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Context of 'October 11, 2002: OLC Sends Secret Memo Regarding Legality of Communications Intelligence Activities'

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In a memo, responding to a request from Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo provides legal advice on “the legality of the use of military force to prevent or deter terrorist activity inside the United States.” He addresses the question of how the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution applies to the use of “deadly force” by the military “in a manner that endangered the lives of United States citizens.” The Fourth Amendment requires the government to have some objective suspicion of criminal activity before it can infringe on an individual’s liberties, such as the right to privacy or the freedom of movement. Yoo writes that in light of highly destructive terrorist attacks, “the government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties.” If the president determines the threat of terrorism high enough to deploy the military inside US territory, then, Yoo writes, “we think that the Fourth Amendment should be no more relevant than it would be in cases of invasion or insurrection.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] A month later, the Justice Department will issue a similar memo (see October 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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

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

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s John Yoo, an official in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a secret opinion regarding legal statutes governing the use of certain interrogation techniques. The opinion will not be made public; its existence will not be revealed until October 18, 2007, when future OLC head Steven Bradbury will note its existence as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s John Yoo and Robert Delahunty issue a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales claiming President Bush has sweeping powers in wartime that essentially void large portions of the Constitution. The memo, which says that Bush can order military operations inside the US (see October 23, 2001), also says that Bush can suspend First Amendment freedoms: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, George W. Bush, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) deputy assistant attorney general, sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft justifying warrantless surveillance of US persons. The National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic surveillance authorized by President Bush (see October 4, 2001, Early 2002, and December 15, 2005) will come to be publicly referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP). This is not the first Yoo memo supporting warrantless surveillance (see September 25, 2001), but a 2009 report on the PSP jointly issued by the inspectors general (IGs) of the Department of Defense (DOD), DOJ, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will refer to it as “[t]he first OLC opinion directly supporting the legality of the PSP.” The IGs’ report will quote from and comment on the memo, noting that “deficiencies in Yoo’s memorandum identified by his successors in the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General later became critical to DOJ’s decision to reassess the legality of the program in 2003.” According to the IGs’ report, Yoo asserts that warrantless surveillance is constitutional as long as it is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment, which only protects against “unreasonable searches and siezures.” On this point, the IGs’ report will note that Yoo’s successors were troubled by his failure to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which found the president’s wartime authority to be limited. His memo does acknowledge that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “purports to be the exclusive statutory means for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence,” but asserts that it is only a “safe harbor for electronic surveillance” because it cannot “restrict the president’s ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security.” Yoo also writes that Congress has not “made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area.” The IGs’ report will state that Yoo’s successors considered this problematic because Yoo has omitted discussion of the fact that FISA explicitly authorizes the president to conduct warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days following a declaration of war by Congress, which they considered an expression of Congress’s intent to restrict warrantless surveillance to a limited period of time and specific circumstances. The IGs’ report will also state that Yoo’s memo discusses “the legal rationale for Other Intelligence Activities authorized as part of the PSP,” and that Yoo concludes, “[W]e do not believe that Congress may restrict the president’s inherent constitutional powers, which allow him to gather intelligence necessary to defend the nation from direct attack.” The IGs’ report will say that “Yoo’s discussion of some of the Other Intelligence Activities did not accurately describe the scope of these activities,” and that Yoo’s successors considered his discussion of these other activities to be “insufficient and presenting a serious impediment to recertification of the program as to form and legality.” [Inspectors General, 7/10/2009, pp. pp. 11-13]
