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Context of 'August 1, 2002: Justice Department’s ‘Golden Shield’ Memo Approves Torture of Terrorism Suspects'

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The US Senate ratifies the international Convention Against Torture, originally proposed by the United Nations in 1985. The treaty bans any officials from signatory nations from inflicting “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” on prisoners in order to gain information. It also establishes the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT). The ban is absolute and cannot be waived: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Savage, 2007, pp. 155] The treaty also forbids signatory nations from sending detainees to other countries if there is a reasonable expectation that they may be tortured. [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Human Rights Web, 1/25/1997]

Entity Tags: United Nations Committee against Torture, Convention Against Torture, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US enacts a law banning torture or abuse by any government official or employee. Title 18 of the US Code, Chapter 113C, Section 2340 bans US officials anywhere in the world from intentionally inflicting “severe physical or mental pain or suffering” upon another person in their control. Violation of this statute would earn the convicted official up to 20 years in prison; if a detainee dies as a result of the abuse, the convicted official can be sentenced to death. Any American official who conspires to have a prisoner abused is subject to the same penalties. [Legal Information Institute, 1/26/1998; Savage, 2007, pp. 155]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In the days following the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), a group of top White House officials, the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, begins a series of meetings that result in the authorization of specific torture methods against Zubaida and other detainees. The top secret talks and meetings eventually approve such methods to be used by CIA agents against high-value terrorism suspects. The US media will not learn of this until six years later (see April 9, 2008). The Principals Committee meetings are chaired by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and attendees include Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, will also participate in the meetings. Sometimes deputies attend in place of their superiors. Rice’s group not only discusses and approves specific “harsh” methods of interrogation, but also approves the use of “combined” interrogation techniques on suspects who prove recalcitrant. The approved techniques include slapping and shoving prisoners, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, a technique banned for decades by the US military. Some of the discussions of the interrogation sessions are so detailed that the Principals Committee virtually choreographs the sessions down to the number of times CIA agents can use specific tactics. [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] The Principals Committee also ensures that President Bush is not involved in the meetings, thereby granting him “deniability” over the decisions, though Bush will eventually admit to being aware of the decisions (see April 11, 2008). The Principals Committee, particularly Cheney, is described by a senior intelligence official as “deeply immersed” in the specifics of the decisions, often viewing demonstrations of how specific tactics work. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Imminent Threat Calls for Extreme Measures - The move towards using harsh and likely illegal interrogation tactics begins shortly after the capture of Zubaida in late March 2002 (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and March 28, 2002). Zubaida is seen as a potentially critical source of information about potential attacks similar to 9/11. He is kept in a secret CIA prison where he recovers from the wounds suffered during his capture, and where he is repeatedly questioned. However, he is allegedly uncooperative with his inquisitors, and CIA officials want to use more physical and aggressive techniques to force him to talk (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004 and April - June 2002). The CIA briefs the Principals Committee, chaired by Rice, and the committee signs off on the agency’s plan to use more extreme interrogation methods on Zubaida. After Zubaida is waterboarded (see April - June 2002), CIA officials tell the White House that he provided information leading to the capture of two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Late 2002 and May 2002-2003). The committee approves of waterboarding as well as a number of “combined” interrogation methods, basically a combination of harsh techniques to use against recalcitrant prisoners.
