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US Civil Liberties

Expansion of Presidential Power/ Unitary Executive Theory

Project: US Civil Liberties
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Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. discusses the parameters of the Bush administration’s push towards a “unified executive” and “imperial presidency” in the Washington Post by quoting Abraham Lincoln’s concerns over pre-emptive war. In 1848, Lincoln denounced the proposition “that if it shall become necessary to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution, cross the line, and invade the territory of another country; and that whether such necessity exists in given case, the President is to be the sole judge.” Lincoln continued, “Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion… and you allow him to make war at pleasure…. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’ The Founding Fathers resolved to so frame the Constitution that not one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.” (Dean 2004, pp. 181)

Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). (Rosen 9/9/2007)

The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz sends a classified memo to his boss, OLC chief Jack Goldsmith. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

Congress passes a law that states US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation. The inspector general will inform Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries. President Bush issues a signing statement directly contradicting the law. According to Bush’s statement, the inspector general “shall refrain” from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon. The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations. (Boston Globe 4/30/2006)

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

Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. (Rosen 9/9/2007)
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. (Savage 2007, pp. 184; Goldsmith 9/11/2007)
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” (Goldsmith 9/11/2007)

The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. (Cornwell 12/15/2003)

Instead of reporting the names or even the numbers of staffers in the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the office provides the following information for the federal government’s official staff directory, nicknamed the “Plum Book:” “The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code). The… legislative branch… and the annual transportation-treasury appropriations act… provide funds for the Vice President to hire employees to assist him in carrying out his legislative and executive functions. Executive branch employees also may be assigned or detailed to the Vice President… . The Office of the Vice President (OVP) consists of the aggregation of Vice Presidential employees whose salary is disbursed by the Secretary of the Senate from the Vice President’s legislative appropriation, Vice Presidential employees employed with the Vice President’s executive appropriation, employees assigned or detailed to the Vice President, and consultants engaged by the Vice President. The numbers, titles and salaries of OVP personnel change with some frequency.” (Government Printing Office 2004 pdf file)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” (Hamburger and Miller 3/16/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 302-303)

Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges.Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges. [Source: Mug Shot Alley]The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. (Kuttner 2/1/2004) In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” (Dean 2006)
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” (Kuttner 2/1/2004)

Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” (Union of Concerned Scientists 2/18/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 303-304)

The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, 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 learn that it clarifies the OLC’s advice on classified foreign intelligence activities. Goldsmith sends another classified memo on the same topic to Deputy Attorney General James Comey the next day, a followup memo to Comey three days later, and a followup to Gonzales the day after that. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. (Savage 2007, pp. 188)

Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, advises White House counsel Alberto Gonzales in a classified memo that several “classes” of people are not given “protected” status if captured as hostiles in Iraq. Those people include: US citizens, citizens of a state not bound by the Geneva Conventions, citizens of a “belligerent State,” and members of al-Qaeda who are not Iraqi citizens or permanent Iraqi residents. The memo will be made public on January 9, 2009. (US Department of Justice 3/18/2004 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. (US Department of Justice 3/19/2004 pdf file; Cross 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file) The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).

Deputy Attorney General James Comey sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents of the memo are kept secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it is a briefing and summary of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s preliminary conclusions regarding the Terrorist Surveillance Program (see March 2002). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

Speaking to students in China, Vice President Cheney says that former president Dwight Eisenhower first gave the vice president an office “in the executive branch,” and adds, “since then the responsibilities have gradually increased.” However, Cheney has repeatedly said that the vice president is not part of the executive branch (see 2003, June 26, 2007, and June 29, 2007). (Koffler 6/29/2007)

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. (Curry 4/26/2004; Greenhouse 4/28/2004; Mears 6/24/2004)
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” (Dean 3/26/2004)
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).

Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement appears before the Supreme Court to argue for the administration in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004). Clement argues that the Court has no role in the White House’s decision to hold suspected terrorists designated as “enemy combatants” without trial or charge. During oral arguments, several of the justices ask Clement if the Bush administration considers itself bound by the Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994). Clement replies, “The United States is signatory to conventions that prohibit torture and that sort of thing, and the United States is going to honor its treaty obligations.” He continues: “I wouldn’t want there to be any misunderstanding about this. It’s also the judgment of those involved in this process that the last thing you want to do is torture somebody or do something along those lines.” That evening, CBS’s 60 Minutes II airs the first photos of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib (see April 28, 2004). (Oral Arguments, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld 4/28/2004 pdf file; Savage 2007, pp. 188-189)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that it will not permit pharmacies to sell the emergency contraception drug “Plan B” without a prescription. The drug is a “morning-after” birth-control drug that prevents fertilization and the implantation of the embryo. The agency explains to the manufacturer of the drug, Barr Pharmaceuticals, that the government is worried about the possibility that teenaged girls might not understand how to correctly use the drug without a doctor’s advice. The FDA’s decision is in direct contradiction of a federal advisory panel’s 23-4 decision to recommend approving the drug for over-the-counter sales, including to teenagers, without a doctor’s approval. The FDA’s staff recommended that the agency follow the panel’s recommendation. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Normally, agencies such as the FDA base their decisions on the information provided by their expert advisory panels—but, strangely, not this time.” A spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) says: “By overruling a recommendation by an independent FDA review board, the White House is putting its own political interests ahead of sound medical policies that have broad support. This White House is more interested in appealing to its electoral base than it is in protecting women’s health.” James Trussell, director of the office of population research at Princeton University and a member of the advisory board, says, “The White House has now taken over the FDA.” Numerous women’s groups accuse the FDA’s political appointees of overruling the experts in order to please social conservatives who believe that the “Plan B” drug encourages promiscuity and is a form of abortion. In the following months, a lawsuit will be filed to have the FDA’s decision overturned (see January 21, 2005 and After). (Harris 3/7/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 300-301)

Rene Lerner, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Justice Department lawyer Adrien Silas send a memo to Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. The memo will remain classified, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it pertains to the so-called “McCain Amendment,” later known as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005). President Bush will sign the bill into law, but will include a signing statement that states the administration will not follow the law because it impinges on the president’s constitutional authority to conduct military operations (see December 30, 2005). It is unclear whether Bush’s signing statement is influenced by the memo. (Nguyen and Weaver 4/16/2009)

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

Attorney General John Ashcroft tells a Senate committee, “This administration rejects torture.” (Goldenberg 6/9/2004) When asked whether torture might be justified in certain situations, Ashcroft responds, “I condemn torture. I don’t think it’s productive, let alone justified.” (Schmidt 6/8/2004) With regard to President Bush’s involvement, he says: “Let me completely reject the notion that anything that this president has done or the Justice Department has done has directly resulted in the kind of atrocity which were cited. That is false.” (Goldenberg 6/9/2004) Ashcroft adds, “There is no presidential order immunizing torture.” (Schmidt 6/8/2004)

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

The memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the Pentagon Working Group cause a flow of criticism when they are revealed in May and June 2004. The Washington Post fumes that the news of the “torture memos” “brings shame on American democracy.” (Washington Post 6/9/2004)

During the annual G-8 economic summit, held in Sea Island, Georgia (2004 G8 Summit 2004) , President Bush rejects the notion that he approved the use of torture. “The authorization I gave,” the president says, “was that all we did should be in accordance with American law and consistent with our international treaty obligations. That’s the message I gave our people.” He adds, “What I authorized was that we stay within the framework of American law.” And to emphasize his point, he says: “Listen, I’ll say it one more time.… The instructions that were given were to comply with the law. That should reassure you. We are a nation of laws. We follow the law. We have laws on our books. You could go look at those laws and that should reassure you.” (US President 6/21/2004) During the summit, the foreign ministers of the participating countries are suddenly called to Washington to meet with Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. As Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham will later recall: “Colin suddenly phoned us all up and said, ‘We’re going to the White House this morning.’ Now, this is curious, because normally the heads of government don’t give a damn about foreign ministers. We all popped in a bus and went over and were cordially received by Colin and President Bush. The president sat down to explain that, you know, this terrible news had come out about Abu Ghraib and how disgusting it was. The thrust of his presentation was that this was a terrible aberration; it was un-American conduct. This was not American. [German Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer was one of the people that said, ‘Mr. President, if the atmosphere at the top is such that it encourages or allows people to believe that they can behave this way, this is going to be a consequence.’ The president’s reaction was: ‘This is un-American. Americans don’t do this. People will realize Americans don’t do this.’ The problem for the United States, and indeed for the free world, is that because of this—Guantanamo, and the ‘torture memos’ from the White House (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002), which we were unaware of at that time—people around the world don’t believe that anymore. They say, ‘No, Americans are capable of doing such things and have done them, all the while hypocritically criticizing the human-rights records of others.’” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)

Reacting to one of the “torture memos,” Republican representative Frank Wolf of Virginia writes in a letter to the Justice Department: “I am deeply concerned that this memorandum provides legal justification for the US government to commit cruel, inhumane, and degrading acts, including torture, on prisoners in US custody.” (MSNBC 6/23/2004)

Aides to President Bush, including Alberto Gonzales, publicly renounce the internal memo of August 1, 2002 (see August 1, 2002) that outlined a legal opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). They say it created the false impression that the US government was claiming the right to authorize interrogation techniques in violation of international law. Gonzales agrees that some of its conclusions were “controversial” and “subject to misinterpretation.” (Allen and Schmidt 6/23/2004) The White House announces that all legal advice rendered by the OLC on interrogations will be reviewed and that sections of the August memo will be rewritten. Gonzales says the section in the memo arguing that the president, as Commander-in-Chief, is not bound by anti-torture laws is “unnecessary.” Justice Department officials also say the section will be scrapped. (Priest 6/27/2004) In his introductory statement, however, Gonzales describes the circumstances under which the memo had come about: “We face an enemy that lies in the shadows, an enemy that doesn’t sign treaties, they don’t wear uniforms, an enemy that owes no allegiance to any country, they do not cherish life. An enemy that doesn’t fight, attack, or plan according to accepted laws of war, in particular Geneva Conventions.” (Washington File 6/23/2004) Gonzales claims that giving these people a protected status under the Geneva Conventions would be tantamount to rewarding the terrorists’ lawlessness. “[T]o protect terrorists when they ignore the law is to give incentive to continued ignoring that law,” he says. (Washington File 6/23/2004) Gonzales says he thinks that Bush never actually saw the August 2002 memo: “I don’t believe the president had access to any legal opinions from the Department of Justice.” (Liptak 6/24/2004)

Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” (White House 7/22/2004; Sands 5/2008)

President Bush, responding to questions regarding reports that prisoners have been tortured in Iraq, says: “Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country: We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.” (Allen and Schmidt 6/23/2004)

The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). (Coffin 6/25/2004; Dean 7/2/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 167-168) The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).

