Posts Tagged ‘John Yoo’

Authors of Bush torture memos to be cleared of misconduct

February 1, 2010
By Raw Story
Saturday, January 30th, 2010 — 7:15 pm

johnyoo Authors of Bush torture memos to be cleared of misconduct

The men who advised former President Bush to waterboard detainees and deprive them of sleep will be cleared of charges of professional misconduct by a Justice Department ethics report.

The report, which has yet to be released, states that Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor, showed “poor judgment,” but will not face legal action for their advocacy of harsh interrogation tactics.

Continues >>

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White House Wants Torture Suit against Yoo Dismissed

December 9, 2009

by Bob Egelko,  The San Francisco Chronicle, Dec 8, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO – The Obama administration has asked an appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit accusing former Bush administration attorney John Yoo of authorizing the torture of a terrorism suspect, saying federal law does not allow damage claims against lawyers who advise the president on national security issues.

[John Yoo is accused of authorizing the torture of a terror suspect. (AP)]
John Yoo is accused of authorizing the torture of a terror suspect. (AP)

Such lawsuits ask courts to second-guess presidential decisions and pose “the risk of deterring full and frank advice regarding the military’s detention and treatment of those determined to be enemies during an armed conflict,” Justice Department lawyers said Thursday in arguments to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Other sanctions are available for government lawyers who commit misconduct, the department said. It noted that its Office of Professional Responsibility has been investigating Yoo’s advice to former President George W. Bush since 2004 and has the power to recommend professional discipline or even criminal prosecution.

The office has not made its conclusions public. However, The Chronicle and other media reported in May that the office will recommend that Yoo be referred to the bar association for possible discipline, but that he not be prosecuted.

Yoo, a UC Berkeley law professor, worked for the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003. He was the author of a 2002 memo that said rough treatment of captives amounts to torture only if it causes the same level of pain as “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” The memo also said the president may have the power to authorize torture of enemy combatants.

In the current lawsuit, Jose Padilla, now serving a 17-year sentence for conspiring to aid Islamic extremist groups, accuses Yoo of devising legal theories that justified what he claims was his illegal detention and abusive interrogation.

The Justice Department represented Yoo until June, when a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the suit could proceed. The department then bowed out, citing unspecified conflicts, and was replaced by a government-paid private lawyer.

Yoo’s new attorney, Miguel Estrada, argued for dismissal in a filing last month, saying the case interfered with presidential war-making authority and threatened to “open the floodgates to politically motivated lawsuits” against government officials. The Justice Department’s filing Thursday endorsed the request for dismissal but offered narrower arguments, noting its continuing investigation of Yoo.

Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and accused of plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” He was held for three years and eight months in a Navy brig, where, according to his suit, he was subjected to sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and stress positions, kept for lengthy periods in darkness and blinding light, and threatened with death to himself and his family.

He was then removed from the brig, charged with and convicted of taking part in an unrelated conspiracy to provide money and supplies to extremist groups.

Padilla’s suit says Yoo approved his detention in the brig and provided the legal cover for his allegedly abusive treatment. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White refused to dismiss the case in June.

The Justice Department’s filing Thursday said Padilla is asking the courts to determine the legality of Yoo’s advice, Bush’s decision to detain Padilla, the conditions of his confinement and the methods of his interrogation – all “matters of war and national security” that are beyond judicial authority.

How Bush’s Tortured Legal Logic Won

April 17, 2009

Robert Parry | Consortiumnews.com, April 17, 2009

Almost as disturbing as reading the Bush administration’s approved menu of brutal interrogation techniques is recognizing how President George W. Bush successfully shopped for government attorneys willing to render American laws meaningless by turning words inside out.

The four “torture” memos, released Thursday, revealed not just that the stomach-turning reports about CIA interrogators abusing “war on terror” suspects were true, but that the United States had gone from a “nation of laws” to a “nation of legal sophistry” – where conclusions on law are politically preordained and the legal analysis is made to fit.

You have passages like this in the May 10, 2005, memo by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel:

“Another question is whether the requirement of ‘prolonged mental harm’ caused by or resulting from one of the enumerated predicate acts is a separate requirement, or whether such ‘prolonged mental harm’ is to be presumed any time one of the predicate acts occurs.”

As each phrase in the Convention Against Torture was held up to such narrow examination, the forest of criminal torture was lost in the trees of arcane legal jargon. Collectively, the memos leave a disorienting sense that any ambiguity in words can be twisted to justify almost anything.

So, a “war on terror” prisoner could not only be locked up in solitary confinement indefinitely based on the sole authority of President Bush but could be subjected to a battery of abusive and humiliating tactics, all in the name of extracting some information that purportedly would help keep the United States safe – and it would not be called “torture.”

Some tactics were bizarre, like feeding detainees a liquid diet of Ensure to make “other techniques, such as sleep deprivation, more effective.” The memo’s sleep deprivation clause, in turn, allowed interrogators to shackle prisoners to an overhead pipe (or in some other uncomfortable position) for up to 180 hours (or seven-and-a-half days).

While shackled, the prisoner would be dressed in a diaper that “is checked regularly and changed as necessary.” The memo asserted that “the use of 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.”

Beyond the painful disorientation from depriving a person of sleep while chained in a standing position for days, the Justice Department memos called for prisoners to be forced into other “stress positions” for varying periods of time to cause “the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue.”

Tiny Boxes

The detainees also could be put into small, dark boxes where they could barely move (and in the case of one detainee, Abu Zubaydah, could have an insect slipped into his box as a way of playing on his fear of bugs), according to the Aug. 1, 2002, memo.

“The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container,” the May 10, 2005, memo added, with the smaller space (sitting only) restricted to two hours at a time and a somewhat larger box (permitting standing) limited to eight hours at a time and 18 hours a day.

