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US Civil Liberties

Expansion of Presidential Power/ Unitary Executive Theory

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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ABC reporter Ted Koppel asks Vice President Dick Cheney about meetings with his “pals” from the oil and energy industries (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After). Koppel is referring to the attempts by Congress to be given the names of the participants in Cheney’s energy task force meetings. Cheney says: “I think it’s going to have to be resolved in court, and I think that’s probably appropriate. I think, in fact, that this is the first time the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has ever issued a so-called demand letter to a president/vice president. I’m a duly elected constitutional officer. The idea that any member of Congress can demand from me a list of everybody I meet with and what they say strikes me as—as inappropriate, and not in keeping with the Constitution.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “The vice president was deftly turning a request for records into a constitutional struggle between the legislative and executive branches.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who issued the original requests before turning them over to the GAO, will put his demands for information on hold because of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, but the case will indeed end up in court (see February 22, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 11-12]

Entity Tags: Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Government Accountability Office, Henry A. Waxman, Ted Koppel, Jake Bernstein, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, David Walker, backs down from his initial request for all pertinent documents and records of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see May 8, 2001). Instead, Walker modifies his request to ask for just the names of the lobbyists at the task force meetings, the dates of the meetings, the general topic(s) of discussion, and the cost of the meetings. Cheney will also refuse this request, and will escalate his rhetorical war against Walker and the GAO in defense of “executive privilege” (see July 26, 2001 and August 2, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 92-93]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, David Walker, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, responds to the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s offer to scale back its request for information regarding Cheney’s energy task force (see July 31, 2001) with another blanket refusal. Addington again asserts that the GAO has no authority to make such a request (see June 7, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Vice President Cheney sends a letter to Congressional leaders demanding that they order the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, David Walker, to immediately withdraw his request for records pertaining to Cheney’s secret energy task force (see July 18, 2001). Walker has already scaled back his initial request (see July 31, 2001), but Cheney asserts that even the limited information Walker is requesting would violate “the confidentiality of communications among a president, a vice president, the president’s other senior advisers, and others.” Cheney also rails against “actions undertaken by an agent of the Congress, the comptroller general [Walker], which exceeded his lawful authority and which if given effect, would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 93] The GAO notes that Cheney’s letter does not cite the specific information requested by the GAO, as required by law. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, David Walker, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, issues a report detailing the history of the GAO’s request for information regarding Vice President Cheney’s secret energy task force, and reiterating its request (see July 31, 2001). The report is sent to President Bush, Cheney, Congress, the attorney general, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It reads in part: “In communications with the vice president’s counsel… we offered to eliminate our earlier request for minutes and notes and for the information presented by members of the public. Even though we are legally entitled to this information, as a matter of comity, we are scaling back the records we are requesting to exclude these two items of information.… The GAO as an institution, and the comptroller general as an officer of the legislative branch, assist the Congress in exercising its responsibilities under the Constitution to oversee, investigate, and legislate. In order to help members of Congress carry out their role and evaluate the process used to develop the National Energy Policy, GAO needs selected factual and non-deliberative records that the vice president, as chair of the NEPDG [National Energy Policy Development Group, the formal name for Cheney’s task force], or others representing the Group, are in a position to provide GAO. The records we are requesting will assist the review of how the NEPDG spent public funds, how it carried out its activities, and whether applicable law was followed.” [David Walker, 8/17/2001 pdf file; National Review, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, David Walker, General Accounting Office, John Ashcroft, Office of Management and Budget, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Dan Burton.Dan Burton. [Source: US House of Representatives]Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, releases edited transcripts of taped White House conversations between then-President Bill Clinton and Israel’s then-prime minister, Ehud Barak (see Late August, 2001). President Bush’s counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to break with decades of tradition in releasing private conversations between a former president and a head of state, and gave Burton the tapes as part of Burton’s investigation into Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Marc Rich, a commodities trader who had fled the US ahead of tax evasion and fraud charges. Burton and other conservatives have charged that Clinton pardoned Rich at the behest of Rich’s wife Denise, a Clinton presidential library contributor, possibly in return for the contributions, or even sexual favors. However, the tapes indicate that one reason Clinton pardoned Rich was a request made by Barak. On December 11, 2000, Barak said to Clinton, “One last remark. There is an American Jewish businessman living in Switzerland and makes a lot of philanthropic contributions to Israeli institutions and activities and education.” Rich had “violated certain rules of the game in the United States,” Barak said, and wanted Clinton to consider pardoning him. Clinton replied, “I know about that case because I know his ex-wife. If your ex-wife wants to help you, that’s good.” Barak asked Clinton again on January 8, 2001, when Clinton called Rich’s case “bizarre” and said, “It’s best that we not say much about that.” In a third conversation, which took place just days before Clinton left office, Clinton said that such a pardon has “almost no precedent in American history,” and told Barak that he was pondering whether or not to allow Rich to return to the US if pardoned. [New York Times, 8/21/2001; Salon, 2/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86] Clinton, angered by the selective editing of the transcripts in an apparent effort to mischaracterize the Rich pardon, will request that all of the relevant portions of the transcripts be released; the White House will refuse and classify the rest of the transcripts (see Late August, 2001).

Entity Tags: House Committee on Government Reform, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Dan Burton, Ehud Barak, Marc Rich, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Denise Rich

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification

Marc Rich.Marc Rich. [Source: Huffington Post]Former president Bill Clinton reacts angrily to edited transcripts of private conversations with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, in which Barak requested that Clinton pardon fugitive American financier Marc Rich (see August 21, 2001 and Early September, 2001). The transcripts were edited and released to the public by House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) as part of his investigation into whether Clinton acted improperly in pardoning Rich. After reading the transcripts, Clinton thinks that Burton has selectively edited them, and giving a false impression of the nature and content of the conversations between himself and Barak. Clinton asks the White House, which had provided Burton with copies of the tapes of the conversations, to release all of the relevant portions of the transcripts, which he says will portray the conversations in a different light. But the White House refuses, saying the remaining portions of the transcripts are now classified. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]
'Hating Bill Clinton' - The classification of the documents is quite sudden. Earlier in the month, a White House spokesperson said that the release of the Clinton-Barak transcripts was nothing more than part of their efforts to make more information available to Congress. “The excerpts were not classified,” the spokesperson said. “The decision to make the documents available was entirely consistent with past practice. You don’t just slap Top Secret on a whole document.” However, some observers dispute this. “Given the secrecy that the Bush-Cheney administration has pursued, it’s inconceivable that they would turn this information over if it affected President Bush,” says Phil Schiliro, the Democratic staff director for the House Government Reform Committee, which is trying in vain to secure information from the White House about the Cheney Energy Task Force. Lynne Weil, the press secretary for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls the sudden decision to classify the previously unclassified transcripts “highly unusual.” She adds, “People who have worked for the Foreign Relations Committee for years can’t recall the last time such a thing happened.” The National Security Archives’s Tom Blanton welcomed the original disclosure of the conversations, but says it came not from a sudden desire for transparency from the Bush administration, but from a desire to smear Clinton. The Bush administration passionately believes in secrecy, a belief rooted in its collective ideology, says Blanton. When asked why that same ideological concern didn’t extend to the Clinton-Barak transcripts, Blanton replies that the question ignores “a rather more focused version of that ideology that’s about hating Bill Clinton.”
Violation of Procedure - Typically, the Bush administration turns down requests such as Burton’s for private presidential conversations. However, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to turn them over. At that point, Clinton could have attempted to block the release of the transcripts by invoking executive privilege, a move that may have cast him in a poor light politically. But the events as carried out by Burton and the White House—breaking with precedent to release potentially embarrassing transcripts, edit those transcripts to make their contents appear more damning than they actually are, then retroactively classify the remainder of the transcripts—is highly unusual. [Salon, 2/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]

Entity Tags: Energy Task Force, Ehud Barak, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Tom Blanton, National Security Archives, Phil Schiliro, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Rich, House Committee on Government Reform, Lynne Weil, Dan Burton

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, asks for more than twelve sets of internal Justice Department documents that detail purported fund-raising abuses by the 1996 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Burton also wants documents relating to the FBI’s use of mob informants by its Boston office, where evidence indicates that the office literally let the informants get away with murder and suppressed evidence that allowed an innocent man to go to prison. Burton’s request causes a dilemma for the White House. On the one hand, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have given explicit instructions for staffers to resist such calls for information. On the other hand, when Burton had delved into the questions surrounding Clinton’s last-minute pardons, Bush had already given him unprecedented access to Clinton’s private conversations (see August 21, 2001). Burton immediately released edited transcripts of the tapes (see August 21, 2001). The administration ponders whether or not to release the documents, and in the process perhaps further impugn Clinton, or to refuse, preserving their standard of executive privilege. It will eventually come down on the side of secrecy (see December 13, 2001). [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Ehud Barak, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Dan Burton, George W. Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Committee on Government Reform

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power

Vice President Cheney’s office responds to repeated requests by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see August 17, 2001) by sending it a list of the task force’s office support staff, and nothing more. The GAO now considers itself empowered by law to file a lawsuit seeking the requested information, and the next day will issue a statement to that effect. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

David Addington.David Addington. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Yoo, Timothy E. Flanigan, Craig Unger, Bradford Berenson, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. [Savage, 2007, pp. 76-78] As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 84]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Lawrence Wilkerson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David S. Addington, Jay S. Bybee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

The CIA begins a program to kill or capture al-Qaeda leaders using small teams of its paramilitary forces. [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] The aim is to take out of circulation members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates who are judged to be plotting attacks against US forces or interests. The program’s establishment follows its proposal by an official at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) and official approval from the White House (see September 17, 2001). The program, initially run by the Counterterrorist Center, never becomes operational at the agency and no targets are ever proposed for the White House’s approval; although the CIA will both capture and kill several al-Qaeda leaders over the next few years (see, for example, February 29 or March 1, 2003 and December 1, 2005), these successes result from ad hoc operations or other programs. However, the Pentagon will later begin a parallel program that does kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see July 22, 2002). Although the CIA’s program is never used, it is, according to CIA spokesman George Little, “much more than a PowerPoint presentation.” [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Another official adds: “It’s wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin. It went well beyond that.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009] Top CIA officials are briefed periodically about the program’s progress. [New York Times, 7/14/2009] The program is intended for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other countries. [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Reasons for its non-use include logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] There are three versions of the program: an initial one done in house, another one operated by the private military contractor Blackwater (see 2004), and another, possibly after Blackwater leaves the program (see (2005-2006)). The total spending on the program is under $20 million over eight years. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] There is a US government ban on assassinating people. However, the Bush administration takes the position that killing members of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the US and has pledged to attack it again, is no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, so the CIA is not constrained by the ban. [New York Times, 7/14/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: George Little, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

