Jay Bybee’s Colleagues Say OLC Lawyers Couldn’t Know that Torture Was Torture in 2001-2003

The 9th Circuit has overturned a District court ruling holding that Jose Padilla could sue John Yoo for the torture and illegal detention that Yoo’s OLC work authorized.

While the decision sucks, I’m not so surprised by it, even coming from the purportedly hippie 9th Circuit.

In fact, I’m particularly interested in the way the opinion applies the Ashcroft v. Al Kidd standard about whether the conduct alleged–now obviously recognized to be illegal–was considered as such “beyond debate” at the time of that conduct.

We therefore hold that Yoo must be granted qualified immunity, and accordingly reverse the decision of the district court.

As we explain below, we reach this conclusion for two reasons. First, although during Yoo’s tenure at OLC the constitutional rights of convicted prisoners and persons subject to ordinary criminal process were, in many respects, clearly established, it was not “beyond debate” at that time that Padilla — who was not a convicted prisoner or criminal defendant, but a suspected terrorist designated an enemy combatant and confined to military detention by order of the President — was entitled to the same constitutional protections as an ordinary convicted prisoner or accused criminal. Id. Second, although it has been clearly established for decades that torture of an American citizen violates the Constitution, and we assume without deciding that Padilla’s alleged treatment rose to the level of torture, that such treatment was torture was not clearly established in 2001-03.

The circuit, in other words, argued that a poor little OLC lawyer serving in the 2001 to 2003 time frame might genuinely consider the treatment that Padilla received to be legal at the time.

And remember, a number of the memos cited in the complaint were signed by then OLC head, now 9th Circuit Judge Jay Bybee.

  • A January 22, 2002 memorandum to Gonzales signed by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee but allegedly drafted by Yoo on the Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.
  • A February 26, 2002 memorandum to Haynes signed by Bybee but allegedly created by Yoo on Potential Legal Constraints Applicable to Interrogations of Persons Captured by U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

[snip]

  • An August 1, 2002 memorandum to Gonzales, again signed by Bybee but allegedly created by Yoo, on Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A, concluding that an interrogation technique must cause damage that rises “to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant body function” in order to be considered torture.
  • A second memorandum produced during August 2002 addressing the legality of particular interrogation techniques that the CIA wished to employ.

Oh good. We don’t have to question the competence of anyone on the 9th Circuit now, given that the 9th Circuit has judged that it was not beyond debate that Inquisition torture methods were torture when now-9th Circuit judges were signing off on claims they weren’t.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @JackofKent: Today the Tories will deride the Human Rights Act, which you can enforce in court, and praise Magna Carta, which you cannot.
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bmaz @MonaHol @emptywheel It absolutely is worth it. More people should understand what's being done. It is just sad this is "news" cause its not
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emptywheel @MonaHol I believe it can be shown to be either non-compliant or partial, but haven't looked closely yet. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol What is actual news abt ACLU release is govt has now committed to what their 12333 compliance is. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol Glad docs are out so other people stop getting snookered by sources. But that was easily avoidable. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol It was also laid out in FISCR opinion declassed in 2009. Big part of 2007 debate on FAA. And so on and so on @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol For those who haven't read 2009 docs this might be surprising. But far more substantive details already in record. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol Not in the least surprising. Many of my 50+ posts on all this lay that out. Clarke testified to same. @bmaz
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings First shot at Awlaki may have been parts of DOD going rogue, but generally agree. @normative @BradMossEsq
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings That said, on both torture and Awlaki killing, case is strong POTUS did not comply w/Findings reqt @normative @BradMossEsq
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings Actually think Findings like system is minimal change that should have come fr Snowden's leaks. @normative @BradMossEsq
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings My related take: http://t.co/6iv5GLytTM That said, EO 12333 spying not done under Findings @normative @BradMossEsq
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