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A self-styled White House “war council” begins meeting shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to discuss the administration’s response to the attacks and the methods it will use (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The ad hoc group is composed of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes, and the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington. According to Jack Goldsmith, who will become head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 2003 (see October 6, 2003), the four believe that the administration’s biggest obstacle to responding properly to the 9/11 attacks is the body of domestic and international law that arose in the 1970s to constrain the president’s powers after the criminal excesses of Richard Nixon’s White House. Chief among these restraints is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978). Though Addington tends to dominate the meetings with his imposing physical presence and aggressive personality, Yoo is particularly useful to the group; the head of the OLC, Jay Bybee (whom Goldsmith will replace) has little experience with national security issues, and delegates much of the responsibility for that subject to Yoo, even giving him the authority to draft opinions that are binding on the entire executive branch. Yoo agrees wholeheartedly with Addington, Gonzales, and Cheney about the need for vastly broadened presidential powers. According to Goldsmith, Yoo is seen as a “godsend” for the White House because he is eager to draft legal opinions that would protect Bush and his senior officials from any possible war crimes charges. However, Yoo’s direct access to Gonzales angers Attorney General John Ashcroft, who feels that the “war council” is usurping legal and policy decision-making powers that are legally his own. (Rosen 9/9/2007) In 2009, Goldsmith will say, “[I]it was almost as if they [Cheney and Addington] were interested in expanding executive power for its own sake.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
In the days following the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), a group of top White House officials, the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, begins a series of meetings that result in the authorization of specific torture methods against Zubaida and other detainees. The top secret talks and meetings eventually approve such methods to be used by CIA agents against high-value terrorism suspects. The US media will not learn of this until six years later (see April 9, 2008). The Principals Committee meetings are chaired by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and attendees include Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, will also participate in the meetings. Sometimes deputies attend in place of their superiors. Rice’s group not only discusses and approves specific “harsh” methods of interrogation, but also approves the use of “combined” interrogation techniques on suspects who prove recalcitrant. The approved techniques include slapping and shoving prisoners, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, a technique banned for decades by the US military. Some of the discussions of the interrogation sessions are so detailed that the Principals Committee virtually choreographs the sessions down to the number of times CIA agents can use specific tactics. (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008; Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008; Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008) The Principals Committee also ensures that President Bush is not involved in the meetings, thereby granting him “deniability” over the decisions, though Bush will eventually admit to being aware of the decisions (see April 11, 2008). The Principals Committee, particularly Cheney, is described by a senior intelligence official as “deeply immersed” in the specifics of the decisions, often viewing demonstrations of how specific tactics work. (Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008)
Imminent Threat Calls for Extreme Measures - The move towards using harsh and likely illegal interrogation tactics begins shortly after the capture of Zubaida in late March 2002 (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and March 28, 2002). Zubaida is seen as a potentially critical source of information about potential attacks similar to 9/11. He is kept in a secret CIA prison where he recovers from the wounds suffered during his capture, and where he is repeatedly questioned. However, he is allegedly uncooperative with his inquisitors, and CIA officials want to use more physical and aggressive techniques to force him to talk (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004 and April - June 2002). The CIA briefs the Principals Committee, chaired by Rice, and the committee signs off on the agency’s plan to use more extreme interrogation methods on Zubaida. After Zubaida is waterboarded (see April - June 2002), CIA officials tell the White House that he provided information leading to the capture of two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Late 2002 and May 2002-2003). The committee approves of waterboarding as well as a number of “combined” interrogation methods, basically a combination of harsh techniques to use against recalcitrant prisoners.