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

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

John Yoo.John Yoo. [Source: University of California, Berkeley]In a secret 15-page memo to Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, reasons that it is “beyond question that the president has the plenary constitutional power to take such military actions as he deems necessary and appropriate to respond to the terrorist attacks” of 9/11. Those actions can be extensive. “The president may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them,” Yoo writes, “whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11.… Force can be used both to retaliate for those attacks, and to prevent and deter future assaults on the nation. Military actions need not be limited to those individuals, groups, or states that participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” The memo is solicited and overseen by White House lawyers.
Power Derives from Constitution, Congressional Authorization for War - This power of the president, Yoo states, rests both on the US Congress’ Joint Resolution of September 14 (see September 14-18, 2001) and on the War Powers Resolution of 1973. “Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” (Most experts believe that the Constitution strictly limits the president’s power to declare and conduct war—see 1787).
Power More Extensive than Congress Authorized - Yoo argues further that the September 14 resolution does not represent the limits to the president’s authority. “We think it beyond question” that Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” Congress’s “Joint Resolution is somewhat narrower than the president’s constitutional authority,” Yoo writes, as it “does not reach other terrorist individuals, groups, or states which cannot be determined to have links to the September 11 attacks.” The president’s broad power can be used against selected individuals suspected of posing a danger to the US, even though it may be “difficult to establish, by the standards of criminal law or even lower legal standards, that particular individuals or groups have been or may be implicated in attacks on the United States.” Yoo concludes: “[W]e do not think that the difficulty or impossibility of establishing proof to a criminal law standard (or of making evidence public) bars the president from taking such military measures as, in his best judgment, he thinks necessary or appropriate to defend the United States from terrorist attacks. In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the president’s decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable.”
'Unenumerated' Presidential Powers - Yoo even asserts that the president has more power than his memo claims: “[T]he president’s powers include inherent executive powers that are unenumerated in the Constitution,” including but not limited to the power to take the country to war without Congressional input. [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001; Savage, 2007, pp. 121-122]
Memo Remains Secret for Three Years - The contents of this memo are not disclosed until mid-December 2004. [Newsweek, 12/18/2004; Newsweek, 12/27/2004]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Bradford Berenson.Bradford Berenson. [Source: PBS]In the weeks following 9/11, government lawyers begin to formulate a legal response to the newly perceived threat of terrorism. Four related issues are at hand: forceful prevention, detention, prosecution, and interrogation. What degree of force can the government employ to prevent acts of terrorism or apprehend suspected terrorists? How and where can it best detain terrorists if captured? How can it best bring them to trial? And how can it best obtain information from them on terrorist organizations and plots? These questions are handled in a new atmosphere that is more tolerant towards flexible interpretations of the law. Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel at this time, later recalls: “Legally, the watchword became ‘forward-leaning’ by which everybody meant: ‘We want to be aggressive. We want to take risks.’” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] This attitude is seemingly in line with the president’s thinking. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall President Bush saying, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We are going to kick some ass” (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] At the center of legal reconstruction work are Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, his deputy Timothy E. Flanigan, and David S. Addington, legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. [New York Times, 12/19/2004] They will find a helpful hand in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), most notably its head, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee [Los Angeles Times, 6/10/2004] and his deputies John C. Yoo [New York Times, 8/15/2004] and Patrick F. Philbin. Most of the top government lawyers dwell in fairly conservative circles, with many being a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal fraternity. Some have clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose ruling effectively lead to the presidency being awarded to George W. Bush after the 2000 presidential election. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] Others worked for Judge Lawrence H. Silberman, who set up secret contacts with the Iranian government under President Reagan leading to the Iran-Contra scandal, and who advised on pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton. [Inter Press Service, 2/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Richard A. Clarke, John C. Yoo, Joan Claybrook, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bradford Berenson, Jay S. Bybee, Alan M. Dershowitz, Rena Steinzor

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

President Bush issues a directive authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to operate a warrantless domestic surveillance program. Author/journalist Jane Mayer will report in 2011, “[O]n October 4, 2001, Bush authorized the policy, and it became operational by October 6th,” and, “[t]he new policy, which lawyers in the Justice Department justified by citing President Bush’s executive authority as commander in chief, contravened a century of constitutional case law.” Mayer will interview NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake for her article and quote him as saying that, following the October 4 directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’” Bush’s directive is based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Deputy Attorney General John Yoo (see September 25, 2001). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011]
Conflicting Information regarding Date of First Authorization - The existence of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program will first be made public in December 2005, following reporting by the New York Times that will cite “[n]early a dozen current and former officials” (see December 15, 2005). The Times article will state that in 2002, “[m]onths after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Bush signed an executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor domestic phone calls, including those of US citizens and permanent residents, if one end of the call was outside the country. The Times article also mentions an NSA “‘special collection program’ [that] began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it looked for new tools to attack terrorism.” The difference between the October 4, 2001 directive and the 2002 executive order referred to by the Times is unclear. [New York Times, 12/16/2005]
Other Sources for October Directive - Other sources, including Bush, NSA Director General Michael Hayden, and the inspectors general of five separate agencies, will later refer to a presidential order having been given in “October,” or “weeks” after the 9/11 attacks, and say that, subsequent to this order, international calls of US persons are targeted for content-monitoring. Following the publication of the Times article, Bush will say in a December 17, 2005 radio address: “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with US law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks” (see December 17, 2005). This presidential authorization was based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo (see October 18, 2001). [WhiteHouse(.gov), 12/17/2005] Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001,” which is when he “gathered key members of the NSA workforce… [and] introduced [the NSA’s] new operational authority to them.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general,” and that “the three most senior and experienced lawyers in NSA… supported the lawfulness of this program.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006] In a July 10, 2009 jointly-issued report, the inspectors general of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will refer to the “President’s Surveillance Program” (PSP) and “the program’s inception in October 2001.” The report will say: “One of the activities authorized as part of the PSP was the interception of the content of communications into and out of the United States where there was a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication was a member of al-Qaeda or related terrorist organizations.… The attorney general subsequently publicly acknowledged the fact that other intelligence activities were also authorized under the same presidential authorization, but the details of those activities remain classified.” [Inspectors General, 7/10/2009] Citing “a senior administration official,” the Washington Post will report on January 4, 2006: “The secret NSA program… was authorized in October 2001.… The president and senior aides have publicly discussed various aspects of the program, but neither the White House, the NSA, nor the office of the director of national intelligence would say what day the president authorized it.” [Washington Post, 1/4/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Thomas Drake, US Department of Defense, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, John C. Yoo, Jane Mayer

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

President Bush sends a letter to Congress informing legislators that he has ordered US armed forces into combat against the Taliban (see October 7, 2001). Bush does not rely on Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), but instead asserts his unilateral authority as president to take the country into war. “I have taken these actions pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct US foreign relations as commander in chief and chief executive,” he writes (see 1787). His letter goes on to express his appreciation to Congress for its “support” in his decision to begin a war against a foreign entity. [Savage, 2007, pp. 127-128]

Entity Tags: Taliban, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Attorney General John Ashcroft encourages federal agencies to deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In a memo to all government departments and agencies, he states, “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.” This is a dramatic shift from the Clinton administration, which instructed federal officials to grant all information requests, using a “presumption of disclosure,” unless there was “foreseeable harm” in doing so. [Washington Post, 12/2/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 96] The New York Times notes that while the new policy was announced after 9/11, “it had been planned well before the attacks.” [New York Times, 1/3/2003] In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write that Ashcroft turns the Clinton policy of foreseeable harm “on its head.” He will write: “Reviving a Reagan-era policy aimed at undermining the Freedom of Information Act, Ashcroft instructed the government to reject FOIA requests if it was at all possible to do so, under any legal reason for withholding documents—even if the information sought was harmless. And he promised to back up any decision to reject a FOIA request in court. The Ashcroft policy quickly discouraged the release of information to the public because few people were willing to go to the trouble and expense of an inevitable lawsuit.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 96]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Bush administration (43), Freedom of Information Act, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Media Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Classification

Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel is arrested and held for five months after investigators discover he worked at a restaurant where Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi sometimes ate lunch in South Florida. In a sworn statement, Michael Rolince, head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section, says, “It is likely that Bellahouel would have waited on both Atta and Alshehhi since Bellahouel had worked at the restaurant for 10 months, and both Atta and Alshehhi were frequent patrons during shifts that Bellahouel worked.” Rolince also alleges Bellahouel may have waited on a third hijacker, Saeed Alghamdi, and says that a cinema employee claims Bellahouel saw a film with a fourth hijacker, Ahmed Alnami. However, Bellahouel, who denies going to the cinema with Alnami, has trouble gaining access to the evidence used against him. His attorney comments, “They won’t call it secret evidence and they won’t call it classified, but they won’t give it to you, either.” He is held in prison without bond and without charge from October 15, 2001 to March 1, 2002. After he is released, US authorities attempt to deport him, as he entered the US as a student, but then dropped out of college and started work, marrying a US citizen in June 2001. His attorney says the problem is that he is a Muslim. “If he were a Catholic coming from Venezuela or Colombia, they would have let him adjust his immigration status.” Bellahouel sues the government over his incarceration, but the case is shrouded in secrecy and the press only learns the case is ongoing due to a court error. [Miami Daily Business Review, 3/14/2003] For example, a journalist, who does not event know Bellahouel’s name, attempts to attend a hearing in March 2003. But the court is closed. After some effort, the reporter finally finds the name in the electronic docket. When he tells a court official Bellahouel’s name is on the docket, the official replies, “Is it? We’ll have to fix that, too,” and the name disappears. [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 12/2004] In February 2004 the Supreme Court declines an appeal from Bellahouel to have an open hearing, and media organizations are prevented from accessing sealed court proceedings. [New York Times, 1/5/2004; CNN, 2/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Michael Rolince, Ahmed Alnami, Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel, Saeed Alghamdi, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Detainments in US, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali  Khan, right.Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Detainments in US, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Media Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

A senior NSA official, having learned of the NSA’s post-9/11 domestic surveillance program and believing it to be illegal, takes his concerns to a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. In a 2012 interview for Democracy Now!, William Binney, a former NSA technical director who served in the NSA for 36 years, will say that some of his staff had been recruited to work on the new program and told him of some of the things that were being done, which he believed were illegal. Binney will tell co-host Juan Gonzalez: “I immediately went to the Intelligence Committee, because… the intelligence committees were formed to have oversight over the intelligence community to make sure they didn’t monitor US citizens.… And the member of the staff that I went to went to Porter Goss, who was chairman of that committee at the time, and he referred her to General Hayden for any further. When it was the job of that committee to do the oversight on all this domestic spying, they weren’t doing it.” Soon after this, Binney retires from the NSA, due to his belief the NSA is violating the Constitution (see October 31, 2001). [Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, House Intelligence Committee, William Binney, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

