Profile: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ) (OLC)
Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ) (OLC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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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]
Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his former department’s involvement in approving the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] There were aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program “that I could not find the legal support for,” he says, but because the program is classified, he refuses to give specific details about which aspects violate the law. Goldsmith says he assumes the White House does not want the legality of the program scrutinized, and therefore, “the extreme secrecy—not getting feedback from experts, not showing it to experts—led to a lot of mistakes.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Testimony About Hospital Visit - Goldsmith testifies about the failed attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare the program legal over the objections of Goldsmith and Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey (see March 10-12, 2004). Goldsmith, who accompanied Comey to Ashcroft’s hospital room to counter Gonzales and Card, calls their visit “inappropriate and baffling,” and testifies that Ashcroft “didn’t appreciate being visited in the hospital under these circumstances.” Goldsmith’s testimony further refutes the previous testimony of Gonzales, who insisted that there had been little or no dissension within the department over the wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). Goldsmith tells the committee, “There were enormous disagreements” about the program, though Gonzales’s explanations could be construed as technically accurate given the varying terminology used for the program. [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Goldsmith adds that Comey’s account of the events of that visit is accurate, becoming another former administration official to contradict Gonzales’s own testimony about the incident. Goldsmith also contradicts Gonzales’ insistence that there was very little real dissension among Justice Department and White House officials over the legality of the NSA wiretapping program. [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Pressure Ashcroft - Goldsmith also testifies that President Bush personally dispatched Gonzales and Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room (see October 2, 2007).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Andrew Card, Jack Goldsmith
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
Three top Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw acting Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) head Steven Bradbury from consideration for the position. Since Bradbury’s ascension to the post on an acting basis over two years ago (see June 23, 2005), Democrats have blocked him from being given confirmation hearings and formally becoming the head of the office. The senators write that they are troubled by Bradbury’s support for the administration’s position on aggressive interrogation of terror suspects and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. They note that Bradbury was involved in the denial of security clearances to members from the Office of Professional Responsibility who attempted to investigate the program (see Late April 2006). “With Alberto Gonzales’s resignation,” the letter reads, “there may be an opportunity to undo some of the damage done during his tenure. It is doubtful that progress will be possible without new leadership at OLC.” Durbin says in a press conference, “I think we need new leadership at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.… OLC is a small office, but it really has a lot of power, especially in this administration.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/16/2007 ; Think Progress, 10/16/2007]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), tells the House Judiciary Committee that the Bush administration routinely allowed the CIA to use interrogation tactics that were “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,” as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture. One of those techniques, waterboarding, is legal and not torture, Bradbury says, because it is a “procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards.” Those standards and limitations make waterboarding as used by the CIA substantially different from historical uses of the technique as it was employed during the Spanish Inquisition and by the Japanese during World War II. Bradbury, asked if waterboarding violates US and international laws against torture, says it does not. Waterboarding as practiced by the CIA bears “no resemblance” to what torturers in time past have done. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” Bradbury says. The “only thing in common is the use of water.” Spanish and Japanese water torture techniques “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” When asked if he is aware of any “modern use” of waterboarding that involves the “lungs filling with water,” Bradbury says he is not. Bradbury says that the Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was “beyond the capacity of the victim’s stomach.” Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to “blood coming of the victim’s mouth.” The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of “agony or death.” The CIA does not do that, Bradbury says. “Strict time limits” are involved—presumably governing the length of time that interrogators can induce the sensation of drowning. Additionally, “safeguards” and “restrictions” make waterboarding a much more controlled procedure. Together, waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is not torture. However, Bradbury admits that recent Supreme Court decisions have changed the OLC’s analysis, and says that in 2006 the CIA stopped using waterboarding. [TPM Muckraker, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
