Reminder: Bybee Was Too Busy Protecting Big Oil to Oversee Torture

Jay Bybee just gave a speech at University of Utah on the Constitution at which he tried to claim the torture memos that bear his name included constraints that no one else has been able to find.

One middle-aged man stood to the side of the classroom with a sign reading “Torture Is a War Crime.” A woman of a similar age next to him tried to ask Bybee about executive branch power and “the secret torture of Muslims.” The moderator from the Federalist Society cut her off before she finished the question.

“That question is way beyond my ability to predict,” Bybee then replied.


After the question-and-answer period, Irvine approached Bybee and tried to ask more about the memos.

Bybee pointed to a section in one memo telling the CIA that if the facts change, to notify the Justice Department for an updated opinion. Bybee also invited Irvine to his offices in Las Vegas to discuss the issue further.

Irvine said he would visit Bybee the next time he is in Las Vegas.

Irvine said moments later that the speech didn’t make him feel better about the memos, though he found it interesting when Bybee described the constrictions on presidential power.

“That is not what I read in that [2002] memo,” Irvine said.

It’s worth remembering, however, that Bybee claims — and the record supports his claim — that he wasn’t all that involved in writing the torture memos that bear his name. According to his own attorney, Maureen Mahoney, he swooped into the memo-writing process just weeks before they were finalized.

The reason she gave for why Bybee was so uninvolved in the nitty gritty of rubber stamping torture is worth noting. Jay Bybee was too busy protecting the secrecy of Cheney’s sweetheart Energy Task Force to oversee his nominal subordinate John Yoo on torture.

I wanted to draw attention to a footnote she includes to–apparently–explain that Jay Bybee was a very busy man at the time when he was supposed to be overseeing John Yoo’s attempts to legalize torture in the summer of 2002. (This is on PDF page 19)

Judge Bybee’s role in reviewing the memo began in earnest around mid-July, roughly two weeks before he signed them.5

5 During the summer of 2002, in addition to his work on national security issues, Judge Bybee, as head of OLC, was also heavily involved in a number of other difficult and pressing legal matters. Of particular note, Judge Bybee was engaged in the district court litigation in Walker v. Cheney, No. 02-340 (DD.C.). The attorneys in that case were working closely with the Department’s Civil Division and the Solicitor General’s Office. The legal issues involved in the case were peculiarly within Judge Bybee’s expertise because his scholarly research had been cited as authority by both sides. See Jay S. Bybee, Advising the President: Separation a/Powers and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 104 Yale L.J. 51 (1994).

Walker v. Cheney, of course, is the suit the GAO took against Cheney’s office to try to force it to turn over documents relating to his Energy Task Force. After District Court Judge John Bates ruled against GAO in December 2002, it ended one of the more important efforts to subject Cheney’s office to Congressional oversight. Furthermore, this effort must be regarded as Cheney’s first attempt to assert that his was a Fourth Branch, exempt from oversight but also executive regulation.

How interesting, then, that Mahoney highlighted Bybee’s role in helping Cheney succeed in winning this suit to argue that Jay Bybee was doing what he should have been doing in summer 2002.

All one OLC office’s work of expanding Executive Authority to coddle corporations and torture prisoners.


Maureen Mahoney’s Dirty Bomb Blows Up

Back in 2010, I pointed out a key problem with Jay Bybee lawyer Maureen Mahoney’s defense of Bybee’s endorsement of the torture memos.

Mahoney spends three pages of her response (PDF pages 81 to 84) trying to justify the Bybee Memo’s unsupported reliance on a ticking time bomb scenario. After spending most of the discussion focusing on whether self-defense was viable in court (asserting, “the Memo’s intended audience would have been well aware that a ticking time bomb scenario had yet not been tested in the U.S. courts”), Mahoney tries to refute the OPR Report’s argument that the ticking time bomb scenario was not a real world scenario.

OPR states that the Memo should have discussed a real world situation in which a defendant could prove that he reasonably anticipated that torture would produce information directly responsible for preventing an immediate impending attack. But see id. at 31 n.17 (mentioning the ticking time bomb scenario as precisely such a real world situation)46

Which connects to this footnote.

