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The Common Commercial Services OLC Opinion Affecting Cyber Policy Is Over a Decade Old

 

I’ve been meaning to go back to an exchange that occurred during Caroline Krass’ confirmation hearing to be CIA’s General Counsel back on December 17. In it, Ron Wyden raised a problematic OLC opinion he has mentioned in unclassified settings at least twice in the last year (he also wrote a letter to Eric Holder about it in summer 2012): once in a letter to John Brennan, where he described it as “an opinion that interprets common commercial service agreements [that] has direct relevance to ongoing congressional debates regarding cybersecurity legislation.” And then again in Questions for the Record in September.

Having been ignored by Eric Holder for at least a year and a half (probably closer to 3 years) on this front and apparently concerned about the memo as we continue to discuss legislation that pertains to cybersecurity, he used Krass’ confirmation hearing to get more details on why DOJ won’t withdraw the memo and what it would take to be withdrawn.

Wyden: The other matter I want to ask you about dealt with this matter of the OLC opinion, and we talked about this in the office as well. This is a particularly opinion in the Office of Legal Counsel I’ve been concerned about — I think the reasoning is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law and as I indicated I believe it needs to be withdrawn. As we talked about, you were familiar with it. And my first question — as I indicated I would ask — as a senior government attorney, would you rely on the legal reasoning contained in this opinion?

Krass: Senator, at your request I did review that opinion from 2003, and based on the age of the opinion and the fact that it addressed at the time what it described as an issue of first impression, as well as the evolving technology that that opinion was discussing, as well as the evolution of case law, I would not rely on that opinion if I were–

Wyden: I appreciate that, and again your candor is helpful, because we talked about this. So that’s encouraging. But I want to make sure nobody else ever relies on that particular opinion and I’m concerned that a different attorney could take a different view and argue that the opinion is still legally valid because it’s not been withdrawn. Now, we have tried to get Attorney General Holder to withdraw it, and I’m trying to figure out — he has not answered our letters — who at the Justice Department has the authority to withdraw the opinion. Do you currently have the authority to withdraw the opinion?

Krass: No I do not currently have that authority.

Wyden: Okay. Who does, at the Justice Department?

Krass: Well, for an OLC opinion to be withdrawn, on OLC’s own initiative or on the initiative of the Attorney General would be extremely unusual. That happens only in extraordinary circumstances. Normally what happens is if there is an opinion which has been given to a particular agency for example, if that agency would like OLC to reconsider the opinion or if another component of the executive branch who has been affected by the advice would like OLC to reconsider the opinion they will  come to OLC and say, look, this is why we think you were wrong and why we believe the opinion should be corrected. And they will be doing that when they have a practical need for the opinion because of particular operational activities that they would like to conduct. I have been thinking about your question because I understand your serious concerns about this opinion, and one approach that seems possible to me is that you could ask for an assurance from the relevant elements of the Intelligence Community that they would not rely on the opinion. I can give you my assurance that if I were confirmed I would not rely on the opinion at the CIA.

Wyden: I appreciate that and you were very straightforward in saying that. What concerns me is unless the opinion is withdrawn, at some point somebody else might be tempted to reach the opposite conclusion. So, again, I appreciate the way you’ve handled a sensitive matter and I’m going to continue to prosecute the case for getting this opinion withdrawn.

The big piece of news here — from Krass, not Wyden — is that the opinion dates to 2003, which dates it to the transition period bridging Jay Bybee/John Yoo and Jack Goldsmith’s tenure at OLC, and also the period when the Bush Administration was running its illegal wiretap program under a series of dodgy OLC opinions. She also notes that it was a memo on first impression — something there was purportedly no law or prior opinion on — on new technology.

Yet for some reason, it was not among the opinions Goldsmith chose to withdraw in 2004 (assuming he didn’t write it), nor will Eric Holder even respond to questions about why he won’t withdraw it now.

I wonder if Wyden has asked whether some opinion written since that time relies back on that 2003 opinion, just as the illegal wiretap programs relied back on Yoo’s Fourth Amendment stripping one?