David Hicks.David Hicks. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Rasul v. Bush, involving Guantanamo detainees Shafiq Rasul, Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks, and Asif Iqbal, the Supreme Court holds in a 6-3 ruling that the US exercises “complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantanamo Bay, and thus, that the Guantanamo prisoners have the right to challenge their detentions before a judge. Under the habeas corpus statute, Justice John Paul Stevens writes for the majority that “aliens held at the base, no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts’ authority.” (Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al. 6/28/2004) It is unclear whether the court’s ruling is intended to extend to detainees held in other parts of the world, but given the court’s reasoning, it appears that decision applies to detainees both in Guantanamo and elsewhere. (New York Times 6/29/2004)
Conservative Dissent - The three dissenting justices are conservatives William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Scalia says the decision is “an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field.” He acknowledges that the location of Guantanamo has in fact been intended to keep detainees outside of the reach of the judiciary. “Today, the court springs a trap on the executive, subjecting Guantanamo Bay to the oversight of federal courts even though it has never before been thought to be within their jurisdiction, and thus making it a foolish place to have housed alien wartime detainees,” Scalia writes. Stevens writes that it does not matter what status the Guantanamo inmates have regarding the question of whether they should have access to a US court. “What is presently at stake is only whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the executive’s potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing.” And this, he writes, they do. The case is subsequently sent back to a lower court to consider the prisoners’ claims. (Guardian 6/28/2004)
Side-Stepping the Ruling - The media characterizes the decision as a rebuke for the Bush administration, which had argued that the courts have no right to interfere in the commander in chief’s decisions involving wartime policies. However, the decision says nothing about what rights the detainees might have once they get inside a courtroom, and therefore actually places little real restraint on the government. White House officials will decide that the detainees have no rights in the courtroom whatsoever—although the Court has ruled that they can file lawsuits, those lawsuits must be dismissed out of hand because the detainees have no right to actually present a case. The Republican-led Congress will later pass a law stripping courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo lawsuits. (Savage 2007, pp. 192)

Yaser Esam Hamdi.Yaser Esam Hamdi. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” (Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al. 6/28/2004) Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” (Dean 2007, pp. 105)
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” (Savage 2007, pp. 193-194)

In the case of Jose Padilla v. Donald Rumsfeld (see June 9, 2002), the Supreme Court votes 5-4 in favor of the government, declining to rule on the basis of a technicality. The majority argues that Padilla’s petition was incorrectly filed in New York rather than in South Carolina, where he is currently held. While Padilla was held in New York in preparation for an appearance before a grand jury, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld designated him an enemy combatant. Padilla was thereupon transferred to military custody and sent to a naval brig in South Carolina to be detained indefinitely. His lawyer meanwhile, unaware of her client’s transfer, filed a habeas corpus petition in New York against Rumsfeld (see June 11, 2002). This was erroneous, says the majority, which rules that Padilla has to re-file his petition in South Carolina. Four dissenting judges condemn the “secret transfer” of Padilla. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the minority, declares, “At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society.” Stevens also condemns the use of “incommunicado detention for months on end” as a means “to extract information” and places it among the “tools of tyrants.” (Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al. 6/28/2004) Therefore, in essence, the majority declines to rule on the merits of the case. (Savage 2007, pp. 193)

The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that it approves “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 in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Tenet had already asked for, and received, a similar legal authorization a year earlier (see June 1, 2003). (Warrick 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), 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 concerns the ramifications of a recent Supreme Court decision on gathering foreign intelligence. Presumably, Goldsmith is writing about the Hamdi decision, in which the Court ruled that enemy combatants and detainees have the right to due process in the US justice system (see June 28, 2004), but this is by no means certain. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

More than 300 members of the American Bar Association, including former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and former FBI Director William S. Sessions, sign a statement condemning the “torture memos.” These memos, they write, “ignore and misinterpret the US Constitution and laws, international treaties, and rules of international law.” The statement further denounces the lawyers who wrote them, saying they “have sought to justify actions that violate the most basic rights of all human beings.” (Dart 8/5/2004; Cohn 8/29/2004) They tried to “circumvent long established and universally acknowledged principles of law and common decency,” the lawyers charge. (Higham 8/5/2004)

After an oral argument in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein orders the Pentagon and other government agencies to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and provide the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups documents about detention and interrogation activities regarding prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. The government must comply by August 23, the court orders. (Appleson 8/12/2004)

Tim Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the status review tribunals (see July 30, 2004, August 2004, and August 24, 2004) being held at Guantanamo amount to “second-class tribunals, the likes of which we haven’t seen since World War II.” (Hendren 8/18/2004)

James Schlesinger.James Schlesinger. [Source: HBO]The four-member Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations completes its final report on its investigations into the prisoner abuses that are known to have taken place in US-run detention centers throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. The investigative panel, which includes James R. Schlesinger, Harold Brown, Tillie K. Fowler, and Gen. Charles A. Horner, finds that a failure of leadership, leading all the way to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, contributed to the abuse of prisoners. Like the Fay report (see August 25, 2004), to be released the following day, and the February 2004 Taguba report (see March 9, 2004), the Schlesinger report concludes that a lack of oversight and supervision allowed incidents, such as that which occurred at Abu Ghraib, to occur. Unlike preceding investigations, the Schlesinger Panel takes issue with the notion that abuses resulted from the actions of a few bad apples and were not widespread, charging that there is “both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels.” The panel however does not name names. Notwithstanding their criticisms of the secretary, all four members say that Rumsfeld’s mistakes were comparably less significant than those made by uniformed officers. The panel, appointed by the secretary himself, recommends against removing Rumsfeld from office. (Jehl 8/25/2004) In sum, the panel finds:
bullet Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his aides failed to anticipate significant militant resistance to the US invasion and did not respond quickly enough to it when its strength became apparent. (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The Department of Defense created confusion when it issued, retracted, and then re-issued its policy on interrogation methods. (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The failure to adequately staff Abu Ghraib contributed to the poor conditions and abuses that took place at the prison. The ratio of military police to prisoners at the facility was 75 to one. (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet Responsibility for the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib go beyond the handful of MPs present in the photographs. “We found a string of failures that go well beyond an isolated cellblock in Iraq,” panelist Tillie K. Fowler explains during a Pentagon press conference. “We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to the Central Command and to the Pentagon. These failures of leadership helped to set the conditions which allowed for the abusive practice to take place.” (US Department of Defense 8/24/2004; Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet Rumsfeld’s decision (see December 2, 2002) on December 2, 2002 to authorize 16 pre-approved additional interrogation procedures for use at the Guantanamo facility; his subsequent decision (see January 15, 2003) to rescind that authority, and the final April 16, 2003 decision (see April 16, 2003) providing a final list of approved techniques was “an element contributing to uncertainties in the field as to which techniques were authorized.” The methods on the list eventually “migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The panel seemingly concludes that the interrogation methods approved for use in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo are lawful, fully agreeing that the Third Geneva Convention does not apply to detainees considered enemy combatants. The panel does not question whether the military was justified in classifying the detainees, or “terrorists,” as such. “The Panel accepts the proposition that these terrorists are not combatants entitled to the protections of Geneva Convention III. Furthermore, the Panel accepts the conclusion the Geneva Convention IV and the provisions of domestic criminal law are not sufficiently robust and adequate to provide for the appropriate detention of captured terrorists.” (US Congress 9/9/2004, pp. 83 pdf file)
bullet The panel says that Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s decision to classify some prisoners in Iraq as enemy combatants was “understandable,” even though Combined Joint Task Force 7 “understood there was no authorization to suspend application of the Geneva Conventions… .” (US Congress 9/9/2004, pp. 83 pdf file)
bullet Abuses at Abu Ghraib involved both MPs and military intelligence personnel. “We now know these abuses occurred at the hands of both military police and military intelligence personnel,” the report says. “The pictured abuses, unacceptable even in wartime, were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets. They represent deviant behavior and a failure of military leadership and discipline. However, we do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere.… We concur with the Jones/Fay investigation’s (see August 25, 2004) conclusion that military intelligence personnel share responsibility for the abuses at Abu Ghraib with the military police soldiers cited in the Taguba investigation.” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet In Guantanamo, roughly one-third of all abuses were interrogation related. (New York Times 8/25/2004)
bullet Contradicting the conclusions of the Red Cross report (see May 7, 2004), the Schlesinger report demonstrates that abuses were widespread. “Abuses of varying severity occurred at differing locations under differing circumstances and context,” the report’s authors write. “They were widespread and, though inflicted on only a small percentage of those detained… .” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The abusive practices were not sanctioned by the military’s interrogation policy. “No approved procedures called for or allowed the kinds of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities.” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The panelists believe the abuses occurring during the night shift in Cell Block 1 of Abu Ghraib “would have been avoided with proper training, leadership and oversight.” (Jehl 8/25/2004) Critics will say the report is a “whitewash,” noting that the panel cannot be considered independent given that it was appointed by Rumsfeld himself. Months before the panel completed its work, panelist Tillie Fowler said Rumsfeld should not be blamed for the abuses. “The secretary is an honest, decent, honorable man, who’d never condone this type of activity,” she said referring to the abuse at Abu Ghraib. “This was not a tone set by the secretary.” (Myers and Schmitt 6/6/2004)