Then, there were various slaps, grabs and slamming a prisoner against a “flexible” wall while his neck was in a sling “to help prevent whiplash.”

Prisoners also were subjected to forced nudity, sometimes in the presence of women, according to the May 10 memo.

“We understand that interrogators are trained to avoid sexual innuendo or any acts of implicit or explicit sexual degradation,” the memo said. “Nevertheless, interrogators can exploit the detainee’s fear of being seen naked.

“In addition, female officers involved in the interrogation process may see the detainees naked; and for purposes of our analysis, we will assume that detainees subjected to nudity as an interrogation technique are aware that they may be seen naked by females.”

Another approved technique was “water dousing” in which a detainee is sprayed with water that can be as cold as 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 20 minutes. Slightly warmer water could be used to douse a prisoner for longer periods of time.

Both the 2002 and 2005 memos permitted the “waterboard,” a technique that involves covering a prisoner’s face with a cloth and pouring water on it to create the panicked sensation of drowning. The interrogators also were authorized to prevent a detainee from trying to “defeat the technique” by thrashing about or trying to breathe from the corner of his mouth.

“The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee’s nose and mouth to dam the runoff, in which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water,” the May 10 memo reads. “In addition, you have informed us that the technique may be applied in a manner to defeat efforts by the detainee to hold his breath by, for example, beginning an application of water as the detainee is exhaling.”

At least since the days of the Spanish Inquisition, waterboarding has been regarded as torture. The U.S. government prosecuted Japanese soldiers who used it against American troops in World War II. But the legal reasoning of the Bush administration’s memos transformed waterboarding into an acceptable method of interrogation.

Lawyer-Shopping

Although the four released memos included the most famous one – from Aug. 1, 2002, which provided the initial legal cover for abusive interrogations – the three others from May 2005 may be more significant in destroying the legal cover that President Bush and his senior aides have hidden behind.

Their claim has been that they were simply operating within legal parameters set by lawyers at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is responsible for advising Presidents on the limits of their authority. In other words, professional lawyers provided objective legal advice and the administration simply followed it.

But that claim now collides with the reality that other Justice Department lawyers – from 2003 to 2005 – overturned the initial memo and resisted its reimplementation until they were ousted. In effect, the Bush administration appears to have gone lawyer-shopping for attorneys who would craft opinions that the White House wanted.

Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee signed the original Aug. 1, 2002, “torture” memo and other opinions granting expansive presidential powers (drafted by his deputy John Yoo).

However, Bybee quit in 2003 to accept President Bush’s appointment of him as a federal appeals court judge in San Francisco, and his successor as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, withdrew many Bybee-Yoo memos as legally flawed.

Goldsmith’s actions angered the White House, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal counsel David Addington. In a 2007 book, The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith described one White House meeting at which Addington pulled out a 3-by-5-inch card listing the OLC opinions that Goldsmith had withdrawn.

“Since you’ve withdrawn so many legal opinions that the President and others have been relying on,” Addington said sarcastically, “we need you to go through all of OLC’s opinions and let us know which ones you will stand by.”

Though supported by Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Goldsmith succumbed to the White House pressure and quit in 2004. Still, despite Goldsmith’s departure, Comey and the new acting head of the OLC, Daniel Levin, resisted restoring the administration’s right to use the harsh interrogation techniques.

That didn’t occur until White House counsel Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General in 2005 and made Bradbury the acting chief of the OLC. After signing the three “torture” memos in May, Bradbury was rewarded with Bush’s formal nomination in June to be Assistant Attorney General for the OLC (although he never gained Senate confirmation).

Comey Departs

With the OLC reaffirming the administration’s interrogation techniques, Comey’s days were numbered.

Though having been a successful prosecutor on past terrorism cases, such as the Khobar Towers bombing which killed 19 U.S. servicemen in 1996, Comey had earned the derisive nickname from Bush as “Cuomey” or just “Cuomo,” a strong insult from Republicans who deemed former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to be excessively liberal and famously indecisive.

On Aug. 15, 2005, in his farewell speech, Comey urged his colleagues to defend the integrity and honesty of the Justice Department.

“I expect that you will appreciate and protect an amazing gift you have received as an employee of the Department of Justice,” Comey said. “It is a gift you may not notice until the first time you stand up and identify yourself as an employee of the Department of Justice and say something – whether in a courtroom, a conference room or a cocktail party – and find that total strangers believe what you say next.

“That gift – the gift that makes possible so much of the good we accomplish – is a reservoir of trust and credibility, a reservoir built for us, and filled for us, by those who went before – most of whom we never knew. They were people who made sacrifices and kept promises to build that reservoir of trust.

“Our obligation – as the recipients of that great gift – is to protect that reservoir, to pass it to those who follow, those who may never know us, as full as we got it. The problem with reservoirs is that it takes tremendous time and effort to fill them, but one hole in a dam can drain them.

“The protection of that reservoir requires vigilance, an unerring commitment to truth, and a recognition that the actions of one may affect the priceless gift that benefits all. I have tried my absolute best – in matters big and small – to protect that reservoir and inspire others to protect it.”

Though the full import of Comey’s comments was not apparent at the time, it now appears that he was referring to the legal gamesmanship that Bradbury and others had used to circumvent American laws and traditions to enable the Bush administration to engage in torture.

In releasing the four memos on Thursday, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder repeated their rejection of the Bybee-Yoo-Bradbury legal theories, but also stipulated that they would oppose any legal action against the CIA interrogators who abused detainees under the Bush administration’s legal guidance.

Neither Obama nor Holder spoke specifically about possible legal accountability for Bush’s compliant lawyers — or for Bush and his top aides who oversaw the torture policies and picked the lawyers. However, Obama recommended a focus on the future, not the past.

