First, Jail All of Bush's Lawyers

If new Attorney General Eric Holder
really means what he said in his oath - that he will "support and
defend the Constitution of the United States" - then he must give
serious consideration to prosecuting crimes committed by the Bush
administration, including its torturing of detainees.

And Holder might be advised to begin the process at his own agency, the
Department of Justice. To paraphrase Shakespeare, Holder might start by
first jailing all of George W. Bush's lawyers.

logic of targeting former Justice Department lawyers - the likes of
John Yoo and Jay Bybee - is that they were the linchpin for justifying
acts that were clearly illegal; they provided the paper cover for both
the interrogators in the field and the senior officials back in

Bush and Vice
President Dick Cheney have repeatedly cited this legal guidance when
insisting that the harsh interrogation of "war on terror" detainees -
as well as other prisoners from the Iraq and Afghan wars - did not
cross the line into torture.

essence, the Bush-Cheney defense is that independent lawyers at the
Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and elsewhere gave honest
opinions - and that everyone from the President and Vice President, who
approved specific interrogation techniques, to the interrogators, who
carried out these acts, operated in good faith.

however, that narrative is false - if the lawyers colluded with
policymakers in creating legal excuses for criminal acts - then the
Bush-Cheney defense collapses. Rather than diligent lawyers providing
professional advice, the picture is of consiglieres counseling crime
bosses how to skirt the law.

The evidence supports the conspiratorial interpretation. For instance, in his 2006 book War by Other Means,
Yoo describes his involvement in frequent White House meetings
regarding what "other means" should receive a legal stamp of approval.

Yoo, who was a deputy assistant attorney general assigned to the powerful Office of Legal Counsel, wrote:

the White House held its procession of Christmas parties and receptions
in December 2001, senior lawyers from the Attorney General's office,
the White House counsel's office, the Departments of State and Defense
and the NSC [National Security Council] met a few floors away to
discuss the work on our opinion.

sat at a large round table in a room in the ornate, Empire-style Old
Executive Office Building where secretaries of state once conducted
business. ... This group of lawyers would meet repeatedly over the next
months to develop policy on the war on terrorism. We certainly did not
all agree, nor did we always get along, but we all believed that we
were doing what was best for the nation and its citizens.

were usually chaired by Alberto Gonzales," who was then White House
counsel and later became Bush's second Attorney General.

identified other key players as Timothy Flanigan, Gonzales's deputy;
William Howard Taft IV from State; John Bellinger from the NSC; William
"Jim" Haynes from the Pentagon; and David Addington, counsel to Cheney.

Yoo's Account

his book, Yoo describes a give-and-take among participants at the
meeting with the State Department's Taft challenging Yoo's OLC view
that Bush could waive the Geneva Conventions regarding the invasion of
Afghanistan (by labeling it a "failed state"). Taft noted that the
Taliban was the recognized government of the country.

thought Taft's memo represented the typically conservative thinking of
foreign ministries, which places a priority on stabilizing relations
with other states - even if it means creating or maintaining fictions -
rather than adapting to new circumstances," Yoo wrote.

objections from the Pentagon's judge advocate generals - who feared
that waiving the Geneva Conventions would endanger American soldiers -
Yoo again stressed policy concerns, not legal logic.

was far from obvious that following the Geneva Conventions in the war
against al-Qaeda would be wise," Yoo wrote. "Our policy makers had to
ask whether [compliance] would yield any benefit or act as a hindrance."

Yoo's book and other evidence make clear is that the lawyers from the
Justice Department's OLC weren't just legal scholars handing down
opinions from an ivory tower; they were participants in how to make
Bush's desired actions "legal."

were the lawyerly equivalents of those U.S. intelligence analysts, who
- in the words of the British "Downing Street Memo" - "fixed" the facts
around Bush's desire to justify invading Iraq.

and other OLC lawyers looked to be Bush's consiglieres on both brutal
interrogation and aggressive war. They floated novel legal theories,
looked for loopholes or - in Yoo's phrase - they were "adapting to new

Congressional Probe

The importance of this question - whether the OLC lawyers were honest
brokers or criminal conspirators - has not been missed by some of the
congressional leaders pressing for a serious investigation of Bush's
use of torture and other war crimes.

A year ago, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sheldon Whitehouse,
D-Rhode Island, wrote a letter to the Justice Department's watchdog
agencies requesting an investigation into the role that "Justice
Department officials [played] in authorizing and/or overseeing the use
of waterboarding by the Central Intelligence Agency... and whether
those who authorized it violated the law."

