The Torture Memos Won't Go Away

In the Afterword to her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, Jane Mayer states:

“The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America’s ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring.”

One such person is Jack Goldsmith, a Bush appointee who became chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2003. That position had previously been held by Jay Bybee, who had worked with White House lawyer John Yoo to produce the infamous “torture memos”. The memos redefined the meaning of the word “torture” to exclude techniques that cause pain and suffering short of organ failure or death, and they asserted that the President has the authority to order torture in the name of national security. Goldsmith condemned these memos as deeply flawed and sloppily reasoned. Acting very much against precedent within the Office of Legal Counsel and against strong opposition from the White House, Goldsmith revoked the torture memos before resigning in 2004.

Following the resignation of Goldsmith, the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal ethics and oversight group within the Justice Department, undertook an investigation into the revoked torture memos and other legal documents pertaining to interrogation in the war on terror. The purpose was to investigate whether the quality of the legal arguments expressed in the memos was up to the standards expected of Justice Department attorneys. A draft of the report, which was sharply critical of the memos, was completed in the final weeks of the Bush Administration.

The report was not welcomed by the Bush Administration. Bush officials refused to turn it over to the incoming administration during the presidential transition. Attorney General Eric Holder still has not seen the report. The Office of Professional Responsibility wants to include the responses of people named in the report before releasing it to Holder. However, those responses have proved difficult to obtain.

If endorsed by Holder, the report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action.

Members of Congress are beginning to suspect that release of the report may have stalled under pressure from former Justice Department officials. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of of Illinois and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are demanding an update from the Justice Department.

The torture memos won’t go away. We already know a lot about them. And we know that an investigation has already taken place. It’s time to get this out in the open. This report should not only be released to Congress and the Attorney General. It should be released, insofar as is reasonably possible, to the public. We need to fully appreciate the extent to which our country lost its way before we can get back on the right path.

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4 thoughts on “The Torture Memos Won't Go Away

  1. Not withstanding your general point that government at all times, under any administration, should be as transparent as possible, and that all citizens have the duty to remain vigilant in protecting granted rights… here's a thought:

    Holder is now confirmed and has the access legally granted to the Sec of Justice. It is up to him to set the department's priorities – to which issues to devote time, money & energy, in a manner consistent with his boss' agenda & his obligation to serve the citizens of the USA. We can only speculate as to why it may seem that the Torture Memos are not getting the attention that some of us are expecting, and even demanding.

    There ARE several options, some pop to mind:

    – Holder just hasn't had the time

    – J Dept is still collecting info, which is often slower to gather than we'd prefer

    – "Funny business" involved not only Bush/Cheney administration, but other DC people as well, who may still have political aspirations

    – J Dept looked into it and concluded that the legal arguments in said memos are sound & well w/in the boundaries of the law and the constitution.

  2. Not withstanding your general point that government at all times, under any administration, should be as transparent as possible, and that all citizens have the duty to remain vigilant in protecting granted rights… here’s a thought:

    Holder is now confirmed and has the access legally granted to the Sec of Justice. It is up to him to set the department’s priorities – to which issues to devote time, money & energy, in a manner consistent with his boss’ agenda & his obligation to serve the citizens of the USA. We can only speculate as to why it may seem that the Torture Memos are not getting the attention that some of us are expecting, and even demanding.

    There ARE several options, some pop to mind:

    – Holder just hasn’t had the time

    – J Dept is still collecting info, which is often slower to gather than we’d prefer

    – “Funny business” involved not only Bush/Cheney administration, but other DC people as well, who may still have political aspirations

    – J Dept looked into it and concluded that the legal arguments in said memos are sound & well w/in the boundaries of the law and the constitution.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. With so many tools for internet searching and networking in addition to tv, radio, and print journalism, we "vigilant" citizens have many ways of keeping track of what our government is doing. But it's a big job! We can help each other by having conversations like this.

    True, we are often left to speculate. But by sharing information, we may be able to expand our general understanding.

    To respond specifically to the "options" you raise:

    - The internal DOJ ethics body (Office of Professional Responsibility) undertook a year-long investigation into the integrity of the many legal memos on torture/interrogation that were written by the Bush Administration. The investigation was completed several months ago and the results published internally in a draft report. OPR HAS NOT RELEASED THIS REPORT TO HOLDER (nor to Congress). Whether or not he has had the time, Holder has not had the opportunity to read the report.

    - My understanding is that the report is complete and that OPR is no longer collecting information. They are, however, hoping to include responses from some of the attorneys named in the report. They have not been able to obtain these responses.

    - I think it is reasonable to suspect "funny business." Mukasey strongly objected to the findings of the OPR report. I think that Senators Durbin and Whitehouse are calling for release of the report, because they suspect that "funny business" may be behind the delay.

    - From what I've read so far, I believe that your last option is not true.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. With so many tools for internet searching and networking in addition to tv, radio, and print journalism, we “vigilant” citizens have many ways of keeping track of what our government is doing. But it’s a big job! We can help each other by having conversations like this.

    True, we are often left to speculate. But by sharing information, we may be able to expand our general understanding.

    To respond specifically to the “options” you raise:

    - The internal DOJ ethics body (Office of Professional Responsibility) undertook a year-long investigation into the integrity of the many legal memos on torture/interrogation that were written by the Bush Administration. The investigation was completed several months ago and the results published internally in a draft report. OPR HAS NOT RELEASED THIS REPORT TO HOLDER (nor to Congress). Whether or not he has had the time, Holder has not had the opportunity to read the report.

    - My understanding is that the report is complete and that OPR is no longer collecting information. They are, however, hoping to include responses from some of the attorneys named in the report. They have not been able to obtain these responses.

    - I think it is reasonable to suspect “funny business.” Mukasey strongly objected to the findings of the OPR report. I think that Senators Durbin and Whitehouse are calling for release of the report, because they suspect that “funny business” may be behind the delay.

    - From what I’ve read so far, I believe that your last option is not true.