White House lawyers have become impatient with the interagency group’s (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001) less than full endorsement of the use of military commissions to try suspected terrorists. By late October, Timothy E. Flanigan takes the task of designing a strategy for prosecuting terrorists away from the group and proceeds to focus on military commissions as the only preferable option. The White House lawyers now work more in secret, excluding many agencies and most of the government’s experts in military and international law, but together with the lawyers of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), with the intention of drafting a presidential military order. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] There is a remarkable secrecy surrounding the drafting process (see November 11-13, 2001). Both Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, are closely consulted. But the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Michael Chertoff is kept out of the loop. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is informed through his general counsel, William J. Haynes. Other Pentagon experts, however, are excluded. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] When the order is signed (see November 13, 2001), many express surprise. “That came like a bolt from the blue,” a former Pentagon official says. “Neither I nor anyone I knew had any insight, any advance knowledge, or any opportunity to comment on the president’s military order.” [Guardian, 6/9/2004] “I can’t tell you how compartmented things were,” retired Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, later recalls. “This was a closed administration.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Donald J. Guter, Donald Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Concerned that NSA post-9/11 surveillance operations violated the US Constitution, a senior NSA official reports on the program to House Intelligence Committee staff (see Before October 31, 2001), then retires. William Binney, a crypto-mathematician, had served in the NSA for 36 years. In 1997 he was made technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, a 6000-employee unit that focused on signals intelligence (SIGINT) reporting and analysis. In the last part of his NSA career, Binney focused on dealing with the NSA’s problem of information overload, co-founding the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC) and leading a 20-member team to develop a data-mining and analysis program called ThinThread. This program made it possible to “correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, GPS equipment, and any other ‘attributes’ that an analyst might find useful,” and “could chart relationships among people in real time.” Unlike the NSA’s existing centralized data processing systems, ThinThread was able to identify useful or useless data as it was collected, reducing the overload problem. However, though it targeted foreign communications, ThinThread also intercepted those of Americans, and “continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the US.” Binney incorporated measures to protect privacy, but NSA lawyers still considered the program too invasive, according to a 2011 article by Jane Mayer based on interviews with Binney and another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. In 1999, NSA Director General Michael Hayden decided to fund a rival program, Trailblazer, which would be developed by defense contractors (see Late 1999). Trailblazer will be abandoned in 2006 as unworkable, after costing $1.2 billion (see January 2006). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011; Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]
Post-9/11 NSA Surveillance Expansion - Binney will tell Mayer that, after the 9/11 attacks, his people began coming to him, saying things like: “They’re getting billing records on US citizens! They’re putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country!” James Bamford will interview Binney in 2012 and write, “At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, [Binney] says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” Binney has not been personally “read in” to this domestic surveillance program, but some members of his SARC team have, as their knowledge of ThinThread code was needed to set it up. Binney became convinced elements of ThinThread were being used, but without privacy protections, meaning US persons could be targeted. Soon after learning these things, Binney takes his concerns to the House Intelligence Committee (see Before October 31, 2001), and retires on October 31. He will tell Mayer, “I couldn’t be an accessory to subverting the Constitution.” Other sources support Binney’s account of this NSA data-mining and monitoring program (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, and October 2001). However, the claim that NSA domestic surveillance was initiated only after, and in response to, 9/11 is contradicted by information indicating that domestic monitoring programs and activities were established and conducted prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [New Yorker, 5/23/2011; Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: William Binney, World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, Thinthread, Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, House Intelligence Committee, James Bamford, Jane Mayer, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, Thomas Drake, Trailblazer

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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

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

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

George W. Bush signs Executive Order 13233 which limits public access to papers of all presidents since 1980. A 1978 law provided for the release of presidential papers 12 years after the president leaves office, so Ronald Reagan’s papers would have been released next year. Reagan issued an order in 1989 that called for disclosure of most of his official papers 12 years after he left office but under the new executive order the papers can be kept secret even if the president in question wants them released. President Bush’s father was vice president during the Reagan administration. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/8/2001] The Guardian notes that now Bush’s “personal papers detailing the decision-making process in the current war on terrorism could remain secret in perpetuity.” [Guardian, 11/2/2001] In March 2001, Bush signed a temporary order delaying the release of these papers for 90 days, and then signed for another 90 day delay before signing this order making the change permanent (see January 20, 2001). [New York Times, 1/3/2003]
'Executive Fiat' - Bush’s executive order radically reforms the PRA and unilaterally imposes limitations never contemplated by Congress. Bush is, according to former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, “in essence… repealing an act of Congress and imposing a new law by executive fiat.” If not overturned by Congress or lawsuits, the executive order mandates the following, according to Dean:
bullet Former presidents can keep their papers sealed indefinitely.
bullet Vice presidents have the power to invoke executive privilege, an authority limited to the president since 1969.
bullet The burden shifts from a presumption to release presidential documents unless good cause exists to keep them sealed, to the opposite, where an applicant must show good cause why a set of documents should be unsealed.
bullet Any request to release a former president’s papers must be approved by both the former president and the current incumbent. Either one’s objection keeps the papers sealed.
bullet “Representatives of former presidents” may invoke executive privilege after a former president’s death. Dean will write, “Although there is no constitutional basis whatsoever for this, under Bush’s order such a right can be passed from generation to generation, to friends, anyone.”
Tom Connors of the Society of American Archivists will say, “What seems to be coming out of the [Bush-Cheney] administration is the idea that public information is a dangerous thing.” Historian Hugh Davis Graham, who will, before his death, take part in a lawsuit to overturn the order, will observe, “George W. Bush has a fetish for secrecy. And unless this executive order is overturned, it will be a victory for secrecy in government—a victory so total that it would make [former president Richard] Nixon jealous in his grave.” Dean will add, “Bush and Cheney assumed office planning to take total and absolute control of executive branch information. The truth will be what they say it is. They will decide what the public should know and when, if ever.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 89-92]

Entity Tags: Society of American Archivists, Bush administration (43), Tom Connors, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, John Dean, Hugh Davis Graham

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

John Yoo, the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) deputy assistant attorney general, sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft justifying warrantless surveillance of US persons. The National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic surveillance authorized by President Bush (see October 4, 2001, Early 2002, and December 15, 2005) will come to be publicly referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP). This is not the first Yoo memo supporting warrantless surveillance (see September 25, 2001), but a 2009 report on the PSP jointly issued by the inspectors general (IGs) of the Department of Defense (DOD), DOJ, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will refer to it as “[t]he first OLC opinion directly supporting the legality of the PSP.” The IGs’ report will quote from and comment on the memo, noting that “deficiencies in Yoo’s memorandum identified by his successors in the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General later became critical to DOJ’s decision to reassess the legality of the program in 2003.” According to the IGs’ report, Yoo asserts that warrantless surveillance is constitutional as long as it is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment, which only protects against “unreasonable searches and siezures.” On this point, the IGs’ report will note that Yoo’s successors were troubled by his failure to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which found the president’s wartime authority to be limited. His memo does acknowledge that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “purports to be the exclusive statutory means for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence,” but asserts that it is only a “safe harbor for electronic surveillance” because it cannot “restrict the president’s ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security.” Yoo also writes that Congress has not “made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area.” The IGs’ report will state that Yoo’s successors considered this problematic because Yoo has omitted discussion of the fact that FISA explicitly authorizes the president to conduct warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days following a declaration of war by Congress, which they considered an expression of Congress’s intent to restrict warrantless surveillance to a limited period of time and specific circumstances. The IGs’ report will also state that Yoo’s memo discusses “the legal rationale for Other Intelligence Activities authorized as part of the PSP,” and that Yoo concludes, “[W]e do not believe that Congress may restrict the president’s inherent constitutional powers, which allow him to gather intelligence necessary to defend the nation from direct attack.” The IGs’ report will say that “Yoo’s discussion of some of the Other Intelligence Activities did not accurately describe the scope of these activities,” and that Yoo’s successors considered his discussion of these other activities to be “insufficient and presenting a serious impediment to recertification of the program as to form and legality.” [Inspectors General, 7/10/2009, pp. pp. 11-13]
Memo's Existence Revealed by ACLU Lawsuit - On December 15, 2005, the New York Times will report that Bush authorized an NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program after the 9/11 attacks (see December 15, 2005). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will request records pertaining to the program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and then sue the Justice Department for the release of records. The existence of Yoo’s November 2 memo will first be revealed in an October 19, 2007 deposition filed by then head of the OLC Steven Bradbury in response to the ACLU lawsuit, which says that it “[concerns] the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.” After the 2009 release of the IGs’ report the ACLU will notify the court and the government will agree to reprocess four OLC memos, including Yoo’s November 2 memo. This memo and a May 6, 2004 memo by Yoo’s OLC successor Jack Goldsmith that disputes many of Yoo’s conclusions will be released in heavily redacted form on March 18, 2011. [ACLU.org, 2/7/2006; United States District Court of DC, 10/19/2007; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/19/2011]
Constitutional Experts Dispute Yoo's Legal Rationale - Numerous authorities on the law will question or reject the legal bases for warrantless domestic surveillance. In 2003, Yoo will leave the OLC. Goldsmith will begin a review of the PSP, after which he will conclude it is probably illegal in some respects and protest, within the executive branch, its continuation (see Late 2003-Early 2004 and December 2003-June 2004). Following the public disclosure of its existence, a January 5, 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service will find it to be of dubious legality (see January 5, 2006). On January 19, 2006, the DOJ will issue a 42-page white paper laying out the legal bases for the program (see January 19, 2006). These bases will be reviewed and rejected by 14 constitutional scholars and former government officials in a joint letter to Congress on February 2, 2006. [al [PDF], 2/2/2006 pdf file] The American Bar Association will adopt a resolution on February 13, 2006 that rejects DOJ’s arguments and calls on Congress to investigate the program. [Delegates, 2/13/2006 pdf file] On August 17, 2006, in the case ACLU v. NSA, US district judge Anna Diggs Taylor will reject the government’s invocation of the “state secrets privilege” and its argument that plaintiffs’ lack standing due to their being unable to prove they were surveilled, and will rule that warrantless surveillance is in violation of “the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA, and Title III” (see August 17, 2006). Taylor’s ruling will be overturned on appeal, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing as they cannot prove that surveillance has occurred. In another case, Al Haramain v. Barack Obama, the government will make the same arguments, but US district judge Vaughn Walker will reject these and conclude in 2010 that illegal surveillance occurred (see March 31, 2010). [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, Vaughn Walker, Ronald Dworkin, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, American Bar Association, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft, Anna Diggs Taylor, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

John Yoo, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), writes a legal opinion that claims the attorney general, under Executive Order 12333 (see December 4, 1981), can grant the deputy attorney general the legal authority to approve the use of surveillance techniques for which a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes. [US Department of Justice, 11/5/2001; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Other Surveillance