The 'Golden Shield' - The committee asks the Justice Department to determine whether using such methods would violate domestic or international laws. “No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” a second senior intelligence official will recall in 2008. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.” In August 2002, Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel will write a memo that gives formal legal authority to government interrogators to use harsh, abusive methods on detainees (see August 1, 2002). The memo is called the “Golden Shield” for CIA agents who worry that they could be held criminally liable if the harsh, perhaps tortuous interrogations ever become public knowledge. CIA veterans remember how everything from the Vietnam-era “Phoenix Program” of assassinations to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were portrayed as actions of a “rogue,” “out-of-control” CIA; this time, they intend to ensure that the White House and not the agency is given ultimate responsibility for authorizing extreme techniques against terror suspects. Tenet demands White House approval for the use of the methods, even after the Justice Department issues its so-called “Golden Shield” memo explicitly authorizing government interrogators to torture suspected terrorists (see August 1, 2002). Press sources will reveal that Tenet, and later Goss, convey requests for specific techniques to be used against detainees to the committee (see Summer 2003). One high-ranking official will recall: “It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time. They’d say: ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.’” The committee approves every request. One source will say of the discussions: “These discussions weren’t adding value. Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] In April 2008, law professor Jonathan Turley will say: “[H]ere you have the CIA, which is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.’ So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008] A former senior intelligence official will say, “If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation.” Those who attended the dozens of meetings decided “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on detainees. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Ashcroft Uneasy at White House Involvement - Ashcroft in particular is uncomfortable with the discussions of harsh interrogation methods that sometimes cross the line into torture, though his objections seem more focused on White House involvement than on any moral, ethical, or legal problems. After one meeting, Ashcroft reportedly asks: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” However, others in the discussions, particularly Rice, continue to support the torture program. Even after Jack Goldsmith, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), withdraws the “Golden Shield” memo and after Powell begins arguing that the torture program is harming the image of the US abroad, when CIA officials ask to continue using particular torture techniques, Rice responds: “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Reaction after Press Learns of Meetings - After the press learns of the meetings (see April 9, 2008), the only person involved who will comment will be Powell, who will say through an assistant that there were “hundreds of [Principals Committee] meetings” on a wide variety of topics and that he is “not at liberty to discuss private meetings.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Principals Committee, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Jack Goldsmith, John Ashcroft, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Jonathan Turley, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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

Two days after General Rick Baccus has been relieved from duty as the guard commander at Guantanamo (see October 9, 2002), and almost one and a half months since the writing of the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) August memo on torture (see August 1, 2002), military intelligence at Guantanamo begin suggesting new rules of interrogation. Lieutenant Colonel Jerald Phifer, Director J2, sends a memo, to Major General Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more severe interrogation techniques. [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008] In 2009, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will write (see April 21, 2009) that Dunlavey’s request is sparked by recent reports on the use of SERE training techniques for interrogation purposes (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002). [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Three Categories of Techniques - The memo states, “The current guidelines for interrogation procedures at GTMO [Guantanamo] limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance.” Phifer proposes three categories of techniques. The mildest, which includes yelling and weak forms of deception, are included in category one. Category two techniques are more severe and require approval by an “interrogator group director.” They include the use of stress positions for up to four hours; use of falsified documents; isolation for up to 30 days; sensory deprivation and hooding; 20-hour interrogations; removal of comfort and religious items; replacing hot food with cold military rations; removal of clothing; forced grooming, including the shaving of beards; and playing on detainees’ phobias to induce stress, such as a fear of dogs. The harshest techniques, listed in category three, are to be reserved for a “very small percentage of the most uncooperative detainees” and only used with permission from the commander of the prison. These methods include using non-injurious physical contact like poking or grabbing; threatening a detainee with death or severe pain or threatening that a family member would be subjected to such harm; exposing him to cold weather or water; using a wet towel to “induce the misperception of suffocation.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008]
Desire to Extract More Information from Detainee - The request is prompted in part by military intelligence’s belief that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani has more information than the FBI has managed to extract from him. “Al-Khatani is a person in… whom we have considerable interest,” Dell’Orto will explain during a 2004 press briefing at the White House. “He has resisted our techniques. And so it is concluded at Guantanamo that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” [Washington File, 6/23/2004]
JAG Officer Concludes Tactics are Legal - The same day, a staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane E. Beaver, reviews Phifer’s proposed techniques for legality and, while making qualifications and recommending further review, concludes in a memo to Dunlavey that they are legal. Also the same day, Dunlavey sends the list of techniques to his superior, General James T. Hill, commander of the Southern Command, requesting approval for their use. Dunlavey writes: “Although [the techniques currently employed] have resulted in significant exploitable intelligence the same methods have become less effective over time. I believe the methods and techniques delineated in the accompanying J-2 memorandum will enhance our efforts to extract additional information.