Secret Memos Said to Provide
a Blueprint for Police State
From an ACLU press release: The Justice Department has released nine secret memos and opinions written by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that authorized some of the Bush administration’s unlawful national security policies, including a memo written by OLC lawyer John Yoo that argued the Fourth Amendment does not apply to military activities inside the United States.
The memos, which are available at the United States Department of Justice web site, were released after heavy public pressure surrounding a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. Notice: The nine files listed below are in .PDF form.
1. Memorandum Regarding Status of Certain OLC Opinions Issued in the Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 (01-15-2009)
2. Memorandum Regarding Constitutionality of Amending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to Change the “Purpose” Standard for Searches (09-25-2001)
3. Memorandum Regarding Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities within the United States (10-23-2001)
4. Memorandum Regarding Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Provisions of the ABM Treaty (11-15-2001)
5. Memorandum Regarding the President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captured Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations (03-13-2002)
6. Memorandum Regarding Swift Justice Authorization Act (04-08-2002)
7. Memorandum Regarding Determination of Enemy Belligerency and Military Detention (06-08-2002)
8. Memorandum Regarding Applicability of 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a) to Military Detention of United States Citizens (06-27-2002)
9. Memorandum Regarding October 23, 2001 OLC Opinion Addressing the Domestic Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities (10-06-2008)
For a good analysis on what these memos mean and their importance in the profound restructuring of government that occurred under the Bush Administration, read the below piece by Marjorie Cohn.
To see the CBS/AP coverage of the
release, click here.
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Memos Provide Blueprint
for Police State
By Marjorie Cohn
Seven newly released memos from the Bush Justice Department reveal a concerted strategy to cloak the President with power to override the Constitution. The memos provide “legal” rationales for the President to suspend freedom of speech and press; order warrantless searches and seizures, including wiretaps of U.S. citizens; lock up U.S. citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges; send suspected terrorists to other countries where they will likely be tortured; and unilaterally abrogate treaties. According to the reasoning in the memos, Congress has no role to check and balance the executive. That is the definition of a police state.
Who wrote these memos? All but one were crafted in whole or in part by the infamous John Yoo and Jay Bybee, authors of the so-called “torture memos” that redefined torture much more narrowly than the U.S. definition of torture, and counseled the President how to torture and get away with it. In one memo, Yoo said the Justice Department would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.
What does the federal maiming statute prohibit? It makes it a crime for someone “with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure” to “cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person.” It further prohibits individuals from “throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance” with like intent.
The two torture memos were later withdrawn after they became public because their legal reasoning was clearly defective. But they remained in effect long enough to authorize the torture and abuse of many prisoners in U.S. custody.
The seven memos just made public were also eventually disavowed, several years after they were written. Steven Bradbury, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in Bush’s Department of Justice, issued two disclaimer memos – on October 6, 2008 and January 15, 2009 – that said the assertions in those seven memos did “not reflect the current views of this Office.” Why Bradbury waited until Bush was almost out of office to issue the disclaimers remains a mystery. Some speculate that Bradbury, knowing the new administration would likely release the memos, was trying to cover his backside.
Indeed, Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury are the three former Justice Department lawyers that the Office of Professional Responsibility singled out for criticism in its still unreleased report. The OPR could refer these lawyers for state bar discipline or even recommend criminal charges against them.
In his memos, Yoo justified giving unchecked authority to the President because the United States was in a “state of armed conflict.” Yoo wrote, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” Yoo made the preposterous argument that since deadly force could legitimately be used in self-defense in criminal cases, the President could suspend the Fourth Amendment because privacy rights are less serious than protection from the use of deadly force.
Bybee wrote in one of the memos that nothing can stop the President from sending al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners captured overseas to third countries, as long as he doesn’t intend for them to be tortured. But the Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party, says that no country can expel, return or extradite a person to another country “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Bybee claimed the Torture Convention didn’t apply extraterritorially, a proposition roundly debunked by reputable scholars. The Bush administration reportedly engaged in this practice of extraordinary rendition 100 to 150 times as of March 2005.
The same day that Attorney General Eric Holder released the memos, the government revealed that the CIA had destroyed 92 videotapes of harsh interrogations of Abu Zubaida and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, both of whom were subjected to waterboarding. The memo that authorized the CIA to waterboard, written the same day as one of Yoo/Bybee’s torture memos, has not yet been released.
Bush insisted that Zubaida was a dangerous terrorist, in spite of the contention of one of the FBI’s leading al Qaeda experts that Zubaida was schizophrenic, a bit player in the organization. Under torture, Zubaida admitted to everything under the sun – his information was virtually worthless.
There are more memos yet to be released. They will invariably implicate Bush officials and lawyers in the commission of torture, illegal surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and other violations of the law.
Meanwhile, John Yoo remains on the faculty of Berkeley Law School and Jay Bybee is a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. These men, who advised Bush on how to create a police state, should be investigated, prosecuted, and disbarred. Yoo should be fired and Bybee impeached.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law” and co-author of “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent,” which will be published this spring. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com.
The damning torture memos were made available to the public after mounting public pressure.
Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.
