OPR Report

DOJ Investigations into Torture as a Diplomatic Stunt

I’m back into moving hell this week, so I haven’t looked as closely at all the WikiLeak cables that have come out. But I wanted to add one point to David Corn’s story on a cable showing the discussions about a potential Spanish prosecution of our torture lawyers. As Corn describes, the cable chronicles a series of efforts in April 2009–to pressure the Spanish government to quash any prosecution in Spanish courts.

Now, it’s worth noting the timing of the cable: April 17, 2009. That is, the day after the Administration released the torture memos. That is, the big piece of news (aside from the chronology of Republican efforts to quash an investigation)–the Spanish Attorney General Candido Conde Pumpido’s announcement on April 16 that he would not support a criminal complaint–happened almost simultaneously with the release of the memos that would provide a great deal of evidence for a case against John Yoo, who was one of the six being investigated. The cable was probably even sent before–but not by much–Obama released a statement saying,

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

[snip]

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again. [my emphasis]

Which is why I think the most critical passages of this cable (which includes DOJ among its recipients) are these ones:

Meanwhile, the Embassy has been involved in DOJ-led talks to have [Chief Prosecutor Jose] Zaragoza – who attended the April 16 press conference – lead a four-person team of GOS officials to Washington for a possible meeting with U.S. Deputy AG David Ogden or AG Eric Holder during the week of May 18. Zaragoza’s wife, who is Conde Pumpido’s chief of staff, would reportedly be one of the four.

[snip]

Zaragoza has also told us that if a proceeding regarding this matter were underway in the U.S., that would effectively bar proceedings in Spain. We intend to further explore this option with him informally (asking about format, timing, how much information he would need, etc.) while making it clear that the USG has not made a decision to follow this course of action. [my emphasis]

That is, within the larger context of a discussion of past efforts to pressure the Spanish not to investigate, the cable points to the person whom the US could leverage–Zaragoza–and describes the best means to do so. Zaragoza, the cable makes clear, is telling the US that the best way to halt the Spanish investigation would be to show that “a proceeding regarding this matter were underway in the U.S.”

That was on April 17, the day Obama said there would be no prosecutions. It discussed a meeting between Zaragoza and either David Ogden or Eric Holder to take place in May, at which point the OPR investigation was still pending. And then less than a month after the OPR Report concluding (finding that John Yoo was an idiot, but not criminally or unethically so), Eric Holder announced the Durham investigation into torture. The one for which the primary basis expired with no charges recently. But the same one DOJ claims is ongoing. The one that Harold Koh pointed to–in another diplomatic venue–so as to be able to say with a straight face that the US considers waterboarding to be illegal.

Harold Koh, legal adviser at the US State Department, said on the sidelines of a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva that “there has been a turning of the page” under President Barack Obama.

“I think that the Obama administration defines waterboarding as torture as a matter of law under the convention against torture and as part of our legal obligation… it’s not a policy choice,” Koh told journalists after being asked about the report.

Asked whether the United States was still considering investigation or federal prosecution of those who might have ordered such a practice in the past, Koh said the matter was being examined by Special Prosecutor John Durham in Connecticut.

“Those investigations are ongoing. So the question is not whether they would consider it, they’re going on right now,” he explained.

In other words, what this cable shows is the genesis of the plan–on the day after the torture memos were released–to forestall international investigations of US torture by claiming that the US is itself conducting an investigation. It’s a claim that continues to this day.

It’s not a surprise that the Obama Administration has been pointing to its own investigations–credible or not–to persuade the international community not to hold our torturers accountable. But it is useful to see how the diplomats and the lawyers first hatched that plan.

Did DOD Have ANY Authorization for Torture after 2004?

There are a couple of things that have been bugging me about the authorizations DOD got for interrogations.  It’s not clear what kind of authorization DOD used to justify detainee interrogations after the Yoo memo was withdrawn in 2003-2004–they had no overall interrogation approval from OLC. While it’s possible they were just relying on already-existing DOD documents, there are hints that DOD was either relying exclusively on the CIA’s more expansive authorizations (that included waterboarding), or they had some alternative approval that may not have involved OLC at all.

As I’ve shown (here and here), in March 2004, DOD requested approval to use–at the least–extended isolation with detainees. In response, Jack Goldsmith and Steven Bradbury started trying to replace the 2003 Yoo memo.

