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Profile: Timothy E. Flanigan
Positions that Timothy E. Flanigan has held:
- Deputy White House Counsel
Timothy E. Flanigan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Timothy Flanigan. [Source: C-SPAN]Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, talks on the phone with Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and is told what the Justice Department currently knows about the crashes at the World Trade Center, but he is surprised to hear that the FBI is treating them as crimes, rather than acts of war. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley has just come into the White House Situation Room (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Wanting to learn more about the crashes in New York, he instructs Flanigan to contact the Justice Department and find out what it knows. “We need everything they’ve got,” he says. Flanigan picks up a phone and calls the Justice Department’s command center. His call is answered by a retired FBI agent who helps run the center. Flanigan introduces himself and says, “I need to speak to the deputy attorney general right away.” (Attorney General John Ashcroft is currently away from Washington, DC (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), and so Thompson, his deputy, is filling in for him.) Flanigan’s call is forwarded to the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters. [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 23-25] Thompson was in the Justice Department’s command center earlier on, but left there in response to the attacks on the WTC. [Washingtonian, 6/8/2011] He has just entered the SIOC and is told that someone in the Situation Room wants to talk to him. He picks up a phone and hears Flanigan’s voice. “Larry, it’s Tim,” Flanigan says, adding: “I need information. People are starving for it here. Tell me whatever you have.” Thompson tells Flanigan to hold on while he finds out. He turns to FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has been monitoring the information about the attacks that is being gathered by FBI agents in New York, and says, “The White House wants an update on what we’ve got.” Mueller tells him everything is in motion and criminal investigators are already at the attack site. Thompson then gets back on the phone with Flanigan and says, “The FBI is on the scene and they’re treating it as a crime scene.” As he glances at the coverage from New York on television, however, Flanigan is surprised that the FBI is treating the crashes as crimes, rather than acts of war. “We have no information about possible perpetrators and no info about casualties at this point,” Thompson adds. Flanigan thanks him for the information and ends the call. He then turns to Hadley. He is about to tell the deputy national security adviser that the FBI is treating the WTC as a crime scene but then stops himself. “That was my moment of realization that this was not a crime scene,” he will later recall. He therefore simply tells Hadley, “The FBI’s there and we’ll be getting reports from the scene.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 24-25]
David Addington. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
William Haynes. [Source: C-SPAN]Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, and John Bellinger, senior associate counsel to the president and legal adviser to the National Security Council, discuss whether the president has the legal authority to order the shooting down of a civilian aircraft and Flanigan then consults a Pentagon lawyer to get his opinion on the issue. [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 35-36] President Bush authorized the US military to shoot down hostile aircraft in a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney at 10:18 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] Flanigan, who is in the White House Situation Room, has heard about this and understands the reasons for Bush’s directive, but is concerned about its legality. He approaches Bellinger, mentions the shootdown order, and asks, “Do we have the legal authority nailed down for this?” Bellinger hands him an instant transcript of the conversation between Bush and Cheney. “Here’s the authority,” he says.
White House Lawyer Wants to Know the Opinion of the Military - Flanigan will later recall that he is currently certain of two things regarding the shootdown authorization. Firstly, since it has already been given, “any legal analysis was going to be woefully behind the event.” And secondly, he knows it “was completely justified as a matter of the president’s exercise of commander-in-chief authority to repel an immediate attack.” All the same, he feels uncomfortable. He realizes this is an issue for the military to consider. He therefore instructs an officer in the Situation Room to track down Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes. He is soon on the phone with the lawyer, who is at the Pentagon this morning, and tells him what he read in the transcript of Bush and Cheney’s conversation. Haynes says he already knows about the shootdown authorization. “We need the best possible rational legal basis for this,” Flanigan explains. “We’ve got commander-in-chief authority,” he continues, but adds, “Is there any other authority we can rely on?” Haynes says he will look into this.