How David Addington Hid the Document Implicating George Bush in Illegal Wiretapping

On December 16 and December 20, 2005, respectively — just days after the NYT revealed its existence — EPIC and ACLU FOIAed DOJ for documents relating to George Bush’s (really, Dick Cheney’s) illegal wiretap program (National Security Archive also FOIAed, though more narrowly). Among other documents, they requested, “any presidential order(s) authorizing the NSA to engage in warrantless electronic surveillance.” Yet in spite of the fact that the ACLU was eventually able to get DOJ to cough up some of the OLC memos that provided a legal rationale for the program, no presidential order was ever turned over. I don’t believe (though could be mistaken) it was even disclosed in declarations submitted by Steven Bradbury in the suit.

There’s a very good (and, sadly, legal) reason for that. According to the 2009 NSC draft IG report the Guardian released yesterday, it’s not clear DOJ ever had the Authorization. The White House is exempt from FOIA, and it’s likely that NSA could have withheld the contents of the Director’s safe from any FOIA, which is where the hard copy of the Authorization was kept.

It’s worth looking more closely at how David Addington guarded the Authorization, because it provides a lesson in how a President can evade all accountability for unleashing vast powers against Americans, and how the National Security establishment will willingly participate in such a scheme without ensuring what they’re doing is really legal.

The IG report describes the initial Authorization this way:

On 4 October 2001, President George W. Bush issued a memorandum entitled “AUTHORIZATION FOR SPECIFIED ELECTRONIC ACTIVITIES DURING A LIMITED PERIOD TO DETECT AND PREVENT ACTS OF TERRORISM WITHIN THE UNITED STATES.” The memorandum was based on the President’s determination that after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, an extraordinary emergency existed for national defense purposes.

[snip]

The authorization specified that the NSA could acquire the content and associated metadata of telephony and Internet communications for which there was probable cause to believe that one of the communicants was in Afghanistan or that one communicant was engaged in or preparing for acts of international terrorism. In addition, NSA was authorized to acquire telephone and Internet metadata for communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States. NSA was allowed to retain, process, analyze and disseminate intelligence from the communications acquired under the authority.

And while the NSA IG report doesn’t say it, the Joint IG Report on the program (into which this NSA report was integrated) reveals these details:

Each of the Presidential Authorizations included a finding to the effect that an extraordinary emergency continued to exist, and that the circumstances “constitute an urgent and compelling governmental interest” justifying the activities being authorized without a court order.

Each Presidential authorization also included a requirement to maintain the secrecy of the activities carried out under the program.

David Addington’s illegal program

While the Joint report obscures all these details, the NSA IG report makes clear that Dick Cheney and David Addington were the braintrust behind the program.

The Counsel to the Vice President used [a description of SIGINT collection gaps provided by Michael Hayden] to draft the Presidential authorization that established the PSP.

Neither President Bush nor White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote this Authorization. David Addington did. Read more

Ben Wittes Relies on Obviously False Document to Claim Other Document False

For those coming from Wittes’ so-called response to my post, here’s my response to that response, which shows that Wittes effectively cedes the point that Fredman’s memo is dishonest. 

In a post subtitled “Just Shut Up About Jonathan Fredman” (really!) Ben Wittes argues we should not hold former CIA Counterterrorism Center lawyer Jonathan Fredman responsible for paraphrases attributed to him in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture because Fredman wrote a memo claiming he didn’t say those things and because he’s a career official, not a political appointee.

Fredman is a personal friend of mine, but this is getting ridiculous. It’s one thing to hold political appointees responsible for the things they did, said, and wrote. It’s quite another thing to hold career officials accountable for things they didn’t say, do, or write.

Now, in point of fact, Fredman’s memo does not deny saying “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” He says,

Those notes, which were misleadingly labeled by their author as “minutes,” to the best of my knowledge were never circulated for comment and contain several serious misstatements of fact. Those misstatements were then compounded by the false allegation at the hearing that the so-called minutes contained quotations from me; the first page of those so-called minutes themselves expressly states that “all questions and comments have been paraphrased” — and, I might add, paraphrased sloppily and poorly.

And,

I expressly warned that should a detainee die as a result of a violation, the responsible parties could be sentenced to capital punishment.

And,

I noted that if a detainee dies in custody, there will and should be a full investigation of the facts and circumstances leading to the death.