Calling the period covered by the four memos a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” Obama added that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

The lack of accountability for Bush and his lawyers, however, may mean that future Presidents will follow Bush’s lead and assign some clever legal wordsmiths the job of finding ways around criminal statutes, international treaties and the U.S. Constitution.

If legal language can be interpreted any way that a President wishes – and if the U.S. Supreme Court is stocked with like-minded judges – then laws will no longer protect anyone, whether a suspected Middle Eastern terrorist or an American citizen.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

U.S. Human Rights Abuses in the War on Terror

March 19, 2009

By Joanne Mariner |  Counterpunch, March 17

Since September 2001, the U.S. government has been directly responsible for a broad array of serious human rights violations in fighting terrorism, including torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials. In many instances, US abuses were carried out in collaboration other governments.

To cite one example—albeit a particularly notable one—Pakistan’s intelligence agencies worked closely with the CIA to “disappear” terrorist suspects, hold them in secret detention, and subject them to torture and other abuses.

With Barack Obama’s term as U.S. president, the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism has changed. The scope of the Obama administration’s reforms is not yet clear, but it is obvious that the new administration wants to rethink many of the policies that were instituted over the past eight years.

This change in the U.S. approach is long overdue. What is called for, however, is not only for the United States to reform its own abusive policies, but also for U.S. officials to try to counteract the negative influence of past policies worldwide. As a brief review of US counterterrorism efforts will suggest, the human rights impact of the US-led “war on terror” has been felt across the globe.

Collaboration and Assistance in U.S. “War on Terror” Operations

In carrying out post-9/11 “war on terror” operations—including the detention, interrogation, and transfer of terrorist suspects—the United States relied on the assistance of a broad array of countries, from close allies like Britain to pariah states like Syria.

A few states in this long list stand out. Among the leading partners of the United States in the “war on terror” were Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Jordan. Other countries that played a crucial role in facilitating abusive U.S. practices were Egypt, Thailand, Poland, and Romania.

Some governments carried out abuses at the behest of the United States, as a means of gaining U.S. favor or counterterrorism funding. More often, however, the collaboration was genuine, because the perceived interests of the two countries were aligned. Libya, for example, took custody of a number of Libyan nationals who were rendered to Libya by the CIA in 2004-2006. While the detention and interrogation of these men were deemed to serve U.S. interests, the Libyan authorities had independent reasons for wanting to hold them.

The forms of cooperation varied from intelligence sharing to prisoner transfers to allowing the U.S. to hold prisoners in secret detention on a country’s territory. It is worth noting that many of the countries that were most deeply implicated in abusive U.S. practices received millions of dollars in U.S. military and counterterrorism assistance.

Some governments adopted abusive practices in response to direct US pressure. Most notably, the US encouraged a number of countries to pass draconian counterterrorism laws, often laws that expand police powers, reduce due process guarantees, and set out vague and overbroad definitions of terrorism.

Leading by Negative Example

The negative global impact of US human rights abuses post-9/11 does not, however, end there. Besides direct collaboration and pressure, the US also led by example. Many governments latched onto the Bush administration’s “war on terror” arguments to justify their own abuses, particularly the notion that defeating terrorism trumps any countervailing human rights obligations.

As then-Justice Department official John Yoo expressed the idea in a March 2003 memo, abuses against suspected terrorists can be justified by reference to a “national and international version of the right to self-defense.” The torture of terrorist suspects, according to this rationale, may be deemed necessary and defensible because of the government’s overriding obligation “to protect the nation from attack.” When fighting terrorism, in other words, the stakes are so high that respect for human rights is optional.

While the United States is not the first government to put forward such arguments, its post-9/11 iteration of these views had tremendous global resonance. The political and economic power of the United States, its historical reputation as a defender of human rights, and the vehemence with which it expressed its positions on the “war on terror” all amplified the negative global impact of these views.

Repressive governments, always seeking rhetorical cover for their violations, were quick to adopt the language of counterterrorism to help shield their abuses from critical scrutiny. In Egypt, for example, the government specifically cited the “war on terrorism” and new security laws passed in the United States and elsewhere to justify the 2003 renewal of long-standing emergency powers.

The Bush Legacy

By closing Guantanamo, shutting down CIA prisons, and condemning rather than justifying torture, the new administration will have made enormous strides. It should know, nonetheless, that the global legacy of the past eight years may not be quick to disappear.

The prisoners that the United States handed over to Libya and Syria will still be held without charge; the repressive laws that were passed will remain on the statute books, and the example of U.S. abuses will not be easily forgotten. Not only should the U.S. reform its own practices, it should remedy their impact on the rest of the world.

Joanne Mariner is a human rights lawyer living in Paris.

Bush era lies will linger a long time

March 12, 2009

Rosa Brooks | The Capital Times (Wisconsin), March 10, 2009

How did they ever get away with it?

Last week, the Justice Department released a batch of memos drafted in 2001 and 2002 by lawyers in the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel. Written mainly by John Yoo, then a deputy director in the office, they laid out the purported legal justifications for a theory of presidential power amounting to virtual dictatorship.

Collectively, they declare that if the U.S. military were deployed against suspected terrorists inside the United States, even U.S. citizens wouldn’t be protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. They also conclude that citizens and noncitizens could be designated “unlawful enemy combatants” by the president on the basis of secret evidence. And once that happens, they could be locked up indefinitely and tortured, without charge, access to counsel or any procedure through which to challenge the detention or treatment.

I know: All this is old hat. With so many leaks over the years, who doesn’t know by now that the Bush administration sought virtually unlimited executive power to monitor, detain and use force against individuals anywhere around the globe in the name of the “war on terror”?

But even today, it’s still shocking to see it laid out in black and white.

