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Context of 'November 10, 2001: Army JAG’s Suggestions for Military Commissions Ignored'

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President Roosevelt, using what he calls his inherent power as commander in chief, creates a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US in the case of Ex parte Quirin. The eight are quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court later backs Roosevelt’s authority to have them tried by a commission. The Court’s decision is unusually hasty, and several of the justices who voted in Roosevelt’s favor later express regret for their approval. Roosevelt himself is unsure of the procedure’s legality, the Court’s decision and his own powers as president notwithstanding. When more Nazi saboteurs are captured later in the war, they are tried in criminal courts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Patrick Philbin.Patrick Philbin. [Source: Daylife (.com)]Patrick Philbin joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Philbin is an old friend and colleague of the OLC’s John Yoo; both graduated from Yale and both clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Philbin has no experience in the legalities surrounding national security issues; he spent the 1990s working for a corporate law firm helping telecommunications companies sue the Federal Communications Commission. Philbin joins the OLC with the expectation of working solely with administrative law. But after the 9/11 attacks, he will be asked to help Yoo handle the unexpected raft of national security issues. His first real work in the area of national security will be his finding (see November 6, 2001) that the president has untrammeled power to order the establishment of military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 13, 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 135]
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals (see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan presents his subordinate, associate counsel Bradford Berenson, with a draft presidential order he has written establishing military tribunals for suspected terrorists. The draft order declares that President Bush is invoking his wartime powers as commander in chief to establish a system of military tribunals, sometimes called military commissions.
Commissions More 'Flexible' - In the White House’s view, military tribunals offer several advantages over either civilian court trials or military courts-martial, as is being discussed in the interagency working group on prosecuting terrorists at the State Department (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Civilian trials would be subject to public scrutiny and media spectacle, and would pose a problem of security risks. Military courts-martial are quite rigid in their procedures and rules of evidence. Military commissions, as envisioned by Flanigan and the two other White House lawyers who put together the scheme—Berenson and David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney—would offer more “flexibility” for the use of evidence gathered either under battlefield conditions or in interrogations, evidence that might not meet the standards of either a court-martial or a civilian trial. And, as author Charlie Savage will later note, “commissions enhanced presidential power by concentrating the process in the executive branch alone.”
A 'Relic' - Savage will explain: “Under normal trials, Congress defines a crime and sets the sentence for it; the executive branch investigates and prosecutes people who are accused of committing the crime; and the judicial branch runs the trial, decides whether to admit evidence, determines whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, and hears any appeal. With a military commission, all these powers were collapsed into the hands of the armed forces and, ultimately, their commander in chief. Although fairly common in nineteenth-century conflicts, military commissions were a relic: They had not been used by the United States since World War II.”
Support from Justice Department Lawyer - Their work will be bolstered when Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin issues a secret memo declaring that the president has the inherent authority to order military commissions (see November 6, 2001). Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington never inform the interagency working group of their own work, although they made use of the working group’s research. Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington cite Philbin’s memo as the definitive word on the president’s authority. When President Bush announces the order establishing the commissions (see November 13, 2001), the order abruptly short-circuits the interagency working group and renders its work irrelevant. [Savage, 2007, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Bush administration (43), Bradford Berenson, Charlie Savage, George W. Bush, US Department of State, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In conjunction with the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation publishes a legal paper that appears to reflect much of the thinking at this time of prominent White House and Justice Department lawyers. The paper espouses the use of military commissions, arguing that this will offer the government several advantages. “In particular,” the paper’s authors argue, “trials before military tribunals need not be open to the general public and they may be conducted on an expedited basis, permitting the quick resolution of individual cases and avoiding the disclosure of highly sensitive intelligence material, which would have to be made public in an ordinary criminal trial.” The disadvantage of a normal trial would be that they would be limited by constitutional rules with regard to “what can be done to protect classified information.” In addition, in “federal district courts, the government has an obligation under Article III and the Sixth Amendment to conduct a ‘public trial’ and present to the jury, in open court, the facts on which it is relying to establish a defendant’s guilt.” But the authors do acknowledge that “[t]he use of military commissions with respect to individuals not regularly enrolled in a military force, represents a clear departure from normal legal processes and some of America’s most fundamental judicial traditions.” Surprisingly, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 are not mentioned even once. Almost in passing, the authors suggest an option that is to become reality. “[I]t is likely,” they write, “that the Supreme Court would allow the trial overseas by military commission of al-Qaeda members captured in Afghanistan, regardless of how it would treat defendants in this country.” [Rivkin, Casey, and Bartram, 11/5/2001; Rivkin, Casey, and Bartram, 11/5/2001] It is an indication that by this time the government contemplates using the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, which is formally on Cuban soil, to accommodate suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Geneva Conventions, Heritage Foundation, Federalist Society, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Geneva Conventions are mentioned in a memo issued the day after the publication of the Heritage Foundation paper (see November 5, 2001), but only to suggest that suspected terrorists should not be entitled to the rights enclosed in them. Patrick F. Philbin, a deputy in the OLC, sends a confidential 35-page memo to the White House legal counsel Gonzales, arguing that the president, as Commander-in-Chief, has “inherent authority” to establish military commissions without authorization from the US Congress. The 9/11 attacks are themselves “plainly sufficient” to justify the application of the laws of war. Furthermore, putting terrorists on trial under the laws of war, “does not mean,” according to Philbin, “that terrorists will receive the protections of the Geneva Conventions or the rights that laws of war accord to lawful combatants.” The Philbin memo will serve as a basis for a Presidential order (see November 13, 2001) establishing the option of military commissions, which will be drafted by Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan and David S. Addington, the legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