Patrick Philbin, an attorney with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, writes a lengthy and detailed memo arguing that the president may establish so-called “military commissions” for the trial and disposition of terror suspects without involvement in the US criminal justice system. Furthermore, Philbin opines, the president may do so without the approval or even the knowledge of Congress. [US Department of Justice, 11/6/2001 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] Philbin’s central argument is that 9/11 was an act of war, not a crime, and therefore the attacks triggered the president’s full array of war powers, including the inherent authority to create military commissions. Philbin cites a 1942 case where then-President Roosevelt created a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US during the first year of America’s involvement in World War II (see 1942); even though the Supreme Court backed Roosevelt, he felt unsure of the legality of such commissions, and did not use them in later trials of captured saboteurs. Since World War II, the laws of war have undergone drastic revisions, with Congress enacting the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which said that if military commissions were ever to be used again, they should use, as much as is practical, the same procedures and defendant rights as are found in military courts-martial. The Senate had also ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which granted all wartime prisoners the right to a fair trial. Philbin’s memo ignores everything except the 1942 military commissions, and argues that if the president has the inherent and exclusive right to set up military commissions, as the Supreme Court had found, then Congress has no authority to restrict that right. [Savage, 2007, pp. 136-137]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, Patrick F. Philbin, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that the Justice Department is now on what he calls a “wartime footing.” The agency is revamping its priorities to refocus its efforts on battling terrorism. According to Ashcroft, a plan, which he intends to submit to Congress, mandates a reorganization of the Justice Department, as well as component agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), both of which will be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off terrorism. The plan will take five years to fully implement. Ashcroft is reticent about the details of the plans, but some proposals include:
bullet Allowing federal prison authorities to eavesdrop on prisoners conferring with their attorneys, effectively voiding the attorney-client privilege, if those prisoners are considered to be a threat to national security;
bullet Redirecting 10 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, or about $2.5 billion, to counterterrorism efforts;
bullet Restructuring the INS to focus on identifying, deporting, and prosecuting illegal aliens, with a special focus on potential terrorists.
The eavesdropping privilege causes an immediate stir among civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker notes that the order has already been published in the Federal Register and is, essentially, the law. Information gathered by authorities during such eavesdropping sessions would not be used in criminal prosecutions of the suspects, Tucker promises. “The team that listens is not involved in the criminal proceedings,” she says. “There’s a firewall there.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he agrees with the general idea of refocusing the agency on terrorism, but suggests Ashcroft’s plan be reviewed by an existing commission that is now examining the FBI’s counterintelligence operations. That commission is headed by former FBI Director William Webster. Leahy’s fellow senator, Charles Grassley (R-IA), says: “As with any reorganization, the devil will be in the details. I hope for new accountability measures, not just structural changes.” Ashcroft says: “Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority. To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies.” [New York Times, 11/3/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35] “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” says a former FBI executive director. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” [Harper's, 12/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mindy Tucker, John Ashcroft, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, William H. Webster

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Surveillance, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Vice President Cheney leads a meeting at the White House to put the finishing touches on a draft presidential order establishing military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 9, 2001). The meeting includes Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and several White House lawyers, but leaves out senior officials of the State Department and the National Security Council. Cheney has decided to tell neither National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice nor Secretary of State Colin Powell about the order until it has already been signed. Cheney has also told no one in the interagency working group ostensibly formulating the administration’s approach to prosecuting terrorists (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Ashcroft angrily dissents from Cheney’s plan to give the White House sole authority over the commissions, and invokes his authority as the nation’s top law enforcement official to demand that the Justice Department be given a say in the decision. Cheney overrules Ashcroft’s objections. He will discuss the draft with President Bush over lunch a few days later (see November 11-13, 2001). [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

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

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

At a private lunch meeting, Vice President Cheney presents President Bush with a four-page memo, written in strict secrecy by lawyer John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see November 6-10, 2001), and a draft executive order that establishes military commissions for the trial of suspected terrorists (see November 10, 2001). The legal brief mandates that foreign terrorism suspects held in US custody have no access to any courts whatsoever, civil, criminal, military, domestic, or foreign. They can be detained indefinitely without charges. If they are to be tried, they can be tried in closed “military commissions.” [White House, 11/13/2001; Savage, 2007, pp. 138; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Military Commissions Suitable to 'Unitary Executive' Agenda - According to author Craig Unger, military commissions are a key element of Cheney’s drive towards a “unitary executive,” the accretion of governmental powers to the presidency at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. Federal trials for terror suspects would put them under all the legal procedures provided under the US judicial system, an unacceptable alternative. Military courts-martial would give them the rights granted by the Geneva Conventions. Military commissions, however, are essentially tribunals operating outside of both civilian and military law. Defendants have few rights. Secret evidence can be admitted without being disclosed to the defendants. Hearsay and coerced testimony are admissible. Prisoners can be held indefinitely. [Unger, 2007, pp. 221-222]
No Bureaucratic Footprints - After Bush peruses the memo and the draft order, Cheney takes them back with him to his office. After leaving Bush, Cheney takes extraordinary steps to ensure that no evidence of his involvement remains. The order passes from Cheney to his chief counsel David Addington, and then to associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson. At Berenson, the provenance of the order breaks, as no one tells him of its origin. Berenson rushes the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart Bowen with instructions to prepare it for signature immediately, without advance distribution to Bush’s top advisers. Bowen objects, saying that he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever sidestepping the strict procedures governing coordination and review. Bowen relents only after being subjected to what he will later recall as “rapid, urgent persuasion” that Bush is standing by to sign and that the order is too sensitive to delay. Berenson will later say he understood that “someone had briefed” Bush “and gone over it” already. “I don’t know who that was.” When it is returned to Bush’s office later in the day, Bush signs it immediately (see November 13, 2001). Virtually no one else has seen the text of the memo. The Cheney/Yoo proposal has become a military order from the commander in chief.
Dodging Proper Channels - The government has had an interagency working group, headed by Pierre Prosper, the ambassador at large for war crimes, working on the same question (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). But Cheney and Addington have refused to have any contact with Prosper’s group; one of Cheney’s team later says, “The interagency [group] was just constipated.” Cheney leapfrogged over Prosper’s group with their own proposal, performing an adroit bureaucratic move that puts their proposal in place without any oversight whatsoever, and cutting Prosper’s group entirely out of the process. When the news of the order is broadcast on CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell demands, “What the hell just happened?” An angry Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, sends an aide to find out. Virtually no one, even witnesses to the presidential signing, know that Cheney promulgated the order. In 2007, Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker will call the episode “a defining moment in Cheney’s tenure” as vice president. Cheney has little Constitutional power, but his deft behind-the-scenes manuevering and skilled bureaucratic gamesmanship enable him to pull off coups like this one, often leaving even the highest White House officials none the wiser. “[H]e has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert,” the reporters write. [White House, 11/13/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 221-222; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Quiet Contravening of US Law - Six years later, Unger will observe that few inside or outside Washington realize that Cheney has, within a matter of days, contravened and discarded two centuries of American law. He has given the president, in the words of former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, “the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes [and] the authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely… a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XIV’s execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 223-224]

Entity Tags: Stuart W. Bowen, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Barton Gellman, Bradford Berenson, Jo Becker, Bruce Fein, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, Colin Powell, Pierre-Richard Prosper

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

Scorching criticism of President Bush’s Executive Order (see November 13, 2001) comes from the Center for National Security Studies, which says it “violates separation of powers as the creation of military commissions has not been authorized by the Congress and is outside the president’s constitutional powers.” The order is also an “unconstitutional attempt to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.” [Center for National Security Studies, 11/19/2001] Law professor Kathleen Clark similarly states: “These military tribunals are troubling in many respects, particularly in their denial of basic due process protection for defendants. But even apart from this question of civil liberties, this presidential order is unconstitutional because the president lacks the authority under the constitution and statutory law to create this kind of court.” [Center for Democracy and Technology, 11/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Clark, Center for National Security Studies

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The Bush administration solves the dilemma surrounding a request by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) for documents from the Clinton administration (see Early September, 2001) by placing secrecy and executive privilege above a chance to potentially attack Clinton. Burton has tucked the request for the Clinton documents in with another request on a far more serious matter, possible malfeasance by an FBI office. President Bush instructs Attorney General John Ashcroft not to turn over the documents on either case, explaining that turning over the documents would violate the “national interest” by giving Congress documents related to “prosecutorial decision making.” Burton, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee, and editorial writers and commentators around the country criticize the administration over the refusal to turn over the documents, particularly the FBI information. The White House adds fuel to the controversy by claiming, both on this day and in a January 2002 letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that the refusal is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy (see January 10, 2002). The committee will secure an opinion from eminent Constitutional scholar Professor Charles Tiefer, who will show that the White House’s argument is flatly wrong. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
'Your Guy's Acting Like a King' - An infuriated Burton confronts a lower-level Justice Department official sent to testify about the government’s position: “We’ve got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does not want Congress involved. Your guy’s acting like he’s king.” In his official comments, Burton accuses the Bush administration of setting a “terrible, terrible precedent” in the name of executive power. “This is not a monarchy,” Burton says. “The legislative branch has oversight responsibilities to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch.” In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Burton. “Anything that limits legitimate Congressional oversight is worrisome,” he says. “This move needs to be carefully scrutinized, particularly in an atmosphere where Congress is giving the Justice Department additional powers and authority.”
Politics over Principles - But the storm of Congressional criticism will have little lasting effect. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “[P]olitics defeated… principles. Most Republicans were unwilling to challenge Bush, and many Democrats opposed Burton’s probes of the Clinton campaign fund-raising, so few members of either party were interested in fighting the White House about it. And because Bush’s first invocation of [executive privilege] was done in part to protect Clinton and the Democrats, the gesture seemed principled rather than self-serving. It was tactically brilliant.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 98]
Administration Later Turns Over Documents - After the media controversy, the administration quietly, and without public acknowledgment, will provide the FBI material to the committee. The committee’s final report on the FBI investigation will conclude with six pages of withering criticism of the administration’s fallacious claim to executive privilege. However, as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will note in 2004, the criticism from the committee is essentially meaningless to the White House, because it will garner no attention from the media and thereby cost the administration no political capital. And while some observers cannot understand why the administration would take such a hardline stand on an issue that lacks any implications for national security, the public interest, or the protection of ongoing criminal investigations, Dean will write that “it makes absolute sense if the administration’s aim is total information control.” He adds: “Accordingly, its policy remains to employ executive privilege aggressively, as long as the political price is not too high. If this administration is given a second term, there will be no price too high to expand this presidential privilege, enabling the executive branch to remain completely unaccountable.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
Court Upholds Bush Actions - In 2003, a district court will uphold the Bush administration’s refusal to turn over the documents to Burton’s committee (see March 28, 2003).