In a way, what’s most shocking is just how outrageously bad the office’s legal arguments were. The 2001-2002 memos mischaracterize previous Supreme Court decisions, ignore crucial legal precedents and contain gaping holes in logic. To accept the theories the Office of Legal Counsel came up with, you need to assume that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had it all wrong when they rebelled against Britain’s King George III in 1776. You need to believe, more or less, that the 225 years of American jurisprudence between 1776 and 2001 amounted to one giant mistake.

The memos are so embarrassingly foolish that the Office of Legal Counsel itself was ultimately forced to repudiate them. In October 2008, the office advised that “caution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on its own previous advice about domestic surveillance or the domestic use of the military. A week before President Barack Obama’s inauguration, the office issued another “never mind” memo, stating that “certain propositions stated in several memos respecting … matters of war and national security do not reflect the current views of this office.”

Better late than never, I guess.

But all this raises the question: How did such dangerously bad legal memos ever get taken seriously in the first place?

One answer is suggested by the so-called Big Lie theory of political propaganda, articulated most infamously by Adolf Hitler. Ordinary people “more readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie,” wrote Hitler, “since they themselves often tell small lies … but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

In other words: Paradoxically, the more outrageous the claim, the more apt we are to assume there must be some truth to it. Just as some banks and insurance companies are apparently “too big to fail,” some claims from those with political power seem to strike us as “too big to disbelieve.” “That seems so outrageous it must be right,” we tell ourselves. “The important people keep saying it — they must know something I don’t know.”

That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why the 2001-2002 memos stood as Bush administration doctrine for as long as they did. (The Big Lie theory also helps explain why other manifestly false Bush administration claims prevailed in the face of the evidence: Recall, for instance, how we were assured that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the war would be a cakewalk?)

Big lies prevail because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that our leaders could be so dishonest or deluded. And big lies can do terrible damage, of course. The Bush administration’s big legal lies paved the way for some of the most shameful episodes in our history, including the official authorization of torture.

In the end, thankfully, all big lies collapse under their own weight. We’re in a new era: The early memos produced by the office have been repudiated, and the Bush administration was sent packing with rock-bottom public approval ratings.

But don’t think we’re out of the woods. As Hitler demonstrated, some small part of the most “impudent lies” will always remain and stick. Big lies leave little lies in their wake, changing the political discourse in enduring, difficult-to-detect ways.

And that’s the challenge we now face: tracing the barely visible effects of the Bush administration’s now-repudiated big lies — through our legal system, our constitutional system, our foreign policy — and undoing all the damage.

It will take a generation.

Rosa Brooks is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. This column appeared first in the Los Angeles Times.

Obama administration backs immunity for author of Bush torture memos

March 9, 2009
By Patrick Martin | WSWS,  March 9,  2009

In legal arguments before a federal court in San Francisco Friday, the Obama administration stepped in to defend one of most notorious figures in the Bush administration, John Yoo, author of legal memoranda used to justify torture and indefinite detention without trial as part of the “war on terror.”

The intervention makes clear that the Obama administration opposes any serious effort to shed light on the attacks against democratic rights carried out by its predecessor or to hold any officials of the previous administration accountable for their actions. Moreover, its court interventions amount to a defense of the Bush administration’s assertions of quasi-dictatorial presidential powers.

Friday’s court hearing before US District Judge Jeffrey White concerned a civil suit brought by Jose Padilla, the US citizen who was imprisoned without charges for more than three years in a US Navy brig after Bush designated him an “enemy combatant.”

Padilla is now in federal prison, serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted on trumped-up conspiracy charges that had nothing to do with the sensationalized claims of the Bush administration that he was the leader of a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in an American city.

He has filed suit against numerous Bush administration officials, charging that his detention at the Navy brig, during which he was held in isolation and tortured, violated his constitutional rights. Yoo is being sued as the author of the legal opinion that upheld the arbitrary presidential authority under which Padilla was being held.

The Bush administration vigorously defended Yoo and the legal opinions he issued and sought to have the case thrown out on the grounds that US government employees cannot be sued for actions taken in the course of their official duties.

Immunity from lawsuits over official acts is an accepted US legal principle, but there is a broad exception for known criminal acts and abuses of power. Under the precedent set by the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, “just following orders” is not an adequate legal defense, particularly for those who were in a position to give the orders or define how they were to be interpreted. Yoo’s position in 2001 as an attorney at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which produces the official legal rationale for executive actions, clearly fits that description.

Padilla is not seeking either release from his current imprisonment or significant monetary damages. His claim against Yoo, for instance, is for $1, but his suit seeks a declaration from the federal government that his three-year ordeal in the Navy brig was illegal. “Plaintiffs seek to vindicate their constitutional rights,” his lawyers argue, “and ensure that neither Mr. Padilla nor any other person is treated this way in the future.”

Justice Department lawyers told the court Friday that despite the changeover from Bush to Obama, there would be no change in the legal position of the government in this case. Their declarations came in response to written questions issued by Judge White the day before, asking whether the position taken by Yoo’s attorneys had been “fully vetted” by the new administration.

One government lawyer, Mary Mason, told Judge White that permitting the lawsuit against Yoo to go forward could make government employees unwilling to do their jobs. These employees might decide that “I’m not designating you an enemy combatant, and I’m not going to interrogate you, because I might get sued,” she argued.

Several memos drafted by Yoo in 2001 and 2002 were released by the Justice Department earlier this week as part of discovery in the lawsuit. The memos include extraordinary assertions of presidential authority to override the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the name of the “war on terror,” including suspension of the First and Fourth amendments and the use of the military against civilian targets within the United States. [See “US Justice Department memos: the specter of military dictatorship”]

Judge White, appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, took Yoo’s assertion of quasi-dictatorial presidential authority far more seriously than the Justice Department lawyers who appeared before them. He called Yoo’s arguments in one 2001 memorandum “a pretty scary position,” and seemed reluctant to throw out Padilla’s suit, despite Mason’s argument that the torture memorandums had been largely withdrawn before the end of the Bush administration.

