The Robert Jackson Steering Committee (RJSC) announced today that it has filed an appeal asking the Department of Justice to be more candid in its disclosures regarding the whitewashed Office of Professional Responsibility report into the lawyers who authored memos used by the Bush Administration’s Justice Department to justify torture. RJSC filed a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) in January, seeking information related to the Department of Justice’s downgrading of the findings contained in the OPR report. DOJ supplied documents with heavy redactions, which RJSC believes were designed to insulate senior officials from criminal liability. They have submitted an appeal requesting fuller compliance with FOIA.
The 267-page OPR report about the “torture memo” authors was released in February, 2010, after a five-year investigation into the conduct of three former senior lawyers in DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) – Professor John Yoo, now-Judge Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury. The report was revised to clear Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury of any wrongdoing. An earlier draft of the report concluded that Yoo and Bybee violated their professional responsibilities in drafting the most infamous 2002 “torture memo,” but, Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis softened the report to conclude only that they showed “poor judgment.” Under DOJ rules, “poor judgment” does not amount to professional misconduct and therefore does not trigger a referral to state bar associations for disciplinary review or, in the case of Judge Bybee, a recommendation for an impeachment inquiry.
AFJ’s film Tortured Law explains in further detail the role that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury played in authorizing torture, and highlights the need for accountability.The OPR report revealed new information about the Bush Administration’s decision to condone torture, and showed the need for a full-scale investigation into what led our country to torture. OPR’s investigation uncovered new evidence that begins to fill in the historical record, but the facts documented in the OPR report are just the newest pieces of a puzzle that still warrants a full investigation. Because OPR only has jurisdiction over DOJ attorneys and lacks subpoena power to compel witness cooperation or document production, OPR’s review of the legal work that produced the first “torture memos” was just a first step towards accountability.
Congress should reassert its oversight role and conduct further hearings about the development of torture policy in DOJ and other government agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the OPR report in the spring, now the House should follow suit by holding a full hearing on the OPR report in which they question the authors of the “torture memos” as well as other players mentioned in the OPR report (including those such as John Ashcroft, who refused to voluntarily comply with the OPR investigators) about the interactions between DOJ, CIA, Department of Defense, and the White House in developing torture policy.