Human Rights Watch says trials being held in Guantanamo before military commissions are “fundamentally flawed” and “fall far short of international due process standards.” (Human Rights Watch 1/9/2004)

A Los Angeles Times editorial says the recent hearings before a military commission in Guantanamo (see July 30, 2004) (see August 2004) (see August 24, 2004) are “slapdash preliminary hearings,” which “violated basic tenets of fairness.” They resembled “something between a Mel Brooks farce and the kangaroo courts of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin,” the paper says. (Los Angeles Times 9/2/2004)

By this date, Combatant Status Review Tribunals have been held for 55 Guantanamo detainees. The review process has been completed for 30 of them, only one of whom—an unidentified man held prisoner at Guantanamo since May 2002—has been determined not to be an enemy combatant. He will be released without compensation. (Savage 9/9/2004) The Pentagon will refuse to provide any details about the detainee or his case—who he is or why he was determined not to be an enemy combatant. (Serrano 11/7/2004)

During the presentation and discussion of the Schlesinger report (see August 24, 2004) before the House Armed Services Committee, most Republicans, including its chairman, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), say the investigation shows that only a handful of US soldiers were responsible for the abuses. Democrats however, like Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO), disagree. “We must not continue to call this the work of just a few bad apples,” Skelton says. (Schmitt and Jehl 9/10/2004)

Alarmed by several attempts by Vice President Cheney’s office to place the independent Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of military lawyers under the control of the military branches’ general counsels—all of whom are political appointees—a group of retired JAG officers asks the Senate Armed Forces Committee to intervene. Cheney has tried off and on for years to place the JAGs under political control (see June 1991-March 1992), but has pushed harder in the past year because of his belief that, as military law expert Scott Silliman will later explain, “the political appointees will not contest what the president wants to do [with detainees captured and held without trial or legal representation], whereas the uniformed lawyers… are going to push back.” The JAGs find an advocate in Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), himself a former JAG officer, who quickly pushes a new law through Congress forbidding Defense Department employees, including general counsels, from interfering with the ability of JAG officers to “give independent legal advice” directly to military leaders. The law also rescinds an effort by the Air Force to place its senior JAG officer under its general counsel. President Bush signs the law into effect, but issues a signing statement saying that the legal opinions reached by his political appointees will still “bind all civilian and military attorneys within the Department of Defense.” (Savage 2007, pp. 286-289)

The Supreme Court declines without comment to hear an appeal by “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003). Al-Marri has filed a civil suit, Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld, challenging his detention and his status as an enemy combatant. Previously, courts ruled that al-Marri’s lawyers should have filed the suit in South Carolina, where al-Marri is being held in a Charleston naval brig, not in Illinois, where al-Marri was attending college. The Supreme Court refused to overturn that decision. Al-Marri’s lawyers intend to refile the suit in South Carolina (see August 8, 2005). (Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld 6/2004; Associated Press 10/4/2004; Bazelon 4/20/2006)

Accused terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi returns to Saudi Arabia aboard a US military jet. Earlier in 2004, the US Supreme Court ruled that the US government could not continue to hold Hamdi, a US citizen, as an enemy combatant without allowing him to challenge that status (see June 28, 2004). The US government was still free to bring charges against him but instead chose to negotiate with his attorneys about a release. In exchange for his release, Hamdi agrees to renounce his US citizenship and pledge never to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Syria, the Palestinian West Bank, or Gaza. He must also report any intent to travel outside Saudi Arabia. (CNN 10/14/2004)
'Shocking Admission' of Lack of Criminal Case against Hamdi - Andrew Cohen comments in the Los Angeles Times, “If Hamdi is such a minor threat today that he can go back to the Middle East without a trial or any other proceeding, it’s hard not to wonder whether the government has been crying wolf all these years.” He calls the release “a shocking admission from the government that there is not now, and probably never has been, a viable criminal case against Hamdi.” (Cohen 8/16/2004)
Hamdi Case Used to Set Favorable Precedent? - Author and reporter Charlie Savage will agree with Cohen. “Hamdi’s release meant that a prisoner who the White House had once sworn was too dangerous to be allowed access to a lawyer was now going free—just like hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo who were held without trial for years and then quietly released,” Savage will write. He will note that many administration critics believe Hamdi’s case had been used as a tool by the administration to get a favorable judicial precedent and, once that precedent had been put in place, the administration had no more use for Hamdi and threw him out of the country rather than actually continue with a problematic trial or legal proceeding. (Savage 2007, pp. 199-200)

A former CIA officer will tell New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh that, in mid-2004, the White House began putting pressure on CIA analysts “to see more support for the administration’s political position.” But after Porter Goss becomes the new CIA director (see September 24, 2004) and the November 2004 election passes, a “political purge” of employees who have written papers that dissent with Bush policies begins. One former official notes that only “true believers” remain. (Hersh 1/24/2005)
'Creeping Politicization' - An anonymous former CIA official tells Newsday: “The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House. Goss was given instructions… to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats.” (Royce 11/14/2004) In 2007, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “Employees’ worst fears about the creeping politicization of the CIA” are confirmed when Goss issues the memo about the agency supporting the administration. She will observe: “Although a CIA spokesman explained the memo as a statement of the agency’s nonpartisan nature, it appeared to be just the opposite. It had a kind of creepy Orwellian Ministry of Truth ring to it—further dismaying CIA staffers who believed the agency was rapidly losing credibility and power as partisan politics began to degrade its work product.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 212) Days after the November 2004 presidential election, Goss circulates an internal memorandum to all CIA employees, telling them their job is to “support the administration and its policies in our work.” (Jehl 11/17/2004) The memo also contains a caveat that they should “let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” However, an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calls this mere “lip service,” and says the memo leaves “the impression that in the second Bush administration, the White House will run the CIA.… Goss has confirmed the worst fears of critics who warned he was too partisan when Bush appointed him.” (Wise 11/21/2004)
Morale 'Dangerously Low,' Many Senior Officials Leave - Plame Wilson will recall hearing from her colleagues throughout August, while she was on leave, “that morale was dangerously low, and there was a spirit of outright revolt towards Porter Goss and his ‘Gosslings.’ Everyone was calculating the benefits of staying or jumping from the fast-sinking ship.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 213) Such new policies inspire more employees to leave. By the time the purge is completed in early 2005, about 20 senior CIA officials will have resigned or retired. Only one member of the leadership team from George Tenet’s tenure will remain. (Pincus 1/6/2005) Newsweek says the “efforts at cleaning house may have only thrown the spy agency into deeper turmoil.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 2/21/2005) Plame Wilson will write: “At least one thousand years of hard-earned operational experience walked out when our country’s national security needs were greatest. It was devastating.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 213)

Hours after new CIA Director Porter Goss issues a memo telling agency officials that it must support the Bush administration (see November-December 2004 and November 17, 2004), Deputy Director of Operations Stephen Kappes becomes one of the first casualties of Goss’s White House-orchestrated “purge” of the agency. Kappes resigns after his deputy, Michael Sulick, criticizes Goss’s chief of staff, Pat Murray; in turn, Murray sends Sulick what the agency’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, calls “a truly obnoxious e-mail” that “accused Sulick and Kappes, two of the most experienced, respected men in the building, of being fools and lacking integrity.” Murray then orders Kappes to fire Sulick; instead, Kappes and Sulick both submit their resignations. They are the first of over 20 senior CIA officials to leave the agency. (Wilson 2007, pp. 212-213) A former senior CIA official says that the White House “doesn’t want Steve Kappes to reconsider his resignation. That might be the spin they put on it, but they want him out.” Kappes’s job may be offered to Drumheller. (Royce 11/14/2004) In 2006, Kappes will return—after Goss’s abrupt resignation (see May 5, 2006)—as deputy director of the CIA (see June 1, 2006).

