration officials said the memo was necessary to ease the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Torture Opponents Disappointed - Civil libertarians and opponents of torture within the Justice Department are sharply disappointed in the memo. While it gives a marginally less restrictive definition of the pain required to qualify as torture, and gives no legal defenses to anyone who might be charged with war crimes, it takes no position on the president’s authority to override interrogation laws and treaties, and finds that all the practices previously employed by the CIA and military interrogators were and are legal. Yoo will later write that “the differences in the opinions were for appearances’ sake. In the real world of interrogation policy, nothing had changed. The new opinion just reread the statute to deliberately blur the interpretation of torture as a short-term political maneuver in response to public criticism.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 196-197]
Secret Memo Will Allow Waterboarding; Dissidents Purged - A secret memo is completed a short time later that allows such torture techniques as waterboarding to be used again (see February 2005). The Levin memo triggers a department-wide “purge” of dissidents and torture opponents; some will resign voluntarily, while others will resign after being denied expected promotions. [Savage, 2007, pp. 197]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Jay S. Bybee, John C. Yoo

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

The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) calls for the creation of a Special Counsel “to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees by the US Government” and appeals to senators to insist that Alberto Gonzales commit to appointing one, before voting on his nomination as attorney general. “[I]t is likely,” the ACLU concludes, that between the production of the August 1, 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and its official replacement by another legal opinion on December 30, 2004 (see December 30, 2004), “criminal acts occurred under the looser interpretations in effect for more than two years.” According to the ACLU, “The appointment of an outside special counsel—with full investigatory and prosecutorial powers—is the only way to ensure that all civilians who violated federal laws against torture will be held responsible.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times

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

Steven Bradbury.Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). [Washington Times, 9/20/2007; New York Times, 10/4/2007; TPM Muckraker, 10/19/2007] Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] A co-founder of the Federalist Society [International Herald Tribune, 10/15/2007] , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” [Harper's, 11/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Scott Horton, Vacancies Reform Act, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Harper’s Magazine, Clarence Thomas, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harriet E. Miers, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Kmiec, David S. Addington, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

As Congress debates legislation that will outlaw “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of terrorist suspects and detainees in US custody, the Justice Department issues a secret opinion, one that few lawmakers even know exists, ruling that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violate that standard. The Justice Department has already issued one secret opinion countermanding the Bush administration’s stated position that torture is “abhorrent” (see February 2005). Both rulings are efforts by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House officials to realign the Justice Department with the White House after an in-house revolt by many Justice officials threw administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance into doubt (see Late 2003-2005). Though the public debate on torture becomes ever more pervasive during President Bush’s second term, the two rulings will remain in effect through the end of 2007 and beyond, helping the White House give US officials the broadest possible legal latitude for abusing and torturing prisoners. As late as October 2007, the White House will insist that it has always followed US and international law in its authorization of interrogation practices. Those assurances will be countered by an array of current and former officials involved in counterterrorism (see October 3, 2007). [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In 2007, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will say in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department’s interrogation practices, “These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture. It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.” The ACLU will also note that the administration had failed to disclose the existence of the two opinions in its court filings, a failure characterized by the administration as an accidental oversight. [Harper's, 11/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency

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

In October 2007, the New York Times will report that in July, “after a month-long debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques—the details remain secret—and officials say the CIA again is holding prisoners in ‘black sites’ overseas.” The executive order is said to have been reviewed and approved by Steven Bradbury, head of the Office of Legal Counsel. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In late 2005 the Justice Department issued a secret memo declaring all aggressive interrogation techniques used by the CIA legal (see Late 2005), so apparently this mostly reconfirms the gist of that earlier ruling. It has been clear since April 2007 that the secret CIA prisons are still operating (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Hours after the new executive order is issued, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a secret memo to his CIA employees: “The President’s action - along with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - gives us the legal clarity we have sought. It gives our officers the assurance that they may conduct their essential work in keeping with the laws of the United States.” One senior Bush administration official will later hint that the order does allow sleep deprivation to be used but does not allow exposure to extremes of hot and cold. [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] Intelligence officials also later say that the order not to allow the use of waterboarding. [New York Times, 12/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden

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

The New York Times reveals that the Justice Department issued two secret rulings authorizing far more extensive use of torture and abuse during the interrogation of terror suspects than has previously been acknowledged by the White House (see February 2005 and Late 2005). The White House’s deputy press secretary, Tony Fratto, makes the same counterclaim that Bush officials have made for years, saying, “We have gone to great lengths, including statutory efforts and the recent executive order, to make it clear that the intelligence community and our practices fall within US law” and international agreements. But that claim is countered by the statements of over two dozen current and former officials involved in counterterrorism. When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned in September after accusations of misleading Congress and the public on a wide array of issues, he said in his farewell speech that the Justice Department is a “place of inspiration” that had balanced the necessary flexibility to pursue the administration’s war on terrorism with the need to uphold the law and respect civil liberties (see July 25, 2007). But many of Gonzales’s associates at the Justice Department now say that Gonzales was usually compliant with the wishes of Vice President Cheney and Cheney’s chief counsel and adviser, David Addington, to endorse whatever interrogation policies the White House wished in the name of protecting the nation, no matter what conflicts may arise with US and international law or whatever criticisms from other governments, Congressional Democrats, or human rights groups may ensue. Critics, including many of the officials now speaking out, say that Gonzales turned the Justice Department from the independent law enforcement arm of the US government into just another arm of the White House. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, New York Times, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tony Fratto

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Brian Roehrkasse, American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales, Barack Obama, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Dana Perino, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John McCain

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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