Memo's Existence Revealed by ACLU Lawsuit - On December 15, 2005, the New York Times will report that Bush authorized an NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program after the 9/11 attacks (see December 15, 2005). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will request records pertaining to the program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and then sue the Justice Department for the release of records. The existence of Yoo’s November 2 memo will first be revealed in an October 19, 2007 deposition filed by then head of the OLC Steven Bradbury in response to the ACLU lawsuit, which says that it “[concerns] the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.” After the 2009 release of the IGs’ report the ACLU will notify the court and the government will agree to reprocess four OLC memos, including Yoo’s November 2 memo. This memo and a May 6, 2004 memo by Yoo’s OLC successor Jack Goldsmith that disputes many of Yoo’s conclusions will be released in heavily redacted form on March 18, 2011. [ACLU.org, 2/7/2006; United States District Court of DC, 10/19/2007; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/19/2011]
Constitutional Experts Dispute Yoo's Legal Rationale - Numerous authorities on the law will question or reject the legal bases for warrantless domestic surveillance. In 2003, Yoo will leave the OLC. Goldsmith will begin a review of the PSP, after which he will conclude it is probably illegal in some respects and protest, within the executive branch, its continuation (see Late 2003-Early 2004 and December 2003-June 2004). Following the public disclosure of its existence, a January 5, 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service will find it to be of dubious legality (see January 5, 2006). On January 19, 2006, the DOJ will issue a 42-page white paper laying out the legal bases for the program (see January 19, 2006). These bases will be reviewed and rejected by 14 constitutional scholars and former government officials in a joint letter to Congress on February 2, 2006. [al [PDF], 2/2/2006 pdf file] The American Bar Association will adopt a resolution on February 13, 2006 that rejects DOJ’s arguments and calls on Congress to investigate the program. [Delegates, 2/13/2006 pdf file] On August 17, 2006, in the case ACLU v. NSA, US district judge Anna Diggs Taylor will reject the government’s invocation of the “state secrets privilege” and its argument that plaintiffs’ lack standing due to their being unable to prove they were surveilled, and will rule that warrantless surveillance is in violation of “the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA, and Title III” (see August 17, 2006). Taylor’s ruling will be overturned on appeal, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing as they cannot prove that surveillance has occurred. In another case, Al Haramain v. Barack Obama, the government will make the same arguments, but US district judge Vaughn Walker will reject these and conclude in 2010 that illegal surveillance occurred (see March 31, 2010). [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, Vaughn Walker, Ronald Dworkin, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, American Bar Association, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft, Anna Diggs Taylor, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and a member of Vice President Cheney’s ad hoc legal team tasked to radically expand the power of the presidency, writes a legal brief declaring that President Bush does not need approval from Congress or the federal courts for denying suspected terrorists access to US courts, and instead can be tried in military commissions (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two other team members, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and White House deputy counsel Timothy Flanigan, have decided that the government bureaucrats need to see that Bush can and will act, in the words of author Craig Unger, “without their blessing—and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing.” Yoo’s opinion is a powerful object lesson. Yoo later says that he saw no need to seek the opinion of the State Department’s lawyers; that department hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and its lawyers are among the government’s top experts on the laws of war. “The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?” Yoo will say. “State—they wouldn’t have views on that.” Neither does Yoo see a need to consult with his own superiors at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft is livid upon learning that the draft gives the Justice Department no say in which alleged terrorists will be tried in military commissions. According to witnesses, Ashcroft confronts Cheney and David Addington over the brief, reminding Cheney that he is the president’s senior law enforcement officer; he supervises the FBI and oversees terrorism prosecutions throughout the nation. The Justice Department must have a voice in the tribunal process. He is enraged, participants in the meeting recall, that Yoo had recommended otherwise as part of the White House’s strategy to deny jurisdiction to the courts. Ashcroft talks over Addington and brushes aside interjections from Cheney: “The thing I remember about it is how rude, there’s no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president,” one participant recalls. But Cheney refuses to acquiesce to Ashcroft’s objections. Worse for Ashcroft, Bush refuses to discuss the matter with him, leaving Cheney as the final arbiter of the matter. In the following days, Cheney, a master of bureaucratic manipulation, will steer the new policy towards Bush’s desk for approval while avoiding the usual, and legal, oversight from the State Department, the Justice Department, Congress, and potentially troublesome White House lawyers and presidential advisers. Cheney will bring the order to Bush for his signature, brushing aside any involvement by Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see November 11-13, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 222-223; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Craig Unger, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, US Department of State, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