At precisely the same time, Goldsmith was working through the mess created by the Legal Principles document. As you recall, faced with clearly illegal conduct and with the opportunity to investigate that conduct themselves in 2003, CIA worked back channel with Jennifer Koester and John Yoo to summarize the legal advice given on torture, going so far as to claim certain techniques (like abdominal slap and diapers) had been approved when they hadn’t been. During that period, Koester and Yoo gave CIA an opportunity to review and provide input on the 2003 Yoo memo. Then, Koester and Yoo relied on the Yoo memo for several of the claims they made in the Legal Principles. That raises the possibility that one reason the Yoo memo was so bad (it was even more permissive than the Bybee One memo) was to help CIA avoid criminal liability for crimes already committed.

At the very least, this is proof that CIA and DOD were both relying on advice given to the other agency to justify their own agency’s actions. We know DOD used the Bybee memos (and oral authorization from Yoo based on that analysis) to authorize its treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani in 2002-2003. And the Legal Principles show CIA was using the Yoo memo, written for DOD, to authorize its treatment of multiple detainees in anticipation of the CIA IG Report. In other words, though DOJ liked to maintain the fiction that the approval tracks for CIA and DOD were separate, they weren’t, at least not when John Yoo was involved.

And that was becoming crystal clear in spring of 2004. (In the same phone conversation in which Goldsmith confirmed that the Legal Principles weren’t an official OLC document, he also asked Yoo for details of his verbal authorizations to Jim Haynes leading up to the al-Qahtani torture, so he clearly pursued these issues in tandem.)

Yet after that, CIA’s memos got withdrawn and replaced. DOD’s Yoo memo reportedly was withdrawn. But no formal guidance from OLC ever replaced it.

So what happened after that point?

The Daniel Levin Memo

My concerns about DOD’s later authorizations stem partly from a memo Daniel Levin wrote John Ashcroft and Jim Comey in September 2004 to summarize all the advice OLC had given on torture. Continue reading

Rendering Opinions on Rendering Detainees out of Iraq

This is going to be a really weedy post trying to explore what was going on with just about the only named opinion that Jack Goldsmith wrote at OLC that has gotten focused attention–a March 19, 2004 one cataloging the protected status of different kinds of people captured in Iraq. I will return to the significance of it in a future post. But this post shows that the topic of Goldsmith’s opinion appears to have been debated up until the time he left DOJ–and after he left, another opinion served to authorize the rendition of detainees from Iraq.

Addington objects to Goldsmith’s decision that Iraqi terrorists have protection under Geneva Convention

As Goldsmith wrote in Terror Presidency, this issue is one of the first he dealt with after he became OLC head in October 2003.

“Jack,” Gonzales said after cursory congratulations on my new post, “we need you to decide whether the Fourth Geneva Convention protects terrorists in Iraq. We need the answer as soon as possible, no later than the end of the week,” he added in his deadpan, nasally Texas drawl. (32)

After Goldsmith concluded in October 2003 that Iraqi members of al Qaeda were protected under the Geneva Convention, David Addington went apeshit.

“They’re going to be really mad,” [Patrick] Philbin told me as he and I were driving from the Justice Department to the White House to explain to Gonzales and Addington why the department that Iraqi terrorists were protected. “They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told ‘no’.”

Philbin was right.

“Jack, I don’t see how terrorists who violate the laws of war can get the protections of the laws of war,” said Gonzales, calmly, from his customary wing chair in his West Wing office.

[snip]

“The President has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections,” [Addington] barked. “You cannot question his decision.” (41)

Goldsmith went on to develop his oral advice into a formal opinion. And while he drafted that on March 19, 2004, he never finalized it.

Debate over detainee status between June and October

Now, as I’ll show below, the memo (or what was explained to be the memo) caused a bit of a firestorm in October 2004. But before that happened, the OLC Vaughn index shows, there appear to have been several rounds of discussion on the issue.

While the Vaughn index doesn’t list the March 19 version of this memo, it appears to show what might have been a June 29, 2004 version addressing the same topic.

This is a ten-page draft, from OLC to CIA. It is confirming legal advice, which was initially given orally, on whether a detainee is considered a protected person if involved in counterterrorism acitivies and captured.

Only this June 29, 2004 memo is 10 pages, whereas the March 19 memo is 23 pages.