Pentagon Lawyer Determines that Only the President Can Issue a Shootdown Order - Haynes thinks the most obvious issue with the shootdown authorization is constitutional, according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. “Under the 14th Amendment, the passengers on those planes could not be deprived of their rights to life, liberty, and property without due process of law,” and “shooting them out of the sky didn’t meet that standard,” Eichenwald will write. Furthermore, Haynes thinks, the Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable search and seizure,” and shooting down a commercial aircraft “would be quite a dramatic seizure” of the citizens on board. All the same, he knows that “the preamble of the Constitution spoke of providing for a common defense and promoting the general welfare,” and, “Under Article 2, the president was the commander in chief of the military.” He therefore determines that the issue of possibly shooting down a commercial aircraft is “a matter of self-defense, of protecting the citizenry, balanced against the rights of the passengers.” With this in mind, he concludes that a shootdown order “could be lawfully issued… but only by the president.” He soon returns to the phone and gives Flanigan his opinion.
Lawyer Says a NORAD Statute Authorizes Shooting Down Hostile Aircraft - However, according to Flanigan’s later recollection, Haynes gives a very different explanation why the president’s shootdown authorization was legal than the reasoning Eichenwald will describe. Flanigan will recall that Haynes tells him someone has already looked into the matter. “There is authority under…” he says, and then cites a “NORAD statute that gives the national command structure authority to deal with imminent threats in US airspace.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 35-36]
Personnel in the White House Situation Room learn of a plane supposedly flying toward the United States from Europe that appears to be hijacked, but it is subsequently determined that the alleged flight does not exist. Those in the Situation Room receive word confirming that a suspicious Northwest Airlines flight from Portugal to Philadelphia is heading toward Washington, DC. The plane is not responding to radio calls and its transponder is squawking the code for a hijacking. White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke gives orders for someone to find out more about the flight and what assets the US military has available to intercept it at the coast. Meanwhile, the FAA searches its data for information about the flight and officials try to contact Northwest Airlines to find out more. Those participating in Clarke’s video teleconference (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001) grow increasingly anxious, since no action can be taken until more details about the flight are found. Then Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the Situation Room, has an idea. He leaves the room and finds an unsecure computer. On this, he searches travel websites for details of the suspicious flight, but finds nothing. He then checks on the Northwest Airlines website and again finds no reference to the flight. He quickly jots down everything he can find about Northwest Airlines flights from Europe and then goes to pass on his findings. After taking a seat at the conference table, he addresses Clarke, who is still searching for information about the plane. “I’ve checked and there’s no such flight,” he says. Astonished at this news, Clarke asks, “How did you check?” “I looked on their website,” Flanigan replies. Clarke then passes on the news to the other participants in the video teleconference. “I have information that there is no such flight,” he says and adds, “Check that again.” [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 36-37] The 9/11 Commission Report will later note that there are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” this morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]
Alberto Gonzales. [Source: George W. Bush Presidential Center]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, meet at the White House, joined by phone by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and discuss how the US government can respond to today’s terrorist attacks. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 47-48] Gonzales was in Norfolk, Virginia, giving a speech around the time the attacks on the World Trade Center took place. He wanted to return to Washington, DC, as quickly as possible but was delayed due to the FAA grounding all aircraft (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Fortunately, he ran into a naval officer who drove him to Norfolk Naval Station, where senior officers arranged for a helicopter to fly him to the capital. The helicopter took off sometime after midday and, once back in Washington, he joined Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House. [National Public Radio, 9/8/2011; Gonzales, 2016, pp. 1-9]
Lawyers Set Out the 'Legal Framework' for the War on Terror - With little for him to do there and feeling there are legal matters that need to be addressed, Gonzales calls Flanigan, who is in the White House Situation Room, and the two men arrange to go to Gonzales’s office on the second floor of the West Wing. Once there, they start discussing two key legal issues: Was the current situation a war and how could America respond to it? They decide they need the input of someone with more expertise and therefore call Yoo, who is at the Strategic Information and Operations Center at FBI headquarters, and ask for his assistance. Yoo then participates in the discussion over the phone. Over the next 45 minutes, the three lawyers lay out “the legal framework for policies that would govern the coming war on terror,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will later describe.