The 'Golden Shield' - The committee asks the Justice Department to determine whether using such methods would violate domestic or international laws. “No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” a second senior intelligence official will recall in 2008. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.” In August 2002, Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel will write a memo that gives formal legal authority to government interrogators to use harsh, abusive methods on detainees (see August 1, 2002). The memo is called the “Golden Shield” for CIA agents who worry that they could be held criminally liable if the harsh, perhaps tortuous interrogations ever become public knowledge. CIA veterans remember how everything from the Vietnam-era “Phoenix Program” of assassinations to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were portrayed as actions of a “rogue,” “out-of-control” CIA; this time, they intend to ensure that the White House and not the agency is given ultimate responsibility for authorizing extreme techniques against terror suspects. Tenet demands White House approval for the use of the methods, even after the Justice Department issues its so-called “Golden Shield” memo explicitly authorizing government interrogators to torture suspected terrorists (see August 1, 2002). Press sources will reveal that Tenet, and later Goss, convey requests for specific techniques to be used against detainees to the committee (see Summer 2003). One high-ranking official will recall: “It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time. They’d say: ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.’” The committee approves every request. One source will say of the discussions: “These discussions weren’t adding value. Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008; Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008; Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008) In April 2008, law professor Jonathan Turley will say: “[H]ere you have the CIA, which is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.’ So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.” (MSNBC 4/10/2008) A former senior intelligence official will say, “If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation.” Those who attended the dozens of meetings decided “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on detainees. (Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008)
Ashcroft Uneasy at White House Involvement - Ashcroft in particular is uncomfortable with the discussions of harsh interrogation methods that sometimes cross the line into torture, though his objections seem more focused on White House involvement than on any moral, ethical, or legal problems. After one meeting, Ashcroft reportedly asks: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” However, others in the discussions, particularly Rice, continue to support the torture program. Even after Jack Goldsmith, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), withdraws the “Golden Shield” memo and after Powell begins arguing that the torture program is harming the image of the US abroad, when CIA officials ask to continue using particular torture techniques, Rice responds: “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Reaction after Press Learns of Meetings - After the press learns of the meetings (see April 9, 2008), the only person involved who will comment will be Powell, who will say through an assistant that there were “hundreds of [Principals Committee] meetings” on a wide variety of topics and that he is “not at liberty to discuss private meetings.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008; Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008; Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008)
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” (US Department of Justice 8/1/2002 ) This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008)
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” (Schmidt 6/8/2004) International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. (Cannon 6/21/2004) Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. (Priest 6/27/2004)
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” (Savage 2007, pp. 155-156)
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Priest 6/27/2004)
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. (Lewis 6/8/2004; Bloomberg 6/8/2004; Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is stepping down to become a federal judge (see February 5, 2003). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington, want OLC lawyer John Yoo to take Bybee’s place. But Attorney General John Ashcroft, miffed at Yoo’s bureaucratic maneuvers to give the White House a direct connection into the department and cut Ashcroft out of the loop, refuses. Yoo resigns in the summer of 2003 and resumes his position as a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Instead, Ashcroft and the White House will choose Jack Goldsmith to head the OLC (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith seems a perfect replacement for Yoo—the two had coauthored one Wall Street Journal op-ed that claimed treaties were not binding on the US, and another Journal op-ed claiming that President Bush had the right to unilaterally withdraw the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972). Goldsmith was also a supporter of the administration’s military commissions program, noting that the need for “swift justice” was transcendant. (Savage 2007, pp. 182)
9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, after being detained and abused for three days in US custody in Afghanistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), is transferred to another CIA-run facility in Poland. (Mayer 8/6/2007; Danner 3/15/2009) The facility is later identified as Stare Kiejkuty, a secret prison near the Szymany military airbase. Mohammed is flown in on a Gulfstream N379P jet known to prison officials as “the torture taxi.” The plane is probably piloted by “Jerry M,” a 56-year-old pilot for Aero Contractors, a company that transfers prisoners around the world for US intelligence agencies. (Goetz and Sandberg 4/27/2009) He is dressed in a tracksuit, blindfolded, hooded, has sound-blocking headphones placed over his ears, and is flown “sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair,” as he will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). He later says he manages to sleep a few hours, for the first time in days. Upon arrival, Mohammed is stripped naked and placed in a small cell “with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist, and interrogator.” The walls are wooden and the cell measures some 10 by 13 feet. (Danner 3/15/2009; Goetz and Sandberg 4/27/2009)
'I Would Be Brought to the Verge of Death and Back Again' - As he will later recall, it was in this detention camp that “the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained.” The interrogators tell him that they have received the “green light from Washington” to give him “a hard time” (see Late September 2001 and September 25, 2002). As he will later recall: “They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘a hard time.’ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.‘… I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor.” When he falls asleep, “all my weight [is] applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds.” The ICRC will later confirm that Mohammed bears scars consistent with his allegations on both wrists and both ankles. “Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”
Interrogations - He is interrogated in a different room, in sessions lasting anywhere from four to eight hours, and with a wide variety of participants. Sometimes women take part in the interrogations. A doctor is usually present. “If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head, and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.”