The following exchange gives the flavor of the arguments: “We’re not saying we condone torture,” Mason said. But whether a government lawyer could be sued for condoning torture “is for the executive to decide, in the first instance, and for Congress to decide,” not the courts.

Judge White asked, “You’re not saying that if high public officials commit clearly illegal acts, a citizen subject to those acts has no remedy in this court?” Mason responded by citing the position take by the Bush Justice Department last year that the courts should not interfere in wartime decision-making by the executive branch.

Heather Metcalf, an attorney for Padilla, noted that Yoo had served on the “war council” that set Bush administration policy for the treatment of prisoners, and that one of the specific purposes of his memorandums was to shield officials from future liability for their encroachments on constitutional rights. “Defendant Yoo,” she said, “must not take refuge in the legal no man’s land that he helped to create.”

After the court session, a Justice Department spokesman, Matt Miller, sought to downplay the political significance of the intervention. “This administration has made no secret that we disagree with many of the previous administration’s legal policies on national security issues,” he said. “Nevertheless, we generally defend employees or former employees of the department in litigation filed in connection with their official duties.”

Yoo himself is a completely unrepentant defender of both torture and unchecked executive authority. In an interview with the Orange County Register, he said that he doesn’t “think he would have made the basic decisions differently,” adding that he would have polished the arguments more if he had known the memorandums would be made public. “When you are in the government, you have very little time to make very important decisions,” he said. “You don’t have the luxury to research every single thing and that’s accelerated in war time.”

Apparently his legal “research” did not include the text of the Constitution, which clearly gives Congress decision-making power over “captures” in wartime, and entirely ignored the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The position taken by the Obama administration in the Yoo lawsuit is consistent with its efforts in a whole series of court cases involving national security and democratic rights, where the Obama Justice Department has essentially adopted the Bush administration’s standpoint as its own. This includes assertion of the “state secrets” privilege to suppress lawsuits against illegal kidnappings by the CIA (“rendition”) and illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Last week government lawyers opposed a request for US District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco to consider whether legislation passed last year by Congress goes too far in authorizing blanket legal immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated in warrantless surveillance of US citizens. A spokesman for the Justice Department declared the 2008 legislation—for which Senator Barack Obama voted—is “the law of the land, and, as such, the Department of Justice defends it in court.”

So clear is the continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations in this area that the Wall Street Journal published an editorial Friday, headlined, “Obama Channels Cheney,” hailing the new administration’s stand on warrantless wiretapping. “The Obama Justice Department has adopted a legal stance identical to, if not more aggressive than, the Bush version,” the newspaper’s right-wing editorial board gloated.

Bush’s executive tyranny

March 4, 2009
We need a citizens commission to investigate how far the Bush White House wanted to take executive power after 9/11.

Tim Rutten | Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2009

Just how close to the brink of executive tyranny did the United States come in the panic that swept George W. Bush’s administration after 9/11? The answer, it now seems clear, is that we came far closer than even staunch critics of the White House believed.

On Monday, the Obama administration released nine legal opinions produced for the Bush White House by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That heretofore obscure office essentially serves as the president’s arbiter of what’s legal and what isn’t. Among other things, the memorandums issued by the office in 2001 asserted that Bush had the power to order the military to capture suspected terrorists on U.S. soil and to treat them as enemy combatants without any rights to due process.

In the course of such operations, according to the Office of Legal Counsel, the military was free to ignore 4th Amendment prohibitions on illegal search and seizure and to engage in warrantless wiretapping. 1st Amendment protections of free speech also could be suspended at the chief executive’s directive, according to these opinions, and the president has the power to abrogate any international treaty at will.

Other opinions asserted that the president, acting under his inherent powers as commander in chief, is free to ignore laws passed by Congress and cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly on the treatment of “detainees.”

An opinion sent to the White House on Oct. 23, 2001, flatly stated that 1st Amendment “speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully. … The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” Less than a year later, this same office advised Bush that he was free to authorize the torture of suspected terrorists.

These opinions were largely the work of John Yoo — the UC Berkeley legal scholar who currently is a visiting professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange County — and a relatively small cadre of like-minded conservative lawyers. Many were passionate advocates of a marginal constitutional theory called “unitary executive,” which holds that — when it comes to matters of national security — the president is free to exercise virtually unfettered powers as an inherent aspect of his constitutional duty to act as commander in chief.

Suffice it to say that the arguments and precedents marshaled on behalf of this notion about the balance of powers give new weight to the adjective “attenuated.” In fact, what comes most readily to mind is the style of Talmudic argument called pilpul, in which texts and precedents are tortured out of context to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.

That, however, never bothered then-Vice President Dick Cheney and his ally, then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who brought to the Bush administration an abiding conviction that, since the Ford administration in which they both had served, U.S. presidents had suffered a disastrous erosion of executive power. Though neither man is a lawyer, both had become enthusiastic proponents of the unitary executive theory during their years out of power.

What Cheney and Rumsfeld understood better than most was that a few well-placed zealots with hands on critical levers — such as those in the Office of Legal Counsel — can send even the federal government spinning in new directions.

They came perilously close to doing that in the frantic and fearful months after 9/11, though the record must reflect that their first and firmest opponents were other conservative lawyers who found what was being proposed horrifying. Jack Goldsmith, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel after Yoo was gone and who repudiated many of the office’s earlier opinions, was one of those. So too was then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, nobody’s idea of a civil libertarian.