Bradbury's Comparison 'Obscene' - Bradbury claimed that no water entered the lungs of three al-Qaeda captives subjected to the practice; many believe that those captives had cellophane or cloth over their noses and mouths while waterboarded. Torture experts say that practice poses a serious risk of asphyxiation. Former OLC official Martin Lederman says he finds Bradbury’s testimony “chilling.” Lederman notes that “to say that this is not severe physical suffering—is not torture—is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding… is obscene.” Human rights experts have said that the CIA’s particular form of waterboarding is similar to those practiced by such regimes as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the French colonial government in Algeria, and the government of Myanmar (Burma). All three of those regimes have been criticized for brutality and flagrant human rights violations. [Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 ; United Press International, 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” [Cornell University Law School, 8/19/2007] Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), fresh from obtaining the release of a 2003 Justice Department memo that justified torture for US military officials (see April 1, 2008), calls on the Bush administration to release a still-secret Justice Department memo from October 2001 that the 2003 memo used as legal justification to ignore the Fourth Amendment (see October 23, 2001). The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure. The 2001 memo claims that the “Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” The ACLU believes that the Fourth Amendment justification “was almost certainly meant to provide a legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush launched the same month the memo was issued” (see Shortly After September 11, 2001-October 2005), a claim the Justice Department denies. The NSA is part of the Defense Department. Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, says: “The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power. The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” No one has ever tried to assert, before this memo was written, that the Fourth Amendment was legally impotent for any reason or justification inside US borders. Jaffer notes that no court has ever ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the military: “In general, the government can’t send an FBI agent to search your home or listen to your phone calls without a warrant, and it can’t send a soldier to do it, either. The applicability of the Fourth Amendment doesn’t turn on what kind of uniform the government agent is wearing.” The ACLU has known about the October 2001 memo for several months, but until now has not known anything of its contents. In response to a 2007 Freedom of Information lawsuit, the Justice Department acknowledged the existence of “a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a deputy assistant attorney general in OLC [Office of Legal Counsel], and a special counsel, OLC, to the counsel to the president, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity.” The only information publicly known about the memo was that it was related to a request for information about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU has challenged the withholding of the October 2001 memo in court. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
The Justice Department launches an investigation into whether its former officials acted properly in advising President Bush that his wartime authority trumped domestic law, United Nations treaties, and international bans on torture. The investigation hinges on a March 2003 memo written by then-Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo that approved of Bush officials’ intent to use torture (see March 14, 2003). Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says the investigation will “help us discover what went wrong and how to put it right.” Whitehouse continues, “The abject failure of legal scholarship in the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis of torture suggests that what mattered was not that the reasoning was sound, or that the research was comprehensive, but that it delivered what the Bush administration wanted.” Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says that the investigation is part of an overall investigation that has been underway for years. [Associated Press, 4/17/2008]
Authors and columnists Diane Farsetta and Sheldon Rampton show that the Pentagon’s recently revealed covert propaganda program using “independent military analysts” to promulgate Pentagon viewpoints about Iraq and the war on terror (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) is “not only unethical but illegal.”
Congress Prohibitions Since 1951 - According to every appropriations bill passed by Congress since 1951, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.”
Congressional Research Service Finds Government-Funded Propaganda Illegal - A March 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service defines “publicity or propaganda” as either “self-aggrandizement by public officials… purely partisan activity… covert propaganda.” Farsetta and Rampton explain, “By covert propaganda, GAO [the Government Accountability Office] means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.” The GAO has determined that government-funded video news releases (VNRs) are illegal when an agency such as the Defense Department fails “to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story [and thusly] misleads the viewing public by encouraging the viewing audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual—the essential fact of attribution is missing.” Farsetta and Rampton argue that the supposedly “independent” commentary by the complicit analysts is little different from the VNRs. The GAO has also noted, “The publicity or propaganda restriction helps to mark the boundary between an agency making information available to the public and agencies creating news reports unbeknownst to the receiving audience.”