And,

I again emphasized that all interrogation practices and legal guidance must not be based upon anyone’s subjective perception; rather, they must be based upon definitive and binding legal analysis from the Department of Justice;

And, after specifically asserting the paraphrase about the Istanbul conference is inaccurate, Fredman concludes,

I did not say the obscene things that were falsely attributed to me at the Senate hearing, nor did I make the absurd comment about Turkey that the author similarly misrepresented. The so-called minutes misstate the substance, content, and meaning of my remarks; I am pleased to address the actions that I did undertake, and the statements that I did make.

Now perhaps Fredman includes “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong,” in his reference to “obscene things,” but he doesn’t specifically say so.

Funny, isn’t it? That a lawyer would write a 6-page memo purportedly denying he said something really outrageous, but never get around to actually denying the statement in question, even while specifically denying another one?

Yet Wittes tells us to shut up shut up shut up about his friend, based on that non-denial denial.

Now, in a twitter exchange about Fredman, Wittes assured me he read both the SASC report and the OPR report on torture. So either he’s a very poor reader, or he doesn’t want to talk about how disingenuous it has since become clear Fredman’s memo was.

The rest of the memo is, by itself, proof that Fredman misrepresents his own actions relating to torture.

Read more

Steven Bradbury’s Revenge

Since I noted in August 2011 that Mitt had named two torture architects to his legal advisory committee (Tim Flanigan and Steve Bradbury), I have had zero doubt that Mitt would embrace torture if he were President. So Charlie Savage’s story–reporting on a September 2011 memo confirming that fact–wasn’t surprising in the least to me. Here’s the key recommendation from the memo:

Governor Romney has consistently supported enhanced interrogation techniques. Governor Romney is also on record as stating that he does not believe it is wise for him, as a presidential candidate, to describe precisely which techniques he would use in interrogating detainees. The combination of these two positions, as well as the information presented above, leads to two principal options in this area for his campaign.

The first option is that Governor Romney could pledge that upon taking office, he will rescind and replace President Obama’ s Executive Order restricting government interrogators to the Army Field Manual. Consistent with the authority reserved for the President under the Military Commissions Act, he could commit his Administration to authorizing (classified) enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal, and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives. But because President Obama’s release of the OLC memos has reduced the number of available techniques that meet these criteria, Governor Romney should not commit in advance to a timetable for implementing this plan; it may well take time to identify potential techniques and analyze their effectiveness and legality.

[snip]

The Subcommittee recommends the first option. Governor Romney has recognized for years that the sounder policy outcome is the revival of the enhanced interrogation program. And a reluctance by the Governor to expressly endorse such an outcome during the campaign could become a self-fulfilling prophecy once he takes office by signaling to the bureaucracy that this is not a deeply-felt priority. [my emphasis]

Mitt is pro-torture. We knew that, and he hasn’t hidden that fact.

But there are a couple of details about this that are curious.

First, note the language here. The advisors worry that if Mitt doesn’t explicitly endorse getting back into the torture business during the election, he might not do so. They want to force his hand before he’s elected to make sure he’ll carry through.

That is not the language of advisors. It’s the language of puppet-masters (though I’m sure the equivalent memos from inside the Obama camp aren’t much different). That is, the legal advice here is designed not so much to provide the best advice (if it were, then the support used in the memo wouldn’t be such discredited propaganda). Rather, it is to force Mitt’s hand in the eventuality he becomes President.

The other interesting aspect of this are the people. Savage provides this list of the advisors, in addition to Steven Bradbury, in the loop on this memo (he notes that it’s unclear whether they have bought off on the advice).

The list also included Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary; Cully Stimson, the Pentagon’s detainee policy chief; and many other Bush-era executive branch veterans: Bradford Berenson, Elliot S. Berke, Todd F. Braunstein, Gus P. Coldebella, Jimmy Gurule, Richard D. Klingler, Ramon Martinez, Brent J. McIntosh, John C. O’Quinn, John J. Sullivan, Michael Sullivan and Alex Wong. Three others — Lee A. Casey, Maureen E. Mahoney and David B. Rivkin Jr. — served in earlier Republican administrations.