'Alternative Procedures' - The CIA interrogators use what they will later call “alternative procedures” on Mohammed, including waterboarding (see After March 7, 2003) and other techniques. He is sprayed with cold water from a hose-pipe in his cell and the “worst day” is when he is beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. “My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators.” He is then waterboarded until a doctor intervenes. He gets an hours’s sleep and is then “put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.” He sleeps for a “few minutes” on the floor of cell after the torture sessions, but does not sleep well, “due to shackles on my ankles and wrists.” The toilet consists of a bucket in the cell, which he can use on request, but “I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.” In the first month he is only fed on two occasions, “as a reward for perceived cooperation.” He gets Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] to drink every four hours. If he refuses it, “then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.” He loses 18 kg in the first month, after which he gets some clothes. In addition, “Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.” (Danner 3/15/2009)
Deliberately False Information - As he will later tell ICRC officials, he often lies to his interrogators: “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.… I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent… wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” (Danner 3/15/2009) It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of Mohammed’s confessions may be unreliable. Furthermore, he will recant many of his statements (see August 6, 2007).
The new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns classified foreign intelligence activities (see February 25, 2003). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) (The ACLU has Goldsmith as the author of the memo, even though he is not nominated for the OLC slot until May 2003 (Savage 2007, pp. 183) , and will not be confirmed for the position until five months after that (see October 6, 2003). The reason for the apparent discrepancy is not immediately discernible.)
Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). (Rosen 9/9/2007)
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz sends a classified memo to his boss, OLC chief Jack Goldsmith. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, and OLC lawyer Robert Delahunty, send a classified memo to the Defense Department. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions as they apply to the treatment of detainees in US custody. Presumably, the memo is in reference to previous legal advice submitted to Goldsmith by an OLC attorney-adviser regarding Geneva (see October 31, 2003). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Nguyen and Weaver 4/16/2009)
The new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, begins an internal review of the legality of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). The program is kept so secret that only four Justice officials even have access to information about its inner workings, a pattern of poor consultation he will call “the biggest legal mess I have ever encountered” when he testifies to the Senate about the program four years later (see October 2, 2007). Neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor Justice’s top legal counsel know much about the program. When Goldsmith begins his legal review, the White House initially refuses to brief Deputy Attorney General James Comey about it. Goldsmith later testifies that he cannot find “a legal basis for some aspects of the program.” Upon completing the review, Goldsmith declares the program illegal, with the support of Ashcroft and Comey. However, White House officials are irate at Goldsmith’s findings. (Eggen 10/20/2007)
Quiet opposition builds within the Justice Department against the White House’s attacks on civil liberties and governmental process in the name of national security. The opposition is led by James Comey, the deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, and includes the chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and other like-minded Justice Department lawyers and officials. Comey, Goldsmith, and many of their colleagues will resign from their posts, some perhaps pressured by the White House to get out without making a fuss (see June 17, 2004). Comey and Goldsmith are the point men of this opposition group, though they will speak little in public about their experiences until they testify before the Senate in 2007 (see May 15, 2007 and October 2, 2007).
Standing 'Up to the Hard-Liners' - Newsweek, one of the only mainstream media outlets to report on this “insurrection” at any length, will call it “one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.” The magazine will report in 2006: “These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as far-fetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law.… These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.” Comey, Goldsmith, and their colleagues do not oppose the war on terror in principle, and share the administration’s concerns about the restraints imposed on the government in compiling intelligence on suspected terrorists. Their opposition centers on the process used by the White House, which routinely ignores and runs over Congress, the judiciary, and the law in implementing its agenda.