Indeed, the OLC attorneys working on the 2002 Memo had been briefed on the apprehension of Jose Padilla on May 8, 2002. Padilla was believed to have built and planted a dirty bomb-a radiological weapon which combines radioactive material with conventional explosives-in New York City. It is easy for OPR, seven years removed from the horror of 9/11 to scoff at the notion of a ticking time bomb scenario, but the context in which these memos were written simply cannot be forgotten.

In other words, Maureen Mahoney, with a metaphorical straight face, points to the claim that Jose Padilla had “was believed to have built and planted a dirty bomb” to support her claim that the ticking time bomb is a realistic scenario!

Jose Padilla, of course, was arrested based on claims made by Abu Zubaydah. The dirty bomb claim–particularly the claim that Padilla had planted a dirty bomb, as opposed to just discussed the idea with Abu Zubaydah–seems to have come as a result of Abu Zubaydah’s torture. That torture was retroactively authorized by a memo signed by Maureen Mahoney’s client.

And now Mahoney is using evidence derived from that torture to argue that the claims in that memo were justified.

That’s one of the claims the Torture Report debunks.

This information was inaccurate. (181)

The Abu Zubaydah section makes clear he never believed Jose Padilla could carry out a dirty bomb attack.

Abu Zubaydah stated he did not believe the plan was viable and did not know the names of the two individuals, but provided physical descriptions of the pair. This information was acquired after Abu Zubaydah was confronted with emails indicating that he had sent the two individuals to KSM. (29)

The apologists want credit for this because it happened after AZ had begun to be subjected to sensory deprivation.

So even the torture apologists point to the ticking time bomb as a success, but in pointing to it they point to a warning that it wasn’t really a plot.

Which it wasn’t.


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.


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.

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?

The Government Makes No Claim Abu Zubaydah Had Knowledge of Impending Terrorist Plans

There’s one more really incendiary passage from the government’s response to Abu Zubaydah’s request for more information in his habeas petition (see here, here, and here for more on this document). In response to a request for evidence indicating that Abu Zubaydah had no knowledge of pending terrorist attacks when he was captured in 2002, the government responds that they have not contended, in this proceeding, that he did have such knowledge.

The Government also has not contended in this proceeding that at the time of his capture, Petitioner had knowledge of any specific impending terrorist operations other than his own thwarted plans. Accordingly, there is no reason or basis to compel the Government to search for information indicating that Petitioner had no knowledge of such impending terrorist operations, as Petitioner requests in his Request No. 66.

Now, let’s be clear what this statement is not: it’s not an admission that the government knows AZ didn’t know of any pending terrorist attacks. By limiting their statement to AZ’s habeas petition–to their legal claim at the moment describing why they’re detaining him–they also limit their admission. That is, they may now believe that AZ didn’t know about any further terrorist attacks. Or they may still believe that AZ had knowledge of pending attacks, but can’t use that claim because they either have no untainted evidence to support it or doing so would too quickly rely on AZ’s tortured statements.

So while this is not a full admission that AZ didn’t know of any pending terrorist attacks, it is a pretty good sign that the government either can’t or doesn’t want to defend that claim.

Compare the caution about making such a claim with the claims made in another legal document submitted last year, the very first passage in Jay Bybee’s first response to the OPR report (Bybee submitted this on May 4, 2009, so a full month after the government submitted Abu Zubaydah’s factual return, though there’s no reason to believe Bybee would have known the content of the factual return).

Six months after the September 11,2001 attacks, United States forces captured top al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah. Because Zubaydah had assumed the role of chief military planner for al Qaeda, he possessed critical imminent threat information. In particular, the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) determined that Zubaydah had information about a “second wave” of devastating attacks targeting, among other things, the tallest building in Los Angeles.

According to Jay Bybee–the guy who signed off on AZ’s torture–AZ “possessed” critical intelligence. He states this with no caveats.