First, note where Savage starts this list: Michael Chertoff, who as Criminal Division head in 2002 refused to give Bush’s torturers an advance declination on prosecution. That refusal ultimately led to the contorted form of the original Yoo memos authorizing torture. If Chertoff supports this policy (Savage’s caveat noted), then it’s a pretty clear indication that Chertoff was cautious in 2002 because people like Ali Soufan were running around saying mock burial was torture, and not because he had any qualms about torture himself. That’s not surprising in the least, but still worth noting.

Maureen Mahoney (who defended Jay Bybee in the OPR investigation) and David Rivkin (who defended Rumsfeld in civil suits for torture) have also backed their earlier legal representation with their own reputation (or lack thereof).

Finally, note who’s not on this list: Tim Flanigan, who with Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney, and David Addington, was one of the most central architects of torture and other illegal counterterrorism approaches.

It’s sort of odd that Mitt advisor Tim Flanigan, one of the original architects of torture, wasn’t the one leading this effort last year.

Jay Bybee Wrote Memo Permitting Broad Sharing of Intelligence-Related Grand Jury Information

In March 2011, I noted a previously unreleased OLC memo mentioned in Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 illegal wiretapping memo seemingly giving the President broad authority to learn about grand jury investigations.

For example, this Office has concluded that, despite statutory restrictions upon the use of Title III wiretap information and restrictions on the use of grand jury information under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), the President has an inherent constitutional authority to receive all foreign intelligence information in the hands of the government necessary for him to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities and that statutes and rules should be understood to include an implied exception so as not to interfere with that authority. See Memorandum for the Deputy Attorney General from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Effect of the Patriot Act on Disclosure to the President and Other Federal Officials of Grand Jury and Title III Information Relating to National Security and Foreign Affairs 1 (July 22, 2002)

The Brennan Center has now liberated that memo (though they don’t yet have it linked). And it shows that in July 2002, Jay Bybee interpreted a section of the PATRIOT Act that expanded information-sharing to include sharing grand jury information, with no disclosure, with the President and his close aides.

The notion that grand jury testimony should be secret dates back to at least the seventeenth century. The rules governing disclosure of grand jury proceedings are set by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; prior to the PATRIOT Act, those rules declared that grand jury information could be shared only under certain circumstances, such as when the material was necessary to assist a prosecutor. However, disclosures had to be reported to a judge, and everyone receiving the information had to be told of its confidentiality.

The PATRIOT Act changed these rules significantly. Government lawyers could now share “any grand-jury matter involving foreign intelligence, counterintelligence …, or foreign intelligence information” with nearly any federal official, including those working in law enforcement, intelligence, immigration, national defense, or national security. Even records about a grand jury’s deliberations or a particular grand juror’s vote were apparently fair game. And the standard for sharing the information was not whether the material was “necessary” to the official’s duties; instead, the information need only “assist” the official in some way.

[snip]

First, although the rule expressly requires that disclosures of grand jury information be reported to the court, Bybee advised that disclosures to the president need not be reported lest they “infringe on the presumptively confidential nature of presidential communications.” (OLC had previously decided that similar disclosures to the president would be reportable in some circumstances but not in others.)  In addition, disclosures to the president’s “close advisors” – including the president’s chief of staff, the vice president, and counsel to the president – could be kept secret as well. While only “information that is actually necessary for the President to discharge his constitutional duties” could be secretly disclosed to the president or his advisors, that requirement is highly unlikely to be tested in practice.

Permitting the content of deliberations or a grand juror’s vote to be shared secretly with the vice president is surprising enough.  The memo goes much further, however.  Once an attorney for the government has shared grand jury information with anyone – the president, one of his close advisors, or any other federal official whose duties are listed above – the person receiving the information can share it with anyone else without reporting to the court.  That later disclosure, according to the memo’s crabbed reasoning, is not a disclosure “under” the rule, and therefore is not bound by the reporting requirement.

And there’s more: the recipient of one of those subsequent distributions can use the information for any purpose.  Because these down-the-line releases are not technically disclosures “under” the rule, the “official duties” constraint does not apply.

I’ll have more to say about this once I get the memo.