Salim Ahmed Hamdan.Salim Ahmed Hamdan. [Source: Public domain]US District Judge James Robertson rules that the Combatant Status Review Tribunal being held at the Guantanamo base in Cuba to determine the status of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan is unlawful and cannot continue. At the time of the decision, Hamdan is before the Guantanamo military commission. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Locy 11/9/2004) The commission system, as set up by White House lawyers David Addington and Timothy Flanigan three years before (see Late October 2001), gives accused terrorists such as Hamdan virtually no rights; in author and reporter Charlie Savage’s words, “the [Bush] administration had crafted rules that would make it easy for prosecutors to win cases.” (Savage 2007, pp. 195-196)
Violation of Geneva Conventions - Robertson, in his 45-page opinion, says the government should have conducted special hearings to determine whether detainees qualified for prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions at the time of capture. (Locy 11/9/2004) He says that the Bush administration violated the Geneva Conventions when it designated prisoners as enemy combatants, denied them POW protections, and sent them to Guantanamo. (Savage 11/9/2004) The Combatant Status Review Tribunals that are currently being held in response to a recent Supreme Court decision (see June 28, 2004) are inadequate, Robertson says, because their purpose is to determine whether detainees are enemy combatants, not POWs, as required by the Third Geneva Convention. (Locy 11/9/2004)
Rejects Claims of Presidential Power - Robertson also rejects the administration’s claim that the courts must defer to the president in a time of war. “The president is not a ‘tribunal,’” the judge says. (Locy 11/9/2004) Robertson, a Clinton appointee, thus squarely opposes both the president’s military order of November 13, 2001 (see November 13, 2001) establishing the possibility of trial by military tribunal, and his executive order of February 7, 2002 (see February 7, 2002) declaring that the Geneva Conventions do not to apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. “The government has asserted a position starkly different from the positions and behavior of the United States in previous conflicts,” Robertson writes, “one that can only weaken the United States’ own ability to demand application of the Geneva Conventions to Americans captured during armed conflicts abroad.” (Locy 11/9/2004; Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004)
Orders Military Courts-Martial - Robertson orders that until the government conducts a hearing for Hamdan before a competent tribunal in accordance with the Third Geneva Conventions, he can only be tried in courts-martial, according to the same long-established military rules that apply to trials for US soldiers. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004) Robertson’s ruling is the first by a federal judge to assert that the commissions are illegal. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004)
Hearings Immediately Recessed - When word of Robertson’s ruling comes to Guantanamo, Colonel Peter Brownback, presiding over a pretrial hearing for Hamdan, immediately gavels the hearing closed, declaring an “indefinite recess” for the tribunal. (Savage 2007, pp. 195-196)
Ruling Applauded by Civil Libertarians, Rejected by Bush Lawyers - Anthony Romero, director of the American Civil Liberties Union; Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice; and Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, all applaud Robertson’s ruling. (Savage 11/9/2004) The Bush administration rejects the court’s ruling and announces its intention to submit a request to a higher court for an emergency stay and reversal of the decision. “We vigorously disagree.… The judge has put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war,” Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says. “The Constitution entrusts to the president the responsibility to safeguard the nation’s security. The Department of Justice will continue to defend the president’s ability and authority under the Constitution to fulfill that duty.” (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004) He also says that the commission rules were “carefully crafted to protect America from terrorists while affording those charged with violations of the laws of war with fair process.” (Savage 11/9/2004)
Ruling May Affect Other Detainees - Though the ruling technically only applies to Hamdan, his civilian attorney, Neal Katyal, says it could affect other detainees. “The judge’s order is designed only to deal with Mr. Hamdan’s case,” Katyal says. “But the spirit of it… extends more broadly to potentially everything that is going on here at Guantanamo.” (Locy 11/9/2004)

The new director of the CIA, Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004), issues a memo to CIA employees that, in author Craig Unger’s words, “instantly confirm[s] his reputation as an administration loyalist.” The memo reads in part: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration in its policies. [Our job is] to support the administration and its policies in our work.” While the CIA has been sensitive to the desires of previous administrations, it has always worked to keep at least some distance between itself and the political ebb and flow of Washington, and tried to preserve at least some degree of impartiality. Goss intends to change all that and make the CIA another arm of the White House. Unger will later write: “With [soon-to-be named Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, [soon-to-be National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley, and Goss in key positions, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had consolitated control over national security to an unprecedented degree. The notion that America’s $40 billion intelligence apparatus would speak truth to power had become a pipe dream.” (Unger 2007, pp. 326)

Congress expands the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) by approving an intelligence spending bill with a provision that gives the FBI the power to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broad range of businesses and entities—including libraries, travel agencies, and even eBay—without court warrants. This reduces oversight of the FBI and shifts power away from the judiciary. The Patriot Act already allows the FBI to acquire bank records and communications records by issuing a National Security Letter (NSL) affirming that the information it seeks is relevant to an open investigation; the targeted institution is legally “gagged,” unable to inform anyone, especially the subject of the investigation, of the subpoena. The new law expands the use of NSLs by redefining “financial institution” to include insurance companies, real estate agents, the US Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, car dealers and any other business whose “cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.” The provision is one of the most controversial parts of the so-called “Patriot II” act (see February 7, 2003) that was withdrawn after the public learned of its elements. Like most intelligence spending bills, this one was drafted in secret and passed with little debate or public comment. Law professor Chris Schroeder, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general, says the insertion of the provision shows that “people who want to expand the powers of the FBI didn’t want to stop after Patriot II was leaked. They are going to insert these provisions on a stealth basis. It’s insidious.” James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology agrees: “On its face, it’s a cryptic and seemingly innocuous amendment. It wasn’t until after it passed both houses that we saw it. The FBI and CIA like to try to graft things like this into intelligence bills.” CIA Director Porter Goss, when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the provision, saying it is necessary to keep pace with terrorists and the changing economy. “This provision brings the definition of ‘financial institution’ up to date with the reality of the financial industry,” Goss told House members. “This provision will allow those tracking terrorists and spies to ‘follow the money’ more effectively and thereby protect the people of the United States more effectively.” Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill goes too far in expanding executive branch powers. “The more that checks and balances against government abuse are eroded, the greater that abuse,” Edgar says. “We’re going to regret these initiatives down the road.” (Singel 11/24/2003)

During a hearing before US District Judge Joyce Hens Green, the government’s attorney maintains that Guantanamo detainees “have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court.” This statement by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle appears to be in flagrant contravention with the Supreme Court’s June 28 ruling (see June 28, 2004). Judge Green lays out a number of hypothetical cases before Boyle. For example, she asks: “If a little old lady in Switzerland writes checks to what she thinks is a charitable organization for Afghanistan orphans, but it’s really supporting… al-Qaeda, is she an enemy combatant?” Possibly, Boyle answers, but it would depend on her intentions. “It would be up to the military to decide as to what to believe.” Boyle also holds that the military can detain a Muslim teacher simply because he has a student with a family with connections to the Taliban, or someone who failed to report suspicions that his cousin might be a member of al-Qaeda. (Leonnig 12/2/2004)

(Show related quotes)

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), based in New York, and the Republican Lawyers’ Association in Berlin, file a criminal complaint in Germany against Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Stephen A. Cambone, Ricardo S. Sanchez, and Janis Karpinski, alleging responsibility for war crimes at Abu Ghraib. The German 2002 Code of Crimes Against International Law grants German courts universal jurisdiction in cases involving war crimes or crimes against humanity. The center is representing five Iraqis who claim they were victims of mistreatment that included beatings, sleep and food deprivation, electric shocks, and sexual abuse. (Deutsche Welle (Bonn) 11/30/2004) Though German law stipulates that prosecution can be dismissed in cases where neither the victim nor the perpetrator are German citizens or are outside Germany and cannot be expected to appear before court, (Deutsche Welle (Bonn) 11/30/2004) that fact that Sanchez is based at a US base in Germany makes it possible that the case will be heard. (Deutsche Welle (Bonn) 11/30/2004)

Daniel Levin.Daniel Levin. [Source: ABC News]Daniel Levin, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), goes to a military base near Washington and has himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to judge for himself whether or not the interrogation tactic is torture. Levin then tells White House officials that he found the experience terrifying, and he is sure it simulates drowning. Levin concludes that waterboarding clearly qualifies as torture and should not be used by US personnel except in a highly limited and closely supervised fashion. Levin, who like his predecessor Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004) is deeply troubled by the White House’s advocacy of torture as a method of securing information from terror suspects, and by its refusal to issue clear guidelines as to what is and what is not torture, decides to prepare a memo—legally binding—to replace the August 2002 Justice Department memo that established torture as an acceptable method of interrogation. Goldsmith had already withdrawn the memo after finding it deeply flawed (see December 2003-June 2004). In December 2004, Levin issues his new memo, which flatly states that “[t]orture is abhorrent” (see December 30, 2004), but he notes that the Justice Department is not declaring any previous positions by the administration illegal. Levin is planning a second memo that will impose tighter restrictions on specific interrogation techniques, but he never gets the chance to complete it. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales forces him out of the department instead, and replaces him with a much more compliant OLC chief, Steven Bradbury (see June 23, 2005). Most experts believe that waterboarding is indeed torture, and that torture is a poor way of extracting accurate information. Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson will say, “There is no question this is torture—this is a technique by which an individual is strapped to a board, elevated by his feet and either dunked into water or water poured over his face over a towel or a blanket.” (Greenburg and de Vogue 11/2/2007; Think Progress 11/3/2007; Safty 11/5/2007) Gonzales is widely believed to have been selected as the new attorney general in part to ease the way for the Bush administration to continue its support for torture as a valid method of interrogation. Shortly after taking the office, Gonzales pressured Levin to add the footnote exculpating the administration from any legal responsibility for its previous positions, and shortly thereafter, Gonzales has Levin removed from the department. In November 2007, the Washington Post’s editorial board will decry Gonzales’s ouster of Levin, and the administration’s support for torture, as a blatant “disregard for principle.” (Washington Post 11/6/2007) MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, will later call Levin “an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.” He will fire a broadside directly at the president: “Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now. Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.” (Olbermann 11/5/2007)

Congress passes an intelligence bill that requires the Justice Department to inform it as to how often and in what situation the FBI is using special “national security” wiretaps on US soil. The bill also requires the Justice Department to give oversight committees copies of administration memos outlining any new interpretations of domestic-spying laws. It contains 11 other sections mandating reports about such issues as civil liberties, security clearances, border security, and counternarcotics efforts. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement asserting his right to ignore or override every element of it. He can and will withhold information from Congress as he sees fit, he claims in the statement. (Savage 2007, pp. 238-239)