White House Denial - The White House will continue to deny that this opposition group ever existed, with a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney saying in 2006: “The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn’t based in fact. This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.” (Klaidman, Taylor, and Thomas 2/6/2006)
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. (Rosen 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.” (Klaidman 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.” (Rosen 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.” (Klaidman 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”). (Rosen 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; Goldsmith 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.” (Goldsmith 9/11/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the embattled head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) (see October 6, 2003), finds himself again mired in a conflict with Vice President Dick Cheney’s hardline chief aide, David Addington. Goldsmith has already fought with Addington over Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the OLC’s support for the administration’s memos justifying torture (see December 2003-June 2004). Now Goldsmith and Addington are at odds over the policies governing the detention and trial of suspected terrorists. The spark for this conflict is the January 2004 Supreme Court decision to review the detention of US citizen and suspected “enemy combatant” Yaser Esam Hamdi (see January 9, 2004). Goldsmith suggests going to Congress to have that body pass legislation declaring such detention legal, reasoning that the Supreme Court would be less likely to rule against the administration if Congress had authorized such detention policies. Addington, who like his boss does not accept the idea that Congress has any business interfering in such policy decisions, refuses to countenance the idea, and Goldsmith’s proposal goes nowhere. In June 2004, the Supreme Court approves the detention policies but put modest legal restrictions on the administration’s ability to detain citizens without trial. Goldsmith, this time with deputy solicitor general Paul Clement, again suggests going to Congress; once again, Addington refuses. The White House, Goldsmith later says, continues to operate as if it could avoid any adverse decisions from the Supreme Court. When the Court issues its decision in the Hamdan case (see November 8, 2004), rejecting the administration’s policy of trying terror suspects in military tribunals without Congressional approval, and upholding the preeminence of the Third Geneva Convention in protecting the rights of accused terror detainees—including al-Qaeda suspects—the decision has a shattering effect on the Bush administration’s legal arguments towards detaining and trying those suspects. Goldsmith believes the Court’s decision is “legally erroneous” but has huge political consequences. Now detainees at Guantanamo Bay have more legal rights than ever before, and for the first time, the specter of war-crimes charges against Bush officials becomes a real possibility. Goldsmith later says that it is in these arguments, more than in the battles over domestic wiretapping or interrogation techniques, that Addington’s attempts to expand presidential power actually backfires. Goldsmith is later vindicated when, in September 2006, one of the last acts of the Republican-led Congress will give the administration every power the administration had asked for, authorizing the military commissions that the Court had rejected. The Bush administration could have avoided a damaging Court decision by working with Congress beforehand. “I’m not a civil libertarian, and what I did wasn’t driven by concerns about civil liberties per se,” he says in a 2007 interview. “It was a disagreement about means, not ends, driven by a desire to make sure that the administration’s counterterrorism policies had a firm legal foundation.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), is astonished at the open contempt displayed by White House officials over dealing with Congress and the restraints imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Though Goldsmith agrees with the aims of the administration in battling terrorism, and agrees with the administration that FISA may present undue restraint on conducting terror investigations, he is shocked at the cavalier manner in which the administration ignores the law and the constitutional mandates for Congressional oversight. “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” White House aide David Addington tells Goldsmith. Addington, the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials treat FISA the same way they treated other laws they disdained, Goldsmith later recalls: “They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations,” he will write in his 2007 book “The Terror Presidency” (see September 9, 2007). (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney challenges objections to the White House’s secret, warrantless surveillance program (see Early 2002) by Justice Department officials. Cheney makes his objections during a meeting attended by high-level White House and Justice Department officials, but this does not come to light until a 2007 testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see May 15, 2007). (Eggen 6/7/2007) (Comey will step down from his post in mid-2005.) (Chorney 4/21/2005) The White House meetings take place one day before White House officials journey to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to try to force Ashcroft to give his approval for the NSA-managed surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft will refuse to give his approval. Cheney’s key role in leading what the Washington Post calls “a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program” is not known until Comey’s 2007 testimony. The White House meeting, held to discuss Justice Department objections to the NSA program, is attended by Cheney, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, and others. Comey will testify that at the time, eight Justice Department officials are prepared to resign if the White House doesn’t back down on forcing the department to sign off on the program. Those officials include FBI director Robert Mueller, US attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the northern Virginia district, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith. (Eggen 6/7/2007)
Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. (Shapiro 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007)
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007) “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” (Shapiro 5/15/2007) Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007) “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. (PBS 5/16/2007) Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. (US Department of Justice 8/14/2007)
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. (Eggen 6/7/2007) Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, (Roh 7/7/2007; Roh 8/16/2007) though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” (New York Times 7/29/2007) Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” (Thomas and Klaidman 1/9/2006; Shapiro 5/15/2007; Nizza 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007) Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” (Calabresi 5/17/2007)
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” (Kellman 6/7/2007) Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. (Calabresi 5/17/2007)
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it clarifies the OLC’s advice on classified foreign intelligence activities. Goldsmith sends another classified memo on the same topic to Deputy Attorney General James Comey the next day, a followup memo to Comey three days later, and a followup to Gonzales the day after that. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. (Savage 2007, pp. 188)
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, advises White House counsel Alberto Gonzales in a classified memo that several “classes” of people are not given “protected” status if captured as hostiles in Iraq. Those people include: US citizens, citizens of a state not bound by the Geneva Conventions, citizens of a “belligerent State,” and members of al-Qaeda who are not Iraqi citizens or permanent Iraqi residents. The memo will be made public on January 9, 2009. (US Department of Justice 3/18/2004 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. (US Department of Justice 3/19/2004 ; Cross 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).