But imagine how it might be used in, say, the Valerie Plame or the Thomas Drake investigations. They were, after all, investigations about the unauthorized disclosure of foreign intelligence information. They also happened to be investigations into Dick Cheney’s law-breaking, but they were ostensibly about leaks of precisely the kind of information Jay Bybee permitted be shared with the President and … the Vice President. And in the case of the Plame leak, once Cheney got a hold of the information, he could share it with Karl Rove who could do whatever the fuck he wanted with it.

Mind you, once Pat Fitzgerald got put in charge, I doubt such sharing happened on the Plame case–at least not before August 2005, when Jim Comey retired. After that, who’s to say what David Margolis, the master of institutional self-preservation, might have done with grand jury information implicating top White House officials?

And, yes, by all appearances, this memo remains operative.

Update: Here’s the memo. And here’s the operative passage:

 Although the new provision in Rule 6(e) requires that any such disclosures be reported to the district court responsible for supervising the grand jury, disclosures made to the President fall outside the scope of the reporting requirement contained in that amendment, as do related subsequent disclosures made to other officials on the President’s behalf.

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.

Jose Rodriguez’ Mushroom Cloud of Torture

I suspect it will be a full time job keeping up with all the Jose Rodriguez’ lies we’ll hear as he sells his book and his excuse for torture. But for the moment, look at this detail:

Jose Rodriguez: We were flooded with intelligence about an imminent attack. That al Qaeda had an anthrax program, and that they were planning to use it against us. And that they were seeking nuclear materials to use in some type of nuclear weapon. So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation and we were very concerned.

I’ll come back to the anthrax later. But note that Rodriguez claims that we had to use torture because Al Qaeda was seeking nukes to use in some type of weapon.

In part, Rodriguez is doing the same thing Maureen Mahoney did when trying to protect Jay Bybee: pointing to intelligence Abu Zubaydah gave up under torture–regarding a Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot–as justification for the torture of AZ to get that same information.

But it also highlights how this program was designed to obtain false confessions. Here is Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri’s description of how his torturers invited him to give a false confession about nukes.

Number six. Usama bin Laden having a nuclear bomb. [REDACTED]. Then they used to laugh. Then they used to tell me you need to admit to those information. So I used to invent some of the stuff for them to say Usama bin laden had a, had a nuclear bomb. And they use to laugh and they were very happy. They were extremely happy because of the news. Then after that I told them, listen. He has no bomb. [my emphasis]

Jose Rodriguez says we had to torture because there were rumors of nukes (the same apparently unfounded claim the current Administration uses to justify drone strikes). Nashiri reveals that his torturers told him he had to confirm that rumor.

When he did, they laughed.

Did they need to torture because they had rumors of nukes? Or did they need to torture because they needed claims of nukes?

CIA’s NSC’s President’s Torture Program'>The CIA’s NSC’s President’s Torture Program

One more diversionary post before I delve into why the Administration is so worried about releasing a short phrase that, I suspect, acknowledges that George Bush’s September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.

National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration supporting Administration efforts to keep the authorization behind the torture program secret

I want to reflect on what it means that then-National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration–sometime in Fall 2009–to keep this short phrase hidden. The government revealed that, though without hinting at what Jones had to say, in the October 29, 2009 closed hearing with Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

MR, LANE . We think the first Issue before we get to documents is your Honor had asked us to specifically identify the second declarant. There is a second declaration in this case. And we wanted to put that on the record that that declaration is from James L. Jones, Assistant to the President for National Security and National Security Advisor,

AUSA Sean Lane then goes on to make clear that Jones’ declaration argues why Hellerstein should withhold the few word acknowledgment that the Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.

THE COURT: Both [Jones’ declaration and a second sealed one from CIA Associate Information Review Office Wendy Hilton] support the argument for maintenance of the redactions.
MR. LANE: Correct, your Honor. They both address what the government ties been calling “the Intelligence method” withheld from the two OLC memos, and the Court has been referring to as “The source of the CIA’s authority.”

So it’s not just that–as I inaccurately suggested the other day–that the CIA is trying to keep this short phrase noting that the President authorized the torture program secret. The National Security Advisor–for all intents and purposes, the President himself–is going to some lengths to keep that phrase secret as well.

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Columnist Endorses War Crimes Against al Qaeda Because They Murdered a Journalist

I had never heard of Alex Beam before today, but his column in today’s Boston Globe crossed my email (h/t dakine01) and I am still fuming at his cavalier endorsement of war crimes. Perhaps even more infuriating, though, is that Beam’s endorsement of war crimes is an aside tossed in while Beam is making an argument with which I otherwise agree.