Entity Tags: John Dean, House Committee on Government Reform, Dan Burton, Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), Charles Tiefer, Charlie Savage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The Justice Department’s John Yoo sends a classified memo to the Defense Department’s general counsel, William Haynes. The contents will not be made public, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will eventually learn that the memo concerns possible criminal charges to be brought against an American citizen who is suspected of being a member of either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The ACLU believes the memo discusses the laws mandating that US military personnel must adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how those laws may not apply to military personnel during a so-called “undeclared war.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Vice President Dick Cheney tells the CIA not to brief Congress about an agency program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Two reasons will be given for withholding the information. One is that the program never becomes operational. [New York Times, 7/12/2009; New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] The other is that the agency already has legal authority to kill al-Qaeda leaders (see September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 8/20/2009] According to the New York Times, Cheney’s instruction to keep the program secret suggests “that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.” [New York Times, 7/12/2009] The fact that the program is never briefed to Congress until it is cancelled in 2009 (see June 24, 2009) will cause controversy after it becomes public knowledge, and the House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether it was a breach of the law (see Before August 20, 2009). The law is apparently unclear on whether this program should be briefed, as it requires the president to make sure the House and Senate intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” However, such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.” House Intelligence Committee member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) will later say that Congress would have approved of the program only in what the New York Times calls “the angry and panicky days after 9/11, on 9/12,” but not later, after fears and tempers had begun to cool. [New York Times, 7/12/2009]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

Vice President Dick Cheney continues to battle the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s request for the records of his energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After) in the broadcast media (see July 26, 2001). On Fox News, he reiterates his insistence that he will not turn over any records from the task force unless compelled to do so by the courts, and says indignantly, “They’ve demanded of me that I give Henry Waxman [the California Democratic representative who originated the demand for task force records] a list of everybody I met with, of everything that was discussed, any advice that was revealed, notes and memos of these meetings.” Cheney is lying. The GAO only asked for the minutes from the meetings and the names of the participants (see July 31, 2001 and February 22, 2002), and soon the GAO will scale back its request to nothing more than the names and schedules of the participants and the meetings, not the contents of the meetings themselves. Four years later, when the court case has long been settled in Cheney’s favor (see February 7, 2003), Cheney will still mischaracterize the issue as an improper demand from Congress for an executive branch official to disclose the contents of private conversations and meetings, and therefore destroy “the ability of the president and the vice president to receive unvarnished advice.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein will call the argument “bogus, specious, [and] absurd.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 12-13] GAO officials call Cheney’s statement a “critical and highly material misrepresentation” of the facts. [National Review, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bruce Fein, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

The Justice Department’s Patrick Philbin sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The memo’s contents will not be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards Ashcroft’s review of the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP—see March 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo contains a legal review by Ashcroft of President Bush’s order authorizing the TSP, the Bush administration’s name for its warrantless wiretapping program. The review is requested before one of the 45-day reauthorizations by the president as required by law. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Terrorist Surveillance Program, American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales issues a letter stating that the administration’s refusal to turn over documents about possible FBI malfeasance to Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy. Gonzales’s assertion will be disputed by the Committee, based on an assessment by law Professor Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore (see December 13, 2001). [Dean, 2004, pp. 87]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dan Burton, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents will never be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards the authority of the OLC, the attorney general, the Justice Department, and the State Department in interpreting treaties and international law. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jay S. Bybee

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

William Howard Taft IV.William Howard Taft IV. [Source: PBS]William Howard Taft IV, the State Department’s chief legal adviser, responds to John Yoo’s January 9,2002, memo (see January 9, 2002) saying that Yoo’s analysis is “seriously flawed.” Taft writes: “In previous conflicts, the United States has dealt with tens of thousands of detainees without repudiating its obligations under the [Geneva] Conventions. I have no doubt we can do so here, where a relative handful of persons is involved.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] Applying the Geneva Conventions, according to Taft, would demonstrate that the United States “bases its conduct on its international legal obligations and the rule of law, not just on its policy preferences.” Taft ends with a scorching criticism. “Your position is, at this point, erroneous in its substance and untenable in practice. Your conclusions are as wrong as they are incomplete. Let’s talk.” [Le Monde (Paris), 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: William Howard Taft IV, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004]
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Richard B. Myers, US Department of State, Taliban, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bellinger, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

John Bellinger, the White House’s chief national security counsel, sends his supervisor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, what he thinks is a private memo with a blunt warning about the legality of the proposal to ignore the Geneva Conventions in interrogating terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). The proposal, Bellinger writes, will place Bush in direct breach of international law and threaten the most fundamental cooperation from allied governments. Faxes from other governments, even Britain, have been pouring into the State Department warning that they cannot turn over suspects to the US if the Bush administration withdraws from accepted legal norms. The Bellinger memo quickly finds its way into Vice President Cheney’s office, to Bellinger’s chagrin; Cheney is reportedly “concerned” about Belliger’s advice. Bellinger does not know until now that any documents prepared for Rice are always “routed outside the formal process” to Cheney. The reverse does not apply. Bellinger is unaware of just how systematically he is being cut out of the decision-making process. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), John Bellinger, US Department of State, Geneva Conventions, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and OLC lawyer John Yoo send a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department chief counsel William Haynes. Known as the “Treaties and Laws Memorandum,” the document addresses the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan, and their eventual incarceration at Guantanamo and possible trial by military commissions. The memo asserts that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al-Qaeda detainees, and the president has the authority to deny Taliban members POW status. The document goes on to assert that the president is not bound by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions because they are neither treaties nor federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 1/22/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and fellow senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to evaluate the process by which the Bush administration’s energy policy has been developed (see May 16, 2001). The senators’ request is apparently in support of the GAO’s long-blocked investigation of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Byron L. Dorgan, General Accounting Office, Joseph Lieberman, National Energy Policy Development Group, Ernest F. Hollings

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo regards the application of international law to the United States (see January 22, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Vice President Cheney gives one of the first public indications that he and his office have a keen and active interest in expanding the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Interviewed by ABC’s Cokie Roberts, Cheney openly discusses his interest in reversing the restraints placed on the presidency after Watergate and the Vietnam War. He calls the restraints “unwise compromises” that serve to “weaken the presidency and the vice presidency.” His job, he explains, is to reverse the “erosion of [presidential] powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job.” Cheney says he has laid out his case to President Bush, who agrees with his rationale and his agenda. “One of the things that I feel an obligation on—and I know the president does, too, because we talked about it—is to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 75-76]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Cokie Roberts

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

James Ho, an attorney-adviser to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to the OLC’s John Yoo. The memo, entitled “RE: Possible interpretation of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War,” will remain secret, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it is likely a legal interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, the section addressing the treatment of prisoners of war. The ACLU believes the memo interprets the scope of prohibited conduct under Common Artlcle 3, and gives specificity to the phrases “outrages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment.” It also believes that the memo determines that Geneva does not apply to conflicts with terrorist organizations. Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

In a memo concurrent with the presidential declaration that the Geneva Convention does not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters (see February 7, 2002), Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, sends a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Bybee concludes that President Bush has the legal authority to conclude that Taliban fighters have no rights to prisoner of war status as defined under the Geneva Conventions, because the Taliban lack an organized command structure, do not wear uniforms, and do not consider themselves bound by Geneva. It also concludes that there is no need for the US to convene Article 5 tribunals under Geneva to determine the status of the Taliban, as Bush’s presidential determination of their status eliminates any doubt under domestic law. [US Department of Justice, 2/7/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, US Department of Justice, Taliban, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jay S. Bybee

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Anthony Gamboa, the general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO), reiterates the GAO’s modification of its original request for documents and records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Gamboa writes: “The GAO long ago dropped its request for the minutes and notes of the vice president’s meetings with people outside the government, as well as requests for any materials those individuals have given to Mr. Cheney (see July 31, 2001). The GAO simply seeks the names of those he met in his capacity as head of the energy policy task force, when and where he met them, the subject matter of the meetings, and an explanation of the costs incurred.” Cheney responds during an appearance on the late-night talk show The Tonight Show. He explains his continued refusal to cooperate with the GAO: “What’s at stake here is whether a member of Congress [Henry Waxman (D-CA), whom Cheney has accused the GAO of working for] can demand that I give him notes of all my meetings and a list of everybody I met with. We don’t think that he has that authority.” [National Review, 2/20/2002] The GAO’s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, will later call Cheney’s statements “disinformation.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 100]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Anthony Gamboa, David Walker, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

David Walker, comptroller of the General Accounting Office (GAO) and a Ronald Reagan appointee, files a lawsuit to compel Vice President Dick Cheney and his office to reveal the names of the private businessmen and organizational officials that his energy task force (see January 29, 2001) met with to craft the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 8, 2001). This is the first time since its creation in 1920 that the GAO has been forced to file suit to compel another government agency to follow the law and cooperate with its requests. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79] In a statement, Walker writes: “This is the first time that GAO has filed suit against a federal official in connection with a records access issue. We take this step reluctantly. Nevertheless, given GAO’s responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice. Our repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful. Now that the matter has been submitted to the judicial branch, we are hopeful that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously. [General Accounting Office, 2/22/2002 pdf file]
'Fundamental Questions' about Governmental 'Checks and Balances' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004: “This was, to say the least, a high-stakes lawsuit. It raised fundamental questions about the very nature of our system of checks and balances. If the GAO could not get the information it requested, then there was a black hole in the federal firmament—a no-man’s land where a president and vice president could go free from Congressional oversight.” By random selection, the case lands in the court of Judge John Bates, a career Justice Department lawyer who once worked for the Whitewater investigative team led by Kenneth Starr, and had just recently been appointed to the bench by President Bush. The choice of Bates will prove critical to the verdict of the case. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79]
Schlafly: Secrecy a 'Mistake' - Conservative commentator and activist Phyllis Schlafly will write in 2002: “[T]he public wants to know how our energy policy was developed. When information is kept secret, the natural inference is that there must be something the administration is very eager to hide. While private businesses and households can be selective about what they tell the world, the American people are not willing to accord the same privacy to public officials paid by the taxpayers. Regardless of the legal veil woven over the energy policy meetings, Cheney’s secrecy is a political mistake.” [Eagle Forum, 3/6/2002]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Phyllis Schlafly, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Dean, Government Accountability Office, Bush administration (43), David Walker, George W. Bush, Energy Task Force, John Bates

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

A memorandum sent by the Justice Department to Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes states that the military commissions intended to try enemy combatants are “entirely creatures of the president’s authority as commander in chief… and are part and parcel of the conduct of a military campaign.” [Office of Assistant Attorney General, 2/26/2002 pdf file] This raises questions regarding the independence of the commissions. The US government will try the detainees itself, which is why Human Rights Watch later concludes, “Under the rules, the president, through his designees, serves as prosecutor, judge, jury, and, potentially, executioner.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004] Amnesty International will similarly criticize the fact that “the commissions will lack independence.” [Amnesty International, 10/27/2004] Trial by a court that is not in complete independence from a government acting as a prosecutor is a violation of the defendants’ human rights. Article 14(1) ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] states: “In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law.” Article 14(5) ICCPR furthermore grants “[e]verybody convicted of a crime… the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.” But in the plans of the US government such a right is not foreseen. According to Human Rights Watch, “There is no appeal to an independent civilian court, violating a fundamental precept of international law as well as settled practice in the US military justice system.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004] The Justice Department memorandum advises that “incriminating statements may be admitted in proceedings before military commissions even if the interrogating officers do not abide by the requirements of Miranda.” The “Miranda warnings” are normally a prerequisite for allowing incriminating declarations by a defendant to the proceedings of a criminal trial.