Justice Department Finds Propaganda Cannot be Funded by Government - And in 2005, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) found that after the Bush administration had been caught paying pundits to write op-eds favorable of administration policies, “OLC determined in 1988 that a statutory prohibition on using appropriated funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ precluded undisclosed agency funding of advocacy by third-party groups. We stated that ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties’ would run afoul of restrictions on using appropriated funds for ‘propaganda.’” Farsetta and Rampton write: “The key passage here is the phrase, ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties.’ As the [New York] Times report documented in detail, the Pentagon’s military analyst program did exactly that.” [PRWatch, 4/28/2008]
Pentagon Says Program Legal - Former Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says the program is simply a “mirror image” of the Pentagon’s program of embedding journalists with combat units in the field, and Pentagon spokespersons insist that the program was merely to ensure that the US citizenry was well informed about the war. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Jameel Jaffer. [Source: ACLU (.org)]The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases three heavily redacted documents detailing the Bush administration’s use of brutal torture methods against detainees in US custody. The documents are turned over to the ACLU by the CIA after a judge orders their release (see May 27, 2008). “These documents supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody,” says ACLU official Jameel Jaffer. “The Justice Department twisted the law, and in some cases ignored it altogether, in order to permit interrogators to use barbaric methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes.” One document is an August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authorizing the CIA to use particular interrogation methods, including waterboarding (see August 1, 2002). The memo states that interrogation methods that cause severe mental pain do not amount to torture under US law unless they cause “harm lasting months or even years after the acts were inflicted upon the prisoners.” The other two documents, from 2003 and 2004, are memos from the CIA related to requests for legal advice from the Justice Department. The 2003 memo shows that the OLC authorized the agency to use what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques”; the memo shows that when those techniques were used, the CIA documented, among other things, “the nature and duration of each such technique employed” and “the identities of those present.” The 2004 memo shows that CIA interrogators were told that the Justice Department had concluded that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation methods” did not constitute torture. The memo also advised CIA interrogators that, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that courts can decide whether foreign citizens could be held at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), they should be aware that their actions might possibly be subject to judicial review. Jaffer says: “While the documents released today do provide more information about the development and implementation of the Bush administration’s torture policies, even a cursory glance at the documents shows that the administration continues to use ‘national security’ as a shield to protect government officials from embarrassment, criticism, and possible criminal prosecution. Far too much information is still being withheld.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/24/2008]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]
A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to justify his administration’s actions in its war on terror, building on his revelation from days earlier that the White House authorized the waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see December 15, 2008). “[I]it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation,” he says. “In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done.” Asked if he would take the same steps he and his White House colleagues took after the 9/11 attacks, he says: “I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.” Asked if waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods constitute torture, Cheney says they do not. “I don’t believe it was torture,” he says. “We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel. I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it’s directly responsible for the fact that we’ve been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for seven and a half years.” Cheney says that 33 high-value suspects were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques to gain information about al-Qaeda, and three were waterboarded. According to Cheney, those three were alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militsant trsining camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11,” he says. The abuse and torture of prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was, he says, “not policy. [T]he people… that were subjected to abusive practices there, I don’t think had any special intelligence understandings, if you will, or special intelligence information that we needed.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2008]
Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Marty Lederman. [Source: Georgetown Law School]Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, familiar to legal scholars and progressive bloggers for his work on the legal blog “Balkinization,” joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as assistant attorney general. Lederman has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policies on warrantless wiretapping and torture. Lederman’s boss, OLC chief Dawn Johnsen, has been a frequent “guest blogger” on Balkinization, as well as a contributor to Slate’s legal blog “Convictions.” Lederman’s colleague Jack Balkin writes: “Needless to say, I am very pleased for the country by Marty’s new job. I do not exaggerate when I say that Marty is one of the finest lawyers I know, and there is perhaps no better time to put his remarkable talents to use in helping to reform a Justice Department that so badly needs reform.” Lederman is taking the position formerly held by lawyer John Yoo during the first few years of the Bush administration. [Think Progress, 1/20/2009; Balkinization, 1/20/2009]
Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder says that if he is confirmed, he intends to review current litigation in which the Bush administration asserted the so-called “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), and that he intends to minimize the use of the privilege during his tenure. “I will review significant pending cases in which DOJ [the Justice Department] has invoked the state secrets privilege, and will work with leaders in other agencies and professionals at the Department of Justice to ensure that the United States invokes the state secrets privilege only in legally appropriate situations,” he writes in a response to pre-confirmation questions. (Shortly after Holder’s testimony, the Justice Department again asserts the “state secrets” privilege in a case involving a Guantanamo detainee—see February 9, 2009). Holder adds: “I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government. Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law.” To a related question, he asserts his belief that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) must disclose as many of the opinions it generates as possible: “Once the new assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel is confirmed, I plan to instruct that official to review the OLC’s policies relating to publication of its opinions with the [objective] of making its opinions available to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns.” [Federation of American Scientists, 2/2/2009; Senate Judiciary Committee, 2/2/2009] Weeks later, the Justice Department will release nine controversial OLC memos from the Bush administration (see March 2, 2009).