Beam’s central point, as he suggests in his title for the column,”A double standard on war crimes?”, is that while John Yoo has been widely vilified for his role in authoring the OLC memos that authorized torture, David Barron and  Martin Lederman haven’t been attacked nearly as aggressively for authoring the OLC memos under which Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was killed in Yemen.  My only quibble with that point is that Beam’s roster for the torture memos should be expanded to also include at least Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury.  His argument:

So, which is the greater crime against the Constitution that all three men swore to uphold? Waterboarding Al Qaeda suspects or killing US citizens? Yoo has been vilified from Marin County to Munich for his legal opinion. If the Obama lawyers are facing job loss or tenure revocation, I haven’t heard about it. This is not a subject they care to discuss.

Beam relies on Mary Ellen O’Connell of Notre Dame to further his argument:

“I do think the two cases call for a different level of criticism,’’ she says. “Isn’t killing worse than torture? Even if the arguments to support torture are weaker arguments, it seems to me that the US should err on the side of the strictest compliance of the law when it comes to taking somebody’s life.’’

Where is the outrage, I asked? It won’t come from the right, she pointed out, “because the policies that Obama is pursuing are basically the same policies that Bush pursued.’’ So where are the principled men and women of the left? “Some of the people who criticized Yoo and his colleagues are in the administration,’’ she answered. “Marty Lederman was a critic of John Yoo, and now he’s writing the memos. So he’s not going to criticize himself.’’

I agree that Lederman and Barron should be subjected to the same level of criticism as Yoo (and Bybee and Bradbury), although I’m less inclined to make a distinction between the crimes of murder and torture.  I find both equally heinous and never justified under any conditions.  As O’Connell points out, the torture arguments likely were much farther outside the law than the extrajudicial execution arguments, but I still can’t join her in making killing artificially a higher crime than torturing.

But here is the jaw-dropping problem with Beam’s column.  Just a bit over halfway through the column, we get this paragraph:

Two points. First, I’m all for waterboarding Al Qaeda bad guys, and the disappearance of al-Awlaki and his ilk by whatever means necessary bothers me not a whit. Read more

Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi Investigations: The New Information

In his announcement that John Durham is investigating the deaths by torture of two CIA detainee, Eric Holder suggested that John Durham reviewed information that had not been reviewed by the prosecutors who had earlier declined to prosecute the cases.

That review included both information and matters that had never previously been examined by the Department.

He implied that one source of that new information might be some of the reports–among other things, the CIA IG Report and the OPR Report.

He identified the matters to include within his review by examining various sources including the Office of Professional Responsibility’s report regarding the Office of Legal Counsel memoranda related to enhanced interrogation techniques, the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report on enhanced interrogations, additional matters investigated by the CIA Office of Inspector General, the February 2007 International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody, and public source information.

I wanted to look at what that new information might be.

Manadel al-Jamadi

The AP advances the issue in the case of Manadel al-Jamadi by reporting on what Lynndie England and other Abu Ghraib testified about at their grand jury appearance earlier this month (England’s testimony was first reported by Jane). Of note, the prosecutor asked who put al-Jamadi in the stress position that ultimately ended up effectively crucifying him–and asked questions about a hood that “disappeared.”

Another person who testified told the AP that prosecutors asked about a hood placed over al-Jamadi’s head that later disappeared and who shackled al-Jamadi’s arms behind his back and bound them to a barred window. This witness requested anonymity to avoid being connected publicly with the case.

As a threshold matter, if this person offered some new insight into the people personally involved in al-Jamadi’s asphyxiation–perhaps something that had been reflected in the IG report–then it might constitute new information. There’s also the question of how al-Jamadi’s treatment exceeded the torture John Yoo authorized; both the type of stress position used and the hood might qualify (and the importance of it would be reflected in the 2007 ICRC Report). We know, for example, that on May 26, 2010, Jay Bybee told the House Judiciary Committee that the CIA had not asked about–and so the Bybee Memo had not addressed–whether shackling someone to the ceiling fit the memo’s definition of a stress position.

