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Context of 'April 28, 2009: Former OLC Head Defends Work on Torture Memos as ‘Good Faith Analysis’ of Law'

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Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), writes a secret memo to John Rizzo, the acting general counsel of the CIA. The memo is entitled: “Memorandum for John Rizzo, Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency: Interrogation of al-Qaeda Operative.” It will be released seven years later, after prolonged litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU—see April 16, 2009). It parallels another secret memo written by OLC lawyer John Yoo for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (see August 1, 2002). The memo, written at the request of CIA officials, finds that the use of the interrogation techniques proposed for use on captured Islamist extremist Abu Zubaida are consistent with federal law (see Mid-May, 2002 and July 17, 2002). The OLC has determined that the only federal law governing the interrogation of a non-citizen detained outside the US is the federal anti-torture statute, Section 2340A of Title 18 of the US Code. Bybee’s memo goes into detail about 10 torture techniques, and explains why they are all legal to use on Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), currently being held in a secret CIA “black site” in Thailand (see April - June 2002). Bybee writes that Zubaida will enter a new, “increased pressure phase” of interrogation, and will be dealt with by a “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (‘SERE’) training psychologist, who has been involved with the interrogations since they began.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Lack of Intent Equates Legality - As long as there is no intent to cause “severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes, none of these techniques violate US law. “To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes. “Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; CNN, 4/17/2009]
Ten Techniques of Authorized Torture - Bybee explains the 10 techniques that can be used on Zubaida:
bullet Attention grasp: “The attention grasp consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn toward the interrogator.”
bullet Walling: “For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall. You have orally informed us that the false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock or surprise in the individual. In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.”
bullet Facial hold: “The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual’s face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes.”
bullet Facial slap (insult slap): “With the facial slap or insult slap, the interrogator slaps the individual’s face with fingers slightly spread. The hand makes contact with the area directly between the tip of the individual’s chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe. The interrogator invades the individual’s personal space. The goal of the facial slap is not to inflict physical pain that is severe or lasting. Instead, the purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise, and/or humiliation.”
bullet Cramped confinement: “Cramped confmement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individual’s movement. The confined space is usually dark. The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container. For the larger confined space, the individual can stand up or sit down; the smaller space is large enough for the subject to sit down. Confinement in the larger space can last up to 18 hours; for the smaller space, confinement lasts for no more than two hours.”
bullet Wall standing: “Wall standing is used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall with his feet spread approximately to shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. His fingers support all of his body weight. The individual is not permitted to move or reposition his hands or feet.”
bullet Stress positions: “A variety of stress positions may be used. You have informed us that these positions are not designed to produce the pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body. Rather, somewhat like walling, they are designed to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue. Two particular stress positions are likely to be used on [Zubaida]: (1) sitting on the floor with legs extended straight out in front of him with his arms raised above his head; and (2) kneeling on the floor while leaning back at a 45 degree angle. You have also orally informed us that through observing Zubaydah in captivity, you have noted that he appears to be quite flexible despite his wound.”
bullet Sleep deprivation: “You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual’s ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive [Zubaida] of sleep for more than 11 days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted.”
bullet Insect confinement: “You would like to place [Zubaida] in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us he has a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a caterpillar in the box. [REDACTED]”
bullet Waterboarding: “Finally, you would like to use a technique called the “water-board.” In this procedure, the individual is bound securely on an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air now is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual’s blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e.,the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a beight of 12 to 24 inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout. You have orally informed us that this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is in fact not drowning. You have also orally infomed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than 20 minutes in any one application.… You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm.… The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view, inflict ‘severe pain and suffering.’”