A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. [Public Record, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Bush administration (43), Office of Professional Responsibility, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), H. Marshall Jarrett, Alberto R. Gonzales, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft, Jay S. Bybee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]
Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]
The Obama administration’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, is endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the committee Democrats vote to endorse her, and all but one Republican committee member vote against her; Arlen Specter (R-PA) abstains. After the endorsement, Senate Republicans use a variety of parliamentary procedures to delay or block her appointment. Legal expert and columnist Scott Horton writes, “The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance that would clip the wings of the imperial presidency.” Johnsen formerly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), earning her the enmity of social conservatives who have made her the target of a massive opposition campaign. Anti-abortion groups call her a “radical, pro-abortion activist.” However, Horton notes, observations from Republican officials and opinion leaders show that the GOP’s real concern is not over Johnsen’s support for abortion, but for her apparent intent to roll back Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless surveillance. Even worse, Horton writes, is her intention to reveal secret information from the Bush years about those subjects. But it is politically difficult to attack Johnsen on these issues, Republicans say, so instead she is being targeted for her views on abortion. President Obama’s choice of Johnsen’s two deputies—Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman (see January 20, 2009)—are, like Johnsen, experienced in both academia and politics, and have been vehement critics of the OLC during the Bush years. [Daily Beast, 3/26/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of Bush-era Justice Department memos that detail the torture methods approved for use under that administration (see April 16, 2009), and calls for the prosecution of government officials responsible for the torture policies. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says in a statement: “We have to look back before we can move forward as a nation. When crimes have been committed, the American legal system demands accountability. President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable. Enforcing the nation’s laws should not be a political decision. These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law. There can be no more excuses for putting off criminal investigations of officials who authorized torture, lawyers who justified it, and interrogators who broke the law. No one is above the law, and the law must be equally enforced. Accountability is necessary for any functioning democracy and for restoring America’s reputation at home and abroad.” ACLU official Jameel Jaffer adds: “Memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel, including the memos released today, provided the foundation for the Bush administration’s torture program. Through these memos, Justice Department lawyers authorized interrogators to use the most barbaric interrogation methods, including methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes. The memos are based on legal reasoning that is spurious on its face, and in the end these aren’t legal memos at all—they are simply political documents that were meant to provide window dressing for war crimes. While the memos should never have been written, we welcome their release today. Transparency is a first step towards accountability.” And ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh concludes: “The documents released today provide further confirmation that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel purposefully distorted the law to support the Bush administration’s torture program. Now that the memos have been made public, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration must be held accountable for authorizing torture. We are hopeful that by releasing these memos, the Obama administration has turned the page on an era in which the Justice Department became complicit in some of the most egregious crimes.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Marcy Wheeler, an author and progressive blogger whose research is used by mainstream media to flesh out its coverage of the torture controversy (see April 18, 2009), discovers a footnote in a recently released Justice Department memo (see May 10, 2005 and April 16, 2009) that proves US interrogators sometimes exceeded the restrictions laid down on waterboarding by this and other Justice Department legal opinions. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/17/2009] The memo was dated May 10, 2005 and was issued by Steven Bradbury, then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 ] Wheeler writes: “In other words, the interrogators were dumping water on [Abu Zubaida]‘s and KSM’s [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s] faces and repeating that treatment over and over and over. Without any legal authorization to do so, no matter how bogus.