Then, the following day, there is what may be CIA’s comments on that draft (with one additional page and hand-written notes), though this description doesn’t mention protected status.

This is an eleven-page document with handwriten comments, from the CIA to OLC, commenting on a draft letter regarding terrorism and interrogation of detainees.

On July 2, the same day Scott Muller wrote Jim Comey to tell him what had been approved after he and John Bellinger left a principals meeting discussing the interrogation of one particular detainee, CIA sent a second short memo describing the CIA securing custody of a detainee.

This is a two-page memo with a fax coversheet, providing legal advice regarding the CIA securing custody of a detainee and use of interrogation methods.

On July 14, three days before Goldsmith’s accelerated departure (remember, he originally intended to stay until August 6, but left on July 17 instead), there are nine copies (documents 50-58) of a one-page OLC memo written to the record (that is, not sent to the CIA per se) addressing whether a captured member of “a terrorist network” is legally protected.

This is a one-page OLC memo on whether a captured member of a terrorist network is legally protected under international law.

The number of copies written to the record suggests there may have been a face-to-face meeting on the subject after which the copies of the draft discussion were retained by OLC.

On July 15 (two days before Goldsmith left), there is a 5-page memo on the same subject.

This is a five-page OLC memo on whether a captured member of a terrorist network is legally protected under international law.

On July 21 (four days after Goldsmith’s departure), there is a 10 or 11-page document plus fax cover sheet from the White House to DOJ.

This is a ten-page document with handwritten marginalia and a fax cover sheet, which contains pre-decisional communication regarding detainees, that was sent from the EOP to the DOJ.

This is the only document in this set written by the White House.

After the White House document (which may or may not relate to the protected status of detainees) the dated OLC communication in the Vaughn Index consists exclusively of advice about torture techniques for several months.

Then, on October 4, there are a 4-page and a 5-page OLC memo written to the record “from OLC regarding application of international law, as it relates to detainees.”

Continue reading

A Catalog of the Destroyed Torture Evidence

I just re-read Philippe Sands’ Torture Team and, given the news of disappearing emails and documents, this passage struck me anew:

[Mike Dunlavey, who was in charge of Gitmo as they put together the torture plan for Mohammed al-Qahtani] would have liked to have gone back to the daily diaries and schedules that were kept on the computer system, together with reports that were sent out on a daily basis, and details of the videoconferences that had taken place with the Pentagon. “I need to see that stuff,” he mused, “how am I going to get it?” It seemed doubtful that he would. “They were backed up at SOUTHCOM,” he explained, but “a couple of months after I left there was a SNAFU and all was lost.”

Sands goes onto wonder whether there might be a connection to the destruction of the torture tapes. Dunlavey left Gitmo in November 2002, so those materials would have been lost in late 2002 or early 2003, when we now know people were panicking about what to do about the torture tapes. That was also between the time when–at the end of November 2002–a lawyer from CIA’s Office of General Counsel reviewed the tapes and claimed they matched the torture logs exactly, and the time when–in May 2003–CIA’s Inspector General discovered they weren’t an exact match. More importantly, CIA IG discovered there were 11 blank tapes, 2 broken ones, and 2 more mostly blank ones, suggesting that a first round of efforts to hide evidence on the torture tapes took place before CIA’s IG reviewed them.

In other words, this “SNAFU” happened around the same time as the first round of destruction of the torture tapes took place.

Since there are so many incidences of destroyed or disappearing torture evidence, I thought it time to start cataloging them, to keep them all straight.

  • Before May 2003: 15 of 92 torture tapes erased or damaged
  • Early 2003: Dunlavey’s paper trail “lost”
  • Before August 2004: John Yoo and Patrick Philbin’s torture memo emails deleted
  • June 2005: most copies of Philip Zelikow’s dissent to the May 2005 CAT memo destroyed
  • November 8-9, 2005: 92 torture tapes destroyed
  • July 2007 (probably): 10 documents from OLC SCIF disappear
  • December 19, 2007: Fire breaks out in Cheney’s office

(I put in the Cheney fire because it happened right after DOJ started investigating the torture tape destruction.)

There are two more evidence-related issues pertaining to the torture program.

