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Context of 'January 22, 2002: Justice Department Memo Argues that Fighters Captured in Afghanistan Should Have Only Limited Rights'

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Law professor John Yoo writes a lengthy essay for the California Law Review entitled “The Continuation of Politics by Other Means: The Original Understanding of War Powers,” in which he argues that the Founding Fathers intended to empower presidents to launch wars without Congressional permission. Yoo has clerked for conservative judge Laurence Silberman and equally conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and served for a year as counsel to then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He has become a regular speaker at Federalist Society events, the informal but influential group of conservative lawyers, judges, and legal scholars who will come to have so much influence in the Bush administration. You argues that for generations, Constitutional scholars have misread the Constitution: the Founders actually supported, not repudiated, the British model of executive power that gave the king the sole power of declaring war and committing forces to battle. The Constitution’s granting of the legislature—Congress—the power to “declare war” is merely, Yoo writes, a reference to the ceremonial role of deciding whether to proclaim the existence of a conflict as a diplomatic detail. The Founders always intended the executive branch to actually declare and commence war, he writes. Most other Constitutional scholars will dismiss Yoo’s arguments, citing notes from the Constitutional Convention that show the Founders clearly intended Congress, not the president, to decide whether to commit the country to war. One of those Founders, James Madison, wrote in 1795 that giving a president the unilateral ability to declare war “would have struck, not only at the fabric of the Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments. The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it, is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 80-81] Yoo will go on to join the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, and write numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002).

Entity Tags: Federalist Society, John C. Yoo

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

The Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/7/2005 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 211-212]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Harold Koh, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), 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

John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, celebrates the passage of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Yoo writes that Congress has ordered “the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror.” The bill is not so much a victory for the presidency, Yoo writes, as it is a loss for the judiciary, a “stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” It supersedes the Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which Yoo calls “an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy… [a] stunning power grab.” Now, he writes: “Congress and the president did not take the court’s power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court’s habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions. The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.” Yoo had previously authored numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 10/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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