Attorney General John Ashcroft recertifies the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program as being within the law, three weeks after he and his deputy, James Comey, refused to certify it. The program had come under question in early 2004, when Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote to Ashcroft and Comey expressing his doubts about the program’s legality (see September 9, 2007). For those three weeks, the program operated without Justice Department approval; President Bush personally recertified it himself, though it was suspended and subjected to an internal review (see March 12-Mid-2004). Ashcroft had previously refused to recertify the program while recuperating from surgery, despite pressure from White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and other Justice Department officials had even threatened to resign en masse if Bush recertified the program without their department’s support; Bush promised to revamp the program to address Ashcroft and Comey’s objections to the program, though what those changes are remains unclear. (Savage 5/16/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, once considered a rising star in the Bush administration (see October 6, 2003), resigns under fire from his position as chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In his nine-month tenure, Goldsmith fought against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its advocacy of torture, and its policy of extrajudicial detention and trial for terror suspects. Goldsmith will not discuss his objections to the administration’s policy initiatives until September 2007, when he will give interviews to a variety of media sources in anticipation of the publication of his book, The Terror Presidency. Goldsmith led a small, in-house revolt of administration lawyers against what they considered to be the constitutional excesses of the legal policies advocated by the administration in its war on terrorism. “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted,” he will recall. Goldsmith chooses to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence will be widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even feel that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos (see January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004) that he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith will recall. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) Goldsmith will not leave until the end of July, and will take a position with the Harvard University Law School. Unlike many other Justice Department officials, he will not be offered a federal judgeship, having crossed swords with White House lawyers too many times. (Savage 2007, pp. 191)
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004), Deputy Attorney General Jack Comey, and Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin brief reporters on the OLC’s decision to withdraw the department’s memos authorizing torture (see June 22, 2004). Comey explains that the statements about potential defenses against war crimes charges, and the commander in chief’s power to ignore anti-torture laws and treaties, are nothing more than “broad academic theories” that had never actually been relied upon to formulate policy. The “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) is “under review and will be replaced with analysis limited to the legality of actual al-Qaeda interrogation practices and the torture statutes and other applicable laws.” Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the memos causes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later term “a final burst of apoplexy among the hard-liners on the Bush-Cheney legal team.” OLC lawyer John Yoo, who authored many of the withdrawn memos, will later write that Goldsmith’s decision set “a terrible precedent” and rendered “Justice Department judgments on the law… just one more political target open to political attack and political negotiations.” Yoo will accuse Goldsmith and Comey of being “too worried about public perceptions” of the department’s work. (Savage 2007, pp. 190-191)
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the ramifications of a recent Supreme Court decision on gathering foreign intelligence. Presumably, Goldsmith is writing about the Hamdi decision, in which the Court ruled that enemy combatants and detainees have the right to due process in the US justice system (see June 28, 2004), but this is by no means certain. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Daniel Levin, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), goes to a military base near Washington and has himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to judge for himself whether or not the interrogation tactic is torture. Levin then tells White House officials that he found the experience terrifying, and he is sure it simulates drowning. Levin concludes that waterboarding clearly qualifies as torture and should not be used by US personnel except in a highly limited and closely supervised fashion. Levin, who like his predecessor Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004) is deeply troubled by the White House’s advocacy of torture as a method of securing information from terror suspects, and by its refusal to issue clear guidelines as to what is and what is not torture, decides to prepare a memo—legally binding—to replace the August 2002 Justice Department memo that established torture as an acceptable method of interrogation. Goldsmith had already withdrawn the memo after finding it deeply flawed (see December 2003-June 2004). In December 2004, Levin issues his new memo, which flatly states that “[t]orture is abhorrent” (see December 30, 2004), but he notes that the Justice Department is not declaring any previous positions by the administration illegal. Levin is planning a second memo that will impose tighter restrictions on specific interrogation techniques, but he never gets the chance to complete it. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales forces him out of the department instead, and replaces him with a much more compliant OLC chief, Steven Bradbury (see June 23, 2005). Most experts believe that waterboarding is indeed torture, and that torture is a poor way of extracting accurate information. Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson will say, “There is no question this is torture—this is a technique by which an individual is strapped to a board, elevated by his feet and either dunked into water or water poured over his face over a towel or a blanket.” (Greenburg and de Vogue 11/2/2007; Think Progress 11/3/2007; Safty 11/5/2007) Gonzales is widely believed to have been selected as the new attorney general in part to ease the way for the Bush administration to continue its support for torture as a valid method of interrogation. Shortly after taking the office, Gonzales pressured Levin to add the footnote exculpating the administration from any legal responsibility for its previous positions, and shortly thereafter, Gonzales has Levin removed from the department. In November 2007, the Washington Post’s editorial board will decry Gonzales’s ouster of Levin, and the administration’s support for torture, as a blatant “disregard for principle.” (Washington Post 11/6/2007) MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, will later call Levin “an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.” He will fire a broadside directly at the president: “Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now. Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.” (Olbermann 11/5/2007)
Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). (Ward 9/20/2007; Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007; Ackerman 10/19/2007) Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007) A co-founder of the Federalist Society (Shenon 10/15/2007) , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” (Horton 11/7/2007)
Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” (US Department of Justice 8/15/2005; Parry 2/8/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 199) Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. (Savage 2007, pp. 199)
David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). (Waas and Singer 10/30/2005; MSNBC 11/4/2005) Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006) Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). (Milbank 10/11/2004; Waas and Singer 10/30/2005; MSNBC 11/4/2005; Ravagan 5/21/2006) According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. (Milbank 10/11/2004) Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006) Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. (Milbank 10/11/2004) Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” (Milbank 10/11/2004) “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006)
President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. (Associated Press 5/11/2006; Brook 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006; Waas 3/15/2007)
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. (Waas 3/15/2007)
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. (Associated Press 5/11/2006; Brook 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006) “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” (Savage 7/19/2006)
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. (Harris and Waas 5/29/2006)
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. (Waas 7/18/2006)
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” (Eggen 7/19/2006) “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. (Brook 7/18/2006)
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. (Think Progress 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006) In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” (Waas 3/15/2007)
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. (Think Progress 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006) “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” (Waas 3/15/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003 and June 17, 2004), is subpoenaed to testify in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leaks that resulted in the New York Times’s dramatic disclosure of the NSA domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Goldsmith had spoken to one of the two Times reporters, Eric Lichtblau, in October 2004, three months after his resignation from the OLC, but lied to Lichtblau, saying he knew nothing of the program. He immediately alerted his former boss, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, of the interview.
'Stunned' By Subpoena - In his September 2007 book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith will recall being “stunned” at the subpoena, though the two FBI agents who give him the subpoena—in public—say that they don’t suspect him as the source of the leak. Goldsmith later recalls, “What angered me most about the subpoena I received on that wet day in Cambridge was not the expense of lawyers or a possible perjury trap, but rather the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department that had issued it. As [the two FBI agents] knew, I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in the face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House Counsel Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program….”
Supported Surveillance of Terrorism - Goldsmith will continue, “I was not opposed to the leak investigation itself or to vigorous surveillance of terrorists. I agreed with President Bush that the revelations by [James] Risen and Lichtblau had alerted our enemies, put our citizens at risk, and done ‘great harm’ to the nation. I hoped the FBI would find and punish the leakers, and I had spent many hours trying to help them do so. I also shared many of the White House’s concerns with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 domestic wiretapping law that required executive officers, on pain of jail, to get a court warrant before wiretapping suspected enemies in the United States. We were at war with terrorists who were armed with disposable cell phones and encrypted e-mails buried in a global multibillion-communications-per-day system. It seemed crazy to require the commander in chief and his subordinates to get a judge’s permission to listen to each communication under a legal regime that was designed before technological revolutions brought us high-speed fiber-optic networks, the public Internet, e-mail, and ten-dollar cell phones. But I deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem. ‘We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,’ Addington had told me in his typically sarcastic style during a tense White House meeting in February of 2004 (see February 2004). The vice president’s counsel, who was the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was singing the White House tune on FISA. He and the vice president had abhorred FISA’s intrusion on presidential power ever since its enactment in 1978. After 9/11 they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations. My first experience of this strict control, in fact, had come in a 2003 meeting when Addington angrily denied the NSA inspector general’s request to see a copy of OLC’s legal analysis in support of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Before I arrived in OLC, not even NSA lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department’s legal analysis of what NSA was doing.”
