More ‘Damning’ Evidence of Bush Lawbreaking

Created: February 16, 2009 12:35 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Jason Leopold at The Public Record has acquired some important inside information about a still-classified report written by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility that provides more evidence of Bush administration lawbreaking.

According to Leopold, OPR director H. Marshall Jarrett reached “damning” conclusions about the advice of John Yoo and other lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration, which rose to the level of “misconduct.”

“OPR investigators determined that Yoo blurred the lines between an attorney charged with providing independent legal advice to the White House and a policy advocate who was working to advance the administration’s goals,” Leopold writes, based on confidential sources who’ve seen the report.

The OPR report criticizes, for example, Yoo’s reliance on an obscure Medicare reimbursement statute to narrow the definition of torture so much that it would permit waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques that have long been considered torture under U.S. law.

To those who have been following the politicization of the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush and the origins of Yoo and other OLC lawyers’ legal memos, none of this will come as a big surprise.  But the fact that a office within the Justice Department reached those conclusions is significant, as it provides one more official piece of evidence that the Bush administration’s defense that it was just relying on the advice of its lawyers when it came to the treatment of detainees, and that the lawyers’ advice shields all those senior officials from prosecution, is disingenuous.

As I’ve explained before, if those legal memos were not reasonable professional opinions, or if they were solicited to justify existing policies rather than to set new ones in accordance with existing law, then Bush officials could see their presumed “golden shield” quickly disintegrate into a heap of worthless straw.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter to Jarrett this morning seeking more information about why the report is being kept secret.

Let’s add this OPR report to the growing list of documents that President Obama ought to quickly de-classify under his new Freedom of Information Act policy.

Update: Here’s a key paragraph from the Durbin/Whitehouse letter, which Jason Leopold just sent me:

We agree with Attorney General Eric Holder and CIA Director Leon Panetta that our intelligence professionals should be able to rely in good faith on the Justice Department’s legal advice.  This good faith is undermined when Justice Department attorneys provide legal advice so misguided that it damages America’s image around the world and the Justice Department is forced to repudiate it.  If the officials who provide such advice fail to comply with professional standards, they must be held accountable in order to maintain the faith of the intelligence community and the American people in the Justice Department.