Techniques Can Be Used in Conjunction with One Another - Bybee writes: “You have informed us that the use of these techniques would be on an as-needed basis and that not all of these techniques will necessarily be used. The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince [Zubaida] that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation. You have, however, informed us that you expect these techniques to be used in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique. Moreover, you have also orally informed us that although some of these teclmiques may be used with more than once, that repetition wllI not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Factual Background for Analysis - The opinion also gives the factual background for the legal analysis, including CIA research findings on the proposed techniques and their possible effect on Zubaida’s mental health. Much of those findings uses as a touchstone the results gleaned from the military’s SERE training, which uses stressful interrogation techniques, including a form of waterboarding, against US soldiers as part of their counterterrorism training. As the Senate Intelligence Committee will later write, Bybee’s “opinion discussed inquiries and statistics relating to possible adverse psychological reactions to SERE training.” The law clearly prohibits an interrogation method “specifically intended” to inflict “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”
No Technique Constitutes Torture, Bybee Concludes - Bybee’s opinion considers whether each of the proposed interrogation techniques, individually or in combination, might inflict “severe physical pain or suffering” or “severe mental pain or suffering” on Zubaida or other detainees. The opinion also considers whether interrogators using the technique would have the mental state necessary to violate the statute. Bybee concludes that none of the techniques used individually would inflict “severe physical pain or suffering.” Waterboarding would not inflict such harm, Bybee writes, because it inflicts neither physical damage or physical pain. Nor would it inflict extensive “physical suffering,” because the “suffering” would not extend for the period of time required by the legal definition of the term. None of the techniques, including waterboarding, would inflict “severe mental pain or suffering” as defined in the federal statute, Bybee writes. He bases this conclusion on reports from SERE training, where US soldiers are subjected to brief, strictly supervised sessions of waterboarding as part of their anti-torture training. And, Bybee writes, since the techniques individually do not constitute physical suffering, neither will they constitute such suffering in conbination, because they will not be combined in such a way as to reach that threshold. Bybee writes that the OLC lacks the information necessary to conclude whether combinations of those techniques would inflict severe mental suffering; however, because no evidence exists to suggest that a combination of the techniques would inflict an excessive level of mental harm, using the techniques in combination is not precluded. Bybee also concludes that any interrogator using these techniques would not have a specific intent to inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering, because the circumstances surrounding the use of the techniques would preclude such intent. Therefore, Bybee concludes, none of these techniques violate the federal anti-torture statute. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Rizzo, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jay S. Bybee, American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jay Bybee, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the signatory on a number of memos authorizing torture and expanded presidential powers (see March 13, 2002 and August 1, 2002), is confirmed by the Senate to become a federal appeals court judge. The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled Bybee’s confirmation hearing for the same day that Secretary of State Colin Powell was slated to give his presentation to the UN on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003); most of the committee’s Democrats choose to watch Powell’s presentation, thus only friendly Republican Senators are in the hearing. Bybee is confirmed easily. [Savage, 2007, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Jay S. Bybee, Colin Powell, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., David S. Addington, Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Democratic Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) say they intend to push for the impeachment of federal judge Jay Bybee in response to the report on torture issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009). As the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, Bybee signed off on two memos that justified the use of torture (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002). Nadler says that the purpose of the Bybee memos was never to give an honest legal analysis, but to provide legal cover for patently illegal actions in order to encourage those actions. Nadler says the charge against Bybee would be something approaching “conspiracy to abet torture.” Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he intends to hold hearings to examine the role that Bybee and other Bush administration lawyers played in crafting Bush administration torture policies. “There are some who tried to do a get-out-of-jail-free card. Obviously, there are some that that’s all they were thinking,” he says, refusing to name anyone specifically. However, he says, “We’re coming after these guys.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009] Bybee will not be impeached, though he will be found to have exhibited “poor judgment” during his tenure in the Department of Justice (see February 2010).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Jay S. Bybee, Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

As calls mount for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee (see April 21, 2009), who signed off on two key Bush-era torture memos as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), some friends of Bybee’s say that he now regrets signing the memos. “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” says a fellow legal scholar who refuses to allow his name to be published. “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context—of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.” The scholar adds: “On the primary memo, that legitimated and defined torture, he just felt it got away from him. What I understand that to mean is, any lawyer, when he or she is writing about something very complicated, very layered, sometimes you can get it all out there and if you’re not careful, you end up in a place you never intended to go. I think for someone like Jay, who’s a formalist and a textualist, that’s a particular danger.” Democratic lawmakers complain that Bybee won quick Senate confirmation for his judgeship (see February 5, 2003) in part because he did not discuss the memos during his confirmation hearings. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, “If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed.” Leahy says that now, “the decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign.” ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says that whatever regrets or caveats Bybee may be experiencing are moot. “I don’t think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law,” Jaffer says. “These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They’re not objective legal memos at all.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2009; Think Progress, 4/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of Special Counsel, Bush administration (43), Jameel Jaffer, Jay S. Bybee, US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Judge Jay Bybee, who authored or signed a number of memos authorizing torture while the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004), defends his actions to the New York Times. Bybee has been a federal judge for over five years (see February 5, 2003); many civil libertarians and critics of the Bush administration want him to either step down from the bench or face impeachment (see April 21, 2009), and the Justice Department is investigating his professional conduct (see Before April 22, 2009). In recent days, Bybee’s friends and colleagues have reported his “regrets” over the memos (see April 25, 2009). Now, Bybee says while in hindsight he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions, the memos represent “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the narrow divide between harsh treatment and torture. Bybee’s memos gave a legal framework for the use of illegal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and enforced isolation. In a statement, Bybee says: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” He had the support of other administration lawyers, he says. “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee’s former colleague, law professor Christopher Blakesley, says he challenged Bybee on one of the memos in 2004, shortly after it became public knowledge. “I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Blakesley recalls. Bybee refused to discuss the matter, and the two men have not spoken since. Blakesley says Bybee “has some basic flaws including being very na├»ve about leaders. He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what.” Some law clerks who worked with Bybee after he left the OLC recall him speaking about his involvement in some matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he doubted the administration would ever disclose them. One of the then-clerks, Nina Rabin, says she finds Bybee’s position disturbing because he suggests a lawyer can be divorced from the policies being pursued under his legal rubric. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she says, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Bush administration (43), Christopher Blakesley, Jay S. Bybee, US Department of Justice, Nina Rabin, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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