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Abu Zubaydah’s Torturers Relied on July 13 Yoo Fax, not Bybee Memo

There’s an astounding passage in Bybee’s Second Response to the OPR Report that reveals that Abu Zubaydah’s torturers relied on a July 13, 2002 memo Yoo sent to John Rizzo, rather than the Bybee One Memo, for their general torture authorization.

In a passage attempting to refute OPR’s assertion that the Bybee Memo was written so vaguely it could easily be misinterpreted, Jay Bybee’s lawyer, Maureen Mahoney, examines a set of documents the CIA wrote about torture to show (she claims) that CIA never misinterpreted “OLC’s advice,” including the Bybee One Memo. It’s clear that the documents she refers to include at least CIA’s own Interrogation Guidelines, the Bullet Points written to summarize OLC’s advice, the declination memo the Counterterrorism Center wrote in the Salt Pit killing, and a memo Jonathan Fredman, CTC’s top lawyer, wrote to the Abu Zubaydah interrogation team.

Here’s how she describes the Fredman memo:

In addition, the documents OPR uses to reveal the CIA’s understanding of the standards in the Bybee Memo (e.g., Report at 65-66) do not suggest there was any misinterpretation going on. As shown in subsequent sections, these documents (which Bybee never wrote or saw) were actually correct statements of the law. [Redacted] memo to the Abu Zubaydah interrogation team, for instance, which quoted from Yoo’s July 13, 2002 fax to Rizzo, provided a correct summary of the specific intent element. Report at 66; infra Section N.A. It is correct, as Yoo wrote, that if an individual “undertook any of the predicate acts for severe mental pain or suffering, but did so in the good faith belief that those acts would not cause the prisoner prolonged mental harm, he would not have acted with the specific intent necessary to establish torture.” Report at 48; infra Section IV.A. [PDF 32; my emphasis]

We know this memo was from Jonathan Fredman, because Mahoney refers to it again on the next page, and in that reference, the name “Fredman” is not redacted.

As this passage makes clear, Fredman wrote a memo to the Abu Zubaydah torture team including an analysis of how intent plays into Torture Statute. Now, the passage of the OPR Report that discusses this memo (document pages 65-66; PDF pages 71-72) is entirely redacted. But it appears after discussion of the finalization of the Bybee Memo on August 1, 2002, suggesting Fredman’s memo was sent after that date. Indeed, the first passage after the long redacted section refers to “a cable [] sent out last week, following the issuance of the opinions,” which would seem to be a reference to Fredman’s memo. In other words, the memo appears to post-date the Bybee One memo.

Nevertheless, the memo doesn’t refer to the Bybee One Memo for its discussion of intent. Rather, it refers to the July 13, 2002 memo that John Yoo faxed John Rizzo. While we can’t prove it with the redactions, it appears that Fredman made a conscious decision not to refer to the finished, official OLC memo, but instead referred to the more informal fax Yoo had sent earlier in the month.

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OPR Working Thread Part Three

Happy Sunday.

Here are the HJC copies of all these documents:

And burnt has made available searchable copies to everything here.

My notes on the first draft are here.

My notes on the second draft, the Mukasey response, and the Yoo response are here.

I’m going to go through the first Bybee response in this thread. All page references will be to the PDF page, not the document page.

Mahoney’s Lies

I have read enough of Margolis’ response to have had the impression that Maureen Mahoney, Bybee’s lawyer, was much more attentive to her client’s needs than Bybee was when he was working in OLC.

But the first paragraph–which is replete with outright errors and propaganda–changes my mind on that front.

Six months after the September 11,2001 attacks, United States forces captured top al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah. Because Zubaydah had assumed the role of chief military planner for al Qaeda, he possessed critical imminent threat information. In particular, the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) determined that Zubaydah had information about a “second wave” of devastating attacks targeting, among other things, the tallest building in Los Angeles. After Zubaydah resisted traditional interrogation methods, the CIA developed an enhanced strategy for Zubaydah and asked the attorneys at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for its opinion on the legality ofusing ten specific interrogation techniques to interrogate him. The request required OLC to interpret the federal criminal anti-torture statute found at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A-a statute that had never before been interpreted by any court. The statute defines torture as an act “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain.”

