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Context of 'January 6, 2005: Gonzales Expresses Little Respect for, or Understanding of, International Law'

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Attorney General Janet Reno announces that all 93 US Attorneys must resign promptly, allowing the Clinton administration to appoint its own prosecutors for the positions. All 93 US Attorneys are Republicans appointed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and US Attorneys are routinely replaced after a change in administrations, particularly when the incoming president is of a different party than the outgoing president. Jay B. Stephens, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, suggests that the Clinton administration wants to derail his ongoing investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), a key Clinton ally thought to be involved in political corruption. While stopping short of directly accusing Reno or President Clinton of desiring to interfere in the case, he says, “This case has been conducted with integrity, and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations.” If Stephens or his successor indicts Rostenkowski, the congressman would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, costing Clinton a key political ally in that powerful body. Reno denies any connection between the Rostenkowski investigation and the firings. Stephens is being treated like the rest of the US Attorneys, she says, and she would consider allowing some to stay on if they were critically involved in ongoing investigations. All 93 US Attorneys knew they would be asked to leave office if Clinton won the election, and 16 have already resigned. Reno says she wants the resignations “so that the US Attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and that we can begin to build a team.” Some Clinton administration officials call Stephens’s veiled allegations “absurd,” and say that it is surprising it has taken this long to ask for the US Attorney resignations. [New York Times, 3/24/1993; Providence Journal, 3/24/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Bush administration (41), Dan Rostenkowski, Reagan administration, Clinton administration, Jay B. Stephens, Janet Reno

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Kyle Sampson.Kyle Sampson. [Source: Legal Times]D. Kyle Sampson, a young lawyer from Utah and a former Republican staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, takes a position at the White House as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. He handles presidential appointments for the Justice Department, among other duties. During this time period, he is also named associate counsel to the president, where he works on legislative, policy, and environmental matters. In August 2003, Sampson moves to the Justice Department, where he serves as a counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft. After joining the White House counsel’s office in September 2001, Sampson increases his involvement in the selection of US Attorneys. He serves on the interviewing panel for many US Attorney interviewees, and becomes the White House representative for US Attorney appointments. He is responsible for reviewing the resumes and questionnaires of all US Attorney candidates and their background files. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a memo, responding to a request from Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo provides legal advice on “the legality of the use of military force to prevent or deter terrorist activity inside the United States.” He addresses the question of how the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution applies to the use of “deadly force” by the military “in a manner that endangered the lives of United States citizens.” The Fourth Amendment requires the government to have some objective suspicion of criminal activity before it can infringe on an individual’s liberties, such as the right to privacy or the freedom of movement. Yoo writes that in light of highly destructive terrorist attacks, “the government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties.” If the president determines the threat of terrorism high enough to deploy the military inside US territory, then, Yoo writes, “we think that the Fourth Amendment should be no more relevant than it would be in cases of invasion or insurrection.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] A month later, the Justice Department will issue a similar memo (see October 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Inspectors General, 7/10/2009]
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Bellinger, National Security Agency, Bryan Cunningham, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s John Yoo, an official in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a secret opinion regarding legal statutes governing the use of certain interrogation techniques. The opinion will not be made public; its existence will not be revealed until October 18, 2007, when future OLC head Steven Bradbury will note its existence as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

David Iglesias.David Iglesias. [Source: Troy Pages / Truthout]David Iglesias is sworn in as the US Attorney for New Mexico. He is the first Hispanic US Attorney for the state. He is a former JAG (judge advocate general) officer for the US Navy, and his defense of two Marines accused of assaulting a fellow officer later became the inspiration for the movie A Few Good Men. [CBS News, 2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Iglesias will later point out that the main character in the movie, a crusading JAG officer played by Tom Cruise, “was based on a composite of the three of us JAGs assigned to the case.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 31] Iglesias served in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) from 1984 through 1988, and continues to serve as a Navy JAG officer in the Naval Reserves. He spent three years as an assistant in the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, then became Assistant City Attorney in Albuquerque from 1991 through 1994. He served in a variety of federal and state legal positions until 2001, when he entered private practice. He ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for New Mexico’s attorney general in 1998, and received the active support of Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Iglesias will tell the Justice Department that he considered Domenici his mentor and someone who might lend assistance if he continued to pursue a political career. Iglesias joined Heather Wilson (R-NM) at campaign events in 1998, when Wilson won a seat in the House of Representatives. In 2000, Iglesias headed a New Mexico group called “Lawyers for Bush.” After the election, Iglesias submitted his name for the US Attorney position for New Mexico, and again received Domenici’s support for the job. In 2004, Iglesias will be asked by the White House to become the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, and later an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. Iglesias will turn down these offers. He will also be considered for US Attorney positions in New York and Washington, DC. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Judge Advocate General Corps, David C. Iglesias, US Department of the Navy, US Department of Justice, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, Heather A. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s John Yoo and Robert Delahunty issue a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales claiming President Bush has sweeping powers in wartime that essentially void large portions of the Constitution. The memo, which says that Bush can order military operations inside the US (see October 23, 2001), also says that Bush can suspend First Amendment freedoms: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, George W. Bush, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and a member of Vice President Cheney’s ad hoc legal team tasked to radically expand the power of the presidency, writes a legal brief declaring that President Bush does not need approval from Congress or the federal courts for denying suspected terrorists access to US courts, and instead can be tried in military commissions (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two other team members, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and White House deputy counsel Timothy Flanigan, have decided that the government bureaucrats need to see that Bush can and will act, in the words of author Craig Unger, “without their blessing—and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing.” Yoo’s opinion is a powerful object lesson. Yoo later says that he saw no need to seek the opinion of the State Department’s lawyers; that department hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and its lawyers are among the government’s top experts on the laws of war. “The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?” Yoo will say. “State—they wouldn’t have views on that.” Neither does Yoo see a need to consult with his own superiors at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft is livid upon learning that the draft gives the Justice Department no say in which alleged terrorists will be tried in military commissions. According to witnesses, Ashcroft confronts Cheney and David Addington over the brief, reminding Cheney that he is the president’s senior law enforcement officer; he supervises the FBI and oversees terrorism prosecutions throughout the nation. The Justice Department must have a voice in the tribunal process. He is enraged, participants in the meeting recall, that Yoo had recommended otherwise as part of the White House’s strategy to deny jurisdiction to the courts. Ashcroft talks over Addington and brushes aside interjections from Cheney: “The thing I remember about it is how rude, there’s no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president,” one participant recalls. But Cheney refuses to acquiesce to Ashcroft’s objections. Worse for Ashcroft, Bush refuses to discuss the matter with him, leaving Cheney as the final arbiter of the matter. In the following days, Cheney, a master of bureaucratic manipulation, will steer the new policy towards Bush’s desk for approval while avoiding the usual, and legal, oversight from the State Department, the Justice Department, Congress, and potentially troublesome White House lawyers and presidential advisers. Cheney will bring the order to Bush for his signature, brushing aside any involvement by Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see November 11-13, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 222-223; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Craig Unger, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, US Department of State, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, an official with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but its existence will be revealed in a June 2007 deposition filed in the course of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. The memo is known to cover the War Crimes Act, the Hague Convention, the Geneva Conventions, the federal criminal code, and detainee treatment. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] It is co-authored by OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, American Civil Liberties Union, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s John Yoo sends a classified memo to the Defense Department’s general counsel, William Haynes. The contents will not be made public, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will eventually learn that the memo concerns possible criminal charges to be brought against an American citizen who is suspected of being a member of either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The ACLU believes the memo discusses the laws mandating that US military personnel must adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how those laws may not apply to military personnel during a so-called “undeclared war.” [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

Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals Patrick Philbin and John Yoo send a memorandum to Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes offering the legal opinion that US courts do not have jurisdiction to review the detention of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Therefore detentions of persons there cannot be challenged in a US court of law. The memo is endorsed by the Department of Defense and White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo addresses “the question whether a federal district court would properly have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The conclusion of Philbin and Yoo is that it cannot, based primarily on their interpretation of a decision by the US Supreme Court in the 1950 Eisentrager case, in which the Supreme Court determined that no habeas petition should be honored if the prisoners concerned are seized, tried, and held in territory that is outside of the sovereignty of the US and outside the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the US. Both conditions apply to Guantanamo according to Philbin and Yoo. Approvingly, they quote the US Attorney General in 1929, who stated that Guantanamo is “a mere governmental outpost beyond our borders.” A number of cases, quoted by the authors, “demonstrate that the United States has consistently taken the position that [Guantanamo Bay] remains foreign territory, not subject to US sovereignty.” Guantanamo is indeed land leased from the state of Cuba, and therefore in terms of legal possession and formal sovereignty still part of Cuba. But Philbin and Yoo acknowledge a problem with the other condition: namely that the territory is outside the US’s jurisdiction. They claim with certainty that Guantanamo “is also outside the ‘territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.’” However, the Supreme Court should not have made a distinction between jurisdiction and sovereignty here; the wording of the decision is really, Philbin and Yoo believe, an inaccurate reflection of its intent: “an arguable imprecision in the Supreme Court’s language.” For that reason, they call for caution. “A non-frivolous argument might be constructed, however, that [Guantanamo Bay], while not be part of sovereign territory of the United States, is within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court.” [US Department of Justice, 12/28/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Patrick F. Philbin, William J. Haynes