Understanding how all this occurred, as well as how the CIA came to destroy 92 videotapes of the torture and incarceration it carried out under the authority of the Yoo memos, is vital. The problem is that ordinary congressional hearings would inevitably be attacked as partisan. And we don’t need a witch-hunt or a series of prosecutions of CIA officers who were following orders they’d been told were based on legal opinions from the Department of Justice.

That’s why Congress should take up the suggestion of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and establish a bipartisan citizens commission to investigate and report on exactly what occurred. We need to understand just how close fear and over- weening ambition took us to executive tyranny.

timothy.rutten@latimes.com

Prosecuting the Bush Team?

March 4, 2009

Robert Pallitto | Foreign Policy In Focus, March 2, 2009

In the months following September 11, 2001, lawyers in the White House and the Justice Department interpreted U.S. and international law to provide legal support for the administration in its “war on terror.” With regard to interrogation of terror suspects, John Yoo, David Addington, Jay Bybee, and others justified the use of such harsh and dangerous tactics as waterboarding and stress positions. In a 2002 memo, they advised that only actions causing severe pain equivalent to “organ failure” would violate the U.S. torture law. Moreover, the memo stated that only if they acted with the specific intention to cause such pain — rather than acting with the primary goal of obtaining information — would the interrogators violate the law. Finally, the memo argued that these interrogations were rooted in an inherent executive power to protect the nation. As such, other branches of government could not review or limit such policies.

The architects of the Bush administration’s torture policy clearly wanted to facilitate the use of torture tactics and to insulate themselves from future civil and criminal liability. In the words of legal scholar Jeremy Waldron, they were using the U.S. legal definition of torture as “something to game, a determinate envelope to push.”

A new administration is already taking steps to reverse Bush policies on torture and detention. Will it go the next step and pursue criminal prosecutions of Bush legal advisors?

The Nuremberg Precedent

Scott Horton has suggested that the Reich Justice Ministry cases, which were tried at Nuremberg after World War II, furnish precedent for trying Addington, Yoo, and others. The Reich Ministry cases involved prosecution of judicial officials who crafted policies and justifications for detention and killing of Jews, Roma, and other groups targeted by the Nazi regime. Also included in these prosecutions were judges who subverted the legal process by allowing high-ranking executive branch officials to direct the judges to reach certain results. Horton notes that the rulings in these cases established “a particularly perilous standard of liability for government attorneys who adopt a dismissive attitude towards international humanitarian law.”

To be sure, Bush’s legal advisors were, to say the least, “dismissive” toward international humanitarian law. To take one example, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and “obsolete.” This attitude wasn’t limited to international law. The Bybee memo cited a federal health care statute to define the term “severe pain” as that term is used in the torture law. Of course, it makes no sense to use a statute concerning payment for medical treatment to authorize inflicting pain on a person. This definitional stretch, which would be laughable in a less serious context, is an indication of the unrestrained determination to find and use anything, no matter how inapposite or farfetched, to take the administration where it wanted to go with its torture policies. Federal court rules allow judges to sanction attorneys for making frivolous arguments. Such a “severe pain” argument should be subject to similar sanction.

The Bush advisors were wrong on the law when they suggested that executive torture policies were unreviewable, and they were wrong in their interpretation of the U.S. criminal law prohibiting torture (they admitted as much when they repudiated the 2002 torture memo two years later). In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court specifically rejected the claim that prisoner treatment need not comply with the Geneva Conventions. On this issue, the Bush team clearly misinterpreted the law and then broke it. But how do we address the damage done to our democratic and constitutional values, to our standing in the world? Should criminal prosecutions be part of that effort, brought either in U.S. federal court or in an international tribunal?

Criminal Prosecutions

U.S. law specifically prohibits torture. It’s a federal crime to commit torture, and the Bush advisors sought to interpret that law in a way that would permit such practices as waterboarding. The advisors’ actions could be considered a conspiracy to violate the torture law. They themselves didn’t engage in prohibited acts of torture, but they made it easier for others to do so.

The problem here is that the actions involved were themselves interpretations of law: State officials were making arguments about what the law meant and suggesting that it should be read narrowly. Horton suggests that lawyers aren’t permitted, in such a case, to “get it wrong” and then be excused for doing so. In the Reich Justice Ministry cases, the judicial officials made decisions and created policies that were later found to be illegal, and many of those officials were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg. The important difference, however, is that the Reich Justice Ministry officials were complicit in a criminal regime. The structural rules of the government were illegitimate, created by a chief executive (Hitler) to preserve and increase his own power.

In the U.S. case, the structuring rules of government were not illegal. The legislature and the courts continued to function according to the constitution, even though the president tried to shield his actions and those of his administration from review. In several instances — authorizing military action against Iraq, detainee treatment, denial of court review to detainees, immunity for warrantless wiretapping — Congress approved presidential actions, thus making it harder to argue that the government wasn’t operating according to valid law. In fact, Congress even voted to confirm Jay Bybee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after he left the Bush administration. In short, the government’s actions were illegitimate but the government itself was, unlike that of Nazi Germany, legitimate.

The case for a violation of international law might seem clearer, in a sense. Instead of defining a particular law narrowly as they did with U.S. torture statute, the Bush advisors said that a particular body of international law (the Geneva Conventions) did not apply at all. In other words, with regard to international law, the advisors denied the applicability and constraining force of a law altogether. Moreover, the Supreme Court expressly denied this administration claim in Hamdan. Again, however, the problem here concerns the provision of legal duties or advice as a crime, and specifically with the “fit” of the Nuremburg precedent. The court there held state officials liable for formulating policies and rendering decisions that assisted in a genocidal project and gave obeisance to a plan of government under which, according to the court opinion in the Justice Ministry cases, “Hitler did, in fact, exercise the right assumed by him to act as Supreme Judge, and in that capacity in many instances he controlled the decision of the individual criminal cases.” The court reasoned that this construction of German law left Nazi officials susceptible to prosecution under international law. In the U.S. case, however, the wrongdoing that occurred was done against the background of a political and legal order whose legitimacy wasn’t in doubt. The tripartite federal governmental system specified by the constitution operated throughout the period in question, and this fact distinguishes the two situations. This isn’t to excuse or to diminish what occurred between 2001 and 2008 in the United States. But the Nuremberg case doesn’t furnish an apt precedent for prosecution of the authors of the Bush torture policies.