Copyright © 2009 Truthdig, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
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Secret Bush Anti-Terror
Former President Expanded Powers To
Spy, Use Military Domestically; Most
Legal Conclusions Later Abandoned
March 2, 2009
Washington -- The
Obama administration threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets Monday,
revealing anti-terror memos that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers
divulging that the CIA destroyed nearly 100
videotapes of interrogations and other treatment of terror
The Justice Department released nine legal opinions showing that, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration determined that certain constitutional rights would not apply during the coming fight. Within two weeks, government lawyers were already discussing ways to wiretap U.S. conversations without warrants.
An October 2001 memo by the Justice Department's John Yoo authorized the use of the U.S. military within the United States in combating terrorists. Yoo defined the 9/11 attacks as "war" and therefore concluded the President could employ the military domestically in a "military action" rather than a police action. Under the Posse Comitatus Act, the American armed forces are forbidden from operating domestically, CBS News reports.
A March 2003 memo gave the President broad powers to transfer captured al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to third countries. It also stipulated that the torture provisions of the Geneva Convention did not apply, because these prisoners were "non state" enemy combatants and therefore not entitled to Geneva protections. The memo also made it clear the U.S. should not agree to knowingly send prisoners to countries where they may be tortured, but essentially said the U.S. could not be liable for torture if it happened after the transfer, CBS News reports.
The Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions, but the documents themselves had been closely held. By releasing them, President Barack Obama continued a house-cleaning of the previous administration's most contentious policies.
"Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech a few hours before the documents were released. "Not only is that school of thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good."
The Obama administration also acknowledged in court documents Monday that the CIA destroyed 92 videos involving terror suspects, including interrogations - far more than had been known. Congressional Democrats and other critics have charged that some of the harsh interrogation techniques amounted to torture, a contention President George W. Bush and other Bush officials rejected.
The new administration pledged on Monday to begin turning over documents related to the videos to a federal judge and to make as much information public as possible.
The legal memos written by the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel show a government grappling with how to wage war on terrorism in a fast-changing world. The conclusion, reiterated in page after page of documents, was that the president had broad authority to set aside constitutional rights.
Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizure, for instance, did not apply in the United States as long as the president was combatting terrorism, the Justice Department said in an Oct. 23, 2001, memo.
"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo wrote, adding later: "The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically."
On Sept. 25, 2001, Yoo discussed possible changes to the laws governing wiretaps for intelligence gathering. In that memo, he said the government's interest in keeping the nation safe following the terrorist attacks might justify warrantless searches.
That memo did not specifically attempt to justify the government's warrantless wiretapping program, but it provided part of the foundation.
Yoo, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, did not return messages seeking comment. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel when many of the memos were written, did not immediately respond to a request for comment made through his attorney.
The memos reflected a belief within the Bush administration that the president had broad powers that could not be checked by Congress or the courts. That stance, in one form or another, became the foundation for many policies: holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without warrants, using tough new CIA interrogation tactics and locking U.S. citizens in military brigs without charges.
Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. He halted the CIA's intensive interrogation program. And last week, prosecutors moved the terrorism case against U.S. resident Ali Al-Marri, a suspected al Qaeda sleeper agent held in a military brig, to a civilian courthouse.
A criminal prosecutor is wrapping up an investigation of the destruction of the tapes of interrogations.
Monday's acknowledgment of videotape destruction, however, involved a civil lawsuit filed in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed," said the letter submitted in that case by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin. "Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed."
It is not clear what exactly was on the recordings. The government's letter cites interrogation videos, but the lawsuit against the Defense Department also seeks records related to treatment of detainees, any deaths of detainees and the CIA's sending of suspects overseas, known as "extraordinary rendition."
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters he hadn't spoken to the president about the report, but he called the news about the videotapes "sad" and said Obama was committed to ending torture while also protecting American values.
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said the CIA should be held in contempt of court for holding back the information for so long.
"The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order," Singh said.
CIA spokesman George Little said the agency "has certainly cooperated with the Department of Justice investigation. If anyone thinks it's agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don't know the facts."
The details of interrogations of terror suspects, and the existence of tapes documenting those sessions, have become the subject of long fights in a number of different court cases. In the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, prosecutors initially claimed no such recordings existed, then acknowledged after the trial was over that two videotapes and one audiotape had been made.
The Dassin letter, dated March 2 to Judge Alvin Hellerstein, says the CIA is now gathering more details for the lawsuit, including a list of the destroyed records, any secondary accounts that describe the destroyed contents and the identities of those who may have viewed or possessed the recordings before they were destroyed.
But the lawyers also note that some of that information may be classified, such as the names of CIA personnel who viewed the tapes.
The separate criminal investigation includes interrogations of al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and another top al Qaeda leader. Tapes of those interrogations were destroyed, in part, the Bush administration said, to protect the identities of the government questioners at a time the Justice Department was debating whether or not the tactics used during the interrogations were legal.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden acknowledged that waterboarding - simulated drowning - was used on three suspects, including the two whose interrogations were recorded.
John Durham, a senior career prosecutor in Connecticut, is leading the criminal investigation, out of Virginia, and had asked that he be given until the end of February to wrap up his work before requests for information in the civil lawsuit were dealt with.
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