… And note, this is precisely why the torture tapes were destroyed (see March 2, 2009 and March 6, 2009). CIA has admitted that the guys waterboarding Abu Zubaida broke the law. That tape was the irrefutable evidence of who did what.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/17/2009] She adds: “There’s been a lot of discussion about whether those who did what the OLC memos authorized should be prosecuted. But in the case of those who waterboarded [KSM and Abu Zubaida], that’s irrelevant, because they did things the OLC memos didn’t authorize.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009] Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” [Fox News, 4/20/2009] The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009] The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” [Mother Jones, 5/6/2009] Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” [MSNBC, 4/21/2009]
Democratic Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) say they intend to push for the impeachment of federal judge Jay Bybee in response to the report on torture issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009). As the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, Bybee signed off on two memos that justified the use of torture (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002). Nadler says that the purpose of the Bybee memos was never to give an honest legal analysis, but to provide legal cover for patently illegal actions in order to encourage those actions. Nadler says the charge against Bybee would be something approaching “conspiracy to abet torture.” Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he intends to hold hearings to examine the role that Bybee and other Bush administration lawyers played in crafting Bush administration torture policies. “There are some who tried to do a get-out-of-jail-free card. Obviously, there are some that that’s all they were thinking,” he says, refusing to name anyone specifically. However, he says, “We’re coming after these guys.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009] Bybee will not be impeached, though he will be found to have exhibited “poor judgment” during his tenure in the Department of Justice (see February 2010).
Judge Jay Bybee, who authored or signed a number of memos authorizing torture while the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004), defends his actions to the New York Times. Bybee has been a federal judge for over five years (see February 5, 2003); many civil libertarians and critics of the Bush administration want him to either step down from the bench or face impeachment (see April 21, 2009), and the Justice Department is investigating his professional conduct (see Before April 22, 2009). In recent days, Bybee’s friends and colleagues have reported his “regrets” over the memos (see April 25, 2009). Now, Bybee says while in hindsight he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions, the memos represent “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the narrow divide between harsh treatment and torture. Bybee’s memos gave a legal framework for the use of illegal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and enforced isolation. In a statement, Bybee says: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” He had the support of other administration lawyers, he says. “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee’s former colleague, law professor Christopher Blakesley, says he challenged Bybee on one of the memos in 2004, shortly after it became public knowledge. “I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Blakesley recalls. Bybee refused to discuss the matter, and the two men have not spoken since. Blakesley says Bybee “has some basic flaws including being very naïve about leaders. He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what.” Some law clerks who worked with Bybee after he left the OLC recall him speaking about his involvement in some matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he doubted the administration would ever disclose them. One of the then-clerks, Nina Rabin, says she finds Bybee’s position disturbing because he suggests a lawyer can be divorced from the policies being pursued under his legal rubric. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she says, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The US Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility refuses to refer two former Bush administration officials to authorities for criminal or civil charges regarding their authorizations of the torture of suspected terrorists (see Before April 22, 2009). John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, two senior officials in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal groundwork that allowed American interrogators to use sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other torture methods against terror suspects (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, and August 1, 2002). The report finds that Yoo and Bybee, along with former OLC head Steven Bradbury, exhibited “poor judgment” in their actions. The OPR refuses to make the report’s conclusions public. It is known that senior Justice Department official David Margolis made the decision not to refer Yoo and Bybee for legal sanctions. [Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, 7/29/2009 ; Washington Post, 1/31/2010]
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