Justice Department Report Reveals New Details About Development And Justification Of Torture Program

February 19, 2010 7:46 pm

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NEW YORK – A report released today by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), as well as several related documents, reveal new details about the development of the Bush administration’s torture program. The American Civil Liberties Union called on the Justice Department to expand its criminal investigation of the torture program.

The OPR report considers the work of three DOJ attorneys — Steven Bradbury, John Yoo and Jay Bybee — who authorized the torture and abusive interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody through legal memoranda the three authored while at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration. The report found that Yoo and Bybee engaged in professional misconduct by failing to provide “thorough, candid, and objective” analysis. That conclusion, however, is rejected in a later memorandum written by David Margolis, the Associate Deputy Attorney General. Even Margolis’s memo, however, is critical of Yoo’s and Bybee’s conduct. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the report next Friday, February 26.

“The OPR report confirms the central role that the Office of Legal Counsel played in developing the Bush administration’s torture program, and it underscores once again that the decision to endorse torture was made by the Bush administration’s most senior officials,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It also makes clear that the investigation initiated by the Justice Department last year, which focuses on ‘rogue’ interrogators, is too narrow. Interrogators should be held accountable where they violated the law, but the core problem was not one of rogue interrogators but one of senior government officials who knowingly authorized the gravest crimes. The Justice Department should immediately expand its investigation to encompass not just the interrogators who used torture but the senior Bush administration officials who authorized and facilitated it.”

The OPR is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by DOJ attorneys. The inquiry into the three attorneys responsible for memos that attempted to justify the use of torture and stated that “enemy combatants” were not protected under the Geneva Conventions began in 2004. All served in senior positions in the Office of Legal Counsel. Bybee currently is a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The ACLU has sued for an unredacted copy of the OPR report.

“Congressional leadership of the judiciary committees in both chambers committed to holding hearings on torture upon the release of this report. We intend to hold them to that promise,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “It is more critical than ever that a thorough investigation be made into our government’s use of torture.”

“The Bush administration’s torture program has done extraordinary damage to America’s moral standing,” said Alexander Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. “The United States has condemned other countries for implementing the very tactics that Bush administration lawyers sought to justify. The Department of Justice can still demonstrate that the United States is once again committed to the rule of law and to preventing these abuses from happening again by holding the high-level architects of the program accountable for their actions.”

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