Difficult to Justify Legally - Goldsmith will write of the difficulties he found in finding legal justifications for the program. “I first encountered the program in 2003-2004, long after it had been integrated into the post-9/11 counterterrorism architecture. Putting it legally aright at that point, without destroying some of the government’s most important counterterrorism tools, was by far the hardest challenge I faced in government. And the whole ordeal could have been avoided.…In 2004, I and others in the Department of Justice had begun the process of working with the FISA court to give the commander in chief much more flexibility in tracking terrorists. From the beginning the administration could have taken these and other steps to ramp up terrorist surveillance in indisputably lawful ways that would have minimized the likelihood of a devastating national security leak. But only if it had been willing to work with the FISA court or Congress. The White House had found it much easier to go it alone, in secret.” (Goldsmith 9/10/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from October 2003 through June 2004, is publishing a new book, The Terror Presidency, in which he details many of the controversies in which he found himself mired during his brief and stormy tenure. Goldsmith was viewed, along with his friend and fellow law professor John Yoo, as two of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars; the two were called the “New Sovereigntists” by the prestigious political journal Foreign Affairs. But instead of adding his voice to others in the Bush administration who supported the expanding powers of the presidency at the cost of civil liberties, Goldsmith found himself at odds with Yoo, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other White House and Justice Department officials. The OLC advises the president on the limits of executive power (and finds legal justifications for its actions as well), and Goldsmith became embattled in disputes with the White House over the Bush administration’s systematic attempts to push the boundaries of executive power almost from the onset of his term as OLC chief, especially in light of the administration’s responses to 9/11 and the threat of Islamist terrorism (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith disagreed with the White House over issues surrounding the use of torture against terrorist suspects (see December 2003-June 2004), the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see June 17, 2004), the extra-constitutional detention and trial of enemy combatants (see January-June 2004), and other issues.
'Behind-the-Scenes Revolt' - After nine contentious months leading a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith resigned. He says of his mindset at the end of his term, “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted.” Goldsmith chose to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence was widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even felt that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith recalls. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Not a Whistleblower - Goldsmith, who now teaches law at Harvard, does not regard himself as a whistleblower. “This book is not about whistle blowing,” he says. “It’s about trying to explain to the public the enormous pressures and tensions inside the executive branch to keep Americans safe and about how that pressure bumps into the wall, and about the difficulties that everyone in the administration has and the pressure to do everything possible to keep Americans safe, and the intense pressure to comply with the law. And it’s an attempt to give a fair-minded and deeply sympathetic description of that tension, and I actually think there’s a structural problem in the presidency because of this, and I’m trying to explain the pressure the administration is under and why it did the things it did, and why it did things correctly in some circumstances and why it made mistakes.” He says he has learned some difficult lessons from his tenure in Washington: “I came away from my time in government thinking, as many people do, that there’s too much secrecy. Both too much secrecy inside the executive branch and between the executive branch and Congress. There’s obviously a trade-off and it’s hard to know when to draw the line. If issues and debates are too tightly drawn, and there’s too much secrecy, then two pathologies occur and we saw them occur in this administration. One is you don’t have the wide-range debate needed to help you avoid errors. Two is, it’s pretty well known that excessive secrecy leaves other people in the government to question what is going on when they get wind of it, and to leak it.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
Bush, Administration Officials Going Too Far in Placing Politics Above Law - Goldsmith believes that Bush and his officials are their own worst enemies in their attempts to expand presidential power. Goldsmith, like his heroes Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, regards the law as secondary to political leadership. Bush’s indifference and even contempt for the political process has weakened his abilities as a wartime leader, in direct contrast to Lincoln and Roosevelt. “I don’t know if President Bush understood how extreme some of the arguments were about executive power that some people in his administration were making,” Goldsmith says. Since Bush is not a lawyer, “[i]t’s hard to know how he would know.” Bush’s refusal to work with Congress is in direct contradiction to Lincoln’s and Roosevelt’s approaches, and that refusal has damaged his administration’s ability to combat terrorism and achieve its agenda. Goldsmith writes that Bush has willfully ignored the axiom that the strongest presidential power is the power to persuade. “The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense,” Goldsmith writes. “This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.” While Goldsmith agrees with the administration that the terrorist threat is extremely serious, and that the US must counter it aggressively, he quotes his conservative Harvard colleague Charles Fried that Bush “badly overplayed a winning hand.” Bush “could have achieved all that he wanted to achieve, and put it on a firmer foundation, if he had been willing to reach out to other institutions of government.” Instead, he says, Bush weakened the presidency he was so determined to strengthen. “I don’t think any president in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it. The Bush administration has borrowed its power against future presidents.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Adding to Presidential Power - He adds, “Basically, the administration has the conception of executive power that suggests they clearly have a public agenda item of wanting to leave the presidency more powerful than they found it. Vice President Cheney was in the Ford White House at the dawn of the resurgent Congress after Watergate and Vietnam and he believed then that the 1970s restrictions put on the executive branch by Congress related to war and intelligence harm the presidency. So one of their agenda items before 9/11 was to keep the power of presidency and expand the power of the presidency to put it back to its rightful place.