Jerrold Nadler: Does Bybee Memo 2 or any other legal advice you gave at OLC authorize shackling a detainee to a hook in the ceiling as was described in my earlier question?

Jay Bybee: I don’t recall that any place in Bybee Memo 2 that we have addressed the question of shackling. So I don’t think it was one of the assumptions on which the CIA requested our advice. (Page 85-86)

So one new piece of evidence is Bybee’s testimony that he–and therefore Yoo–did not approve the crucifixion-type stress position that contributed to al-Jamadi’s death.

But that disappearing hood is worth noting by itself–it reflects an intent to cover up the crime.

Gul Rahman

I’m more interested in the possibly new information about Gul Rahman, because some reporting I’ve done reflects why DOJ revisited some of this.

As I noted here, amidst a discussion about prosecution declinations on PDF 72 of the second draft of the OPR Report, the OPR recommended reopening a specific declination because of the changed legal landscape.

The EDVA Memorandum was issued after the Bybee Memo had been publicly withdrawn, but before the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan. Accordingly. the prosecutors may have relied upon OLC’s erroneous determination that the War Crimes Act did not apply to suspected terrorists held abroad. We found no indication, however, that the EDVA declination decisions were revisited after Hamdan. In reviewing the declination decisions, the Department will have to determine whether prior OLC opinions and executive orders bar prosecution of these matters.

Now, this reference might refer to the death threats used with Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri (which today’s announcement suggests have been dropped), because that’s what the discussion preceding the four redacted pages immediately preceding this discussion treats. But we know from a footnote in Jay Bybee’s Second Response to the report that page 92 of the IG Report–that is, at least part of the second page of redaction–refers to the CIA’s argument that Rahman’s death shouldn’t be prosecuted, so it may well be Rahman. In any case, what’s key is that the OPR Report notes the EDVA’s reliance on OLC’s claim that crimes committed overseas couldn’t be prosecuted to be false.

That’s not the only “new” jurisdictional issue addressing whether crimes against Rahman could be prosecuted.

As I have written at length, the Bullet Point document–which appears to have been drafted as part of CIA’s information collection process in response to the IG Report and used as part of the declination process–also directly addressed whether crimes committed in the process of torture could be prosecuted. And one of the things included in it was the claim that no ordinary crimes (like negligent homicide, which would be relevant to Rahman’s death) could be prosecuted.

And in August 10, 2009. the 4th Circuit made it clear in David Passaro’s case that the Asadabad Firebase counted as a military mission at which US law applied. That’s precisely the kind of jurisdictional issue prosecutors used to decline the case in the past.

CIA officials referred the Salt Pit case to the Justice Department five years ago. Prosecutors concluded at the time that the Afghan prison was outside the reach of U.S. law, even though the CIA funded it and vetted its home-country guards.

Given that EDVA is in the same circuit, and given that Asadabad was less established than the Salt Pit, the fairly broad reading of this jurisdictional issue in Passaro’s case may impact Gul Rahman’s.

But the Bullet Point document is interesting for another reason that may pertain to Rahman’s death: because Rahman was reportedly water doused. Particularly given Holder’s emphasis on Yoo’s approvals, it’s relevant that the CIA stuck water dousing into the Bullet Point documents, after Rahman’s death, to suggest OLC had approved it as a torture technique.

But they hadn’t.

Which Bybee confirmed when he testified to HJC.

Nadler: Did Bybee Memo 2 or any other legal advice you gave at OLC authorize dousing detainees with cold water to keep them awake?

Bybee: Dousing with cold water was not one of the techniques that we were asked about in Bybee 2.

Nadler: So the answer is “no”?

Bybee: That’s right. (Page 104)

A full understanding of the Bullet Point documents, if the prosecutors didn’t already have one, would be one new factor making it possible to charge for water dousing and the subsequent death. But Bybee’s testimony would confirm that water dousing was not included in the Bybee Memos.

There’s some more, which I’ll get to in a subsequent post or three.

But for now, it looks like Durham has a few new details, a changed legal framework (because of Hamdan and, in Rahman’s case, possibly because of Passaro), and Jay Bybee’s testimony making it clear that the stress position and the water dousing that led to these detainees’ deaths had not been approved by OLC.