William J. Haynes.William J. Haynes. [Source: US Defense Department]William J. Haynes, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s general counsel, shows a draft of a presidential order establishing military commissions to Colonel Lawrence J. Morris, a judge advocate general (JAG) attorney with strong experience in military justice and the laws of war. Morris heads a Pentagon legal team that has so far been excluded from the discussion on how suspected terrorists should be prosecuted. Col. Morris is given just 30 minutes to read the draft but is not allowed to keep a copy or even take notes. The next day, the Army’s Judge Advocate General, Major General Thomas J. Romig, hastily convenes a meeting of Pentagon lawyers to prepare suggestions for improvement, with an eye on bringing the order closer to existing military legal standards. The final order, however, includes none of the lawyer’s recommendations. “They hadn’t changed a thing,” a military official will later recall. [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Lawrence J. Morris, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Army’s Judge Advocate General, Major General Thomas J. Romig, hastily meets with JAG lawyers Colonel Lawrence Morris and Brigadier General Scott Black to prepare suggestions for improving a draft presidential order establishing military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 9, 2001), with an eye on bringing the order closer to existing military legal standards. The order is modeled on a single World War II military commission (see 1942), and ignores the body of relevant law that came after that commission, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions (see November 6, 2001). In their view, the Bush administration seems determined to ignore 60 years of law and go back to a rough system of justice that, Romig will later say, “was going to be perceived as unfair because it was unnecessarily archaic.” The three work through the Veterans’ Day weekend on a number of suggestions that would bring the order closer to existing military legal standards. The final order, however, will include none of the lawyer’s recommendations. “They hadn’t changed a thing,” a military official will later recall. [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 137-138]

Entity Tags: Thomas J. Romig, Lawrence J. Morris, Scott Black, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

President Bush issues a three-page executive order authorizing the creation of military commissions to try non-citizens alleged to be involved in international terrorism (see November 10, 2001). The president will decide which defendants will be tried by military commissions. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict a defendant and impose a sentence, including life imprisonment or death. Only the president or the secretary of defense has the authority to overturn a decision. There is no provision for an appeal to US civil courts, foreign courts, or international tribunals. Nor does the order specify how many judges are to preside on a tribunal or what qualifications they must have. [US Department of Defense, 11/13/2001; Washington Post, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Questionable Rule of Evidence Adopted - The order also adopts a rule of evidence stemming from the 1942 Supreme Court case of United States v. Quirin that says evidence shall be admitted “as would… have probative value to a reasonable person.” This rule, according to Judge Evan J. Wallach, “was repeatedly used [in World War II and in the post-war tribunals] to admit evidence of a quality or obtained in a manner which would make it inadmissible under the rules of evidence in both courts of the United States or courts-martial conducted by the armed forces of the United States.” [Wallach, 9/29/2004] Evidence derived from torture, for example, could theoretically be admitted. It should be noted that the order is unprecedented among presidential directives in that it takes away some individuals’ most basic rights, while claiming to have the power of law, with the US Congress not having been so much as consulted.
Specifics Left to Rumsfeld - Bush’s executive order contains few specifics about how the commissions will actually function. Bush will delegate that task to Rumsfeld, although, as with the order itself, White House lawyers will actually make the decision to put Rumsfeld in charge, and Bush will merely sign off on the decision (see March 21, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Dispute over Trial Procedures - During the next few years, lawyers will battle over the exact proceedings of the trials before military commissions, with many of the military lawyers arguing for more rights for the defendants and with Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and Justice Department and White House lawyers (including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, vice presidential counsel David Addington, and Gonzales’ deputy Timothy Flanigan) taking a more restrictive line. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Out of the Loop - Both National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell were left outside of the circle during the drafting of this directive (see November 6, 2001 and November 9, 2001). Rice is reportedly angry about not being informed. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Serious 'Process Failure' - National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger will later call the authorization a “process failure” with serious long-term consequences (see February 2009).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan

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

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