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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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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

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

The US Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility refuses to refer two former Bush administration officials to authorities for criminal or civil charges regarding their authorizations of the torture of suspected terrorists (see Before April 22, 2009). John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, two senior officials in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal groundwork that allowed American interrogators to use sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other torture methods against terror suspects (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, and August 1, 2002). The report finds that Yoo and Bybee, along with former OLC head Steven Bradbury, exhibited “poor judgment” in their actions. The OPR refuses to make the report’s conclusions public. It is known that senior Justice Department official David Margolis made the decision not to refer Yoo and Bybee for legal sanctions. [Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, 7/29/2009 pdf file; Washington Post, 1/31/2010]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), David Margolis, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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