Political Obstacles

In addition to the legal obstacles to prosecuting the architects of Bush’s torture policies, there are significant political obstacles as well. The United States refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court during the Bush years; Bush revoked the signatory status. Obama has indicated an interest in resigning the ICC agreement, but would he then deliver members of the previous administration to that court for prosecution? The likely partisan political tension and fallout from any prosecution, domestic or international, would create a disincentive for prosecution, especially for a pragmatic, centrist president. To be sure, nothing in Obama’s executive orders thus far suggests that he intends to review past actions of the previous administration for possible criminal sanctions. The executive order relating to torture is written with a prospective focus, declaring that from Inauguration Day forward the torture policies of the Bush administration will no longer be followed, and that the standards the rest of the world adheres to, including the Geneva Conventions, will govern interrogation of terror suspects. While this statement is a welcome return to the rule of law, it leaves the past actions of Bush’s advisors unaddressed.

On February 10, the Obama administration surprised some observers by indicating in court that it would adopt the past administration’s posture in a torture-related case. Jeppesen Dataplan v. Mohamed is a suit against the flight planning company that allegedly facilitated the rendition of a terror suspect to a secret torture location. The Bush administration intervened and convinced the trial court to dismiss the suit, claiming that the case involved state secrets and would threaten national security if it were allowed to proceed. At oral argument in the Ninth Circuit, Attorney General Holder argued that the dismissal should be affirmed, rather than reversing the course set previously by the Bush Justice Department. The state secrets privilege is a court-created doctrine that allows the executive branch to terminate litigation simply by claiming that a particular dispute involves national security matters. Critics of excessive executive power hoped that the new administration would at least modify the scope of the privilege, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Future of Prosecution

Hannah Arendt explored the problem of state crimes in her famous report on the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Acting according to German law, Eichmann oversaw the transport of Jews and others to concentration camps as part of his administrative position in the German government. Thus, his official responsibility in the time period of the “final solution” was to facilitate genocide. Arendt points out that Eichmann’s trial presented certain novel legal problems: He was a bureaucrat in a criminal regime, following orders to commit monstrous evil. In view of the Nazis’ genocidal project, Eichmann’s conviction and execution was a foregone conclusion, but the problem of prosecuting state-administered torture and killing remains half a century later. Today, with the issue of criminal conduct by members of the Bush administration, Arendt’s question presents itself somewhat differently. Yoo, Addington, Bybee, and others sought to maneuver around legal and political obstacles within a regime outwardly functioning under rule of law. It was they who provided the chief executive with advice and arguments for the policies he wished to implement.

In view of the problems indicated here, it is unlikely that a criminal prosecution of the Bush advisors for their role in propagating torture will occur. This isn’t to say, by any means, that their behavior was lawful. Rather, it’s a recognition of the realities of the situation, both political and legal. Also, the officials themselves worked to shield themselves from liability, helping to create some of the obstacles facing the nation now as we attempt to reckon with the lawlessness of the past administration.

Certainly, the lessons of the past eight years provide a good reason to resign the ICC agreement. Also, the ethics investigations currently pending against individual officials are important, appropriate, and laudable. While they will yield less in the way of punishment, they also face none of the roadblocks indicated above. These roadblocks only underscore the final, painful lesson: Failure to stand up to an overreaching executive branch compounds the damage that branch can inflict on our system of government by making it more difficult ultimately to hold executive officials accountable.

Robert Pallitto is an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University, a former trial attorney, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He is co-author, with William Weaver, of Presidential Secrecy and the Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), and he is currently working on a book about torture in U.S. history.

CIA destroyed 92 torture videos

March 3, 2009

By Jason Leopold | Consortiumnews.com, March 2, 2009

The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes – far more than previously known – to prevent disclosure of evidence revealing how the agency’s interrogators subjected “war on terror” detainees to waterboarding and other brutal methods, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department.

“The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed,” said a letter written by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin and filed in federal court in New York. “Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed.”

Previously, the CIA had disclosed that it had destroyed two videotapes and one audiotape of harsh interrogations of detainees. The tape destruction has been the subject of a year-long criminal investigation by John Durham, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who was appointed special prosecutor last year by Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In Monday’s filing, Dassin noted that a stay of a contempt motion filed by the ACLU seeking release of the tapes was allowed to expire on Feb. 28 without a request for a continuation – signaling that Durham’s investigation is now complete.

In January, Durham had indicated in a court filing that he expected to wrap up his probe by the end of February. The CIA has asked the court to give the agency until Friday to produce a list of all destroyed records, any memos relating to reconstruction of those records, and identification of witnesses who may have watched the videotapes before they were destroyed.

Dassin’s letter said some information sought by the ACLU may be classified or “protected from disclosure, such as the names of the CIA employees who viewed the videotapes.”

Dassin said the CIA “intends to produce all of the information requested to the court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the plaintiffs.”

Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said the latest disclosure “provides further evidence for holding the CIA in contempt of court.”

“The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court’s order.” Singh said. “Our contempt motion has been pending in court for over a year now – it is time to hold the CIA accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

The videotaped interrogations, which were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, were destroyed in November 2005 after The Washington Post published a story exposing the CIA’s use of so-called “black site” prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects with techniques that were not legal on U.S. soil.