Lawyer Says the President Can Take 'Any Action He Wished' - They begin by discussing the need for President Bush to declare a state of emergency and Gonzales instructs Flanigan to arrange this. They subsequently consider the issue of how much power the president has in the current circumstances. According to Eichenwald, Yoo tells his two colleagues: “In a time of military conflict, the president’s authority [is] sweeping. In fact, Bush could take just about any action he wished. A war was certain and legal.” The men agree that, unlike in a typical confrontation, the enemy combatants in the new conflict are “renegades” who do not belong to any particular country and “not soldiers whose rights [are] dictated by the rules of war under the Geneva Conventions.” The combatants’ rights, Yoo says, will be “far more limited than those of a soldier fighting on behalf of an established government.”
Suggestion Is Made to Send Terrorists to Guantanamo Bay - The men consider whether the president can block captured terrorists from the courts, thereby suspending habeas corpus. Yoo says that “if the United States declared the terrorist operation an act of war, the president should have that authority.” The men determine, however, that captured terrorists cannot be put in American prisons under the authority of the courts and then told they have no rights. They agree that these terrorists will need to be held somewhere beyond the reach of the judicial system. After they consider several locations, one of them suggests that the terrorists could be taken to Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base in Cuba. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 47-48]
One of the main questions on the minds of government lawyers is how to criminally prosecute captured members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A few days after 9/11, William P. Barr, a former attorney general, suggests to Timothy E. Flanigan, deputy White House counsel, to use so-called military commissions. Barr first thought of using such military commissions to try the suspects of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, but this was rejected at the time. “I thought it was a great idea,” Flanigan says. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
In a memo, responding to a request from Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo provides legal advice on “the legality of the use of military force to prevent or deter terrorist activity inside the United States.” He addresses the question of how the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution applies to the use of “deadly force” by the military “in a manner that endangered the lives of United States citizens.” The Fourth Amendment requires the government to have some objective suspicion of criminal activity before it can infringe on an individual’s liberties, such as the right to privacy or the freedom of movement. Yoo writes that in light of highly destructive terrorist attacks, “the government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties.” If the president determines the threat of terrorism high enough to deploy the military inside US territory, then, Yoo writes, “we think that the Fourth Amendment should be no more relevant than it would be in cases of invasion or insurrection.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] A month later, the Justice Department will issue a similar memo (see October 23, 2001).
Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 135]
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals
(see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
John Yoo. [Source: University of California, Berkeley]In a secret 15-page memo to Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, reasons that it is “beyond question that the president has the plenary constitutional power to take such military actions as he deems necessary and appropriate to respond to the terrorist attacks” of 9/11. Those actions can be extensive. “The president may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them,” Yoo writes, “whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11.… Force can be used both to retaliate for those attacks, and to prevent and deter future assaults on the nation. Military actions need not be limited to those individuals, groups, or states that participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” The memo is solicited and overseen by White House lawyers.
Power Derives from Constitution, Congressional Authorization for War - This power of the president, Yoo states, rests both on the US Congress’ Joint Resolution of September 14 (see September 14-18, 2001) and on the War Powers Resolution of 1973. “Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” (Most experts believe that the Constitution strictly limits the president’s power to declare and conduct war—see 1787).
Power More Extensive than Congress Authorized - Yoo argues further that the September 14 resolution does not represent the limits to the president’s authority. “We think it beyond question” that Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” Congress’s “Joint Resolution is somewhat narrower than the president’s constitutional authority,” Yoo writes, as it “does not reach other terrorist individuals, groups, or states which cannot be determined to have links to the September 11 attacks.” The president’s broad power can be used against selected individuals suspected of posing a danger to the US, even though it may be “difficult to establish, by the standards of criminal law or even lower legal standards, that particular individuals or groups have been or may be implicated in attacks on the United States.” Yoo concludes: “[W]e do not think that the difficulty or impossibility of establishing proof to a criminal law standard (or of making evidence public) bars the president from taking such military measures as, in his best judgment, he thinks necessary or appropriate to defend the United States from terrorist attacks. In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the president’s decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable.”
