DOJ gives torture memo writers a pass

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (AP)

The Justice Department  is closing the books on its probe of the Bush administration lawyers whose legal memorandums authorized the CIA to waterboard terrorism suspects, but the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he remains offended by the memos and will hold hearings

An internal review said the department lawyers showed “poor judgment” but did not commit professional misconduct in giving CIA interrogators the go-ahead at the height of the U.S. war on terrorism to use harsh interrogation tactics.

President Barack Obama campaigned on abolishing waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, and other tactics that he called torture. He left open the question of whether anyone would be punished for authorizing such methods.

Liberal Democrats had pressed for action against the authors of the so-called torture memos, and they indicated they aren’t finished discussing the matter.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he was “deeply offended” by the legal memos and planned to hold a hearing Feb. 26.

“I have serious concerns about the role each of these government lawyers played in the development of these policies,” Leahy said in a statement posted on his Web site.

An initial review by the Justice Department’s internal affairs unit found that former government lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had committed professional misconduct, a conclusion that could have cost them their law licenses. But, underscoring just how controversial and legally thorny the memos have become, the Justice Department’s top career lawyer reviewed the matter and disagreed.

“This decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies those memoranda,” Assistant Deputy Attorney General David Margolis wrote in a memo released Friday.

Margolis, the top nonpolitical Justice Department lawyer and a veteran of several administrations, called the legal memos “flawed” and said that, at every opportunity, they gave interrogators as much leeway as possible under U.S. torture laws. But he said Yoo and Bybee were not reckless and did not knowingly give incorrect advice, the standard for misconduct.

The Office of Professional Responsibility, led by another veteran career prosecutor, Mary Patrice Brown, disagreed.

“Situations of great stress, danger and fear do not relieve department attorneys of their duty to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice, even if that advice is not what the client wants to hear,” her team wrote in a report that criticized the memos for a “lack of thoroughness, objectivity and candor.”

The internal report also faulted then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-Criminal Division chief Michael Chertoff for not scrutinizing the memos and recognizing their flaws, but the report did not cite them for misconduct.

Yoo is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bybee is a federal judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco. The decision spares them any immediate sanctions, though state bar associations could independently take up the matter.

The memos authorized CIA interrogators to use waterboarding, keep detainees naked, hold them in painful standing positions and keep them in the cold for long periods of time. Other techniques included depriving them of solid food and slapping them. Sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling and threats to a detainee’s family were also used.

The memos have been embroiled in national security politics for years. The memos laid out a broad interpretation of executive power, one the previous administration also used to authorize warrantless wiretapping and secret prisons. Democrats say the Bush administration used shoddy lawyering to legitimize such policies.

Republicans said the memos, authored by two well-respected attorneys, gave the CIA the authority it needed to keep America safe in the panic-filled months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The memos were hurriedly put together in days, and supporters of Yoo and Bybee note that investigators have had years to dissect them.

Many have criticized the Obama administration for trying to politicize legal advice.

“We can only hope that the department’s decision will establish once and for all that dedicated public officials may have honest disagreements on difficult matters of legal judgment without violating ethical standards,” Bybee’s lawyer, Maureen Mahoney, said Friday.

Yoo’s lawyer, Miguel Estrada, was more pointed. During the lengthy investigation, Estrada accused internal investigators of trying to be “Junior Varsity CIA” that second-guessed intelligence decisions. Friday, he said the two lawyers never deserved to be investigated in the first place.

Obama has said CIA interrogators who relied on the memos will not face charges for their behavior. A separate criminal inquiry is under way into whether a handful of CIA operatives crossed the line, leading to the death of detainees.

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Written by Matt Apuzo of the Associated Press. Writers Devlin Barrett and Pete Yost contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Justice Department: http://www.justice.gov

Leahy: http://leahy.senate.gov/

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6 Responses to "DOJ gives torture memo writers a pass"

  1. Carl Nemo  February 20, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    What’s stunning about John Yoo and this situation is that he was born in Korea, now an American citizen, but his psyche has been influenced by an Asian mindset that for the most part has little reverence for freedom and its maintenance thereof.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Yoo

    Do the North Koreans honor the principles of the Geneva Convention and the forbidden use of torture? Do people think that South Koreans engaged in a conflict with their enemies in the North will adhere to such if the situation goes hot and their get their hands on captives from the North?

    Let’s jump over to the PRC. Do Americans think the still “Red Chinese” now in “pirate capitalist” sheeps’ clothing will honor the Geneva convention or the forbidden use of torture? Of course not.

    So here we had the Bush administration conveniently trusting a brief written by a Korean/American law professor from academia that suited their needs to pursue such draconian policies that are anathema to the Geneva Convention and other laws that prevent over the top treatment of prisoners giving them a an apologia for their actions even there were inquiries on the part of the ‘Justice Deparment’ in the future.

    They might as well have had an agent for the PRC state security write a brief concerning their thoughts on how they’ll torture anyone, including Americans once they overrun the U.S. in the event of nuclear conflict followed by their assured occupation of our North American homeland post such a conflagration.

    Yes, Virginia there’s 1.5 billion plus Chinese and they’ve already gamed out the fact that they along with the other burgeoning populations of Asia will be the premier survivors post a nuclear conflagration. Truly a mind-boggling scenario, but military madmen along with their advisers will always scheme to be on the winning side of equation. In their case it will be so.

    John Yoo was the absolute worst individual the administration should have enlisted for a Constitutional/Geneva Convention friendly opinion. Again, it was simply an opinion of convenience, so Bushco, especialy with “Mad Dick” behind the scenes scheming as to how they were slowly, but surely going to turn the U.S. into a garrison state post 9/11. Seemingly they have succeeded…!: |

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. John1172002  February 20, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    If the Bush Leagues II are allowed to get away with torture, then our freedoms have been totally compromised. And it makes me want to vomit.

    John1172002

  3. Issodhos  February 20, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    I am shocked. Government lawyers gently slapping the wrists of former government lawyers for greasing the rails for torture, and a pol claiming to be “deeply offended” by the actions of agents of the state — offended to the point of him holding politically useful hearings until they are no longer politically useful. I do not think paragons of integrity such as Leahy are going to risk doing anything that will result in a limitation on the future actions of his kind.;-)
    Yours,
    Issodhos

  4. Sandune  February 21, 2010 at 9:30 am

    With the exception of a few hot heads here, is there any possible action against men like Leahy. Is there partisanship involved in this action? The GOP committed the action and the Democrats are willing to ignore it. Is there anyone else involved in D.C.?

  5. woody188  February 22, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    We should be pushing the California Bar Association to revoke both their licenses to remove them of their livelihood and their ability to further damage the United States via legal channels. I’d be very afraid of coming in front of Bybee as a judge. He is unfit for the robe.

  6. Almandine  February 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Hot heads?

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