It’s Not Just that Levin Was Ousted–It’s Bradbury’s Trial Run on Torture

ABC reports something that had been somewhat clear for some time. Daniel Levin was ousted from the Office of Legal Counsel after he wrote a memo that limited the use of torture.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, now under investigation for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department, ousted a top lawyer for failing to adopt the administration’s position on torture and then promised him a position as a U.S. attorney to placate him, highly placed sources tell ABC News.

Gonzales, who was just taking over as attorney general, asked Justice Department lawyer Daniel Levin to leave in early 2005, shortly after Levin wrote a legal opinion that declared "torture is abhorrent" and limited the administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques.

At the time, Levin was in the middle of drafting a second, critical memo that analyzed the legality of specific interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.

Gonzales, however, was concerned about how it would be perceived if Levin were ousted immediately after issuing the opinion — and just before he finished another — so he offered Levin a less significant job outside the Department of Justice at the National Security Council, sources tell ABC News.


Levin took the NSC job in March 2005. The U.S. attorney position never materialized, and sources close to Levin say he never believed Gonzales was serious.

As ABC points out, Kyle Sampson floated Levin’s name to replace Kevin Ryan in San Francisco.

But what ABC only hints at is what happened next: the trial run of Stephen Bradbury for the position of OLC head. Within months after Levin was ousted, we know, Bradbury wrote three new memos on torture, endorsing the combined use of harsh techniques.

When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it. [my emphasis]

And see here for another of Bradbury’s early torture opinions.

As the NYT points out, Bradbury wrote these memos during a period that Harriet Miers considered a trial run for Bradbury, basically to see whether Bradbury would give the Administration precisely the opinions it wanted.

Among his first tasks at the Justice Department was to find a trusted chief for the Office of Legal Counsel. First he informed Daniel Levin, the acting head who had backed Mr. Goldsmith’s dissents and signed the new opinion renouncing torture, that he would not get the job. He encouraged Mr. Levin to take a position at the National Security Council, in effect sidelining him.

Mr. Bradbury soon emerged as the presumed favorite. But White House officials, still smarting from Mr. Goldsmith’s rebuffs, chose to delay his nomination. Harriet E. Miers, the new White House counsel, “decided to watch Bradbury for a month or two. He was sort of on trial,” one Justice Department official recalled.

So not only did the Administration oust Daniel Levin, knowing that he wouldn’t authorize torture for them, they held out a kind of quid pro quo to Bradbury, dangling the OLC nomination contingent on these new opinions authorizing inhumane treatment.

24 replies
  1. AZ Matt says:

    So, essentially Harriet was making DOJ decisons. Wasn’t she “political” being with the White House? Wasn’t AGAG “suppose” to be a firewall between the DOJ and outside influences? Just goes to show that the lawyers in the White House called the shots at DOJ.

  2. MarieRoget says:

    I guess this in large part accounts for the toe dance Levin was doing around the hearing questions re: his leaving OLC.

    As for Miers, AZ Matt, reading John McKay’s MTP account of her question to him regarding his application to be a Fed judge convinced me she was in the politicization of DoJ up to her neck.

  3. MarieRoget says:

    HJC/McC hearing starting up on CSPAN3. Looks like a full house & full court press from The Press.
    All our least favorite Repub committee members seem to be in attendance, too. Yippee.

    • emptywheel says:

      Christy is live-blogging, so I’m in the comments over there. Though I will note that in his statement, Conyers 1) started with the meat-grinder note, and 2) called for the FBI reports on the Bush Cheney interviews.

    • JTMinIA says:

      As Mr Lamar just said, I’m having a hard time taking today’s kabuki hearing seriously.

  4. drational says:

    Torture is, after all, the pleasure of the President.
    Why not let them apprentice to make sure there is no ethical behavior….

  5. bmaz says:

    Wasn’t it the LA USA job that was dangled?

    Gonzales then assured Levin he would, at some point, recommend him for a plum job as the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, sources tell ABC

    Here is the part that was goofy though

    Levin took the NSC job in March 2005. The U.S. attorney position never materialized…

    Um, well yeah, it did materialize (Yang), they just stiffed Levin for it; and worked pretty hard to do so I might add, because that office was left out on a limbo for a long time.

    • MarieRoget says:

      I’m wondering about this, too. Both Yang & Ryan’s jobs dangles as carrots @ different times maybe? Yang wasn’t “asked to resign” in 12/06, but her departure was suspicious because of Lewis investigation. Her new job seems to confirm that idea.

      Maybe Levin hadn’t written in blood he would keep it shut about why he was fired, so no plum USA position, although he did skirt the real reason for his firing in hearing this wk.

  6. JThomason says:

    Its the due process has Bush assured in the generation of legal opinions in the executive branch during his administration–give me the opinion I want and you get the job. Only problem is that it corrupts the ethical cannon requiring a lawyer to exercise an independent professional judgment.

  7. Mary says:

    Discussing the Boumediene decision and the same names keep coming up. Lederman seems to enthusiastically belive that now the govt will be more careful in who it kidnaps and buys and what it does to them after they’ve been disappeared. Berensen, with a much less naive take, mentions that yeah, there might be some changes in interrogation tactics, but drops the hint that the “where” of the interrogations may be the new focus.

    I’m also guessing the “disappearing of the evidence” of all the crimes is a big issue for the next few months too.