First, recall that the government has refused to turn over all of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries to him [update: here's a more updated description of the diaries status from Jason Leopold]. The status of both the diaries and the legal argument over them remains largely sealed, so we can’t know for sure whether all the diaries remain intact. I believe they are just being withheld and haven’t been destroyed, but we don’t know for sure.

Also, remember that Alberto Gonzales was wandering around DC with a briefcase full of CYA documents just after he became Attorney General. Among those documents were draft and final versions of OLC opinions relating to torture, and possibly memos describing some operational aspects of the program.

The classified materials that are the subject of this investigation consist of notes that Gonzales drafted to memorialize a classified briefing of congressional leaders about the NSA surveillance program when Gonzales was the White House Counsel; draft and final Office of Legal Counsel opinions about both the NSA surveillance program and a detainee interrogation program; correspondence from congressional leaders to the Director of Central Intelligence; and other memoranda describing legal and operational aspects of the two classified programs.

Since this briefcase appears to have been about CYA, it is unlikely Gonzales would have destroyed any of them. But we know only that they were not in secure custody for about two years.

In other words, at least five pieces of evidence on torture has disappeared or been destroyed. But it could well be more than that.

John Durham? For a guy investigating disappearing evidence, you’ve been awfully quiet…

Were the Torturers Bypassing OLC in July 2004?

Jay Bybee thinks it’s really damning that Jim Comey attended a July 2, 2004 Principals meeting at which the torture of one particular detainee (he says it was Janat Gul, though there are reasons to doubt it) was discussed.

Comey joined Ashcroft at a NSC Principals Meeting on July 2, 2004 to discuss the possible interrogation of CIA detainee Janat Gul. Report at 123. Ashcroft and Comey conferred with Goldsmith after the meeting, leading to Goldsmith’s letter to Muller approving all of the techniques described in the Classified Bybee Memo except for the waterboard. Id (PDF 26-27)

I’m not so sure. In fact, it appears that the key approvals happened after Comey had left that meeting–and Goldsmith’s “approval” appears to have been an attempt to put some limits on the CIA after the White House had approved the techniques.

Let’s review everything that led up to that meeting.

In April, per the OPR Report, Jack Goldsmith and Steven Bradbury began work on a memo to replace the March 2003 Yoo memo. Meanwhile, in response to the CIA Inspector General Report’s description of torture as it was being administered, Goldsmith advised CIA General Counsel Scott Muller on May 27 not to use waterboarding (and to strictly follow the descriptions of the other nine authorized techniques carefully). On June 7 and 8 news of the torture memos appeared in the WSJ and WaPo. After learning in a phone call with John Yoo about some of the back-channel advice CIA and DOD had gotten, Goldsmith told Muller on June 10 that CIA was going to have to put things in writing if it wanted further OLC opinions on torture (Goldsmith appears to have kept the proof that he faxed it to CIA). On June 16, Goldsmith told Ashcroft he would withdraw the Bybee One memo and then resign. On June 22, in an off the record briefing, Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin renounced the Bybee One memo. And on June 28, the Supreme Court ruled against the Administration in the Hamdi case.

The entire torture program, the torture architects surely believed, was at risk. In his book, Jack Goldsmith reports that the CIA and White House accused him of “buckl[ing]” in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. And Addington sniped that Goldsmith should give him a list of any OLC opinions Goldsmith still stood by.

In this context on July 2–ten days after Goldsmith publicly withdrew the Bybee One memo and four days after the Hamdi decision–the CIA asked to torture again.

Continue reading

Ronald Rotunda: Yoo Sent Email to Someone Else

Ronald Rotunda, having received a copy of my post suggesting that he was the professor whom Yoo emailed looking for help on common law defenses, has emailed to say he did not correspond with Yoo at all on these issues.

As you’ll recall, last month, I pointed to a section of the report describing Yoo asking a law professor how common law defenses work in criminal law (the correspondent is labeled a law professor in one of the drafts of the report). Based on the fact that only one law professor, Ronald Rotunda, was listed in the Glossary of Names included with the report and only one law professor appears in the unclassified sections of the report, I suggested that Rotunda appeared to be the person whom Yoo emailed. In addition, OPR sent Rotunda a draft of the report last March which, given the confidential nature of the investigation, seemed odd short of his involvement in the report itself.

But via email, Rotunda has said he was not the one to whom Yoo sent that email. With Rotunda’s permission, I’ve included his direct comments below (though I have grouped them so that his responses to my questions are together).