It is true that they captured Abu Zubaydah (aka “Boo boo”) roughly six months after 9/11. But almost everything else in this paragraph is false–and was known to be false when Mahoney wrote it. We know that AZ was not a top AQ leader, was not the chief military planner for AG (ferchrissakes, KSM was!). It is true that CIA claimed AZ had information about a second wave of attacks. But he didn’t. We also know that AZ responded to traditional interrogation methods. And OLC was not asked to opine on the legality of ten techniques. They were asked to opine on twelve (the ten that got approved, plus diapering and mock burial). And it wasn’t until days before the opinion was released that CIA asked for approval of those specific techniques.

In short, Mahoney’s response is premised on known lies.

Maybe we should report her to her bar council…

As it turns out, this is not just empty lies–she returns to this false portrayal of what happened later in the document to support her argument that this was a limited opinion.

On March 28, 2002, American and Pakistani intelligence agents captured Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaeda leader. After the death of Mohammed Atef during the American invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001, Zubaydah had assumed the role of chief military planner for al Qaeda, ranking in importance only behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. Shortly after Zubaydah’s capture, in early April 2002, the CIA’s Office of General Counsel began discussions with the Legal Advisor to the National Security Council (“NSC”) and OLC concerning the CIA’s proposed interrogation plan for Zubaydah. OPR gives no weight to and even fails to acknowledge that the Techniques Memo related only to Zubaydah, a known, hardened terrorist, trained in resistance whose mental and physical conditions were known to the CIA. The CIA asked OLC to evaluate the legality of ten specific interrogation methods proposed for use with Zubaydah.3

Of course, we know they were already subjecting Binyam Mohamed to sleep deprivation at this time.

Who reviewed the document

This is interseting. Maybe Mahoney wants to provide us more detail of the review process, because that doesn’t appear in the report.

Various drafts of the memos were reviewed by the Attorney General, the White House Counsel, the Deputy White House Counsel, the CIA General Counsel, the NSC General Counsel, the Attorney General’s legal advisor, the Head of DOJ’s Criminal Division, and the Vice President’s Legal Counsel.

Especially since almost all of these people were more involved in the memo with Bybee’s name on it than Bybee was.

But it’s also interesting because it puts Addington more strongly in the mix than he admits.

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Jay Bybee Speaks Quavers

NYT has what might be billed as a blockbuster article: JAY BYBEE REVEALS ALL!!!

Except that the article appears to be nothing more than a legalistic CYA statement which I’m sure his hotshot lawyer Maureen Mahoney had a hand in:

Judge Bybee, who issued the memorandums as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel and was later nominated to the federal appeals court by President George W. Bush, said in a statement in response to questions from The New York Times that he continued to believe that the memorandums represented “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture. 


“The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.”

Other administration lawyers agreed with those conclusions, Judge Bybee said.

“The legal question was and is difficult,” he said. “And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.”

The article even reveals why Maureen Mahoney might have encouraged Judge Bybee to issue a statement–to retract comments made by his friends that he regretted the memos.

Judge Bybee said he was issuing a statement following reports that he had regrets over his role in the memorandums, including an article in The Washington Post on Saturday to that effect.

Of course, Bybee has to claim a "good faith analysis of the law"–that’s his only defense.

But if he’s invoking the other lawyers in the Administration who agreed with the memo–undoubtedly including David Addington, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, Jim Haynes, and John Rizzo–that’s not much of a defense. He’s arguing, basically, that a set of lawyers called the "War Council" for the way they collaborated in private on institutionalizing torture, believe his (Yoo’s) memos authorizing torture in spite of the the law and the bogus facts used in the memo was "legally correct." Most children, if you ask them if they like candy, will enthusiastically say they do, too.

And to suggest the stakes of this are important "no matter our opinion" is pretty disgusting, since it suggests Bybee still believes that issuing an opinion that forced the Read more