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Vice President Dick Cheney’s office refuses to disclose information about trips taken by its employees that are paid for by private financiers. The rationale is that since the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not strictly part of the executive branch (see 2003), it need not disclose the information under the laws applying to that branch of the federal government. From this time forward, Cheney’s office repeatedly responds to inquiries by the Office of Government Ethics with letters stating “that it is not obligated to file such disclosure forms for travel funded by non-federal sources,” Kate Sheppard and Bob Williams of the Center for Public Integrity will write in 2005. “The letters were signed by then-Counsel to the Vice President David Addington…. Addington writes that the Office of the Vice President is not classified as an agency of the executive branch and is therefore not required to issue reports on travel, lodging and related expenses funded by non-federal sources.” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton will say that Cheney and his staff believe “the vice president is a constitutional office that is not subject to the laws that others in the executive branch are.” [Center for Public Integrity, 11/16/2005]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Bob Williams, Center for Public Integrity, Judicial Watch, Kate Sheppard, Tom Filton, Office of the Vice President, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joan Larsen and Gregory Jacob, an attorney-adviser to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), send a classified memo to lawyers in the Justice Department’s civil division. The memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it regards the availability of habeas corpus protections to detainees captured in the US’s “war on terror.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo asserts that detainees have no habeas corpus protections, and therefore cannot challenge their detentions in US courts, despite multiple Supreme Court rulings to the contrary. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Joan Larsen, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, Gregory Jacob, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

President Bush refuses to allow DHS chief Tom Ridge to testify before Congress regarding the agency’s efforts to protect the nation. Bush’s rationale is that Ridge was on the White House staff before the department was created. Bush tells reporters, “Well, he’s not—he doesn’t have to testify; he’s a part of my staff, and that’s part of the prerogative of the Executive Branch of government. And we hold that very dear.… I’m not going to let Congress erode the power of the Executive Branch. I have a duty to protect the Executive Branch from legislative encroachment. I mean, for example, when the GAO [Government Accountability Office] demands documents from us, we’re not going to give them to them. These were privileged conversations. These were conversations when people come into our offices and brief us. Can you imagine having to give up every single transcript of what is—advised me or the Vice President? Our advice wouldn’t be good and honest and open. And so I viewed that as an encroachment on the power of the Executive Branch. I have an obligation to make sure that the presidency remains robust and the Legislative Branch doesn’t end up running the Executive Branch.” [White House, 3/13/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 180]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Tom Ridge, Government Accountability Office

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

White House chief of staff Andrew Card instructs government agencies to be watchful about safeguarding records that might contain any “information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people.” Card’s order does not define terms, and agency heads are encouraged to define such cited information as broadly as possible. As a result, many government agencies begin refusing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests under a broadly, and often crudely, applied rubric of “national security.” Card’s order precipitates a cascade of new designations for non-classified information that agencies do not want to release, including “For Official Use Only,” “Sensitive but Unclassified,” “Not for Public Dissemination,” and others. The Congressional Research Service will later estimate that some 50 to 60 new designations are created by various executive agencies to keep information away from the public. In addition, some agencies allow any official or employee, from the agency head to the lowliest clerk, to designate a document as off-limits; all 180,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, for example, can designate a document “For Official Use Only” and thus keep it out of public hands. Reporter and author Charlie Savage will write in 2007: “There is no system for tracking who stamped it, for what reason, and how long it should stay secret. There is no process for appealing a secrecy decision.” Websites containing reams of government information are purged and sometimes shut down entirely. Periodic reports containing information that someone deems sensitive, or perhaps merely embarrassing, are terminated. FOIA requests are routinely stalled. Even such innocuous documents as the Defense Department’s personnel directory, formerly available for sale at the Government Printing Office, is now deemed unsafe for public consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency stops publishing chemical plants’ plans for dealing with disasters, perhaps protecting the public from inquisitive terrorists but certainly easing the pressure on the plants to keep their disaster preparation plans current and effective. The Defense Department stops selling topographic charts, used by, among others, airlines for creating flight charts and biologists for mapping species distribution, for “fear” that “those intending harm” might use the charts to plot attacks on US targets. Even old press releases written specifically for public distribution are retroactively classified. [Andrew Card, 3/19/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 101-103]

Entity Tags: Freedom of Information Act, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Charlie Savage, Environmental Protection Agency, Government Printing Office, US Department of Defense, US Department of Homeland Security, Congressional Research Service

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signs Military Commission Order No. 1 prescribing the procedures of the military commission trials (see November 10, 2001). The order says a two-third majority is required to determine a sentence and unanimity for applying the death penalty. It fails to provide for the possibility of appeals. It also says evidence submitted before a commission “shall” be declared admissible if the presiding officer or a majority of the commission members consider that it “would have probative value to a reasonable person.” [US Department of Defense, 3/21/2002 pdf file]
Fundamental Violations of Defendant Rights - Thus, if the presiding member or a majority considers a statement made under any form of coercion, including torture, to have some “probative value,” it “shall” be admitted. Professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University later says this is a break with standard proceedings in civil courts and courts-martial and calls it “clearly at odds with American military justice.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2004] Under the rules, the “Accused” is assigned a military officer to conduct his defense, but may select another officer. He may also retain a civilian attorney; however, he may only choose a lawyer who is vetted by the military. Unlike a military attorney, the civilian lawyer can be excluded from the trial if the presiding member of the commission decides to hold closed proceedings. This prompts Amnesty International to observe that the commissions “will restrict the right of defendants to choose their own counsel and to an effective defense.” [Amnesty International, 10/27/2004] Under the rules of the military commissions the military is allowed to monitor private conversations between defense lawyers and their clients. This violates, as Human Rights Watch remarks, “the fundamental notion of attorney-client confidentiality.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004]
Extraordinary Procedures for a 'Special Breed of Person' - In a discussion of the new rules, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, explains that the detainees being held in Guantanamo are “dangerous people, whether or not they go before a military commission.” He adds, “We’re dealing with a special breed of person here” and thusly new and far more draconian rules must be applied. [PBS, 3/21/2002]
Battle with JAG Lawyers - Rumsfeld worked with lawyers from the Pentagon’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) office to create the procedures for the commissions. The JAG lawyers viewed the commissions as well outside the established rule of law, both in due process as mandated by the Constitution and in the protections mandated by the Geneva Conventions. But Rumsfeld and his group of political appointees considered the JAGs too closed-minded, and insisted on procedures that horrified the military lawyers—low standards for convictions, denial of civilian attorneys, imposition of the death penalty without unanimous consent of the panel of officers judging the case, and other proposed procedures. The JAGs argued that some of the proposals floated by Rumsfeld and his staff would violate their own ethical standards and put them at risk for later prosecution for war crimes if adopted. One top JAG official threatened to resign if the procedures were not brought more in line with established military law. The final version is a compromise between the two camps. Major General Thomas Romig, the head of JAG, later says that the final version still is not what the JAGs would have created on their own. As reporter and author Charlie Savage will later write, based on Romig’s comments: “While less draconian than the political appointees’ initial plans, the military commissions were still legally objectionable in several respects. The commission rules, for example, allowed secret evidence that would be kept hidden from a defendant and allowed the admission of evidence obtained through coercive interrogations [torture]. Moreover, the special trials still had no explicit congressional authorization.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Thomas J. Romig, US Department of Defense, Neal Katyal, Donald Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch, Judge Advocate General Corps, Charlie Savage, Geneva Conventions, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin sends a classified memo to Daniel Bryant, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, concerning the “Swift Justice Authorization Act.” The memo states that Congress has no power to interfere with President Bush’s authority to act as commander in chief to control US actions during wartime, including Bush’s authority to promulgate military commissions to try and sentence suspected terrorists and other detainees taken by the US as part of its “war on terror.” Philbin’s colleague, OLC lawyer John Yoo, will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [US Department of Justice, 4/8/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo will be made public in early 2009 (see March 2, 2009).

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tells reporters that “the framers of the Constitution, I think, intended there to be a strong presidency in order to carry out certain functions, and [President Bush] feels an obligation to leave the office in better shape than when he came in.” Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will sharply disagree with Gonzales in 2004. Dean will write, “In fact, the framers intended the exact opposite, and the president did not even have a staff until 1857, and what has become the modern presidency (beyond anything contemplated by the founders) occurred during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, with the creation of the Executive Office of the President.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 179]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Executive Office of the President, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

A federal advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing to vote on whether to lower the amount of lead exposure considered dangerous to children. The level was last set in 1991, and since then new research has proven that even smaller amounts of lead than previously thought are harmful to children’s cognitive development. The panel is preparing to adjust the level downward, a move that could cost paint and gasoline companies in potential lawsuits. But Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, intervenes. He abruptly replaces five experts with five new panel members known to be supporters of corporate interests that would be affected by the new regulation—one had testified on behalf of a paint company to his belief that children could withstand exposure to lead far in excess of federal regulations (and established science), and others handpicked by the lead industry. Two have financial ties to the industry. Unsurprisingly, the new panel votes to leave the recommended lead level exposure at its given levels. Until Thompson’s move, panel members had not been chosen for ideological or political reasons, but by career staff. [Savage, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: Tommy G. Thompson, US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

In a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), says that the US has the absolute right to detain US citizen Jose Padilla without charge and without legal representation (see May 8, 2002). Bybee also claims that the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the US military from operating inside the US itself, “poses no bar to the military’s operations in detaining Padilla.” [US Department of Justice, 6/8/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The day after this memo is issued, Padilla is classified as an “enemy combatant” and transferred to the US Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Posse Comitatus Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Citizenship Rights

In a court brief in the detention case of Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001), the Bush Justice Department argues against a judge’s decision that Hamdi, a US citizen, must be allowed representation by a lawyer (see June 11, 2002). Though that right is a fundamental precept of American jurisprudence, the Justice Department argues that to allow Hamdi to have access to a lawyer—indeed, to have any contact with the outside world—would interfere with his interrogation. Moreover, only the president and his officials can decide who is and who is not a terrorist, so the courts have no right to demand access to evidence and Hamdi has no need for a lawyer. “The courts may not second-guess the military’s enemy combatant determination,” the Bush lawyers argue. “Going beyond that determination would require the courts to enter an area in which they have no competence, much less institutional expertise, [and] intrude upon the constitutional prerogative of the commander in chief (and military authorities acting under his control).” The appeals court will rule in favor of the Bush administration’s argument, deny Hamdi access to a lawyer, and instruct the lower courts to be far more deferential to the president’s power as commander in chief in future cases (see July 12, 2002). [UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT, 6/12/2002 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 152-153]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Yaser Esam Hamdi, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Several members of Congress submit a list of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking him how the Patriot Act is being implemented (see October 26, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2002] For instance, they ask, “How many times has the department requested records from libraries, bookstores and newspapers? How many roving wiretaps has the department requested?” Ashcroft refuses to answer many of the questions, even though he is legally required to do so. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) fails to receive any response to dozens of letters he writes to Ashcroft, and other senators complain of a complete stonewall from Ashcroft. [Washington Post, 8/21/2002] In March 2003, senators continue to complain that Ashcroft still has not provided the oversight information about the Patriot Act that he is required to give by law. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Leahy, USA Patriot Act, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Patriot Act