'Unenumerated' Presidential Powers - Yoo even asserts that the president has more power than his memo claims: “[T]he president’s powers include inherent executive powers that are unenumerated in the Constitution,” including but not limited to the power to take the country to war without Congressional input. [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001; Savage, 2007, pp. 121-122]
Memo Remains Secret for Three Years - The contents of this memo are not disclosed until mid-December 2004. [Newsweek, 12/18/2004; Newsweek, 12/27/2004]
Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan presents his subordinate, associate counsel Bradford Berenson, with a draft presidential order he has written establishing military tribunals for suspected terrorists. The draft order declares that President Bush is invoking his wartime powers as commander in chief to establish a system of military tribunals, sometimes called military commissions.
Commissions More 'Flexible' - In the White House’s view, military tribunals offer several advantages over either civilian court trials or military courts-martial, as is being discussed in the interagency working group on prosecuting terrorists at the State Department (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Civilian trials would be subject to public scrutiny and media spectacle, and would pose a problem of security risks. Military courts-martial are quite rigid in their procedures and rules of evidence. Military commissions, as envisioned by Flanigan and the two other White House lawyers who put together the scheme—Berenson and David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney—would offer more “flexibility” for the use of evidence gathered either under battlefield conditions or in interrogations, evidence that might not meet the standards of either a court-martial or a civilian trial. And, as author Charlie Savage will later note, “commissions enhanced presidential power by concentrating the process in the executive branch alone.”
A 'Relic' - Savage will explain: “Under normal trials, Congress defines a crime and sets the sentence for it; the executive branch investigates and prosecutes people who are accused of committing the crime; and the judicial branch runs the trial, decides whether to admit evidence, determines whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, and hears any appeal. With a military commission, all these powers were collapsed into the hands of the armed forces and, ultimately, their commander in chief. Although fairly common in nineteenth-century conflicts, military commissions were a relic: They had not been used by the United States since World War II.”
Support from Justice Department Lawyer - Their work will be bolstered when Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin issues a secret memo declaring that the president has the inherent authority to order military commissions (see November 6, 2001). Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington never inform the interagency working group of their own work, although they made use of the working group’s research. Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington cite Philbin’s memo as the definitive word on the president’s authority. When President Bush announces the order establishing the commissions (see November 13, 2001), the order abruptly short-circuits the interagency working group and renders its work irrelevant. [Savage, 2007, pp. 134-135]
John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and a member of Vice President Cheney’s ad hoc legal team tasked to radically expand the power of the presidency, writes a legal brief declaring that President Bush does not need approval from Congress or the federal courts for denying suspected terrorists access to US courts, and instead can be tried in military commissions (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two other team members, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and White House deputy counsel Timothy Flanigan, have decided that the government bureaucrats need to see that Bush can and will act, in the words of author Craig Unger, “without their blessing—and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing.” Yoo’s opinion is a powerful object lesson. Yoo later says that he saw no need to seek the opinion of the State Department’s lawyers; that department hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and its lawyers are among the government’s top experts on the laws of war. “The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?” Yoo will say. “State—they wouldn’t have views on that.” Neither does Yoo see a need to consult with his own superiors at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft is livid upon learning that the draft gives the Justice Department no say in which alleged terrorists will be tried in military commissions. According to witnesses, Ashcroft confronts Cheney and David Addington over the brief, reminding Cheney that he is the president’s senior law enforcement officer; he supervises the FBI and oversees terrorism prosecutions throughout the nation. The Justice Department must have a voice in the tribunal process. He is enraged, participants in the meeting recall, that Yoo had recommended otherwise as part of the White House’s strategy to deny jurisdiction to the courts. Ashcroft talks over Addington and brushes aside interjections from Cheney: “The thing I remember about it is how rude, there’s no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president,” one participant recalls. But Cheney refuses to acquiesce to Ashcroft’s objections. Worse for Ashcroft, Bush refuses to discuss the matter with him, leaving Cheney as the final arbiter of the matter. In the following days, Cheney, a master of bureaucratic manipulation, will steer the new policy towards Bush’s desk for approval while avoiding the usual, and legal, oversight from the State Department, the Justice Department, Congress, and potentially troublesome White House lawyers and presidential advisers. Cheney will bring the order to Bush for his signature, brushing aside any involvement by Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see November 11-13, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 222-223; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Craig Unger, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, US Department of State, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)
