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Context of 'Late 2003-2005: Some at Justice Department Oppose Bush Administration Civil Liberties Policies'

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

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

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

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

Jack Goldsmith, once considered a rising star in the Bush administration (see October 6, 2003), resigns under fire from his position as chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In his nine-month tenure, Goldsmith fought against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its advocacy of torture, and its policy of extrajudicial detention and trial for terror suspects. Goldsmith will not discuss his objections to the administration’s policy initiatives until September 2007, when he will give interviews to a variety of media sources in anticipation of the publication of his book, The Terror Presidency. Goldsmith led a small, in-house revolt of administration lawyers against what they considered to be the constitutional excesses of the legal policies advocated by the administration in its war on terrorism. “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted,” he will recall. Goldsmith chooses to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence will be widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even feel that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos (see January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004) that he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith will recall. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] Goldsmith will not leave until the end of July, and will take a position with the Harvard University Law School. Unlike many other Justice Department officials, he will not be offered a federal judgeship, having crossed swords with White House lawyers too many times. [Savage, 2007, pp. 191]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: 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

Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” [US Department of Justice, 8/15/2005; Consortium News, 2/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 199] Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. [Savage, 2007, pp. 199]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Jack Goldsmith, Charlie Savage, US Department of Justice, James B. Comey Jr.

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

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivers dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the March 2004 attempts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure a seriously ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to certify the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004, Early 2002). Comey testifies that even though he, who at the time has the full authority of the attorney general during Ashcroft’s illness, and Ashcroft both refused to authorize the program due to their belief that the program is illegal, President Bush will certify the program anyway. Only a threatened mass resignation by Ashcroft, Comey, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials will persuade Bush, weeks later, to make changes in the program that bring it somewhat closer to operating within the law. [Think Progress, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Ashcroft's Hospital Room, Comey Believes - Comey says that while he cannot be certain, he believes Gonzales and Card went to Ashcroft’s hospital room on orders from President Bush: “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” he tells the committee. His major concern in heading off Gonzales and Card at the hospital, Comey testifies, is 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 says he was “stunned” by how forceful Ashcroft was in refusing to comply with Gonzales and Card’s directive to sign the reauthorization.
Gonzales a 'Loyal Bushie' - Committee members are openly contemptuous of Gonzales’s actions, and question his fitness to serve as attorney general. “He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” says Charles Schumer (D-NY). Arlen Specter (R-PA) is hardly less critical. “It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Specter says. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’s decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.” [New York Times, 5/15/2007]
Not a 'Team Player' - Interestingly, President Bush views Comey with disdain because Comey isn’t what Bush calls a “team player;” Bush earlier tagged Comey, who resigned his position in 2005 and who previously tangled with the White House over its embrace of torture for terrorist suspects, with the derisive nickname “Cuomo,” after the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famous for vacillating over whether to run for the presidency in the 1980s. The White House denies the nickname. [Newsweek, 1/9/2006] Comey is not popular in the White House in part because of his 2003 appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury connected to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). And after the 9/11 attacks, Comey challenged Cheney’s assertions that the use of torture and other “war on terror” policies were legal (see January 9, 2002). Comey says he has been prepared to testify about the Ashcroft hospital visit for three years, but never did until now, because “Nobody ever asked.…I’ve never been in a forum where I was obligated to answer the question. Short of that, it was not something I was going to volunteer.” Card says that his actions at the hospital earned him bureaucratic punishment from Card. After Gonzales became attorney general, Ashcroft’s then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales’s “vision” was to merge the deputy’s office with Gonzales’s own office, stripping Comey of much of his autonomy and reducing him, in essence, to a staff member. Comey refused to cooperate. “You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general,” Comey told Sampson. “But it’s not going to work with me.” [US News and World Report, 5/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, James B. Comey Jr., George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his former department’s involvement in approving the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] There were aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program “that I could not find the legal support for,” he says, but because the program is classified, he refuses to give specific details about which aspects violate the law. Goldsmith says he assumes the White House does not want the legality of the program scrutinized, and therefore, “the extreme secrecy—not getting feedback from experts, not showing it to experts—led to a lot of mistakes.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Testimony About Hospital Visit - Goldsmith testifies about the failed attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare the program legal over the objections of Goldsmith and Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey (see March 10-12, 2004). Goldsmith, who accompanied Comey to Ashcroft’s hospital room to counter Gonzales and Card, calls their visit “inappropriate and baffling,” and testifies that Ashcroft “didn’t appreciate being visited in the hospital under these circumstances.” Goldsmith’s testimony further refutes the previous testimony of Gonzales, who insisted that there had been little or no dissension within the department over the wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). Goldsmith tells the committee, “There were enormous disagreements” about the program, though Gonzales’s explanations could be construed as technically accurate given the varying terminology used for the program. [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Goldsmith adds that Comey’s account of the events of that visit is accurate, becoming another former administration official to contradict Gonzales’s own testimony about the incident. Goldsmith also contradicts Gonzales’ insistence that there was very little real dissension among Justice Department and White House officials over the legality of the NSA wiretapping program. [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Pressure Ashcroft - Goldsmith also testifies that President Bush personally dispatched Gonzales and Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room (see October 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Andrew Card, Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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