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Context of 'June 8, 2004: August 2002 ‘Golden Shield’ Memo Leaked to Press'

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The Washington Post reveals the existence of a secret August 2002 memo from the Justice Department. This memo advised the White House that torturing al-Qaeda terrorists in captivity “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the US war on terrorism (see August 1, 2002). The legal reasoning was later used in a March 2003 report by Pentagon lawyers assessing interrogation rules governing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay (see March 6, 2003). Bush officials say that despite the memo, it has abided by the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties proscribing torture (see February 7, 2002). The incidents at Abu Ghraib, where numerous Iraqi prisoners were tortured, maimed, and sometimes murdered, were not policy, officials say. Human rights organizations and civil libertarians are appalled at the memo. “It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I’ve seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke,” says Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.” A senior Pentagon official says that the Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) were quick to challenge the Justice Department opinion when it was promoted by the Pentagon. “Every flag JAG lodged complaints,” the official says. A senior military attorney says of the memo: “It’s really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we’ve taught the Geneva Convention one way. Once you start telling people it’s okay to break the law, there’s no telling where they might stop.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] Attorney General John Ashcroft tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will not discuss the contents of the August 2002 memo, nor turn it over to the committee. “I believe it is essential to the operation of the executive branch that the president has the opportunity to get information from the attorney general that is confidential,” he says. [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Bush administration (43), Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, Tom Malinowski, US Department of Justice, Judge Advocate General Corps, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), says that he believes President Bush sent White House aides Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was recuperating from surgery (see March 10-12, 2004). When asked whom he believed had sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital, Goldsmith says he “recall[s] it was the President.” [ABC News, 10/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ashcroft, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The House Judiciary Committee releases a May 5 letter written to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR—see May 5, 2008). The letter advises Conyers that OPR is investigating “allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, and Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor.” The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are investigating widespread allegations of politically-driven prosecutions by the Justice Department under the Bush administration. Former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL) is facing bribery charges. Georgia Thompson is a former Wisconsin state employee convicted of corruption by US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 14, 2007), but who was set free after an appeals court found the case against her irreparably flawed. Diaz, a former Mississippi State Supreme Court justice, and Minor, a Mississippi lawyer, were both prosecuted by US Attorney Dunn Lampton, and the cases for both are being investigated by the House Judiciary Committee as being possibly driven by partisan political interests. [TPM Muckraker, 2/25/2008; TPM Muckraker, 5/22/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, Bush administration (43), Don E. Siegelman, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Steven M. Biskupic, Oliver Diaz, Paul Minor, Dunn O. Lampton

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee chronology discloses that the small group of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing the torture of enemy detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 9, 2008) did not operate on their own, but were authorized by top White House officials such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see April 2002 and After). Other top officials, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, were apparently left out of the decision-making process. Former committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) says the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions “is not complete,” and urges the prompt declassification of other Bush-era documents that, he says, will show how the Bush administration interpreted the laws governing torture and war crimes. The committee report began in the summer of 2008, at Rockefeller’s behest, and was drafted by committee staffers with heavy input from Bush officials. The entire effort was coordinated through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Bush’s National Security Council refused to declassify the report; President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, signed off on its release and the committee clears it for release today. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009; McClatchy News, 4/22/2009] The Intelligence Committee report dovetails with a report issued by the Senate Armed Forces Committee that showed Defense Department officials debated torture methods months before the Justice Department authorized such methods (see April 21, 2009). The report also shows:
bullet The CIA thought al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was withholding information about an imminent threat as early as April 2002 (see March 28-August 1, 2002), but did not receive authorization to torture him until three months later.
bullet Some Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the torture of Zubaida and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
bullet CIA Director George Tenet, in the spring of 2003, asked for a reaffirmation of the legality of torture methods (perhaps this memo—see June 1, 2003). Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among the participants at a meeting where it was decided that the torture policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell were not present.
bullet The CIA briefed Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
bullet Administration officials had lasting concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Reactions among other senators is divided, with John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) asking Obama not to prosecute Bush officials who authorized or gave advice concerning torture, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reiterating his support for an independent “truth commission” to investigate the interrogations. [McClatchy News, 4/22/2009; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file] In 2008, Bush admitted approving of his administration’s authorization of torture (see April 11, 2008).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Patrick J. Leahy, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, James L. Jones, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, George J. Tenet, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Council, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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