President Bush issues a three-page executive order authorizing the creation of military commissions to try non-citizens alleged to be involved in international terrorism (see November 10, 2001). The president will decide which defendants will be tried by military commissions. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict a defendant and impose a sentence, including life imprisonment or death. Only the president or the secretary of defense has the authority to overturn a decision. There is no provision for an appeal to US civil courts, foreign courts, or international tribunals. Nor does the order specify how many judges are to preside on a tribunal or what qualifications they must have. [US Department of Defense, 11/13/2001; Washington Post, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Questionable Rule of Evidence Adopted - The order also adopts a rule of evidence stemming from the 1942 Supreme Court case of United States v. Quirin that says evidence shall be admitted “as would… have probative value to a reasonable person.” This rule, according to Judge Evan J. Wallach, “was repeatedly used [in World War II and in the post-war tribunals] to admit evidence of a quality or obtained in a manner which would make it inadmissible under the rules of evidence in both courts of the United States or courts-martial conducted by the armed forces of the United States.” [Wallach, 9/29/2004] Evidence derived from torture, for example, could theoretically be admitted. It should be noted that the order is unprecedented among presidential directives in that it takes away some individuals’ most basic rights, while claiming to have the power of law, with the US Congress not having been so much as consulted.
Specifics Left to Rumsfeld - Bush’s executive order contains few specifics about how the commissions will actually function. Bush will delegate that task to Rumsfeld, although, as with the order itself, White House lawyers will actually make the decision to put Rumsfeld in charge, and Bush will merely sign off on the decision (see March 21, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Dispute over Trial Procedures - During the next few years, lawyers will battle over the exact proceedings of the trials before military commissions, with many of the military lawyers arguing for more rights for the defendants and with Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and Justice Department and White House lawyers (including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, vice presidential counsel David Addington, and Gonzales’ deputy Timothy Flanigan) taking a more restrictive line. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Out of the Loop - Both National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell were left outside of the circle during the drafting of this directive (see November 6, 2001 and November 9, 2001). Rice is reportedly angry about not being informed. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Serious 'Process Failure' - National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger will later call the authorization a “process failure” with serious long-term consequences (see February 2009).
Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. [Alberto R. Gonzales, 1/25/2002 ; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Timothy E. Flanigan, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington, David Bowker, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Taliban, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of State, Office of the Vice President, Washington Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
After the capture of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), the US government is forced to review procedures on how Zubaida and future detainees should be treated. One CIA source will later say, “Abu Zubaida’s capture triggered everything.” The legal basis for harsh interrogations is murky at best, and the Justice Department will not give any legal guidelines to the CIA until August 2002, after Zubaida has already been tortured (see March 28-August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002).
Bush Kept out of Discussions - New York Times reporter James Risen will later claim in a 2006 book that after showing some initial interest in Zubaida’s treatment (see Late March 2002), President Bush is mysteriously absent from any internal debates about the treatment of detainees. The CIA’s Office of Inspector General later investigates evidence of the CIA’s involvement in detainee abuse, and concludes in a secret report that Bush is never officially briefed on the interrogation tactics used. Earlier meetings are chaired by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and attended by, among others, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer David Addington, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, and Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes. Later, CIA Director George Tenet gives briefings on the tactics to a small group of top officials, including Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and future Attorney General Gonzales, but not Bush.