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Military lawyers for a detainee believed to be Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) lodge numerous complaints with unidentified White House officials over the torture of their client. Zubaida has been subjected to waterboarding and other abuses by CIA interrogators (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004, March 28-August 1, 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Mid-May 2002 and After). The complaints trigger a hastily arranged meeting between Vice President Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and a number of officials from the Defense and State Departments. The discussion centers on the production of a legal memo specifically for the CIA that would provide retroactive legal immunity for the use of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation methods. According to a subsequent investigation by the Justice Department (see February 22, 2009), the participants in the discussion believe that the methods used against Zubaida are legal because on February 7, 2002, President Bush signed an executive order stating that terrorists were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). Nevertheless, the participants agree that methods such as waterboarding probably violate international and domestic laws against torture, and therefore the CIA and the Bush administration would both benefit from a legal opinion stating what techniques are legal, and why they do not fit the legal definition of torture. The meeting results in the production of the so-called “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002). [Public Record, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, Condoleezza Rice, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

While the Bush White House publicly denies any desire for war with Iraq, and says it is committed to working with the United Nations to find a diplomatic course of action, behind the scenes the administration’s lawyers are working on a legal justification for war. White House counsel Timothy Flanigan develops a legal position that argues the president needs no Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Flanigan’s superior, chief White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, presents Flanigan’s legal rationale to President Bush. Flanigan’s chief argument is that the president’s “inherent power as commander in chief” (see 1901-1909 and June 2, 1952) gives him the right to unilaterally take the country to war. Flanigan’s backup position is invoking the 1991 Congressional authorization for the Persian Gulf War (see January 9-13, 1991), and the UN Security Council’s resolutions from that time period (see November 29, 1990). Nevertheless, the White House will demand an authorization for war from Congress (see October 11, 2002)—an authorization White House officials say Bush has no intention of using except as a means of bringing diplomatic pressure against Iraq. [Savage, 2007, pp. 156]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Jay Bybee.Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 pdf file] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments Outside US, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rules that if Vice President Dick Cheney wants to have him dismiss a lawsuit brought by the watchdog organization Judicial Watch (see June 25, 2001), Cheney must show him the task force documents so that he can make an informed decision. No one else would see the documents, Sullivan says, and he cites a 1993 ruling forcing the Clinton health care task force to reveal its source documents and allow a judge to decide whether that task force had had outside lobbyists directly participating in its work. Judicial Watch’s director of investigations, Chris Farrell, is jubilant over Sullivan’s ruling. “It was very encouraging,” he will later recall. “It looked like the judge had the intellectual honesty and courage to at least give it an evaluation and a fair look. If, in fact, everything the administration was saying was true, then the judge would look at it and draw that conclusion. At least then the public would have some sense of confidence and trust that the right thing was being done, because a fresh set of eyes had looked at it. Without that check, you don’t know.” But Cheney refuses to comply with the order, and instead appeals Sullivan’s decision, asking an appeals court to summarily dismiss Sullivan’s ruling without first making Cheney show the documents to a judge. The appeals court will turn Cheney down, paving the way for a Supreme Court hearing (see December 15, 2003). [Savage, 2007, pp. 160-161]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Emmet Sullivan, Judicial Watch, Chris Farrell

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

As Bush administration lawyers warn that Vice President Cheney and his Pentagon allies are setting the government up for defeat in the courts with their hardline advice on interrogation techniques (see Late 2001-Early 2002, January 25, 2002, April 2002 and After, and August 1, 2002) and indefinite detentions (see After September 11, 2001 and December 2001-January 2002), one of the uneasiest of Justice Department lawyers is Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Cheney and Olson have similar views on the expansion of presidential powers, but his job in the administration is to win court cases. Olson is not sure that Cheney’s legal arguments are tenable. Olson is particularly worried about two pending cases, those of US citizens Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001 and August 16, 2002). Both have been declared enemy combatants and denied access to lawyers. Olson warns that federal courts will not go along with that provision, but he finds himself opposed by CIA and Pentagon officials. When Olson and other lawyers propose that Padilla and Hamdi be granted lawyers, Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, beats back their proposal because, says deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, “that was the position of his client, the vice president.” The issue comes to a head in the West Wing office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House’s chief legal counsel. Four officials with direct knowledge of the meeting later recall the chain of events. Olson has the support of associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Berenson says that Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, will never accept absolute presidential authority to declare a US citizen an enemy and lock him away without benefit of counsel. Another former Kennedy law clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier. Addington, representing Cheney in the meeting, accuses Berenson of surrendering presidential authority on what he calls a fool’s prophecy about the Court; Berenson retorts by accusing Addington of “know-nothingness.” Gonzales listens quietly as the Justice Department and his own staff line up against Addington. He finally makes a decision: in favor of Cheney and Addington. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brett Kavanaugh, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Jose Padilla, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Timothy E. Flanigan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments in US, Government Acting in Secret, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Civil rights division logo.Civil rights division logo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Bush administration embarks on a program to politicize the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD). The CRD is staffed by some 350 permanently employed lawyers who take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. For decades, the decisions on who should fill these positions have been made by civil servants and not by political appointees. The CRD is an obvious target for politicization, and until now the Justice Department has tried to ensure that no such politicization ever took place. “There was obviously oversight from the front office [where the political appointees work], but I don’t remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted,” Charles Cooper, a former lawyer in the CRD during the Reagan administration, will later recall. “I just don’t think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren’t placing any kind of political litmus test on… the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified.”
Hiring Conservatives in Place of Career Lawyers - But Attorney General John Ashcroft changes those rules, without making any sort of official announcement. The hiring committee is not formally disbanded, but it stops having meetings scheduled, and the political appointees begin making career hiring decisions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “The result of the unprecedented change was a quiet remaking of the civil rights division, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.” No longer would career attorneys be hired for their civil rights background; instead, lawyers from conservative law schools or from conservative legal organizations such as the Republican National Lawyers Association are given favorable treatment. Some of the new hires worked with Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigative team or had worked with other prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Trent Lott (R-MO). Some list themselves as belonging to prominent Christian political organizations that promote socially conservative views such as opposition to abortion and to affirmative action.
Shift towards 'Reverse Discrimination' Cases - After the new hires are in place, the division shifts its focus: instead of working on voter rights, employment discrimination, and other such cases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, the division begins working to develop “reverse discrimination” cases in favor of whites and Christians. [Savage, 2007, pp. 295-297]
Driving Career Employees Away - Over the next few years, the types of cases pursued by the CRD changes drastically (see 2005, 2006, and 2006), and career attorneys with decades of service begin leaving the division in large numbers. The Justice Department will even encourage older hires to leave by offering them a buyout. Savage will write, “With every new vacancy, the administration gained a new change to use the new rules to hire another lawyer more in line with its political agenda.” CRD attorney David Becker will tell a 2006 NAACP hearing: “Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level. In the place of those experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experience.” Some supporters say that the Bush administration is merely righting an imbalance, where the CRD was previously top-heavy with liberal lawyers interested in protecting African-Americans over other groups, but one of the CRD’s top career lawyers from 1965 through 1994, Jim Turner, says, “To say that the civil rights division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 298-299]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Charlie Savage, Charles Cooper, Bush administration (43), David Becker, Jim Turner, Trent Lott, US Department of Justice, Edwin Meese, Republican National Lawyers Association, Kenneth Starr

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a “top secret” briefing on Iraq for selected Congressional members, including, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The briefing takes place in the most secure room in the Capitol, a small, windowless chamber that is ostentatiously swept for bugs before the briefing. At the outset, the lawmakers are sworn to deepest secrecy. But during the briefing, Rumsfeld tells the assembled members nothing they couldn’t learn by watching the nightly news. McCain abruptly leaves the meeting, and later says, “It was a joke.” Vice President Cheney has said that the administration doesn’t trust the 535 members of Congress not to leak classified information, and therefore they must make their decisions concerning war with Iraq without the benefit of complete intelligence briefings (see Before September 9, 2002 and After). McCain reflects the feelings of many members in expressing his aggravation with the administration. “It becomes almost insulting after a while,” he says. “Everyone that goes to them is frustrated.” Rather than give “pretend” briefings that convey little information, McCain says, President Bush should just suspend the briefings entirely. House member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says many members are skipping the briefings entirely to avoid signing a secrecy pledge that restricts what they can and cannot talk about. Menendez, briefed earlier by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, says, “I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before.” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says, “The White House will continue to as fully inform as possible members of Congress, while also preserving sensitive intelligence information so no inadvertent disclosure jeopardizes sources or methods or missions.” The White House has had some success with Democrats who might be resistant to its arguments for war by choosing to give more complete briefings to a few selected Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). As a result, Democratic leaders in Congress are more supportive of the push towards war than many of their rank-and-file colleagues. [Washington Post, 9/15/2002]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Menendez, US Department of Defense, John McCain, George W. Bush, Richard Gephardt, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Vice President Cheney continues to argue his case for war with Iraq, this time during an appearance on PBS’s “News Hour with Jim Lehrer.” “We know based on primarily intelligence reporting [that Saddam Hussein] is continuing to expand and improve his biological weapons capability both in terms of production and delivery systems; we know he is working once again on a nuclear program.” Cheney goes on to say that Congress would have to make a decision on whether to authorize an attack on Iraq without being able to see the evidence that Cheney says exists. To brief Congress—535 lawmakers—about such “highly classified” matters would invite leaks that would potentially compromise national security. Instead, lawmakers who do not sit on the respective intelligence committees will have to make their decisions based on the limited amount of information the White House chooses to share with them. [Savage, 2007, pp. 157, 357]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

The Third US Court of Appeals in Philadelphia rules 2-1 to uphold the Bush administration’s claim of blanket secrecy regarding immigration deportation hearings (see September 21, 2001). The ruling directly contradicts a ruling by the Sixth Appeals Court on the same issue (see August 26, 2002). Chief Judge Edward Becker, a Reagan appointee, rules that if a president or his top advisers decide that blanket closure of immigration deportation hearings is needed to protect national security, then the courts should defer to their judgment. “We are quite hesitant to conduct a judicial inquiry into the credibility of these security concerns, as national security is an area where courts have traditionally extended great deference to executive expertise.” Usually when two appellate courts conflict in their rulings, the Supreme Court settles the issue. However, the Bush administration does not appeal the loss in the other case, as the 9/11-related immigration sweeps are already concluded. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write, “As a result, even though four of the six appeals court judges who reviewed the… directive rejected it as unconstitutional, the administration managed to create a precedent for a presidential power to impose blanket secrecy over immigration hearings that stands in forty-six states—everywhere except the Sixth Circuit’s Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 95-96]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Edward Becker, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret

The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s John Yoo sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo’s subject is the legality of certain communications intelligence activities. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Congress passes a law creating the Institute of Education Sciences, a subsidiary of the Department of Education. The new institute is designed to generate independent statistics about student performance. The law stipulates that the institute’s director may conduct and publish research “without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department.” President Bush issues a signing statement indicating that contrary to the law, the director will be responsible to the secretary of education. Since the president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, the statement asserts, “the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education.” Bush’s signing statement directly contradicts the letter and the intent of Congress’s law. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Signing Statements

