John Yoo, the former Deputy Attorney General at the agency's Office of Legal Counsel, who drafted the infamous "torture memos" that gave former President George W. Bush and CIA interrogators the legal cover they needed to torture suspected terrorist detainees, offered some clues behind the genesis of the August 2002 legal opinions.
Yoo suggested in no uncertain terms that Bush administration officials sought to legalize torture and that he and his boss, Jay Bybee, fixed the law around the Bush administration's policy.
Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, insisted that he only drafted the legal memos and that other officials decided what interrogation techniques were permissible. The
"Decisions about interrogation methods at Guantanamo Bay were made by the Defense Department," said Yoo in testimony before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution last year.
But Yoo appears to be splitting hairs. While it may be true that higher-ups in the Bush administration, including President Bush, had greater responsibility for approving the techniques, indeed, Yoo admitted in an editorial published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal that George W. Bush authorized waterboarding "three times in the years after 9/11," Yoo was not just the detached legal scholar that he has portrayed.
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain still secret memos that Yoo and others at the DOJ drafted.
The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility has been investigating whether "the legal advice contained in those memoranda [written by Yoo and Bybee] was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys."
The results of the investigation could lead to a criminal probe.
In his 2006 book, War by Other Means: An Insider's Account on the War On Terror, Yoo described his participation in meetings that helped develop the controversial policies for the treatment of detainees.
For instance, Yoo wrote about a trip he took to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with other senior administration officials to observe interrogations and to join in discussions about specific interrogation methods.
In his book, Yoo wrote that in December 2001 "senior lawyers from the Attorney General's office, the White House counsel's office, the Department's of State and Defense, and the [National Security Council] met to discuss the work on our opinion" regarding whether the Geneva Convention applied to members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"This group of lawyers would meet repeatedly over the next months to develop policy on the war on terrorism," Yoo wrote. "Meetings were usually chaired by [former White House counsel] Alberto Gonzales...his deputy, Timothy Flanigan, usually played the role of inquisitor, pressing different agencies to explain their legal reasoning to justify their policy recommendations."
Yoo wrote that the Defense Department was represented by its general counsel William "Jim" Haynes, the State Department by legal adviser William House Taft IV, and the NSC by John Bellinger, that agency's legal adviser.
The meetings that Yoo described appear similar to those disclosed by ABC News last April.
"The most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al-Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA," ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources.
"The high-level discussions about these 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed – down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.