CIA: 'No Presidential Approval' Needed for Torture - Risen will note that “Normally, such high-stakes—and very secret—CIA activities would be carefully vetted by the White House and legally authorized in writing by the president under what are known as presidential findings. Such directives are required by Congress when the CIA engages in covert action.” But through a legal sleight-of-hand, the CIA determines the interrogations should be considered a normal part of “intelligence collection” and not a covert action, so no specific presidential approval is needed. Risen concludes: “Certainly, Cheney and senior White House officials knew that Bush was purposely not being briefed and that the CIA was not being given written presidential authorization for its tactics. It appears that there was a secret agreement among very senior administration officials to insulate Bush and to give him deniability, even as his vice president and senior lieutenants were meeting to discuss the harsh new interrogation methods. President Bush was following a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on the treatment of prisoners.” Later, Flanigan will say of the meetings, “My overwheming impression is that everyone was focused on trying to avoid torture, staying within the line, while doing everything possible to save American lives.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 23-27; Savage, 2007, pp. 154]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Yoo, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, James Risen, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Alberto R. Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
While the Bush White House publicly denies any desire for war with Iraq, and says it is committed to working with the United Nations to find a diplomatic course of action, behind the scenes the administration’s lawyers are working on a legal justification for war. White House counsel Timothy Flanigan develops a legal position that argues the president needs no Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Flanigan’s superior, chief White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, presents Flanigan’s legal rationale to President Bush. Flanigan’s chief argument is that the president’s “inherent power as commander in chief” (see 1901-1909 and June 2, 1952) gives him the right to unilaterally take the country to war. Flanigan’s backup position is invoking the 1991 Congressional authorization for the Persian Gulf War (see January 9-13, 1991), and the UN Security Council’s resolutions from that time period (see November 29, 1990). Nevertheless, the White House will demand an authorization for war from Congress (see October 11, 2002)—an authorization White House officials say Bush has no intention of using except as a means of bringing diplomatic pressure against Iraq. [Savage, 2007, pp. 156]
Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]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). [ABC News, 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). [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 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. [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 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. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 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.” [New York Times, 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. [Washington Post, 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. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
As Bush administration lawyers warn that Vice President Cheney and his Pentagon allies are setting the government up for defeat in the courts with their hardline advice on interrogation techniques (see Late 2001-Early 2002, January 25, 2002, April 2002 and After, and August 1, 2002) and indefinite detentions (see After September 11, 2001 and December 2001-January 2002), one of the uneasiest of Justice Department lawyers is Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Cheney and Olson have similar views on the expansion of presidential powers, but his job in the administration is to win court cases. Olson is not sure that Cheney’s legal arguments are tenable. Olson is particularly worried about two pending cases, those of US citizens Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001 and August 16, 2002). Both have been declared enemy combatants and denied access to lawyers. Olson warns that federal courts will not go along with that provision, but he finds himself opposed by CIA and Pentagon officials. When Olson and other lawyers propose that Padilla and Hamdi be granted lawyers, Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, beats back their proposal because, says deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, “that was the position of his client, the vice president.” The issue comes to a head in the West Wing office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House’s chief legal counsel. Four officials with direct knowledge of the meeting later recall the chain of events. Olson has the support of associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Berenson says that Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, will never accept absolute presidential authority to declare a US citizen an enemy and lock him away without benefit of counsel. Another former Kennedy law clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier. Addington, representing Cheney in the meeting, accuses Berenson of surrendering presidential authority on what he calls a fool’s prophecy about the Court; Berenson retorts by accusing Addington of “know-nothingness.” Gonzales listens quietly as the Justice Department and his own staff line up against Addington. He finally makes a decision: in favor of Cheney and Addington. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brett Kavanaugh, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Jose Padilla, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Timothy E. Flanigan
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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