April 1st, 2008
The infamous May 14, 2003 torture memo by John Yoo has finally been leaked. It’s a real doozy, according to this Washington Post article. [I have not had time to read the 81 pages yet.] Evidently it states that any physical abuse can be justified, no matter how horrendous:
”If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote in the memo. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”
Surely this memo, in providing legal cover for torture, constitutes a war crime. Yoo should be summarily fired from the Berkeley “law” school and indicted. The Bar Association should move to disbar him as well.
BTW, I have heard that Yoo is scheduled to speak at the Supreme Court this spring to an association of former Supreme Court law clerks. Evidently war criminals are quite welcome at the Roberts Court.
Terrorism Interrogators Immune From Prosecution, ’03 Memo Says
Since Rescinded, the Document Granted Nearly Unfettered Presidential Power
By Dan Eggen and Josh White
Federal laws prohibiting assault and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander-in-chief overrode such statutes, according to a newly declassified 2003 Justice Department memo released today.
The memo–which was rescinded just nine months after it was issued–provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war, contending that numerous laws and treaties that forbid torture or cruel treatment should not apply to the interrogations of enemy combatants overseas.
The 81-page document was sent to the Pentagon’s general counsel on March 14, 2003 by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and became the legal foundation for the Defense Department’s use of aggressive interrogation practices.
The memo asserts that domestic and international laws and treaties, as well as the U.S. Constitution, would not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president’s inherent wartime powers.
“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote in the memo. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”
Interrogators who harmed a prisoner also would be protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense,” Yoo wrote.
Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which required the Defense Department to limit interrogation technique to those described in the Army Field Manual. In 2006, the Army rewrote the manual, which now specifically prohibits many of the tactics the administration sought to use.
Although the existence of the March 14, 2003 memo has long been known, its contents previously have never been disclosed. The memo was rescinded along with another from August 2002 that narrowly defined the bounds of torture, which also was written by Yoo but signed by another Justice Department official who is now a federal judge.
The documents are part of a growing collection of disputed or controversial legal memoranda and internal reports that undergirded a series of coercive interrogation techniques employed by the Bush administration in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The newly released memo was sent by the Justice Department late today to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have long pushed for its declassification.
The working group report, along with the memos from Yoo and others, were withdrawn after a group of dissident lawyers at the Justice Department later concluded that the legal reasoning behind the documents was deeply flawed.
In his 2007 book, “The Terror Presidency,” Jack Goldsmith, who was head of the Office of Legal Counsel from 2003 to 2004, writes that the Yoo memorandum was one of two internal Justice Department opinions that “stood out” for “the unusual lack of care and sobriety in their legal analysis.”
Among many other problems, Goldsmith wrote, both memos “were wildly broader than was necessary to support what was actually being done.”
Yoo’s memo in March 2003 came amid contentious debate inside the Pentagon about which interrogation techniques should be allowed at Defense Department facilities and which could open U.S. service members to potential legal troubles, both in domestic and international courts.
A Pentagon working group began meeting in January 2003 after then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suspended a list of aggressive techniques he had allowed for a single detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoner, military investigators later would determine, faced an interrogation regime that included stress positions, nudity, hooding, exposure to dogs and other aggressive techniques.
The working group’s 2003 report, prepared under the supervision of then-general counsel William J. Haynes II, said that “in order to respect the President’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign . . . [the prohibition against torture] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.”
In the days before Yoo sent his memo to Haynes, the top lawyers for each service wrote strenuous objections to the use of Justice Department arguments on the matter, arguing that the use of such extreme techniques could send a dangerous message to other nations about what the United States considers acceptable, and that using such techniques could amount to “unlawful” conduct by U.S. troops.
“Implementation of questionable techniques will very likely establish a new baseline for acceptable practice in this area, putting our service personnel at far greater risk and vitiating many of the POW/detainee safeguards the U.S. has worked hard to establish over the past five decades,” wrote Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, then the Army’s Judge Advocate General, on March 3, 2003.
Rear Adm. Michael F. Lohr, the Navy’s top lawyer, asked in a memo at the time whether the American people would find “we have missed the forest for the trees by condoning practices that, while technically legal, are inconsistent with our most fundamental values?”
A draft memo from the working group on March 6, 2003 dismissed most of the service lawyers’ recommendations and relied heavily on the Justice Department’s reasoning. Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker, who wrote the memo, used the administration’s position on denying detainees Geneva Convention rights and on the definition of torture to justify the use of aggressive tactics.
Walker’s group issued a final report on April 4, 2003, that defends the use of extremely aggressive tactics. In part of its discussion about techniques such as using dogs, removal of clothing, slaps, sleep deprivation and other techniques, the report said: “Generally, the legal analysis that was applied is that understood to comport with the views of the Department of Justice.”
The service JAGs did not receive a copy of Yoo’s March memo and did not know about the final working group report for more than a year.
“There was no consensus on the working group, and the report that Mary Walker put together was done with very little of our input, or she just didn’t listen to the input from the group,” Romig, now dean of the Washburn University School of Law in Kansas, said yesterday. “When this all came out, I think it just caused a level of confusion, where people were trying to push the envelope. It gave more credence to the argument that this was all a new model, a new dynamic we were in, and therefore the old rules didn’t apply.”
Romig said top civilians in the Pentagon and within the Bush administration consistently refused to listen to lawyers in uniform, despite their dire predictions that deviating from time-tested interrogation norms could result in disaster.
“It taints the military in a way that it doesn’t by and large deserve,” Romig said. “Nevertheless, these things have occurred. It’s terribly damaging to the armed forces and to our country to have had this happen in the way that it’s happened.”
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.