During a court hearing involving 59 Guantanamo detainees challenging their detention, US District Judge Richard J. Leon, who is handling habeas petitions by Guantanamo prisoners simultaneously with US District Judge Joyce Hens Green, asks Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle, whether detention based only on evidence obtained by torture would be illegal. Boyle answers that such evidence could still be used if the Combatant Status Review Tribunal decides it is reliable. “Nothing in the due process clause [of the Constitution] prohibits them from relying on it.” In addition, Boyle says there will not be any restriction on the use of information derived from torture conducted by a foreign power. (Sniffin 12/3/2004; Associated Press 12/3/2004; Washington Post 12/3/2005) Evidence derived from torture has not been admissible in US courts since the 1930s. (Sniffen 12/3/2004)

Congress passes a law requiring the director of national intelligence (DNI) to recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement ordering the executive branch—including the DNI—to construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing “equal protection” for all: a legalistic phrasing designed to sidestep the law. Bush has long been an opponent of any sort of affirmative action program; as recently as 2003, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration’s “equal protection” arguments and in favor of a race-conscious affirmative action program. In his signing statement, Bush advances the “equal protection” argument over affirmative action in spite of the Supreme Court’s rejection of that argument. (Boston Globe 4/30/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 240-241)

Congress passes a law forbidding US troops in Colombia, who are there advising the government in its struggle against Marxist rebels funded by drug money, from engaging in any combat against the rebels except in self-defense. The law also caps the number of American soldiers deployed in Colombia at 800. President Bush issues a signing statement that only he, as the commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces. Therefore, the executive branch will construe the law “as advisory in nature.” (Boston Globe 4/30/2006)

The Justice Department issues a 17-page memo which officially replaces the August 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002), which asserted that the president’s wartime powers supersede international anti-torture treaties and defined torture very narrowly, describing it as a tactic that produces pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The new memo, authored by acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, is ostensibly meant to deflect criticisms that the Bush administration condones torture. In fact, the very first sentence reads, “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” But the White House insists that the new memo does not represent a change in policy because the administration has always respected international laws prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. The primary concern of the new memo is to broaden the narrow definition of torture that had been used in the August memo. Levin adopts the definition of torture used in Congressional anti-torture laws, which says that torture is the infliction of physical suffering, “even if it does not involve severe physical pain.” But the pain must still be more than “mild and transitory,” the memo says. Like the original memo, Levin says that torture may include mental suffering. But to be considered so it would not have to last for months or years, as OLC lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had asserted two years earlier. The most contested conclusions of the August 2002 memo—concerning the president’s wartime powers and potential legal defense for US personnel charged with war crimes—are not addressed in the Levin memo. “Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture,” the memo says. (US Department of Justice 12/30/2004 pdf file; Guggenheim 12/31/2004)
National Security Not a Justification for Torture - The memo also attempts to quell concerns that the administration believes national security may be used as justification for tactics that could be considered as torture. It states, “[A] defendant’s motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute.” (US Department of Justice 12/30/2004 pdf file)
Memo Divided White House Officials - Many in the White House opposed the issuance of the memo, but were rebuffed when other administration officials said the memo was necessary to ease the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Torture Opponents Disappointed - Civil libertarians and opponents of torture within the Justice Department are sharply disappointed in the memo. While it gives a marginally less restrictive definition of the pain required to qualify as torture, and gives no legal defenses to anyone who might be charged with war crimes, it takes no position on the president’s authority to override interrogation laws and treaties, and finds that all the practices previously employed by the CIA and military interrogators were and are legal. Yoo will later write that “the differences in the opinions were for appearances’ sake. In the real world of interrogation policy, nothing had changed. The new opinion just reread the statute to deliberately blur the interpretation of torture as a short-term political maneuver in response to public criticism.” (Savage 2007, pp. 196-197)
Secret Memo Will Allow Waterboarding; Dissidents Purged - A secret memo is completed a short time later that allows such torture techniques as waterboarding to be used again (see February 2005). The Levin memo triggers a department-wide “purge” of dissidents and torture opponents; some will resign voluntarily, while others will resign after being denied expected promotions. (Savage 2007, pp. 197)

Blackwater stops work on a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. Blackwater had been hired by the agency to work on the program at some time in 2004 (see 2004). However, according to the New York Times, its involvement ends “years before” Leon Panetta becomes CIA director in 2009 (see June 23, 2009). The reason for the termination is that CIA officials begin to question the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009)

Public administration specialist Philip Cooper determines that during his first term, George W. Bush issued over 500 objections to Congressional legislation that he signed into law. Almost all of his objections were codified in presidential “signing statements,” which have no legal weight per se but have been used by Bush and previous presidents to cite objections or exceptions to legislative provisions. Although the administration’s point man on signing statements is David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s legal adviser and chief of staff, most of the legal objections for the statements are sourced from the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget. 82 of Bush’s signing statements are based on the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see January 9-13, 2006), 77 relate to the administration’s perception of the president’s exclusive power over foreign policy, 48 to his power to withhold information required by Congress to protect national security, and 37 to his powers as commander in chief. (Dean 2007, pp. 112-116; Green 2007)

The Washington Post reports that according to intelligence, defense, and diplomatic officials, the administration is considering “long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries.” The newspaper explains that those who would be considered for lifetime imprisonment include “hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts,” as well as people who are “captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.” These prisoners would be sentenced to lifetime prison terms without ever being tried or charged with a crime. One of the plans being considered would involve transferring detainees to US-built prisons located in detainees’ home countries. Another option would be to build a large $25 million, 200-person, modern prison in Guantanamo. (Priest 1/2/2005)

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

Arlen Specter.Arlen Specter. [Source: US Senate]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005) Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” (CNN 1/7/2005) When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005)

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

District Judge Richard J. Leon dismisses a lawsuit by seven Guantanamo detainees challenging their detention: a French citizen, an Algerian, and five dual Bosnian-Algerian detainees. He rules that foreign nationals captured and detained outside the US have no recognizable constitutional rights (Reuters 1/20/2005; BBC 1/20/2005) and that last year’s Supreme Court ruling (see June 28, 2004) does not entitle Guantanamo detainees with the right to sue in US courts. Foreign citizens, captured and detained outside the US, according to Judge Leon, have no rights under the Constitution or international law enforceable in US courts. (Los Angeles Times 1/31/2005) “To the extent that these non-resident detainees have rights,” Leon writes, “they are subject to both the military review process already in place and the laws Congress has passed defining the appropriate scope of military conduct towards the detainees.” He adds that the “extent to which these rights and conditions should be modified or extended is a matter for the political branches to determine,” not the judicial branch. “[T]he petitioners are asking this court to do something no federal court has done before: evaluate the legality of the executive’s capture and detention of non-resident aliens, outside the United States, during a time of armed conflict.” (Reuters 1/20/2005)

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) files a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking that the courts reverse a recent FDA decision not to allow the so-called “morning-after” birth-control drug “Plan B” to be sold without a prescription (see May 6, 2004 and After). The CRR says the FDA’s decision was made based on politics and not science. CCR president Nancy Northrup will say that the FDA’s decision “broke its own rules, held Plan B to a higher standard than other over-the-counter drugs, and [as a result,] women have suffered the consequences.” Testimony and depositions gathered indicate that the FDA indeed placed politics over science in its decision. One scientist says that a deputy FDA commissioner told her that the over-the-counter (OTC) application for Plan B had to be rejected “to appease the administration’s constituents,” and that it could later be quietly approved for adults only (see March 4, 2008). Another scientist testifies that he learned before the 2004 decision was issued that then-FDA commissioner Mark McClellan—the brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan—had already decided to disapprove the drug even before the FDA’s advisory panel had completed its analysis. However, McClellan will deny the accusation. (Center for Reproductive Rights 11/14/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 301-302)

The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) calls for the creation of a Special Counsel “to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees by the US Government” and appeals to senators to insist that Alberto Gonzales commit to appointing one, before voting on his nomination as attorney general. “[I]t is likely,” the ACLU concludes, that between the production of the August 1, 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and its official replacement by another legal opinion on December 30, 2004 (see December 30, 2004), “criminal acts occurred under the looser interpretations in effect for more than two years.” According to the ACLU, “The appointment of an outside special counsel—with full investigatory and prosecutorial powers—is the only way to ensure that all civilians who violated federal laws against torture will be held responsible.” (American Civil Liberties Union 1/30/2005)

US District Judge Joyce Hens Green rules that Guantanamo detainees may legally challenge their detention in US courts as a violation of their constitutional due process rights. She says that last year’s Supreme Court decision (see June 28, 2004) made it clear that detainees are entitled to constitutional rights. Her ruling flatly contradicts the decision of another judge who ruled on a similar case two weeks before (see January 20, 2005). (Los Angeles Times 1/31/2005; Leonnig 1/31/2005) She also rules that the Combatant Status Review Tribunals being held in Guantanamo are unconstitutional and “violate long-standing principles of due process….” According to Green, the tribunals deny detainees a fair trial to which they are constitutionally entitled. She found that the tribunals relied heavily on reported confessions of detainees despite widespread allegations and some evidence that detainees had been abused during interrogations. In reviewing classified material on the tribunals’ decisions, she notes that there were many cases in which the prosecution failed to provide any evidence that the detainee was ever engaged in combat or terrorism. The tribunals, Green writes, “violate long-standing principles of due process by permitting the detention of individuals based solely on their membership in anti-American organizations rather than on actual activities supporting the use of violence or harm against the United States.” (Leonnig 1/31/2005) Green also rules that Taliban members are entitled to prisoners of war status because they were fighting in the name of the Afghan government when they were captured. (Leonnig 1/31/2005)

The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)

The acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Daniel Levin, sends a memo to William J. Haynes, the chief counsel for the Defense Department, advising Haynes that he is withdrawing the Justice Department’s March 2003 memo that justified certain “harsh” methods of interrogation of prisoners in US custody. Levin, writing in carefully couched legal language, says that many of the interrogation methods currently in use by US interrogators are not within the legal parameters for interrogation—in other words, the methods qualify as torture under US law. (US Department of Justice 2/4/2005 pdf file) Levin recently underwent a simulated waterboarding session to determine for himself if the practice qualified as torture, and determined that it did so. He will shortly be relieved of his position in the Justice Department, and the administration will continue its support for waterboarding and other “harsh” methods of interrogation (see Late 2004-Early 2005).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtains 988 pages of files of investigative records from the Army Criminal Investigation Division, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. They include accounts of photographs that were destroyed (see Early July 2004) showing US troops abusing detainees in Afghanistan. “These raise the question of how many other allegations of abuse were buried in the same way,” says Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, adding, “[M]aybe there is a whole layer of abuse that we haven’t seen.” He also claims the files show that the military investigators closed cases too quickly, often stating a lack of evidence as a reason. “What we do see here is more evidence of a pattern in which the government failed to aggressively investigate credible allegations of abuse,” he says. (Savage 2/18/2005)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights First file a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the northern district of Illinois, his home state. They do so on behalf of eight men formerly detained in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay who claim to have been tortured. “Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility,” for the former prisoners’ treatment, says ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. (CBS News 3/1/2005) ACLU’s Lucas Guttentag, lead counsel in the lawsuit, says, “Secretary Rumsfeld bears direct and ultimate responsibility for this descent into horror by personally authorizing unlawful interrogation techniques and by abdicating his legal duty to stop torture.” The parties seek a court order declaring that Rumsfeld violated the US Constitution, federal statutes, and international law, and compensatory damages for the inflicted harm that the eight men suffered due to torture, abuse, and degrading treatment. The civil rights groups are joined as co-counsel by a number of prominent legal experts, among them former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson; former Chief Judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, retired Brig. Gen. James Cullen; and former Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee. (Human Rights First 3/1/2005)

Judge Henry Floyd of the US District Court in South Carolina rules that the government must charge Jose Padilla with a crime within 45 days or release him. Judge Floyd also criticizes the government’s move to declare Padilla an enemy combatant. “His alleged terrorist plans were thwarted at the time of his arrest. There were no impediments whatsoever to the government bringing charges against him for any one or all of the array of heinous crimes that he has been effectively accused of committing,” Floyd writes. “Since [Padilla’s] alleged terrorist plans were thwarted when he was arrested on the material witness warrant, the court finds that the president’s subsequent decision to detain [him] as an enemy combatant was neither necessary nor appropriate.” More fundamentally, Floyd finds: “It is true that there may be times during which it is necessary to give the executive branch greater power than at other times. Such a granting of power, however, is in the province of the legislature and no one else—not the court and not the president.” The Justice Department announces it will appeal the decision. (Hirschkorn 3/1/2005)

Shortly after 9/11, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the creation of Special Access Program (SAP) task forces that are given blanket authority in advance to kill or interrogate high-value targets anywhere in the world (see Late 2001-Early 2002). In April, 2005, an unnamed US Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officer complains in a memo to CIA headquarters that it is impossible to investigate members of a SAP force suspected of prisoner abuse. “[We have been] unable to thoroughly investigate… due to the suspects and witnesses involvement in Special Access Programs (SAP) and/or the security classification of the unit they were assigned to during the offense under investigation.” Attempts by investigators to be given security clearance to understand the programs have been unsuccessful. Furthermore, the officer writes that “fake names were used” by members of the task force, and the force claims they had a “major computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 per cent of their files; therefore, they can’t find the cases we need to review.” The officer concludes that the investigation “does not need to be reopened. Hell, even if we reopened it we wouldn’t get any more information than we already have.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)

Jay Rockefeller.Jay Rockefeller. [Source: US Senate]Ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) requests “over a hundred documents” from the CIA’s Inspector General. The documents are referenced in or pertain to a report the Inspector General drafted in May 2004 about the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. Rockefeller also requests a report drafted by the CIA’s Office of General Counsel (see 2003) on the examination of videotapes of detainee interrogations stating whether the techniques they show comply with an August 2002 Justice Department opinion on interrogation (see August 1, 2002). However, the CIA refuses to provide these documents, as well as others, even after a second request is sent to CIA Director Porter Goss in September 2005. (US Congress 12/7/2007) The videotapes Rockefeller is asking about will be destroyed by the CIA just two months after his second request (see November 2005).

Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA. The memo will remain classified for nearly four years (see April 16, 2009). It addresses, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “whether CIA interrogation methods violate the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment standards under federal and international law.” Bradbury concludes that neither past nor present CIA interrogation methods violate such standards. (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)
CIA Techniques Not Torture, Bradbury Explains - Bradbury calls torture “abhorrent” and “universally repudiated,” and says the US will never condone it. Afterwards, he spends a great deal of effort explaining why the various techniques used by the CIA do not constitute torture. Bradbury goes into numerous details about varieties of “harsh interrogation techniques” that can be used on prisoners, often restating details from an August 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and elaborating on those descriptions. One technique he details is forced nudity. “Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper,” he writes, and notes that the diaper is “for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique.… The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.” He cites “walling,” a technique involving slamming a detainee into a “false wall,” and writes, “Depending on the extent of the detainee’s lack of cooperation, he may be walled one time during an interrogation session (one impact with the wall) or many times (perhaps 20 or 30 times) consecutively.” Other techniques Bradbury cites include waterboarding, “abdominal slaps,” and “water dousing.” For water dousing, Bradbury gives specific restrictions: “For example, in employing this technique:
bullet “For water temperarure of 41°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 20 minutes without drying and rewarming.
bullet “For water temperarure of 50°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 40 minutes without drying and rewarming.
bullet “For water tempetarure of 59°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 60 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“The minimum permissible temperature of the water used in water dousing is 41°F, though you have informed us that in practice the water temperature is generally not below 50°F, since tap water rather than refrigerated water is generally used.” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 pdf file; CNN 4/17/2009)
Waterboarding Used More Frequently than Authorized - Bradbury also notes that waterboarding is sometimes used more times than authorized or indicated. Referring to an as-yet-unreleased 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general on torture and abuse of detainees, he writes: “The IG report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.… (‘[T]he waterboard technique… was different from the technique described in the DoJ [Department of Justice] opinion and used in the SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002). The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the [CIA] interrogator… applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real—and is more poignant and convincing.’)… The inspector general further reported that ‘OMS [the CIA’s Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.‘… We have carefully considered the IG report and discussed it with OMS personnel. As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used.… Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, ‘use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician.’” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 pdf file)

In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). (Associated Press 5/10/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 176)
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” (Sierra Club 5/15/2005) He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” (Savage 2007, pp. 176) The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” (New York Times 5/15/2005)
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” (Savage 2007, pp. 176)

Human rights advocacy group Amnesty International reports that both the US and Britain are betraying the cause of human rights in their “war on terror.” Amnesty’s general secretary, Irene Khan, accuses both governments of condoning torture and twisting their interpretations of the law to justify and excuse torture. She says: “A new agenda is in the making, with the language of freedom and justice being used to pursue policies of fear and insecurity. This includes cynical attempts to redefine and sanitize torture.” The US’s most well-known detention facility, Guantanamo Bay, is “the gulag of our time,” she says. “The US administration attempted to dilute the absolute ban on torture through new policies and quasi-management speak such as ‘environmental manipulation,’ ‘stress positions,’ and ‘sensory manipulation,’” she says. And when these two countries justify torture, other countries follow suit. “When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and ‘counter-terrorism.’” (Norton-Taylor 5/26/2005)

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo. The contents and the recipient remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later determine the memo deals with the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. In early May, Bradbury determined that none of the CIA’s past or present interrogation methods violated either federal or international standards (see May 10, 2005). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

Steven Bradbury.Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). (Ward 9/20/2007; Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007; Ackerman 10/19/2007) Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007) A co-founder of the Federalist Society (Shenon 10/15/2007) , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” (Horton 11/7/2007)

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) releases a “Statement of Administrative Policy” regarding the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, the massive appropriations bill for the year. The document is given little attention in the media, but it wields great influence inside the government. Unknown to most OMB staffers, Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer David Addington has gone through OMB deputy director Nancy Dorn—herself a former Cheney staffer—to add a key paragraph to the document at the very last minute, without staff review. The paragraph says, in part, “The administration strongly opposes” any amendment to “regulate the detention, treatment, or trial of terrorists captured in the war on terror.” Addington’s paragraph is a pre-emptive strike at any such legislative attempt to modify or ease the polices towards detainees, especially in a following statement that reads, “[T]he president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto” any such bill. The insertion is part of Cheney’s attempt to head off any possible legislation restricting the administration’s claimed power to hold anyone it chooses in indefinite detention (see Summer 2005). (Office of Management and Budget 7/21/2005 pdf file; Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)

Congress passes a law that forbids the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and their contractors from firing or otherwise punishing any employee who informs Congress about possible wrongdoing. President Bush issues a signing statement that says only he or his appointees will decide whether employees of either agency can give information to Congress. (Boston Globe 4/30/2006)