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file] Beaver concludes that since President Bush had decided that all the detainees “are not protected by the Geneva Conventions” (see January 18-25, 2002, February 7, 2002), all of the desired techniques are allowable because “no international body of law directly applies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Rick Baccus, George W. Bush, James T. Hill, Carl Levin, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Diane E. Beaver, Michael E. Dunlavey, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A working group appointed by the Defense Department’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, completes a 100-page-plus classified report justifying the use of torture on national security grounds. The group—headed by Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker and including top civilian and uniformed lawyers from each military branch—consulted representatives of the Justice Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies in drafting the report. It was prepared for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and was meant to respond to complaints from commanders working at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba who claimed that conventional interrogation tactics were inadequate. The conclusions in the report are similar to those of an August 1, 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002) drafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC is said to have also contributed to this report. [US Department of Defense, 3/6/2003; Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/10/2004] The report notes that both Congress and the Justice Department will have difficulty enforcing the law if US military personnel could be shown to be acting as a result of presidential orders. [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]
President's Authority During War Gives Power to Order Torture, Supersede Law - One of the main conclusions of the report is that the president’s authority as commander-in-chief permits him during times of war to approve almost any physical or psychological interrogation method—including torture—irrespective of any domestic or international law. The report finds, “[I]n order to respect the President’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign… [the 1994 law banning torture] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.” The draft report clearly states that neither Congress, the courts, nor international law has jurisdiction over the president’s actions when the country is waging war. The report asserts that “without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president’s ultimate authority” to wage war. Furthermore, “any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president.” According to the document, the federal Torture Statute simply does not apply. “In order to respect the president’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign… (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority,” the report states (The parenthetical comment is in the original document). A career military lawyer will later tell the Wall Street Journal that many lawyers disagreed with these conclusions, but that their concerns were overridden by the political appointees heading the drafting of the report. The lawyer explains that instead, military lawyers focused their efforts on limiting the report’s list of acceptable interrogation methods. [Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004; Washington Post, 6/8/2004]
Guantanamo Bay Not Covered under Torture Restrictions - The report also finds that the 1994 law barring torture “does not apply to the conduct of US personnel” at Guantanamo Bay, nor does it apply to US military interrogations that occurred outside US “maritime and territorial jurisdiction,” such as in Iraq or Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]
Legal Arguments to Defend against Torture Charges Conflict with International Statutes - The draft report lists several possible arguments that US civilian or military personnel might use to defend themselves against charges of torture or other war crimes. According to the administration’s lawyers, one argument would be that such actions were “necessary” in order to prevent an attack. However, this rationale seems to ignore very clear statements in the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) which states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Another line of defense, the report says, would be to claim that the accused had been acting under “superior orders” and that therefore no “moral choice was in fact possible.” Likewise, the report cites a Justice Department opinion, which the draft report says “concluded that it could not bring a criminal prosecution against a defendant who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the president’s constitutional power.” This also contradicts the Convention against Torture, which states that orders from superiors “may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” The authors of the report also suggest in the draft report that accused officials could argue that they had “mistakenly relied in good faith on the advice of lawyers or experts,” adding, “Good faith may be a complete defense.” The memo also argues that the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR), to which the US is a party, “does not apply outside the United States or its special maritime and territorial jurisdiction (SMTJ), and that it does not apply to operations of the military during an international armed conflict,” as the US “has maintained consistently.” Since the “Guantanamo Bay Naval Station (GTMO) is included within the definition of the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” the ICCPR does not apply to Guantanamo Bay. The authors are also convinced that officials would not be prosecutable under US law, concluding that “constitutional principles” precluded the possibility that officials could be punished “for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities” and neither Congress nor the courts had the authority to “require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.” [Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004]
Defining Parameters of Interrogation Methods - The document attempts to define the parameters of lawful interrogation methods in terms of the degree of pain or psychological manipulation they cause. The report states that the infliction of physical or mental suffering does not constitute torture. To violate Section 2340 A of the US Code, prohibiting physical torture, suffering must be “severe,” the lawyers advise, noting that according to a dictionary definition, this would mean that the pain “must be of such a high level of intensity that… [it] is difficult for the subject to endure.” It must also be “inflicted with specific intent,” they say, meaning that the perpetrator expressly intends to cause severe pain and suffering. But if the defendant simply used pain and suffering as a means to an end, such specific intent would not exist. Under certain circumstances, the lawyers explain, the US would be justified in resorting to illegal measures like torture or homicide. They argue that such measures should be considered “self-defense” in cases where officials “honestly believe” that such actions would prevent an imminent attack against the US. “Sometimes the greater good for society will be accomplished by violating the literal language of the criminal law,” the draft document asserts. “In sum,” the panel determines, “the defense of superior orders will generally be available for US Armed Forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful.” Civil law suits, the panel notes, by a foreign victim of torture will not apply to the US government. [US Department of Defense, 3/6/2003; Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004]
Report May Not Define Practices, Pentagon Implies - A Pentagon spokesman later says the memo represents “a scholarly effort to define the perimeters of the law,” and notes: “What is legal and what is put into practice is a different story.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Convention Against Torture, Defense Intelligence Agency, Donald Rumsfeld, Mary L. Walker, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. [Savage, 2007, pp. 184; Slate, 9/11/2007]
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” [Slate, 9/11/2007]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., David S. Addington, Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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