At first, it seemed that Rotunda was denying having corresponded with Yoo directly about torture.

I do know that no one ever sent me emails or other communications about the torture memos, and — if they had — I would have said what I have always said: our government should not use waterboarding.  While I do not believe in discipline for the lawyers involved (for reasons I stated in my letter), I also do not embrace those memos.

When I noted that the email in question was not about torture memos but would have appeared, instead, to be a professional request unrelated to such issues (I quoted Yoo’s email as described in the OPR Report), Rotunda repeated that he had not received the email.

I never saw that email or responded to it until you all brought it up a few days ago. I hope that is clear.

[snip]

And, to be clear, I never responded to Yoo’s email because I never received it. He sent it someone else.

I apologize to Rotunda, then, for suggesting he was the one with whom Yoo had that email exchange. I will note Rotunda’s comments in the original post.

Rotunda’s explanation that he was not Yoo’s email correspondent presents another few puzzles, such as why OPR sent Rotunda a draft of the report in the first place, way back in March 2009.

I had a copy of the draft OPR report because the OPR sent it to me so that I could give OPR my opinion. After I sent my letter, OPR asked me to destroy the draft OPR report.

When I asked why DOJ would have chosen to send him the report for his opinion, Rotunda suggested that that might be because he has done work for DOJ in the past.

Over the years (actually, decades now), the Department of Justice has retained me on various matters.  I don’t think I have written anything that was sent to OPR until this time.  OPR sent me the material so that I could review the draft.  That I know.

[snip]

As for what I’ve done in the past, that would be confidential.  What has been publicly revealed (so there is no confidentiality requirement) is that many years ago I served as an expert witness for the Department of Justice in a fraud case. I really don’t remember the details, but it was at least twenty years ago. (Sadly, that proves I’m no spring chicken.)

It also raises the question of why Rotunda’s name was listed in the Glossary of Names included as Appendix C of the report.

I suppose my name was listed in the Glossary because I wrote the letter.  You probably should ask OPR why my name was listed. I don’t know.

[snip]

What I don’t know is why I’m in the Glossary. OPR should know that.

I have asked DOJ for more explanation of why OPR sent Rotunda a copy of the report last March and will let you know what they say.

Meanwhile, that leaves the question of who Yoo consulted to come up with his crappy defenses section unanswered.

The Waterboarding Smoking Gun, Again

Since Mark Benjamin has decided to claim–some 300-plus days after I did the first of many posts focusing on the details of waterboarding (to say nothing of posts drational did looking at these descriptions medically)–that, “the agency’s “enhanced interrogation program” haven’t been mined for waterboarding details until now,” I thought I’d make another point about the significance of those details.

As Mark points out and I’ve been pointing out for 11 months, the torturers did far more during waterboarding than what members of the military underwent in SERE training. They dumped large amounts of water onto detainees, and made sure detainees inhaled water. This is far worse than either the Bybee Two Memo or SERE training describes.

Which is why it is so important that, six days before Yoo finalized the Bybee Two memo describing a relatively controlled waterboarding process, Jim Haynes went out of his way to get JPRA to send CIA a description of waterboarding that also didn’t resemble waterboarding as it was done in SERE training (Haynes appears to have given orders eliciting that description in a face-to-face meeting).

As the SASC reported, DOD General Counsel Jim Haynes got JPRA, the entity that administers SERE training, to put together two packets of information on July 25 and 26, ostensibly about SERE training, though JPRA personnel realized he wanted to use it to reverse-engineer the techniques. As we now know, those were crucial days of the Bybee Memo drafting process, when Yoo was looking for more data before he could approve waterboarding, and at about the time when CIA decided it wanted written approval of the torture techniques. But the description JPRA sent Haynes (and CIA)–a description that the OPR Report makes clear OLC received–didn’t describe waterboarding as the Navy used it. Rather, it described waterboarding as it would ultimately be practiced by the CIA.

