torture memos

Judiciary Committee Hearing on OPR Report

On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the recently-released report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).  The Office had been tasked with assessing whether lawyers in the Bush Office of Legal Counsel had acted unethically in crafting legal memoranda justifying torture.

Although the OPR report concluded that John Yoo and Jay Bybee had demonstrated “professional misconduct,” their recommendation for sanctions was overruled by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who acknowledged that it was a close question but concluded that the two had exercised “poor judgment.

As we pointed out, regardless of the final recommendation, the detailed reports absolutely affirm that embattled nominee Dawn Johnsen, who has been waiting for more than a year to be confirmed to head OLC under Attorney General Eric Holder, was correct in her criticisms of the “torture memos” issued by the Bush OLC. 

Rather than being pilloried for her legitimate criticisms of the Bush OLC’s failure to respect the rule of law, Johnsen should be celebrated for extraordinarily valuable process she led with 19 former OLC lawyers in fashioning principles to guide OLC’s work going forward.

Those principles, by the way, have garnered support across the political spectrum, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Timothy Elliott Flanigan (nominated by Bush to be Deputy Attorney General), and former OLC head Steven Bradbury.

At the hearings, Senator Leahy noted that Attorney General Holder has been hampered in fully reforming OLC as Johnsen’s confirmation continues to be obstructed by Republicans. She should be confirmed without further delay.

PFAW

John Yoo versus Reality

Via The San Francisco Chronicle, it seems that the latest filing by John Yoo's lawyer— in a case brought by a prisoner who was illegally detained and tortured based on Yoo’s advice—has all the hallmarks of one of Yoo’s own briefs: it’s slipshod, morally questionable and utterly unsupported by the facts.

Take this assertion, for instance:

[Miguel Estrada, Yoo’s lawyer] also cited the Justice Department's report last week concluding that Yoo committed no professional misconduct in his memos.

As the Chronicle points out, Estrada failed to mention that that the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Yoo (along with now-Federal Judge Jay Bybee) demonstrated “professional misconduct” and ignored legal precedents.  Even the memo prepared by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who ultimately attributed Yoo’s and Bybee’s actions to “poor judgment,” is “far from a vindication for John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee's shamefully narrow interpretations of laws against torture” according to the Los Angeles Times.  Margolis, while ruling out the harshest punishment for Yoo, says that debate over whether “Yoo intentionally or recklessly provided misleading advice to his client” is a “close question.”  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

In fact, anyone who has actually read the report or Margolis’s memo knows that they paint a damning picture of Yoo’s actions.  Estrada’s claim that they exonerate Yoo is wishful thinking at best.

Next up is Estrada’s shot at guidelines drawn by a group of OLC alumni, headed by Dawn Johnsen, to help the Office move forward after the torture memos were made public.

In Friday's filing, Yoo's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, said Johnsen's guidelines reflect "only partisan disagreement with the policies of the previous administration."

How Estrada can deliver such an allegation with a straight face is difficult to fathom.  The idea that only partisans could oppose Yoo’s torture memos simply isn’t borne out by the facts.  First off, Republican Lindsey Graham didn’t seem to be a big fan of Yoo’s opinions, saying:

The guidance that was provided during this period of time, I think will go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and short-sighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military and intelligence communities.

Even putting aside Graham’s criticism of Yoo’s memos, Johnsen’s statement of principles was endorsed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Timothy Flanigan, and Acting OLC head Steven Bradbury in testimony to Congress.

But perhaps most galling is Estrada’s claim that Yoo remains a "respected legal scholar."

Honorifics aside, most “respected legal scholars” aren’t being investigated for war crimes by our allies.  Most don’t find their colleagues debating about whether or not ones tenure should be revoked.  And, notwithstanding the Margolis memorandum, the Office of Professional Responsibility doesn’t usually recommend that its findings of misconduct be referred to the state bar disciplinary authorities.

Estrada’s defense of Yoo is logically indefensible and divorced from even a passing resemblance to reality.  In short, it’s a brief only John Yoo could love.

PFAW

The Audacity of Blackmail

According to the Daily Beast, the GOP is threatening to filibuster President Obama’s legal nominees if he moves to release the infamous “torture memos” that came out of the John Yoo-era Office of Legal Counsel:

A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

It was bad enough that George W. Bush spent the last eight years politicizing the Department of Justice and degrading the rule of law. Now, instead of working with the new administration to clean up the DOJ, Republican Senators are apparently doubling down and desperately attempting to cover up the Bush Administration’s misdeeds and their own complicity.

As several of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said during the Committee’s vote on Dawn Johnsen’s nomination: bring it on. If the GOP wants a public debate about what’s been going in on the Justice Department, that’s the kind of debate the American people will understand.

In the mean time, now would be a good time to remind every member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat and Republican alike, that it’s time to confirm Dawn Johnsen and clean up the DOJ.

PFAW

Torturing the Rule of Law

Newsweek is reporting:

Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were "ugly" and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a "truth commission" on torture.

Torture and the other illegal activities approved at the very highest levels of the Bush Administration must be exposed to the public for a simple reason: sweeping officially-sanctioned lawbreaking under the rug is dangerously corrosive to the rule of law.  After all, if one president can get away with illegal behavior without any consequences, what’s to prevent another president from doing the same?

America will have more presidents, good and bad, and letting the malefactors of the Bush Administration off the hook can only encourage future criminal abuses of authority.

We must have full accountability for what happened during the Bush era.
 

PFAW