The Zubaydah Case

The Post’s story focused on alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah and the harsh methods that the CIA used on him and other detainees. Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and reportedly was whisked to a secret prison site in Thailand for interrogation.

Initially, Zubaydah was somewhat cooperative but later became tight-lipped when asked about alleged terrorist plots against the United States and the whereabouts of high-level al-Qaeda operatives.

In July 2002, a meeting was convened at the White House, where former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department attorney John Yoo, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s attorney David Addington, and unknown CIA officials discussed whether the CIA could interrogate Zubaydah more aggressively in order to get him to respond.

It was at this July 2002 meeting that Yoo, Gonzales and Addington gave the CIA the green light to use a wide variety of techniques, including waterboarding, on Zubaydah and other detainees at several secret prisons to “break” them and force them to cooperate with interrogators, according to an account published in Newsweek in late December 2003.

Less than a month after the meeting, on Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo drafted a memo to Gonzales that was signed by Jay Bybee, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. That memo declared that President Bush had the legal authority to allow CIA interrogators to employ harsh tactics to extract information from detainees.

Yoo’s memo – often called the “torture meme” – said Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

Michael Chertoff, then head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the Aug.  1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.

In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.

Bush Fixated

In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the “high-value detainee” the CIA had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote.

However, “Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”

Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.

According to Suskind, Zubaydah’s captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind wrote.

Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States” and added: “So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures” to get Zubaydah to talk.

The President did not want to “lose face” because he had stated his importance publicly, Suskind wrote.

Last year, Mukasey appointed U.S. Attorney Durham as special counsel to investigate whether the destruction of the CIA videotapes violated any laws, but did not give Durham the authority to probe whether the interrogation techniques themselves violated anti-torture laws.

In December 2008, Bush and Cheney both admitted in exit interviews that they authorized the waterboarding of Zubaydah and two other detainees.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers in January proposed expanding the scope of Durham’s investigation to include a broader review of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

Conyers said he urged Attorney General Eric Holder to “appoint a Special Counsel or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, will soon conduct a secret investigation into the CIA’s interrogation program to determine whether the methods used against detainees worked, according to published reports.

Jason Leopold has launched his own Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.

War Criminals, Including Their Lawyers, Must Be Prosecuted

February 21, 2009

Marjorie Cohn, Feb 19, 2009

Since he took office, President Obama has instituted many changes that break with the policies of the Bush administration. The new president has ordered that no government agency will be allowed to torture, that the U.S. prison at Guantánamo will be shuttered, and that the CIA’s secret black sites will be closed down. But Obama is non-committal when asked whether he will seek investigation and prosecution of Bush officials who broke the law. “My view is also that nobody’s above the law and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen,” Obama said. “But,” he added, “generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.” Obama fears that holding Team Bush to account will risk alienating Republicans whom he still seeks to win over.

Obama may be off the hook, at least with respect to investigating the lawyers who advised the White House on how to torture and get away with it. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has written a draft report that apparently excoriates former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, authors of the infamous torture memos, according to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff. OPR can report these lawyers to their state bar associations for possible discipline, or even refer them for criminal investigation. Obama doesn’t have to initiate investigations; the OPR has already launched them, on Bush’s watch.

The smoking gun that may incriminate George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, et al., is the email traffic that passed between the lawyers and the White House. Isikoff revealed the existence of these emails on The Rachel Maddow Show. Some maintain that Bush officials are innocent because they relied in good faith on legal advice from their lawyers. But if the president and vice president told the lawyers to manipulate the law to allow them to commit torture, then that defense won’t fly.

A bipartisan report of the Senate Armed Services Committee found that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

Cheney recently admitted to authorizing waterboarding, which has long been considered torture under U.S. law. Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, Colin Powell, and John Ashcroft met with Cheney in the White House basement and authorized harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, according to an ABC News report. When asked, Bush said he knew about it and approved.

John Yoo wrote in a Wall Street Journal oped that Bush “could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.”

A representative of the Justice Department promised that OPR’s report would be released sometime last November. But Bush’s attorney general Michael Mukasey objected to the draft. A final version will be presented to Attorney General Eric Holder. The administration will then have to decide whether to make it, and the emails, public and then how to proceed.

When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture, we promised to extradite or prosecute those who commit, or are complicit in the commission, of torture. We have two federal criminal statutes for torture prosecutions – the Torture Statute and the War Crimes Act (torture is considered a war crime under U.S. law). The Torture Convention is unequivocal: nothing, including a state of war, can be invoked as a justification for torture.

Yoo redefined torture much more narrowly than U.S. law provides, and counseled the White House that it could evade prosecution under the War Crimes Act by claiming self-defense or necessity. Yoo knew or should have known of the Torture Convention’s absolute prohibition of torture.

There is precedent for holding lawyers criminally liable for giving legally erroneous advice that resulted in great physical or mental harm or death. In U.S. v. Altstoetter, Nazi lawyers were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity for advising Hitler on how to “legally” disappear political suspects to special detention camps.

Almost two-thirds of respondents to a USA Today/Gallup Poll favor investigations of the Bush team for torture and warrantless wiretapping. Nearly four in 10 favor criminal investigations. Cong. John Conyers has introduced legislation to establish a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties. Sen. Patrick Leahy advocates for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; but this is insufficient. TRC’s are used for nascent democracies in transition. By giving immunity to those who testify before them, it would ensure that those responsible for torture, abuse and illegal spying will never be brought to justice.

Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute high Bush officials including lawyers like John Yoo who gave them “legal” cover. Obama is correct when he said that no one is above the law. Accountability is critical to ensuring that our leaders never again torture and abuse people.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), which will be published this winter by PoliPointPress.  Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com (The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer; she is not acting on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild or Thomas Jefferson School of Law)


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