John Yoo and Robert Delahunty of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) write a classified memo to John Bellinger, the senior legal counsel to the National Security Council. Yoo and Delahunty claim that President Bush has the unilateral authority to “suspend certain articles” of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the US and Russia (see May 26, 1972). Six months later, President Bush will withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/15/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo will not be released until two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: National Security Council, John Bellinger, John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, an official with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but its existence will be revealed in a June 2007 deposition filed in the course of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. The memo is known to cover the War Crimes Act, the Hague Convention, the Geneva Conventions, the federal criminal code, and detainee treatment. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] It is co-authored by OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, American Civil Liberties Union, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s John Yoo sends a classified memo to the Defense Department’s general counsel, William Haynes. The contents will not be made public, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will eventually learn that the memo concerns possible criminal charges to be brought against an American citizen who is suspected of being a member of either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The ACLU believes the memo discusses the laws mandating that US military personnel must adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how those laws may not apply to military personnel during a so-called “undeclared war.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals Patrick Philbin and John Yoo send a memorandum to Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes offering the legal opinion that US courts do not have jurisdiction to review the detention of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Therefore detentions of persons there cannot be challenged in a US court of law. The memo is endorsed by the Department of Defense and White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo addresses “the question whether a federal district court would properly have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The conclusion of Philbin and Yoo is that it cannot, based primarily on their interpretation of a decision by the US Supreme Court in the 1950 Eisentrager case, in which the Supreme Court determined that no habeas petition should be honored if the prisoners concerned are seized, tried, and held in territory that is outside of the sovereignty of the US and outside the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the US. Both conditions apply to Guantanamo according to Philbin and Yoo. Approvingly, they quote the US Attorney General in 1929, who stated that Guantanamo is “a mere governmental outpost beyond our borders.” A number of cases, quoted by the authors, “demonstrate that the United States has consistently taken the position that [Guantanamo Bay] remains foreign territory, not subject to US sovereignty.” Guantanamo is indeed land leased from the state of Cuba, and therefore in terms of legal possession and formal sovereignty still part of Cuba. But Philbin and Yoo acknowledge a problem with the other condition: namely that the territory is outside the US’s jurisdiction. They claim with certainty that Guantanamo “is also outside the ‘territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.’” However, the Supreme Court should not have made a distinction between jurisdiction and sovereignty here; the wording of the decision is really, Philbin and Yoo believe, an inaccurate reflection of its intent: “an arguable imprecision in the Supreme Court’s language.” For that reason, they call for caution. “A non-frivolous argument might be constructed, however, that [Guantanamo Bay], while not be part of sovereign territory of the United States, is within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court.” [US Department of Justice, 12/28/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Patrick F. Philbin, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes

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

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty send a classified memo to the chief legal adviser for the State Department, William Howard Taft IV. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Justice Department’s interpretation of the War Crimes Act. According to Yoo and Delahunty, the War Crimes Act does not allow the prosecution of accused al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Yoo will cite this memo in a 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of Justice, War Crimes Act, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and OLC lawyer John Yoo send a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department chief counsel William Haynes. Known as the “Treaties and Laws Memorandum,” the document addresses the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan, and their eventual incarceration at Guantanamo and possible trial by military commissions. The memo asserts that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al-Qaeda detainees, and the president has the authority to deny Taliban members POW status. The document goes on to assert that the president is not bound by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions because they are neither treaties nor federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 1/22/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo regards the application of international law to the United States (see January 22, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

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

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

John Yoo, a lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo’s contents will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that the memo regards the 1984 Convention Against Torture. According to the memo, the first fifteen articles of the Convention, ratified by the United States almost a decade before, “are non-self executing and place no affirmative obligations on the executive branch.” Furthermore, international law in general “lacks domestic legal effect, and in any event can be overridden by the president,” the memo states. In essence, Yoo concludes that the Convention can be ignored by the president. Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, Convention Against Torture, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s John Yoo sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo’s subject is the legality of certain communications intelligence activities. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft, 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

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