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Profile: Robert J. Delahunty

Positions that Robert J. Delahunty has held:

  • Lawyer for the US Department of Justice

Robert J. Delahunty was a participant or observer in the following events:

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 deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009] The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009; Ars Technica, 3/2/2009] There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009] Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” [Salon, 3/3/2009] If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Michael Chertoff, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn Greenwald, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo and Robert Delahunty of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) write a classified memo to John Bellinger, the senior legal counsel to the National Security Council. Yoo and Delahunty claim that President Bush has the unilateral authority to “suspend certain articles” of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the US and Russia (see May 26, 1972). Six months later, President Bush will withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/15/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo will not be released until two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: National Security Council, John Bellinger, John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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

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

Two weeks after Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write a memo saying that the US should not be bound by international laws covering warfare and torture (see January 9, 2002), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concurs (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] But others inside and outside the administration strongly disagree. Many will later point to Yoo and Delahunty’s memo as providing the “spark” for the torture and prisoner abuses 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). Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth will call the memo a “maliciously ideological or deceptive” document that ignores US obligations under multiple international agreements. “You can’t pick or choose what laws you’re going to follow,” Roth will observe. “These political lawyers set the nation on a course that permitted the abusive interrogation techniques” disclosed in later months. Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, agrees. When you read the memo, Horton says, “the first thing that comes to mind is that this is not a lofty statement of policy on behalf of the United States. You get the impression very quickly that it is some very clever criminal defense lawyers trying to figure out how to weave and bob around the law and avoid its applications.” Two days later, the State Department, whose lawyers are “horrified” by the Yoo memo, vehemently disagrees with its position (see January 11, 2002). Three weeks later, State again criticizes the memo (see February 2, 2002). State senior counsel William Howard Taft IV points out that the US depends itself on the even observations of international law, and that following Yoo’s recommendations may undermine attempts to prosecute detainees under that same body of law. Secretary of State Colin Powell “hit[s] the roof” when he reads Gonzales’s response to the Yoo memo, warning that adopting such a legal practice “will reverse over a century of US policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction” (see January 26, 2002). The Bush administration will give in a bit to Powell’s position, announcing that it will allow Geneva to apply to the Afghan war—but not to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. State Department lawyers call it a “hollow” victory for Powell, leaving the administration’s position essentially unchanged. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, Human Rights Watch, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, International League for Human Rights, John C. Yoo, Kenneth Roth, William Howard Taft IV, Scott Horton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, and OLC lawyer Robert Delahunty, send a classified memo to the Defense Department. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions as they apply to the treatment of detainees in US custody. Presumably, the memo is in reference to previous legal advice submitted to Goldsmith by an OLC attorney-adviser regarding Geneva (see October 31, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, Geneva Conventions, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice, Robert J. Delahunty

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Newsweek reveals the existence of the January 9, 2002 draft memo written by Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty (see January 9, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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