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

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty send a classified memo to the chief legal adviser for the State Department, William Howard Taft IV. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Justice Department’s interpretation of the War Crimes Act. According to Yoo and Delahunty, the War Crimes Act does not allow the prosecution of accused al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Yoo will cite this memo in a 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of Justice, War Crimes Act, US Department of State

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

John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions and is applicable to prisoners of war. Yoo’s boss, OLC head Jay Bybee, sends another secret memo about the Geneva Conventions to Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jay S. Bybee, American Civil Liberties Union, Geneva Conventions, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Larry D. Thompson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to William Howard Taft IV, the chief counsel of the State Department, titled “The President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations.” The memo, actually written by Bybee’s deputy John Yoo, says Congress has no authority to block the president’s power to unilaterally transfer detainees in US custody to other countries. In essence, the memo grants President Bush the power to “rendition” terror suspects to countries without regard to the law or to Congressional legislation, as long as there is no explicit agreement between the US and the other nations to torture the detainees. [US Department of Justice, 3/12/2002 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 148; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009] The memo directly contradicts the 1988 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which specifically forbids the transfer of prisoners in the custody of a signatory country to a nation which practices torture. Once the treaty was ratified by Congress in 1994, it became binding law. But Yoo and Bybee argue that the president has the authority as commander in chief to ignore treaties and laws that supposedly interfere with his power to conduct wartime activities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 148-149] In 2009, when the memos are made public (see March 2, 2009), Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says she is shocked at the memo: “That is [the Office of Legal Counsel] telling people how to get away with sending someone to a nation to be tortured. The idea that the legal counsel’s office would be essentially telling the president how to violate the law is completely contrary to the purpose and the role of what a legal adviser is supposed to do.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to Daniel J. Bryant, another OLC lawyer. Yoo concludes that the Constitution “vests full control of the military operations of the United States to the president,” and denies Congress any role in overseeing or influencing such operations. The memo is consisent with an earlier Justice Department memo (see April 8, 2002). Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [US Department of Justice`, 6/27/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo ignores the Non-Detention Act, which states, “No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an act of Congress.” [ProPublica, 4/16/2009] It will be made public in early 2009 (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Daniel Bryant, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo’s contents will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that the memo regards the 1984 Convention Against Torture. According to the memo, the first fifteen articles of the Convention, ratified by the United States almost a decade before, “are non-self executing and place no affirmative obligations on the executive branch.” Furthermore, international law in general “lacks domestic legal effect, and in any event can be overridden by the president,” the memo states. In essence, Yoo concludes that the Convention can be ignored by the president. Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, Convention Against Torture, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), signs off on a secret opinion that approves a long, disturbing list of harsh interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA. The list includes waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that some consider mock execution, and which has been prosecuted as a war crime in the US since at least 1901. The list only forbids one proposed technique: burying a prisoner alive (see February 4-5, 2004). Yoo concludes that such harsh tactics do not fall under the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994 and July 22, 2002) because they will not be employed with “specific intent” to torture. Also, the methods do not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because “a state cannot be bound by treaties to which it has not consented”; also, since the interrogations do not constitute a “widespread and systematic” attack on civilian populations, and since neither Taliban nor al-Qaeda detainees are considered prisoners of war (see February 7, 2002), the ICC has no purview. The same day that Yoo sends his memo, Yoo’s boss, OLC chief Jay Bybee, sends a classified memo to the CIA regarding the interrogation of al-Qaeda members and including information detailing “potential interrogation methods and the context in which their use was contemplated” (see August 1, 2002). [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002; Washington Post, 6/25/2007; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] Yoo will later claim that he warns White House lawyers, as well as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that it would be dangerous to allow military interrogators to use the harshest interrogation techniques, because the military might overuse the techniques or exceed the limitations. “I always thought that only the CIA should do this, but people at the White House and at [the Defense Department] felt differently,” Yoo will later say. Yoo’s words are prophetic: such excessively harsh techniques will be used by military interrogators at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, Donald Rumsfeld, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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