JPRA’s description of the waterboarding technique provided in that first attachment was inconsistent in key respects from the U.S. Navy SERE school’s description of waterboarding. According to the Navy SERE school’s operating instructions, for example, while administering the technique, the Navy limited the amount of water poured on a student’s face to two pints. However, the JPRA attachment said that “up to 1.5 gallons of water” may be poured onto a “subject’s face.” While the Navy’s operating instructions dictated that “[n]o effort will be made to direct the stream of water into the student’s nostrils or mouth,” the description provided by JPRA contained no such limitation for subjects ofthe technique. While the Navy limited the use ofthe cloth on a student’s face to twenty seconds, the JPRA’s description said only that the cloth should remain in place for a “short period of time.” And while the Navy restricted anyone from placing pressure on the chest or stomach during the administration of this technique, JPRA’s description included no such limitation for subjects of the technique.

Think about it. Why would Haynes make sure Yoo had this description, particularly if Yoo was going to use a more restrained description of the practice in his memo (just as he did with his description of sleep deprivation and small box confinement)? Why didn’t they just use a description of what the Navy actually did? And where would JPRA have gotten that description? How did it happen that OLC ended up getting a description of waterboarding as it would ultimately be practiced?

There are a  number of possibilities: maybe JPRA got a hold of Mitchell and Jessen’s description of waterboarding as proposed and used that instead. Maybe CIA knew they were going to exceed the limits Yoo described in the memo.

Or, maybe JPRA somehow described waterboarding as it had already been applied to Abu Zubaydah.

I can’t yet prove which of those things happened. But I’d suggest that, now that others have decided to look at descriptions I’ve been writing about for 11 months, they also might want to look at this particular description, which in theory, at least, preceded the waterboarding purportedly authorized by the Bybee Memo six days later.

The DOD Techniques from Spring 2004

Yesterday when I raised the question of what techniques DOD wanted to use in spring 2004, I said there was some ambiguity about what DOD was trying to get approved. In this post I’m going to lay out the conflicting sources of information. Given the totality of information, though, it appears that what DOD asked to use in spring 2004 was extended isolation.

As you’ll recall, Jack Goldsmith originally told Jim Haynes not to rely on the March 2003 Yoo memo in late December 2003. But the OPR report describes a request to use some technique in early March 2004 that set off the more active withdrawal and replacement for the memo.

Here’s how Goldsmith describes his conversation with Haynes in December 2003 in Terror Presidency:

“Jim, I’ve got bad news,” I began. “We’ve discovered some errors in the March 2003 opinion that John wrote you on interrogation. The opinion is under review and should not be relied upon for any reason. The twenty-four techniques you approved are legal, but please come back for additional legal guidance before approving any other technique, and do not rely on the March 2003 opinion for any reason.”

Of those 24 techniques Goldsmith said he told Haynes were legal, Rummy had listed four (incentive/removal of incentive, pride and ego down, mutt and jeff, and isolation) that required advance notification (though not approval) from the Secretary of Defense.

The OPR Report described that conversation slightly differently.

Accordingly, Goldsmith telephoned Haynes in late December 2003 and told him that the Pentagon could no longer rely on the Yoo Memo, that no new interrogation techniques should be adopted without consulting OLC, and that the military could continue to use the noncontroversial techniques set forth in the Working Group Report, but that they should not use any of the techniques requiring Secretary of Defense approval without first consulting OLC.

The Working Group Report approved 26 techniques generally and another 9 in exceptional circumstances. Continue reading

Days after Taguba Reported Sadistic Criminal Abuse at Abu Ghraib, DOD Asked to Use More Torture

On March 13, 2004, according to the OPR Report, Jack Goldsmith and Patrick Philbin went to Jim Comey’s house on a Saturday to alert him of something. The military had contacted Goldsmith, wanting to use a more extreme form of torture against a detainee–something like isolation, waterboarding, water dousing, or death threats.* [Update: In this post I explain why I think DOD was requesting extended isolation.] But, as Goldsmith had told DOD General Counsel Jim Haynes the previous December, the March 2003 opinion Yoo wrote that authorized DOD’s use of such techniques was hopelessly flawed. Goldsmith wanted to explain the flaws of the memo to Comey to get his support for withdrawing the memo. Comey, who was then acting Attorney General (since John Ashcroft was in the ICU with pancreatitis), agreed with Goldsmith’s judgment and–the OPR Report explains–later got John Ashcroft to agree that “any problems with the analysis should be corrected.”