… They’ve certainly lost a lot of trust of Congress. And the Supreme Court really, I think, cut back on certain presidential prerogatives.… Future presidencies will face a culture of distrust and worry, I believe, because of the actions taken by the Bush administration. A lot of it was unnecessary.… So when you have those pressures [to battle terrorism and keep the nation safe] and then you run into laws that don’t allow you to do what you need to do, I think the prescription is that going it alone unilaterally with executive power is not as good as getting the other institutions on board through consensus and consultation.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), says that he believes President Bush sent White House aides Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was recuperating from surgery (see March 10-12, 2004). When asked whom he believed had sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital, Goldsmith says he “recall[s] it was the President.” (Ryan 10/2/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his former department’s involvement in approving the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). (Eggen 10/20/2007) There were aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program “that I could not find the legal support for,” he says, but because the program is classified, he refuses to give specific details about which aspects violate the law. Goldsmith says he assumes the White House does not want the legality of the program scrutinized, and therefore, “the extreme secrecy—not getting feedback from experts, not showing it to experts—led to a lot of mistakes.” (Associated Press 10/2/2007)
Testimony About Hospital Visit - Goldsmith testifies about the failed attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare the program legal over the objections of Goldsmith and Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey (see March 10-12, 2004). Goldsmith, who accompanied Comey to Ashcroft’s hospital room to counter Gonzales and Card, calls their visit “inappropriate and baffling,” and testifies that Ashcroft “didn’t appreciate being visited in the hospital under these circumstances.” Goldsmith’s testimony further refutes the previous testimony of Gonzales, who insisted that there had been little or no dissension within the department over the wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). Goldsmith tells the committee, “There were enormous disagreements” about the program, though Gonzales’s explanations could be construed as technically accurate given the varying terminology used for the program. (Eggen 10/20/2007) Goldsmith adds that Comey’s account of the events of that visit is accurate, becoming another former administration official to contradict Gonzales’s own testimony about the incident. Goldsmith also contradicts Gonzales’ insistence that there was very little real dissension among Justice Department and White House officials over the legality of the NSA wiretapping program. (Associated Press 10/2/2007)
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Pressure Ashcroft - Goldsmith also testifies that President Bush personally dispatched Gonzales and Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room (see October 2, 2007).
Two senior Bush administration officials reflect on the executive order denying any Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees (see February 7, 2002). Jack Goldsmith, formerly head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, says: “To conclude that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply—it doesn’t follow from that, or at least it shouldn’t, that detainees don’t get certain rights and certain protections. There are all sorts of very, very good policy reasons why they should have been given a rigorous legal regime whereby we could legitimatize their detention. For years there was just a giant hole, a legal hole of minimal protections, minimal law.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls: “Based on what the secretary and [State Department legal adviser William] Taft were telling me, I think they both were convinced that they had managed to get the president’s attention with regard to what they thought was the governing document, the Geneva Conventions. I really think it came as a surprise when the February memo was put out. And that memo, of course, was constructed by [Cheney chief counsel David] Addington, and I’m told it was blessed by one or two people in OLC. And then it was given to [Vice President] Cheney, and Cheney gave it to the president. The president signed it.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
The Justice Department is holding back on publicly releasing an internal department report on the conduct of former department officials involved in approving waterboarding and other torture techniques. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), led by H. Marshall Jarrett, completed the report in the final weeks of the Bush administration. The report probes whether the legal advice given in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to knowledgeable sources, the report harshly criticizes three former department lawyers: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, all former members of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, objected to the draft. Filip wanted the report to be “balanced” with responses from the three principals. The OPR is now waiting on the three to respond to the draft’s criticisms before presenting the report to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The matter is under review,” says Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. The OPR report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against any or all of the three. But Bush-era officials feel the probe is inherently unfair. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice Department attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” says a former Bush lawyer. Mukasey criticized the report, calling it “second-guessing” and says that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury operated under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, and offered “their best judgment of what the law required.” OPR investigators looked into charges by former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith and others that the legal opinions provided by the three were “sloppy,” legally dubious, and slanted to give Bush administration officials what they wanted. (Isikoff 2/14/2009; Isikoff 2/16/2009) Some of the report is later leaked to the press (see February 22, 2009).
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