In the Feb. 12, 2008, letter, the senators questioned whether the OLC
lawyers were "insulated from outside pressure to reach a particular
conclusion" and whether Bush's White House and the CIA played any role
in influencing "deliberations about the lawfulness of waterboarding," a
technique that creates the sensation of drowning and has been deemed
torture since the Inquisition.

Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, said those questions were
designed to get to the point that having in-house lawyers dream up a
legal argument doesn't make an action legal, especially if the lawyers
were somehow induced to produce the opinion.

In the case of waterboarding and other abusive interrogation tactics,
Yoo and his OLC boss Jay Bybee generated a memo, dated Aug. 1, 2002,
that came up with a novel and narrow definition of torture, essentially
lifting the language from an unrelated law regarding health benefits.

The Yoo-Bybee legal opinion stated that unless the amount of pain
administered to a detainee led to injuries that might result in "death,
organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions" then the
interrogation technique could not be defined as torture.

Since waterboarding is not intended to cause death or organ failure -
only the panicked gag reflex associated with drowning - it was deemed
not to be torture.

"torture memo" and related legal opinions were considered so sloppy and
unprofessional that Bybee's replacement to head the OLC, Jack
Goldsmith, himself a conservative Republican, took the extraordinary
step of withdrawing them after he was appointed in October 2003.

Whitehouse said the Bybee-Yoo memo was "beyond malpractice" and "raises
the specter that these things were overlooked" just to advance policy.
[For more on Whitehouse's recent comments, see's "More Pressure for Bush Torture Probe."]

Pending Probe

In response to the Durbin-Whitehouse letter, H. Marshall Jarrett, head
of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility,
disclosed that OPR was examining the genesis of the Aug. 1, 2002, legal
opinion, an inquiry that might be completed within the next month or

OPR's findings could
give Attorney General Holder an opening to question Bybee, Yoo and
other lawyers in the torture debate about whether they were pressured
to come up with a legal opinion that would justify the abusive tactics
that Bush and Cheney already wanted to use against detainees.

Did Bush and Cheney, in effect, lawyer-shop for the answers they wanted?

By concentrating on the lawyers first, Holder could likely build a
stronger case than he could against CIA and other interrogators who
executed the orders from above to abuse and torture detainees.

While the interrogators might reasonably be able to claim uncertainty
about the legality (because they had orders from the Attorney General
or the White House), Yoo, Bybee and other lawyers who crafted the legal
arguments could make no such claim.

is now a federal appeals court judge in San Francisco. Yoo is a law
professor at the University of California at Berkeley

Yoo also has shown no remorse over his role in putting the United States on the path to torture. Yoo even took to the opinion pages
of the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 29 to chastise President Barack
Obama for ordering the phased close-down of the Guantanamo Bay prison
and for ending the CIA's authority to harshly interrogate detainees.

these actions will certainly please his base -- gone are the cries of
an 'imperial presidency' -- they will also seriously handicap our
intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks," Yoo

"Eliminating the Bush
system will mean that we will get no more information from captured
al-Qaeda terrorists," Yoo wrote. "In his decisions taken so
precipitously just two days after the Inauguration, Mr. Obama may have
opened the door to further terrorist acts on U.S. soil by shattering
some of the nation's most critical defenses."

While Yoo's rhetoric is typical of what came out of the Bush
administration for eight years, it glosses over the basic fact that
this approach leaves to one person - the U.S. President - the power to
determine who is an "enemy combatant" and to subject that human being
to barbaric practices.

assumes that the President and his intelligence agencies are infallible
in making those judgments even for a person apprehended far from any
battlefield and with no apparent capacity to wage war, even U.S.
citizens or legal residents pulled from their homes or off the street
by government agents. [For details, see our book, Neck Deep.]

For many Americans, the question during Bush's presidency was whether
his imperial theories and their defenders represented a greater threat
to the American constitutional Republic than did a scattered band of
terrorists halfway around the world.

Yoo's Wall Street Journal column also is further evidence of his
criminal intent. He is stating clearly that he is all about achieving
an outcome (i.e. extracting information from suspected terrorists by
any means that the President orders), rather than about protecting the
sanctity of the law.

It is the ends, not the means, that matter to John Yoo.

If Holder takes seriously his sworn commitment to protect the U.S.
Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, he has little
choice but to examine how political and ideological operatives, like
Yoo, twisted the law to fit a President's criminal proclivities.

If the rule of law means anything, it can't be that simply making a
legal argument - no matter how baseless and absurd - permits the
nation's top executive to break any law and commit any crime.

Possibly after some time behind bars or at least before a grand jury,
lawyers, who put their ambitions and policy interests first, might have
some heartfelt second thoughts - and might be willing to point the
finger at which of their higher-ups got them to write these
disreputable legal opinions.

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