DOJ's Secret Interrogation Opinions
Following up on Big Tent Democrat's earlier post, the New York Times has a five page article revealing that in 2005, over the objections of his Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved legal opinions written by Steven Bradbury concerning enhanced interrogation techniques.
The 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.
Who is Bradbury? [More...]
The interrogation opinions were signed by Steven G. Bradbury, who since 2005 has headed the elite Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. He has become a frequent public defender of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and detention policies at Congressional hearings and press briefings, a role that some legal scholars say is at odds with the office’s tradition of avoiding political advocacy.
After the Supreme Court's 2006 ruling that the Geneva Conventions apply to members of al Qaida, Bush led us to believe he was shutting down the CIA secret overseas prisons and transferring the detainees to Guantanamo.
But the Times reports that in July (I'm assuming the authors are referring to 2007) Bush issued a secret executive order, approved by Bradbury, reauthorizing the use of CIA "black sites" and harsh interrogation techniques that most of the world regards as torture.
The Bush administration had entered uncharted legal territory beginning in 2002, holding prisoners outside the scrutiny of the International Red Cross and subjecting them to harrowing pressure tactics. They included slaps to the head; hours held naked in a frigid cell; days and nights without sleep while battered by thundering rock music; long periods manacled in stress positions; or the ultimate, waterboarding.
Never in history had the United States authorized such tactics.
So, what is this secret opinion? It appears to be one authorizing the use of a combination of interrogation techniques at the same time.
The Bush Administration takes the position that the CIA techniques are not torture. But, here's the kicker:
Officials had privately decided the agency did not have to comply with another provision in the Convention Against Torture — the prohibition on “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment.
....In the end, Mr. Bradbury’s opinion delivered what the White House wanted: a statement that the standard imposed by Mr. McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act would not force any change in the C.I.A.’s practices, according to officials familiar with the memo.
The twisted logic:
Relying on a Supreme Court finding that only conduct that “shocks the conscience” was unconstitutional, the opinion found that in some circumstances not even waterboarding was necessarily cruel, inhuman or degrading, if, for example, a suspect was believed to possess crucial intelligence about a planned terrorist attack, the officials familiar with the legal finding said.
At the end of this very long article, it's still unclear what Bradbury authorized. Or how many such opinions he wrote and when. The opinions are classified and while the article is filled with anecdotal quotes from former officials praising former DOJ officials like Comey and former Associate White House Counsel Jack Goldsmith, and criticizing David Addington and Alberto Gonzales, it's short on specifics.
Also, it doesn't seem like the article's authors have seen actual copies of Bradbury's opinions, instead relying on what people familiar with them have related.
Hopefully, there will be a follow-up.
Update: LNILR posted this last year from Newsweek on Bradbury. Seems he told a closed door Senate Intelligence Committee the President has the authority to order killings within the U.S.
Department official suggested that in certain circumstances, the president might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States. Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.
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