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Context of 'April 2, 2008: Rolling Stone Magazine Criticizes Defense of 2003 Torture Memo'

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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

Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson berates former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo for his defense of his 2003 advocacy of torture (see April 2, 2008), joining retired military officials (see April 2-4, 2008) and legal experts (see April 2-6, 2008). Dickinson writes, “I’m literally sick” over Yoo’s memo. He characterizes Yoo’s “evil circularity” of logic as: “The Fifth Amendment’s due process protections and Eighth Amendment’s prohibitions against cruelty do not apply a) to aliens abroad and b) are rendered meaningless by the president’s totalitarian powers during time of war. And if the president is above the constitution, he’s certainly above the law.” Dickinson notes that some of the federal statutes rendered inoperative by the power of the commander in chief, Yoo wrote, include assault, maiming, interstate stalking, war crimes, and torture. Furthermore: “If foreign detainees held on foreign soil have no protection from US law, what about international law? Well, says Yoo, the Geneva Conventions do not require anything more of the United States than what is provided for in the Fifth and Eighth Amendments, which as we just learned do not apply to foreign detainees. Furthermore: ‘international law is not federal law and the president is free to override it at his discretion.’ To recap: The president is unbound by international law—ever—and not constrained by either federal law or the Constitution in his role as commander in chief, which gives him carte blanche authority to have illegal enemy combatants who are detained on foreign soil assaulted, maimed, tortured, and otherwise subjected to war crimes, so long as the president deems it necessary or in ‘self-defense’ of the nation.” [Rolling Stone, 4/2/2008]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), Geneva Conventions, US Department of Justice, Tim Dickinson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The New York Times’s editorial board berates former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo for his defense of his 2003 advocacy of torture (see April 2, 2008), joining retired military officials (see April 2-4, 2008) and legal experts (see April 2-6, 2008). The board writes: “You can often tell if someone understands how wrong their actions are by the lengths to which they go to rationalize them. It took 81 pages of twisted legal reasoning to justify President Bush’s decision to ignore federal law and international treaties and authorize the abuse and torture of prisoners. Eighty-one spine-crawling pages in a memo that might have been unearthed from the dusty archives of some authoritarian regime and has no place in the annals of the United States. It is must reading for anyone who still doubts whether the abuse of prisoners were rogue acts rather than calculated policy.… The purpose of the March 14 memo was equally insidious: to make sure that the policy makers who authorized those acts, or the subordinates who carried out the orders, were not convicted of any crime.… Reading the full text, released this week, makes it startlingly clear how deeply the Bush administration corrupted the law and the role of lawyers to give cover to existing and plainly illegal policies.… When the abuses at Abu Ghraib became public, we were told these were the depraved actions of a few soldiers. The Yoo memo makes it chillingly apparent that senior officials authorized unspeakable acts and went to great lengths to shield themselves from prosecution.” [New York Times, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Geneva Conventions, John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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