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DOJ Watchdog Unit Investigates Torture Memo Authors

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February 18, 2009

This weekend, Newsweek reported on an internal Department of Justice (DOJ) report concerning the conduct of senior lawyers who approved torture and other harsh interrogation tactics under the Bush administration. The DOJ’s watchdog unit is investigating whether legal advice penned by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to insiders, a draft of the report sharply criticizes the legal work of former top OLC officials under Bush — Jay Bybee and John Yoo. In light of these reports, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called on the DOJ to release the findings.

Yoo is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Bybee was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit by Former President Bush. If Attorney General Eric Holder accepts the findings, the report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action.

While we hope the report will be made public, the ACLU is also fighting for the disclosure of the still-secret memos that lawyers like Bybee and Yoo wrote. Yesterday, the government agreed to drop its request for a 90-day delay in our lawsuit seeking the torture memos written by Steven Bradbury, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The government instead agreed to a 30-day extension. We take this as a good sign. The public has waited long enough for the disclosure of these memos; they are crucial to the historical record.

As Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project pointed out in a McClatchy story last week, “questions about accountability and responsibility are the subject of public debate right now” and the release of the memos would allow the public to better understand the legal basis for the Bush administration’s national security policies.

Stay tuned for updates.

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