That meeting at Comey’s house took place just four days after Goldsmith and Comey refused to reauthorize the President’s illegal wiretapping program, just three days after Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card raced to the ICU to attempt to convince John Ashcroft to override Comey and reauthorize the program, just two days after Bush reauthorized the program without DOJ concurrence, and just one day after Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin threatened to quit if Bush didn’t make certain changes to the wiretap program.

The meeting also took place just four days after General Antonio Taguba issued a report finding that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees” at Abu Ghraib. Significantly, two of the allegations made against Americans by detainees that Taguba found to be credible–threatening detainees with a loaded pistol and pouring cold water on them–were among the four restricted torture methods that Haynes asked Goldsmith for authorization to use. While it’s not clear how much Goldsmith knew of DOD’s simmering torture problems (in Terror Presidency he said he didn’t learn of Abu Ghraib until it broke in April 2004, though aspects of his book clearly gloss then-classified events), Jim Haynes must have known about them.

The OPR Report doesn’t tell us how this conflict worked out–whether, in response to Goldsmith’s objections, DOD backed off its plans to torture a detainee or whether the White House overruled Goldsmith (or whether, as happened with a number of detainees, they used the technique before they asked to use it).

But we do know this occurred at a point when the White House was rejecting DOJ criticism of its counterterrorism programs. On March 11, in the context of the illegal wiretap program, Alberto Gonzales told Goldsmith that the President “had made an interpretation of law concerning his authorities and that DOJ should not act in contradiction of the President’s determinations.” And on March 16, again in the context of the illegal wiretap program, Gonzales had said,

While the President was, and remains, interested in any thoughts the Department of Justice may have on alternative ways to achieve the goals of the activities authorized by the Presidential authorization of March 11, 2004, the President has addressed definitively for the Executive Branch in the Presidential authorization the interpretation of the law.

In other words, at precisely this moment, the White House was telling DOJ–and Goldsmith and Comey specifically–that what they thought about the law was interesting, but in no way binding on the President. Indeed, Gonzales was telling these two men they had best not act counter to the will of the White House.

I’ll explain more how I think this resolved in later posts. But for now, realize that one response DOD made to the Abu Ghraib scandal was to ask for more torture.


*There is some ambiguity in the unclassified OPR Report about what range of techniques DOD was trying to use. In a later post I’ll show why I think it was one of the latter three techniques listed here: waterboarding, water dousing, or death threats. [Note, I now think the request was for extended use of isolation, as I explain in this post.]

Clarence Thomas’ Revenge

Rosalind linked to this LAT article describing Clarence Thomas’ pro-abuse views.

According to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a prisoner who was slammed to a concrete floor and punched and kicked by a guard after asking for a grievance form — but suffered neither serious nor permanent harm — has no claim that his constitutional rights were violated.

Thomas objected when the high court, in a little-noted recent opinion, said this unprovoked and malicious assault by a North Carolina prison guard amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

[snip]

According to Thomas, this harsh treatment did not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. “Judges — not jailers — impose punishment,” he wrote.

[Thomas and Scalia] explained that the word “punishment” as it was used in the English Bill of Rights in 1689 referred to judges imposing punishment for a crime. Prison guards do not impose “punishment” even if they mete out cruelty, they said.

The entire article is worth reading not just because it reveals where Thomas will weigh in if torture ever gets to SCOTUS.

But it highlights a point I noted (as did Citizen92): the degree to which Clarence Thomas’ former and future clerks implemented our country’s torture regime.

Page 25 to 27 (PDF page 31 to 33) of the OPR Report includes a section on the background of the lawyers who had significant hand in writing the torture memos:

John Yoo. Clerk, Clarence Thomas,1994 to 1995

Patrick Philbin, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 1993 to 1994

Jennifer Koester, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 2004 to 2005

Steven Bradbury, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 1992 to 1993

Of the list included on those pages, just Jack Goldsmith and Daniel Levin did not clerk for Thomas. And of course, the most egregious work came from lawyers–Yoo, Koester, and Bradbury–who were Thomas clerks.

This is one of the dangers of appointing a partisan hack like Thomas rather than radical, but intelligent, lawyers like Alito and Scalia. Because the partisan hack is going to launch a whole generation of lawyers (see also Citizen92′s focus on James Ho, who also went through OLC) who treat law like one big game of sophistry and human beings like objects into really prominent positions.

And I would bet that Clarence Thomas enjoys the little part he has had in shredding our country’s Constitution.

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