This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking
through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used.
This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used. [Source: Public domain]President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. [New York Times, 11/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. [New York Times, 11/20/2002] The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” [New York Times, 11/20/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” [New York Times, 11/26/2002] The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 110]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs Service, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Kristen Breitweiser, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Relatives of September 11 Victims, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Media Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Classification

Vice President Dick Cheney unilaterally exempts his office from Executive Order 12958, which established government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. [White House, 4/17/1995; Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007] It was amended by President Bush’s Executive Order 13292 (see March 25, 2003) to require that all agencies or “any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information” regularly report on their activities to the Information Security Oversight Office. [White House, 3/25/2003]
Vice President Not Part of Executive Branch, Cheney Argues - Cheney’s argument is that the vice president’s office is not part of the executive branch, and therefore has no legal obligation to report on its classification decisions as mandated by the order. Cheney justifies his position by noting that the vice president has a role in both the executive and legislative branches—the vice president is also president of the Senate—and the vice president’s office is not an agency. In May 2006, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride will say, “This has been thoroughly reviewed and it’s been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions.” (McBride does not say who reviewed the claim.)
Criticism - Others, such as government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, disagree. “It undermines oversight of the classification system and reveals a disdain for presidential authority,” he says. “It’s part of a larger picture of disrespect that this vice president has shown for the norms of oversight and accountability.” Around 80 agencies and entities must report annually to the National Archives; besides the Office of the Vice President, only the president’s Homeland Security Council and the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board have as yet failed to report on their activities. Aftergood will say: “Somebody made a decision that they don’t want to do what they used to do.… They have to explain why they stopped doing it, and they haven’t done that.” [ABC News, 6/21/2007] Law professor Garrett Epps observes: “The vice president is saying he doesn’t have to follow the orders of the president. That’s a very interesting proposition.” And Judicial Watch’s Paul Orfanedes says Cheney’s claim “seems most disingenuous.” [Cox News Service, 6/21/2007]
Retaliation For Attempt To Force Compliance - The National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will attempt in 2004 to conduct an inspection of Cheney’s offices pursuant to the executive order; Cheney’s staff will block the inspection, the first time since the ISOO’s inception in 1978 that one of its inspections has been thwarted. The National Archives will protest Cheney’s decision (see June 8, 2006 and January 9, 2007); Cheney will respond by attempting to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file; ABC News, 6/21/2007] In June 2007, President Bush will announce that he never intended for either his or Cheney’s office to have to comply with the directive. [USA Today, 6/24/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Issue Nothing More Than 'Kerfuffle' - In December 2007, Cheney will call the entire issue a “kerfuffle… is he or isn’t he; is he part of the executive branch, part of the legislative branch? And the answer really is, you’ve got a foot in both camps. I obviously work for the president. That’s why I’m sitting here in the West Wing of the White House. But I also have a role to play in the Congress as the president of the Senate. I actually get paid—that’s where my paycheck comes from, is the Senate. So I try to keep lines open to both sides of the Congress, both the House and the Senate.” [White House, 12/6/2007] However, Cheney sometimes asserts executive privilege, a function of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007 and June 29, 2007).

Entity Tags: Information Security Oversight Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Archives and Records Administration, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Lea Anne McBride, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Garrett Epps, Steven Aftergood, Office of the Vice President, Paul Orfanedes

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, declines to appeal a case attempting to force Vice President Cheney to disclose his Energy Task Force documents (see May 16, 2001, February 22, 2002, and December 9, 2002). This ends a potentially historic showdown between the Congressional watchdog agency and the executive branch. [Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2003] It is widely believed that the suit is dropped because of pressure from the Republican Party—the suit was filed when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and this decision comes shortly after the Republicans gained control of it. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The head of the GAO denies the lawsuit is dropped because of Republican threats to cut his office’s budget, but US Comptroller General David Walker, who led the case, says there was one such “thinly veiled threat” last year by a lawmaker he wouldn’t identify. [Reuters, 2/25/2003] Another account has Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and a number of other congresspeople making the threat to Walker. [Hill, 2/19/2003] The GAO has previously indicated that accepting defeat in this case would cripple its ability to oversee the executive branch. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] A similar suit filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club continues to move forward, but will ultimately be defeated by the Supreme Court (see May 10, 2005). [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Picking Its Battles - Walker explains that to continue the case “would require investment of significant time and resources over several years.” Later, he will say that he decided not to appeal the case for what reporter Charlie Savage will call “damage-control reasons.” Walker does not want to involve the GAO in what he fears will be perceived as a partisan conflict, and he does not want to risk further crippling the GAO’s ability to function by risking another negative ruling from a federal appeals court. “If the GAO was going to fight that legal battle,” Savage will write in explanation of Walker’s reasoning, “it was strategically unwise to use a case that involved records inside the White House itself instead of a less prominent part of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 113]
Refusal to Appeal 'Stunning' - In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that he finds the GAO’s decision not to appeal the ruling “stunning.” Walker says the GAO isn’t going to challenge the ruling because it does not materially affect the GAO’s ability to function because the “decision did not address the merits” of the GAO’s arguments. The ruling, Walker says, “has no effect on GAO’s statutory audit rights or the obligation of agencies to provide GAO with information.” Dean calls this line of reasoning “wishful thinking at its best.” Dean will ask a high-level GAO official about the reported threats from Congressional Republicans. The official will reply that the threats did not worry Walker and the GAO lawyers nearly as much as the possibility that, if the GAO were to pursue the lawsuit, then, Dean will write, “the Supreme Court could do again what it did in Bush v. Gore and make Walker v. Cheney the landmark ruling ending virtually all Congressional oversight.” But lawyers for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) say that the ruling as it stands places severe restrictions on Congressional oversight. As Dean puts it: “The GAO has lost not only standing to file a lawsuit but the leverage of the threat of filing such a lawsuit, should an executive department or agency stonewall the way Cheney did. The GAO must now simply take what the White House (and its many appendages…) volunteers. This has never before been the case. [The GAO] will see only what Bush and Cheney want it to see.” The CRS notes that the ruling “calls into question the ability of Congress to delegate investigative authority to its agents;” Dean will write that this “may be the true reason for the lawsuit and for Cheney’s actions.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 80-81]
'Big Win' for Bush/Cheney - Constitutional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution will call the ruling a “big win” for the Bush-Cheney administration, saying: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have an extreme and relentless executive-centered conception of American government, and it plays out every day, and there are dozens of fronts in this effort to strengthen the presidency. Power naturally gravitates to the presidency in times of uncertainty. But people are going to question putting all of our trust in an unfetttered presidency.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein is more blunt. “Now they have a precedent that they can hold over Congress’s head,” he will say. “Like a loaded gun. Forever.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ted Stevens, Energy Task Force, John Dean, David Walker, Bruce Fein, Charlie Savage, Congressional Research Service, Brookings Institution, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Thomas Mann

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s John Yoo sends a secret memo to the chief counsel of the Defense Department, William Haynes. The contents remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the subject of the memo is “The American Bar Association’s Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants Report.” The ABA will issue a report condemning the US’s treatment of detainees in August 2004 (see August 9, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the use of information collected in the course of classified foreign intelligence activities. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo may concern a just-released Senate report condemning the Justice Department’s misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see February 25, 2003).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Other Surveillance

The new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns classified foreign intelligence activities (see February 25, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] (The ACLU has Goldsmith as the author of the memo, even though he is not nominated for the OLC slot until May 2003 [Savage, 2007, pp. 183] , and will not be confirmed for the position until five months after that (see October 6, 2003). The reason for the apparent discrepancy is not immediately discernible.)

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

President Bush asserts his own authority to take the nation to war over Congress’s constitutional powers. In a letter to Congress announcing the military strikes against Iraq, Bush briefly notes Congress’s authorization for military action (see October 11, 2002), but writes that he has ordered US troops into battle “pursuant to my authority as commander in chief.” The letter is sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens (R-AK). Bush made a similar, and similary unchallenged, assertion when he sent US troops into Afghanistan (see October 7, 2001). [Letter to congressional leaders reporting on the commencement of military operations against Iraq, 3/21/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: Ted Stevens, George W. Bush, Dennis Hastert

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Bush signs Executive Order 13292 into effect. Innocuously titled “Further Amendment to Executive Order 12958,” and virtually ignored by the press, the order gives the vice president the power to unilaterally classify and declassify intelligence, a power heretofore reserved exclusively for the president. The order is an unprecedented expansion of the power of the vice president. Author Craig Unger will explain: “Since Cheney had scores of loyalists throughout the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council who reported to him, in operational terms, he was the man in charge of foreign policy. If Cheney wanted to keep something secret, he could classify it. If he wanted to leak information, or disinformation, to the New York Times or Washington Post, he could declassify it.” Moreover, Unger will write, the order grants “a measure of legitimacy to Cheney’s previous machinations with the national security apparatus, and in doing so it consolidate[s] the totality of his victories.” Combine the order with the disabled peer review procedures in the intelligence community, the banning of dissenting voices from critical policy deliberations and intelligence briefings, and the subversion of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), and the nation has, Unger will write, an effective vice presidential coup over the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and the administration neoconservatives now effectively run that apparatus. [White House, 3/25/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 298-299]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, appointed to the bench by former President Bill Clinton, rules that the Bush administration is within the law in refusing to release documents pertaining to pardons issued by Clinton to Congress (see August 21, 2001 and December 13, 2001). Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton accuses Kessler of endorsing the Bush administration’s claim of executive privilege in order to protect Clinton’s reputation. The White House hails the ruling, and spokesman Scott McClellan notes that the courts have now recognized that the privilege “applies to former, current, and future presidents.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that the ruling hands “the Bush-Cheney legal team another victory in its bid to expand the White House’s power to keep its inner workings secret.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Gladys Kessler, Tom Fitton, Scott McClellan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Classification

Praising a judicial ruling against efforts to obtain information about his Energy Task Force, Vice President Dick Cheney says, “I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the president and the vice president, to be able to conduct their business.” [Congress Daily, 6/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Energy Task Force, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that the memo approves the use of “harsh tactics” by CIA interrogators in questioning suspected terrorists. The memo was requested by CIA Director George Tenet, who asked for legal cover for the torture and harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators. A lawyer in the CIA’s general counsel office, John Radsan, later says, “The question was whether we had enough ‘top cover.’” A senior intelligence official will later add: “The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and helped save lives. But in the agency’s view, it was like this: ‘We don’t want to continue unless you tell us in writing that it’s not only legal but is the policy of the administration.’” A Bush administration official will later blame the CIA for pressuring the administration to approve harsh interrogations, saying: “The CIA had the White House boxed in. They were saying, ‘It’s the only way to get the information we needed, and—by the way—we think there’s another attack coming up.’ It left the principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-making on a very fast track.” But a CIA official will dispute that characterization. “The suggestion that someone from CIA came in and browbeat everybody is ridiculous,” the official will state. “The CIA understood that [the interrogation program] was controversial and would be widely criticized if it became public. But given the tenor of the times and the belief that more attacks were coming, they felt they had to do what they could to stop the attack.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), John Radsan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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