The Justice Department’s White House liaison, Susan Richmond, sends an email to all of the department’s presidentially appointed officials, including US Attorneys, reassuring them that the newly re-elected President Bush “will not ask for letters of resignation.” Many had requested clarification as to whether they would be asked to remain or resign during Bush’s second term. Richmond reminds the recipients that “each of us serves at the pleasure of the president.” It is around this same time that Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) becomes involved in discussions with White House counsel Harriet Miers about firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004). Sampson tells Miers that firing all 93 US Attorneys may not be a good idea, and the US Attorneys have an expectation of serving their statutory four-year terms, which do not begin to expire until the fall of 2005. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Notwithstanding the reassurance, Mary Beth Buchanan, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, begins circulating forms for resignation to the US Attorneys. She will later explain, “At the end of the first administration, I was asked to provide United States attorneys with guidance for those who wished to resign at the end of the first administration.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Susan Richmond, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales discusses firing some or all of the 93 US Attorneys with Kyle Sampson, a Justice Department counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft (see 2001-2003). White House emails do not definitively show that White House political chief Karl Rove is behind the push to fire the Attorneys, though they do indicate Rove has some involvement. According to a January 2005 email from Sampson (see January 9, 2005), Sampson discusses the matter with Gonzales in late December, and, the email states, “As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—underperforming ones.” It is clear that Sampson is referring to himself and Gonzales as “we.” (Gonzales will later deny any recollection of any such discussion with Sampson.) The White House will later say that the idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys originated with White House counsel Harriet Miers and not Rove (see November 2004). White House spokesperson Dana Perino will say: “Karl Rove has a recollection of hearing it from Harriet and thinking it was a bad idea. There is nothing in this email that changes that.… [It] does not contradict nor is it inconsistent with what we have said.” Miers will not begin her stint as White House counsel until February 2005, calling Perino’s version of events into question, even though Perino will later say that Miers was involved in issues surrounding the job for several months before officially assuming the post. [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In March 2007, the Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs Tasia Scolinos will issue a statement claiming that Gonzales “has no recollection of any plan or discussion” to replace the US Attorneys when he was still White House counsel. Scolinos will note that the December 2004 discussion took place while Gonzales was preparing to transition to the Justice Department as attorney general, and will add that such discussions would have been “appropriate and normal” because the White House was “considering different personnel changes administration-wide.” [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Dana Perino, D. Kyle Sampson, Tasia Scolinos, Karl C. Rove, Harriet E. Miers, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney general nominee Alberto R. Gonzales, currently serving as chief White House counsel, tells the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that there had been some discussion within the administration about trying to rewrite the Geneva Conventions. While he is committed to “ensuring that the United States government complies with all of its legal obligations as it fights the war on terror, whether those obligations arise from domestic or international law,” he says, “these obligations include, of course, honoring the Geneva Conventions wherever they apply.” However, he adds: “We are fighting a new type of enemy and a new type of war. Geneva was ratified in 1949… and I think it is appropriate to revisit whether or not Geneva should be revisited. Now I’m not suggesting that the principles of Geneva regarding basic treatment—basic decent treatment of human beings—should be revisited.… That should always be the basis on which we look at this. But I am aware there’s been some very preliminary discussion as to whether or not—is this something that we ought to look at.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/7/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 209]
Questioned about Involvement in Torture - During the hearing, Gonzales is grilled on his involvement in the administration’s decision to allow aggressive interrogations of terrorism detainees. Critics believe the interrogation policy developed by Gonzales and his colleagues created the conditions that allowed abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, to occur. Senator Edward Kennedy tells Gonzales, “It appears that legal positions that you have supported have been used by the administration, the military, and the CIA to justify torture and Geneva Convention violations by military and civilian personnel.” [Associated Press, 1/6/2006] Retired Admiral John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general (JAG) who testifies as a witness at the hearing, says, “I believe that the prisoners’ abuses that we’ve seen… found their genesis in the decision to get cute with the Geneva convention.” [Reuters, 1/7/2005]
Lack of Understanding of International Law - At certain points during the hearing, Gonzales demonstrates an apparent lack of understanding about US and international law. When he is asked if he thinks other world leaders can legitimately torture US citizens, he answers, “I don’t know what laws other world leaders would be bound by.” On another occasion he is asked whether “US personnel [can] legally engage in torture under any circumstances,” to which he answers, “I don’t believe so, but I’d want to get back to you on that.” He is also asked whether he agrees with John Ashcroft’s judgment that torture should not be used because it produces nothing of value. Gonzales responds, “I don’t have a way of reaching a conclusion on that.” [Washington Post, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: John D. Hutson, John Ashcroft, Alberto R. Gonzales, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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

Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) responds to an email from White House deputy counsel David Leitch regarding the proposed firing of some or all of the nation’s 93 US Attorneys (see January 6, 2005). Sampson confirms that he has spoken with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the proposal “a couple of weeks ago” (see Late December 2004). Sampson delineates his “thoughts” to Leitch in four points. He notes that while US Attorneys serve at the “pleasure of the president,” they generally serve four-year terms. (Sampson is aware that all 93 US Attorneys have been informed that they will not be asked to resign as President Bush’s second term commences—see November 4, 2004—and is also aware that Gonzales and White House deputy counsel Harriet Miers are discussing replacing some or all of the US Attorneys—see November 2004 and Late December 2004.) It would be “weird” to ask them to leave before their terms are complete. Sampson goes on to note the “historical” practice of allowing US Attorneys to complete their terms, even if there is a party change in the administration; he does not mention that the incoming 1992 Clinton administration, and the incoming 2000 Bush administration, both asked all or almost all 93 US Attorneys to leave without regard to completing their terms (see March 24, 1993 and January 2001). Sampson then writes that “as an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—the underperforming ones. (This is a rough guess; we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge [Gonzales] comes on board.) The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc. Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the US Attorney community if we told folks that they got one term only (as a general matter, the Reagan US Attorneys appointed in 1981 stayed on through the entire Reagan administration; Bush 41 even had to establish that Reagan-appointed US Attorneys would not be permitted to continue on through the Bush 41 administration—indeed, even performance evaluations likely would create ripples, though this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).” Sampson predicts that “as a political matter… I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of US Attorneys they recommended.” However, he writes, “if Karl [Rove, the White House political chief] thinks there would be policitical [sic] will to do it, then so do I.” [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 pdf file; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; Talking Points Memo, 2011] The original email seems to come from another aide in the White House Counsel’s Office, Colin Newman, who told Leitch that Rove “stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the judge’s hearing, and he said the matter was not urgent.” Leitch responded by forwarding the email to Sampson with the comment, “Let’s discuss.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file] Newman’s email is dated January 6, and the reference to “the judge’s hearing” seems to refer to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’s contentious hearing on the Geneva Conventions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date (see January 6, 2005).
Downplaying White House Involvement - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Leitch will say that he has no recollection of discussing the matter with Sampson, Rove, or anyone else. He will leave the White House Counsel’s Office shortly after this email exchange. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In 2009, Miers will testify that she does not recall specifics of these discussions. She will say: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, that would be some general discussion of, well, we have the Justice Department saying we have a certain number that we feel should be looked at and that that is better because it doesn’t create the upheaval that removing all of the US Attorneys would have. I think the original discussion did not involve the kind of plan, as that term has been used, that eventually evolved.” At this point, Miers will say, the idea of firing a large number of US Attorneys on the same day had not been discussed. The Justice Department, she will say, would make the decisions as to whom, if anyone, should be terminated, not the White House. Asked specifically about Rove’s Office of Political Affairs (OPA), she will say that it would merely play a consulting role in the process: “I did ask that they assist, in the areas where there might be removals, the location of sources for recommendations. And so the political office was as it is called; they had the political piece.” The Counsel’s Office would not ask OPA for recommendations of replacements for the ousted US Attorneys, she says: “We would turn to them for identification of the sources that you could go to and ask for people to be considered. You wouldn’t turn to them and say tell us who we ought to recommend.” However, “if they had a preference for, someone, they would state it so that they certainly had input.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file] In 2009, Rove will deny ever seeing the email or discussing the matter with Sampson, and will say, “The implication that somehow this was addressed to me and I somehow received it is inaccurate.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file] Miers claims no memory of Rove ever attending a Judicial Selection Committee meeting to discuss the removal of a specific US Attorney. She will recall discussions of the removal of US Attorney David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001) by OPA members, including Rove. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Colin Newman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), White House Counsel’s Office, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson, Karl C. Rove, Clinton administration, David Leitch, David C. Iglesias

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Abraham Sofaer, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general by the Senate on a generally party-line vote of 60-36, one of the smallest margins of confirmation in Senate history. Gonzales’s confirmation hearings (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005) have been the source of great controversy, with Senate Democrats accusing him of being deliberately evasive, obfuscutory (see January 17, 2005), and even obtuse during questioning, but with a solid Republican majority, Democrats have little ability to do anything to interfere with Gonzales’s ascension to power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213] Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) explains his opposition to Gonzales: “What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he’s been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard.” Dodd adds that Gonzales “has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible.” Fellow Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) adds: “At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place. You could connect the dots from the administration’s legal memos to the Defense Department’s approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.” Republicans are incredulous that Democrats would oppose Gonzales’s candidacy, and imply that their opposition is racially based. “Is it prejudice?” asks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this? Or is it because he’s constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don’t like Judge Gonzales?” Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) says: “This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics. Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country.” [Fox News, 2/4/2005] When Gonzales is sworn in on February 14, President Bush will use the occasion to urge Congress to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act (see February 14, 2005). [Deseret News, 2/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Mel Martinez, Alberto R. Gonzales, Orrin Hatch, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Christopher Dodd, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After a contentious Senate confirmation hearing (see February 3, 2005), White House senior counsel Alberto Gonzales is sworn in as attorney general of the United States. He is the first Hispanic to hold the office, and replaces former Attorney General John Ashcroft. President Bush says that the “attorney general has my complete confidence” and that he has been “a model of service” with a “deep dedication to the cause of justice.” Gonzales, Bush says, is now on “an urgent mission to protect the United States from another terrorist attack.” Bush uses the swearing-in press conference to urge Congress to renew all provisions of the USA Patriot Act, saying that “we must not allow the passage of time, or the illusion of safety, to weaken our resolve in this new war.” Gonzales says he will place his loyalty to the nation above his loyalty to Bush, noting that while the attorney general is “a member of the president’s Cabinet, a part of his team… the attorney general represents also the American people, and his first allegiance must always be to the Constitution of the United States.” [New York Times, 2/14/2005; Talking Points Memo, 2011]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft, USA Patriot Act, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The White House Office of Political Affairs is notified about the initiative to fire some US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005). Sara Taylor, the new White House political affairs director (replacing Karl Rove, who has moved up to become deputy chief of staff, but who is still Taylor’s immediate supervisor—see Late January 2005), will later tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008) that shortly after she takes the position, she becomes aware that the White House is considering replacing some US Attorneys. Taylor will tell investigators that White House counsel Harriet Miers and others in Miers’s office and in the Justice Department were discussing the idea that the beginning of President Bush’s second term provides a good opportunity to replace some of the Attorneys. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Harriet E. Miers, Sara Taylor, White House Office of Political Affairs, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010.Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010. [Source: Politico]Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), White House Office of Political Affairs, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III, US Department of Justice, Sara Taylor, J. Timothy Griffin, Karl C. Rove, Republican National Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Hutchinson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Associate White House counsel Dabney Friedrich, acting at the behest of her superior, White House counsel Harriet Miers, sends Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), an email asking him to confirm Miers’s understanding that the “plan” to fire and replace selected US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005) is “to wait until each has served a four-year term. She was operating under the assumption that we would act to remove/replace right away.” Sampson replies that he, Friedrich, Miers, and Gonzales should discuss the matter, but he has recommended that the attorneys should be replaced “selectively” after their four-year terms expire. Sampson writes that to do otherwise might cause consternation among home-state politicians and “internal management trouble” within the Justice Department. Sampson emphasizes that he is expressing his views and not those of Gonzales. Friedrich replies with her agreement, and says she would be surprised to hear differently from either Miers or Gonzales. Little is said among the principals in the attorney-firing process for several months. The first expirations will not begin until November 2005, and according to a later Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008), Sampson will decide to “back-burner” the issue until later in the year. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dabney Friedrich, US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bud Cummins, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002), does well in his second Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department. As with his first EARS evaluation (see April or August 2002), he is described as highly regarded by the judiciary in his district as well as by law enforcement, civil client agencies, and his office personnel. The current EARS evaluation reports that Cummins and his senior management team “effectively managed the office’s operations and personnel.” Under Cummins, the report says, his office has “established strategic goals that were appropriate to meet the priorities of the department and the needs of the district.” Cummins is involved in the day-to-day management of his office, and is active in Justice Department matters, serving on various Attorney General Advisory Committee subcommittees. Cummins also receives high marks for his office’s anti-terrorism, anti-drug, and reduction of gun violence programs. The office focuses strongly on public corruption cases involving state legislators. Cummins is doing a good job of incorporating a number of new and inexperienced assistants into his staff of “very experienced” assistants, though the report recommends that he consider selecting either “a deputy criminal chief, or the creation of units with lead attorneys to assist the criminal chief in the management of the workload and personnel.” The report also finds some incorrect data entries in the Legal Information Office Network System (LIONS). [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Cummins will be fired shortly after this evaluation is performed (see December 20, 2006). He has already been identified as a target for removal by Justice Department aide Kyle Sampson (see January 9, 2005). All of the US Attorneys on Sampson’s list of targets are described as “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.”