Lawyers refile a civil suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been in US custody since late 2001 (see December 12, 2001) and was designated as an enemy combatant a year and a half later (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri is asking the federal district court in South Carolina to declare unconstitutional what he, through his lawyers, calls the severe and unnecessary deprivations and restrictions to which he has been subjected since he was placed in military custody. Al-Marri had already filed a suit challenging the legality of his detention on habeas corpus grounds, a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed (see October 4, 2004). Human Rights Watch director Jamie Fellner says: “It is bad enough that al-Marri has been held indefinitely without charges and incommunicado. Now we learn that his life in the brig has also been one of cruelty and petty vindictiveness.” (Human Rights Watch 8/8/2005)
Allegations of Cruel Treatment - Al-Marri is currently the only known person designated as an enemy combatant still in legal limbo. He has been in solitary confinement since his December 2001 arrest, and in Guantanamo since mid-2003. Al-Marri was sent to the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig once he was designated as an enemy combatant, isolated in a lightless cell hardly larger than a closet, and since then, his lawyers say, he has been subjected to deprivations of the most basic kinds, including shoes, socks, blankets, toilet paper, toothpaste, and sunlight. Sometimes he is denied water. During the day his mattress is removed. His captors often turn the temperature down in his cell to near-freezing conditions, but do not give him extra clothes or blankets. He is provided three short “recreation” sessions a week—in handcuffs and leg irons—but those are often denied him. He is allowed three showers a week, again in handcuffs and leg irons. He has been denied access to medical care. A devout Muslim, he is not given the basic necessities for religious observances—his captors even refuse to tell him which way to face towards Mecca, an essential element of daily devotions. Letters from his wife and children are heavily censored. Privileged notes he has written to his lawyer have been confiscated and not returned. He is subjected to constant video surveillance. He was repeatedly interrogated, his lawyers say, but has not been interrogated for a year. His captors have repeatedly threatened his family, telling him that he would be sent to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, where he would be tortured and sodomized and his wife raped in front of him. According to the lawsuit, his captors falsely told him that, because of him, his father and four of his brothers were in jail, and that if he cooperated, they would be released.
Commentary - “Mr. al-Marri has been detained at a naval brig for two-and-a-half years in cell that is 9 feet by 6 feet,” says law professor Jonathan Hafetz, who will become one of al-Marri’s lawyers. “During that time he has long been denied books, news, any contact with the outside world other than his attorneys, including his wife and five children, who he has neither seen nor spoken to. I mean things that we don’t even do to people who’ve been convicted of crimes.” Fellner says: “It’s the combination of restrictions imposed on al-Marri that offends basic norms of decency. There is no security justification for them. The Pentagon apparently believes it can hold him under any conditions they choose for as long as they choose.” (Human Rights Watch 8/8/2005; Collins 8/9/2005; Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld 8/9/2005 pdf file; Hirschkom 12/13/2005)
Military Denies Mistreatment - The military denies that al-Marri has been mistreated. (Hirschkom 12/13/2005) Defense spokesman Navy Lieutenant Commander J. D. Gordon says in 2007, “The government in the strongest terms denies allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence. It is our policy to treat all detainees humanely.” (Thompson 3/2007)

The FBI begins to build cases against high value detainees held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, due to Defense Department fears that evidence obtained from the detainees by the CIA will be inadmissible or too controversial to present at their upcoming war crimes tribunals. The investigation, which involves up to 300 agents in a “Guantanamo task force,” runs for at least two years and FBI agents travel widely to collect evidence. According to former officials and legal experts, “The [FBI] process is an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which for years held the men incommunicado overseas and allowed the CIA to use coercive means to extract information from them that would not be admissible in a US court of law—and might not be allowed in their military commissions….” In fact, the techniques used to extract the confessions even cause some CIA officials to question whether they are believable, much less sustainable in court, particularly as CIA officers are not trained to obtain evidence that can be used in such a setting. In addition, if the information is used, this may focus the trials on the actions of the CIA and not the accused. The detainees will be designated enemy combatants in 2007 in preparation for military commissions (see March 9-April 28, 2007 and August 9, 2007), but this process will be questioned by a judge (see June 4, 2007). The Los Angeles Times will also comment, “The FBI’s efforts appear in part to be a hedge in case the commissions are ruled unconstitutional or never occur, or the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Under those scenarios, authorities would have to free the detainees, transfer them to military custody elsewhere, send them to another country, or have enough evidence gathered by law enforcement officials to charge them with terrorism in US federal courts.” (Meyer 10/21/2007)

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). (Savage 2007, pp. 200)

Congress passes a law requiring the Customs and Border Patrol to relocate its illegal immigrant checkpoints near Tucson, Arizona, every seven days in order to prevent smugglers from being able to avoid those checkpoints. President Bush signs the law, then issues a signing statement saying that the Border Patrol should view the “relocation provision as advisory rather than mandatory” because, in his view, only the president has the constitutional authority to decide how to deploy law enforcement officers. As a result of Bush’s signing statement, Border Patrol authorities disobey the law, and explain to investigators from the Government Accountability Office that the law is not mandatory, but “advisory.” White House spokesman Tony Fratto later says in response to the Border Patrol’s refusal to obey the law: “The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real.” (Savage 2007, pp. 242-243; Savage 6/19/2007)

The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” (Savage 2007, pp. 220)

John Rizzo.John Rizzo. [Source: C-SPAN]Guidance is issued by CIA lawyers Robert Eatinger and Steven Hermes to the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) on the preservation of videotapes of detainee interrogations made by the CIA. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The guidance is apparently used as justification for the tapes’ destruction (see November 2005), but its content is unclear. According to one account, “Lawyers within the clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency gave written approval in advance to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two lieutenants from al-Qaeda.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) Another account supports this, saying the lawyers give “written guidance to [CIA manager Jose] Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) However, according to another account: “[The guidance] advises that there is no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes… The document does not, however, directly authorize the tapes’ destruction or offer advice on the wisdom or folly of such a course of action.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) Some CIA videotapes have been requested for court proceedings, meaning such tapes should not be destroyed, but it is unclear if the tapes that are destroyed in November 2005 have been requested by courts or not (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, is not asked for an opinion, although he has been involved in discussions about what to do with the tapes for years and several high-ranking officials and legislators are of the opinion that the tapes should not be destroyed (see November 2005). (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) Eatinger and Hermes apparently inform Rizzo they have issued the guidance and expect Rodriguez will consult him before destroying the tapes, but Rodriguez does not do so. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The New York Times will comment, “It is unclear what weight an opinion from a lawyer within the clandestine service would have if it were not formally approved by Mr. Rizzo. But [an anonymous former official] said Mr. Rodriguez and others in the clandestine branch believed the legal judgment gave them the blessing to destroy the tapes.” The former official will also say they “didn’t need to ask Rizzo’s permission.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) A lawyer acting for Rodriguez will later say, “He had a green light to destroy them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) However, other former CIA officers will express surprise that a lawyer junior to Rizzo would approve such a controversial decision without asking for his input. Former CIA lawyer John Radsan will say, “I’d be surprised that even the chief [NCS] lawyer made a decision of that magnitude without bringing the General Counsel’s front office into the loop.” He adds, “Although unlikely, it is conceivable that once a CIA officer got the answer he wanted from a [NCS] lawyer, he acted on that advice… But a streamlined process like that would have been risky for both the officer and the [NCS] lawyer.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)

By November 2005, when the CIA destroys videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005), there are numerous reasons to not destroy them, some of them possibly legal requirements. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007)
bullet In February 2003, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see February 2003).
bullet Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2005, White House officials, including White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Miers, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see Between 2003-Late 2005).
bullet In 2003, Justice Department lawyers also advised the CIA to preserve the videotapes (see 2003).
bullet Beginning in 2003, lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial have requested access to evidence of interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders like Zubaida. The CIA twice misinformed the judge in the trial about the existence of the videotapes (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The trial will not be concluded until mid-2006 (see May 3, 2006).
bullet In September 2004, a judge rules the CIA has to preserve all records about the treatment of detainees overseas, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The videotapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri would clearly qualify, since both are held overseas (see September 15, 2004).
bullet Beginning in May 2005, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to preserve over 100 documents about the CIA interrogation program. One of the documents requested is a report about the videotapes of interrogations and their possible illegality (see May-September 2005).
bullet In June and July 2005, two judges ordered the CIA to preserve all evidence relevant to detainees being held in Guantanamo prison. The interrogation videotapes are indirectly relevant because the cases of some detainees hinge on their alleged ties to Zubaida (see June-July 2005).
bullet In the summer of 2005, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte met with CIA Director Porter Goss and “strongly advised” him not to allow the videotapes to be destroyed (see Summer 2005).
bullet The videotapes are also needed for a trial of Jose Padilla, who is indicted in November 2005 (see November 22, 2005).
An unnamed official familiar with the case will comment, “Everybody from the top on down told them not to do it and still they went ahead and did it anyway.” (Meyer 12/9/2007) Despite this, many later reports will indicate that the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA unit that takes the decision to destroy the tapes, believes the advice about their destruction is ambiguous. NCS head Jose Rodriguez will be said to feel he never gets a straight answer to the question of whether the tapes should be destroyed, despite extensive correspondence about the issue at the CIA. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007; Isikoff and Hosenball 12/24/2007) A former intelligence official will say, “They never told us, ‘Hell, no.’ If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)

The White House continues to battle a Senate-approved amendment against torture (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney, the administration’s strongest voice in favor of torture, gathers a group of Republican senators and gives what is later described as an impassioned plea to let the CIA torture when necessary. President Bush needs that option, Cheney argues, and a prohibition against torture may eventually cost the nation “thousands of lives.” He cites alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as one of torture’s success stories (see February 29 or March 1, 2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, and June 16, 2004). Cheney fails to tell the gathering that the US has overseen the torture of Mohammed’s wife and children, and that Mohammed was told that if he didn’t cooperate, his children would be subjected to further abuse (see After September 11, 2002). He also fails to tell them that the information elicited from Mohammed was considered unreliable (see Summer 2003), and that many of Mohammed’s interrogators felt that torture merely hardened his resistance. During the meeting, John McCain (R-AZ), the author of the anti-torture amendment, tells Cheney, “This is killing us around the world.” On November 4, the Republican House leadership postpones a vote on the amendment when it realizes the amendment will pass overwhelmingly. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 196)

Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, says that he has seen documents that show a “visible audit trail” that links the practice of abuse and torture of prisoners by US soldiers directly back to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. “There’s no question in my mind,” he says, “where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to [torture prisoners] originated—in the vice president of the United States’ office.” Wilkerson, while in Powell’s office, had access to a raft of documents concerning the allegations of prisoner abuse. He says that Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a quiet push to deny prisoners Geneva Convention protections. According to Wilkerson, Cheney’s then-chief counsel, David Addington (now Cheney’s chief of staff—see October 28, 2005), helped begin the process. Addington “was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions.” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, and others “began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we’ve seen,” Wilkerson says. The Pentagon’s contentions that such prisoner abuses, particularly at Abu Ghraib, were limited to a few soldiers of low rank are false, he says: “I’m privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of state asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms—I’ll give you that—that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We’re not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here’s some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war. You just—if you’re a military man, you know that you just don’t do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that.” (Milbank 11/4/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 220)

Brett Tolman.Brett Tolman. [Source: ABC4 (.com)]Brett Tolman, a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee official, tells Assistant Attorney General William Moschella that he will perform a “comprehensive fix” to the USA Patriot Act reauthorization coming up for approval in Congress (see March 9, 2006). Tolman and Moschella are referring to a provision in the reauthorization legislation that would allow the attorney general to appoint interim US Attorneys on an indefinite basis without having them go through Senate confirmation, and remove the ability of a federal court to appoint a US Attorney (see July 2005 - March 2006). Moschella suggests Tolman use the “comprehensive fix” of repealing Section 546 of Title 28 of the United States Code, subsections C and D, and replacing them with the following language: “A person appointed as United States Attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the president under section 541 of this title.” Late the same evening, Tolman receives an email from Moschella instructing him to quietly insert the provision in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill that would eliminate a 120-day limit for “interim” US Attorneys to serve without Senate confirmation. In essence, the provision would allow such “interims” to serve indefinitely, cutting the Senate entirely out of the process of naming US Attorneys and allowing the attorney general to make political appointments without oversight. Tolman replies, “I will get the comprehensive fix done.” He slips the provision into a draft of the bill while it is in conference committee. None of the members notice the provision, and it is part of the bill as signed into law in March 2006 (see March 9, 2006). Tolman himself is one of the first beneficiaries of the new provision, becoming the US Attorney for Utah. When the new provision comes to light in early 2007, both chambers of Congress vote overwhelmingly to repeal it. This is one of numerous “stealth provisions” the White House will have inserted into legislation with the help of compliant Congressional Republicans and staffers. (Savage 2007, pp. 316; US Department of Justice 3/23/2007 pdf file) Moschella will later take the credit for the provision, and will tell reporters that he made the change on behalf of the Justice Department “without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House.” (Thomas 2011)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to a federal judge in Montana, assuring him that US Attorney William W. Mercer is not violating federal law by spending almost all of his time in Washington as a temporary Justice Department official. The same day, Mercer has a Republican Senate staffer insert language into the USA Patriot reauthorization bill (see March 9, 2006) that would retroactively change the rules and allow federal prosecutors such as himself to live outside their districts and serve in other positions. Congress will include the language in the bill when it passes the legislation. Mercer and a small number of other Justice Department employees are the only ones to benefit from the provision. In 2007, when the provision is revealed to the public, Justice Department officials will say the provision was necessary to ensure that prosecutors such as Mercer could fill temporary positions in Washington, Iraq, and elsewhere. Critics will accuse Gonzales of being, in the Washington Post’s words, “less than truthful” about the actions of himself, his staff, and the White House. The question surrounding Mercer involves residency. Mercer is the US Attorney for Montana, appointed in 2001. In June 2005, he was appointed to serve as principal associate deputy attorney general, at Gonzales’s request. US District Chief Judge Donald W. Molloy of Billings has become increasingly irked at Mercer’s absence from Montana for the last two years. In October, Molloy wrote Gonzales to say that Mercer was violating federal law because he “no longer resides in Montana” and was living with his family in the Washington area. Gonzales replies three weeks later to tell Molloy that Mercer “is in compliance with the residency requirement” under federal law because he “is domiciled there, returns there on a regular basis, and will live there full-time as soon as his temporary assignment is completed.” At the same time Gonzales writes Molloy, Mercer has a Senate staffer, Brett Tolman, insert the provision into the Patriot Act legislation. Tolman is the counsel for Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tolman will later be named the US Attorney for Utah. Specter’s office will characterize the provision as “unremarkable” and aboveboard. Mercer currently serves as acting associate attorney general and has been nominated for the position on a permanent basis. He spends only about three days a month in Montana and delegates almost all of his duties as US Attorney to underlings. (ePluribus Media 3/26/2007; Eggen 5/2/2007) Mercer will be nominated to serve as associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department, in September 2006. He will not be confirmed for the position by the Senate, as confirmation would require his leaving the position of US Attorney. In June 2007, Mercer will resign from the associate attorney general position, retaining his position as US Attorney for Montana (see June 22, 2007). (ePluribus Media 3/26/2007; Eggen 6/22/2007)

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approves the Senate’s amendment to a defense appropriations bill that outlaws torture (see October 1, 2005 and November 1-4, 2005), 308-122, after the Republican House leadership stops blocking a vote on the amendment (see October 1, 2005). The next day, President Bush meets privately with the author of the amendment, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). In a surprising reversal of the White House’s opposition to the bill, Bush now says he supports the amendment—or will if McCain makes some changes. Bush asks McCain to alter the language of the amendment so that US intelligence officers, if charged with war crimes due to their abuse of a prisoner, can offer a defense that a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain agrees. Bush and McCain hold a joint press conference to announce the White House’s support for the amendment (see December 15, 2005). The press bills the agreement between Bush and McCain as a serious setback for Vice President Cheney, the leader of the White House’s opposition to the bill, with the New York Times calling the vote a “stinging defeat” for Bush and a “particularly significant setback for Vice President Dick Cheney, who since July has led the administration’s fight to defeat the amendment or at least exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from its provisions” (see October 20, 2005). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 196; Savage 2007, pp. 223)

Federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, widely considered to be such a reliably conservative supporter of the Bush administration that he is a potential Supreme Court nominee and the author of a highly favorable ruling in the Jose Padilla detention case (see October 9, 2005), is infuriated by the administration’s decision not to charge Padilla with the lurid array of terrorism-related charges it had alleged in Luttig’s courtroom (see November 22, 2005). Luttig believes that he and the rest of the appeals court judges were misled into making a ruling favorable to the administration. Luttig issues a supplementary opinion accusing the White House of manipulating the judicial process to ensure the Supreme Court could not review the precedent his opinion set. The Padilla indictment raises serious questions about the credibility of the government’s accusations against Padilla, and, Luttig writes, leaves “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even justifiably, by mistake.” Luttig and his colleagues take the unusual step of blocking Padilla’s transfer from military custody into the hands of the Justice Department. The move is aimed at attempting to keep the possibility open of a Supreme Court hearing on the Padilla matter, and giving the Court the chance to reverse Luttig’s precedent. The Court will quickly overrule Luttig’s attempt to keep Padilla in military custody and will dismiss Padilla’s appeal because he is no longer classified as an enemy combatant. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write: “Just as Luttig had feared, the maneuver ensured that his precedent—written on the assumption that the administration was telling the truth when it said it had good evidence that Padilla was plotting attacks on US soil—was left intact.” Luttig’s move sours his relations with the White House and dooms whatever chance he may have had to be nominated for the high court. He will soon resign from his life-tenured position on the appeals court and take the position of general counsel for Boeing. (Savage 2007, pp. 200-201)

Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” (Spaulding 12/25/2005)

Douglas Feith.Douglas Feith. [Source: Whodidit.org]Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. (Sands 5/2008) Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. (DeParle 5/25/2006) Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” (Sands 5/2008)

John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’ [Source: University of Maryland]Libertarian law professor Cass Sunstein reviews a recent book by former Bush legal adviser John Yoo, who authored several of the Bush administration’s most controversial legal opinions concerning terrorism and executive power (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 4, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 2, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 15, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, April 8, 2002, June 27, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and October 11, 2002). Yoo’s book, The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11, is a compendium of his pre-9/11 academic writings that landed him his job at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Sunstein notes that Yoo, perhaps more than any other single legal scholar, has reshaped the government’s legal stance on any number of issues. He argued for the president’s unilateral ability to declare war without the approval of Congress, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on suspected terrorists, the withdrawal of essential civil liberties and legal rights from suspected terrorists and enemy collaborators, the right of the administration to electronically eavesdrop on the American citizenry without judicial consent or oversight, the ability to ignore or withdraw from international treaties without congressional approval, and more besides. Sunstein writes: “[T]aken as a whole, the claims of the Bush administration may be properly regarded as an effort to create a distinctive set of constitutional understandings for the post-September 11 era. The White House is attempting to create a kind of 9/11 Constitution. A defining feature of these understandings is a strong commitment to inherent presidential authority over national security, including a belief that in crucial domains the president can act without congressional permission, and indeed cannot be checked by congressional prohibitions.” Yoo is a key figure in that effort. Sunstein calls his work interesting but completely one-sided, simply ignoring “the mountainous counter-evidence” against most of his constitutional claims. “Yoo’s reading would require us to ignore far too many statements by prominent figures in the founding generation,” Sunstein writes. “There are not many issues on which James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Wilson, John Adams, and Pierce Butler can be said to agree. Were all of them wrong?” Sunstein concludes: “[W]ith respect to war, there is no reason for a 9/11 Constitution. The old one, read in the light of our traditions, will do just fine.” (Sunstein 1/9/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 81-82)

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