    And on FISA, I think it is pretty clear that Turley had it right. This is all about what Pelosi and Rockefeller knew, and when, and keeping it covered up. And Obama owes Pelosi and Rockefeller. YES WE CAN – – be criminals and get by with it.


    Bradbury is slime. Real slime. But then again, how do you differentiate him from all the thousands of DOJ employees who have, with revelation after revelation, never taken any steps of any kind to speak against what has been done for the better part of a decade now?

    JAG went to the NY bar, Cloonan and Coleman went public, JAG issued out memos, JAG officers publically gave torture as the grounds for refusing cases, and there were even rumblings on private and public fronts from State, with resigning diplomats issuing public letters and Taft waging direct head on battle before a more compliant and by then directly complicit)Bellinger took the helm.

    But in all these years, YEARS of non-stop, unrelenting, ceaseless torture and crime piled upon crime, where has there been one public protest by even one lawyer in DOJ? You would have thought that after the initial Gonzales torture memos testimony a few hundred AUSAs would have signed a joint letter to Congress asking that action be taken on torture and that a torture advocate plotting IN WRITING to try to use the political power of the Executive Branch to avoid War Crimes Act prosecutions not be made AG.

    You would have thought there might be one – even just one – letter of resignation where someone of conscience said they could not and would not work as a torture advocate.

    But there has never been one voice. Moral cowardice that is beyond startling.

    You would have thought that there might be at least one voice (and to be fair, there was finally, after all these years, the hint of that one voice from Levin when he alluded to a need to correct the record) to speak up when lie after lie was put before tribunal after tribunal; when lit holds and notices to preserve were deliberately not issued in the hopes of facilitiating destruction and when direct court orders where ignored and disobeyed with impunity.

    But there’s been nothing.

  8. Mary says:

    A bit of the Abramoff emails creeping out:…

    Mehlman, Rove, Hadley, Ralston et al working for Abramoff to get a guy at State removed because he was trying to improve the Mariannas situation. A odd email where it seems like a “colleague” of Abramoff/Rudy is actually worried that Ken Mehlman it going to have the State official murder and is relieved to find out “killed” only means “fired” And you have to figure that anything Hadley was working on, Rice was invovled in.

  9. Mary says:

    And isn’t it lovely to read Blunt bragging about all the lawsuits being dismissed and Bond crowing that the WH got a much better deal than they ever believed they could get this morning.

    Ah, the fresh smell of palmitoff in the morning.

  10. MarieRoget says:

    When the morally courageous start outing the realities of what BushCo authorized & chain of command of same, IMO they won’t come from inside DOJ, but from the ranks of retired intel professionals w/knowledge of everything that happened due to the nature of their work & their networks of contacts.

  11. al75 says:

    This puts W. very close to the torture program. Previously, I’d thought that Cheney + Rumsfeld were the major architects of all this. But Meirs is W.’s agent.

    • BayStateLibrul says:

      Just give Bushie retroactive immunity from torture.
      His blood is everywhichway.
      What the fuck will it take?
      We’ve got a statement from Gen Tagabu (sp)

  12. Mary says:

    16 – yeah, intel people have already come forward some already. The spooks, the soldiers, the diplomats – while the pockets of courage where smaller in some places than others, they existed everywhere but where they were needed most.

    Meanwhile, back when Hezbollah leader Mugniyah was assassinated, the US crowed and seemed interested in deliberately provoking the biggest and best organized terrorist group out there into taking actions to kill in revenge. Now it looks like the Bushies who wanted to poke Hezbollah until it poked back are going to get their wish.…..038;page=1

    “They want to kill as many people as they can, they want it to be a big splash,” said former CIA intelligence officer Bob Baer, who says he met with Hezbollah leaders in Beirut last month.

  13. WilliamOckham says:

    I wonder why this is appearing in the Washington Times:

    Cheney linked to torture tactics
    Leadership failed at top levels

    A former military officer who served as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday said Vice President Dick Cheney probably knew the U.S. military was using torture on Iraqi detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at prisons in Iraq.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    We know at least three things about this chain of events. One, the administration never “gives in” or changes tack, it never changes policy. Cheney refuses to; it’s part of his “I’m the boss, Go Cheney yourself,” mentality. Bush is too rigid to maneuver, confusing course with direction, and too dependent on Cheney to challenge him. Instead, they feint, go quiet for a time, then attack surreptitiously elsewhere. Much of that process seems to be in the capable hands of David Addington.

    Two, Gonzales is also a dependent personality. Addington was more White House Counsel than Gonzales; he just didn’t have the job title. That’s not a problem for those in Cheney’s shoppe; ordinarily, it’s an advantage, because it makes the real mover and shaker harder to spot. A very Oriental style.

    And three, Levin would have been astute not to believe Gonzales about the offer of a USA slot. Boss’ who fire subordinates over major differences in loyalty to essential people and policies (or who can distinguish between the two), do not reward them with independent positions of power elsewhere. The post at NSC, on the other hand, would have kept Levin well within the largely secret intelligence policy community, preventing him from speaking out, and kept him firmly under the observant thumb of Hadley, another Cheney minion.

    All in, tactically smart moves, all bent on securing torture’s central place in Cheney’s vision of the power of the presidency. The dozens of other top lawyers and policy makers who would have observed much of what was going on here would not have missed the signals. And they would have impressed their own networks about what got rewarded, what punished, and who was in charge.

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