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), asks Acting Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Mercer for his opinion on the performance of a number of US Attorneys. (Mercer is also a US Attorney.) Mercer will later state that Sampson does not say that there is a plan to fire some of the Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, March 2, 2005, and March 23, 2005), but Mercer understands that such is Sampson’s purpose in asking his opinion. Sampson says that changes might be made in certain districts with productivity problems or policy compliance issues. Mercer will later recall discussing issues with US Attorney Carol Lam’s immigration records (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, and September 23, 2005), and will recall discussions about US Attorney Kevin Ryan as well. Mercer will say he and Sampson may discuss other Attorneys as well, but will state he cannot recall who those Attorneys might be. Mercer gets the sense that Sampson is speaking with other people about the issue, but does not know who those people might be. Mercer will say that he and Sampson do not discuss the issue again until December 2006, when the firing plan is activated (see December 7, 2006). [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, William W. Mercer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far.Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far. [Source: MeFeedia]Legal scholars and constitutional experts decry President Bush’s claim that he can ignore or disobey laws with impunity. An examination by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage finds that to date, Bush has claimed the authority to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office (see January 20, 2001 and After, After September 11, 2001, January 27, 2002, November 5, 2002, March 12, 2004 and After, November 6, 2003, December 2004, December 17, 2004, Dec. 23, 2004, January 17, 2005, August 8, 2005, October 18, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 23, 2006). He claims that as president, he has the power to override any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. While the Constitution assigns Congress the power to write the laws and the president the duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Bush asserts that he has no mandate to “execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional. Administration spokespersons have repeatedly said that Bush “will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution,” but it is Bush who decides what is and is not constitutional. Many legal scholars disagree with Bush’s position, and accuse him of attempting to usurp Congressional power for himself.
Philip Cooper - Law professor Phillip Cooper says over the Bush administration’s tenure, it has relentlessly worked to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House. “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government,” Cooper says. “This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”
Christopher Kelley - Political science professor Christopher Kelley notes that Bush uses signing statements to abrogate Congressional powers in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional mandates. “He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises—and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” Kelley says.
David Golove - Law professor David Golove says Bush has besmirched “the whole idea that there is a rule of law” because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore. “Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional,” Golove says. To the extent that Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Golove notes, he threatens to “overturn the existing structures of constitutional law.” When a president ignores the Court and is not restrained by a Congress that enables his usurpations, Golove says, the Constitution can be made to simply “disappear.” Golove adds, “Bush has essentially said that ‘We’re the executive branch and we’re going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.’”
Jack Beerman - Law professor Jack Beermann says: “The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they’re not taking action because they don’t want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans. Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party.”
Steven Calabresi - Former Justice Department official Steven Calabresi, who came up with the idea of using signing statements to counter Congressional powers during the Reagan administration (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), now says, “I think what the administration has done in issuing no vetoes and scores of signing statements (see September 2007) is not the right way to approach this.”
Bruce Fein - Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein says: “This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 243]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, Christopher Kelley, Jack Beermann, Bruce Fein, David Golove, George W. Bush, Phillip Cooper, Steven Calabresi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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