New details about Justice Department investigation on torture memos (updated)

I support Senator Patrick Leahy’s call for a “truth commission” to investigate abuses of power by officials in George W. Bush’s administration. People who participated in or encouraged official law-breaking need to be held accountable, or at least exposed to public scrutiny.

Judging from this report by Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, we have a lot more to learn about how Justice Department attorneys twisted the law to serve King George:

An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department’s ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials-Jay Bybee and John Yoo-as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. […]

[T]he OPR probe began after Jack Goldsmith, a Bush appointee who took over OLC in 2003, protested the legal arguments made in the memos. Goldsmith resigned the following year after withdrawing the memos, and later wrote that he was “astonished” by the “deeply flawed” and “sloppily reasoned” legal analysis in the memos by Yoo and Bybee, including their assertion (challenged by many scholars) that the president could unilaterally disregard a law passed by Congress banning torture.

OPR investigators focused on whether the memo’s authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted, according to three former Bush lawyers who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe. One of the lawyers said he was stunned to discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct how the memos were crafted.

Too bad this report didn’t come out in time for University of Iowa Law School faculty to ask Yoo about it when he was in Iowa City last week.

Do any Bleeding Heartland readers happen to teach at the U of I Law School? I’d love to hear how his talk went. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you heard Yoo speak or took part in protesting his appearance.

UPDATE: Daily Kos user Vyan has much more background in this diary and speculates that Yoo and Bybee could be disbarred for their role in writing the torture memos. I would be very surprised if it comes to that. I don’t think state bar associations like political controversies.

SECOND UPDATE: A little bird tells me that Yoo’s appearance in Iowa City was uneventful, and no one present asked him about the torture memos. I have to question why any university would invite a “newsmaker” to speak if no one’s going to ask about the controversy that made the person famous. Mr. desmoinesdem wonders if Yoo insists on a promise not to ask about the torture memos before agreeing to speak to any audience. Anyone out there know the answer?

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The moral degeneracy of the Bush administration

Today John Yoo, the great legal mind who shaped the Bush administration’s policy on torture when he worked at the Department of Justice, testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Look how he evaded a simple yes-or-no question from Committee Chairman John Conyers:

Conyers: Could the President order a suspect buried alive?

Yoo: Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive…

Conyers: I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the President could order a suspect buried alive.

Yoo: Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a President … no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.

Conyers: I think we understand the games that are being played.

Click the link to watch the video at TPMMuckraker.

The Bush administration’s policy on torture is an international disgrace. One of its legal architects won’t even concede that the president  can’t order a suspect to be buried alive.  

Unfortunately, John McCain has supported laws that give the president the discretion to define torture however he wants.

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