OPR Hearing Offers Opportunity to Address Unanswered Questions

Washington, D.C. Human Rights First today urged members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to address questions that remain unanswered following the release of Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report cataloguing unethical and unprofessional conduct of lawyers who concocted legal justifications for torture during the Bush administration. The organization noted that today’s committee hearing should lay the groundwork for further investigation and address the need to empanel a nonpartisan commission to conduct a comprehensive review of these policies.

“The OPR Report sheds more light on the flawed legal architecture that supported U.S. torture policies.  What that light reveals makes even more urgent the need for a comprehensive review by a nonpartisan commission of experts to evaluate the impact of those policies on U.S. national security and to identify the systematic failures that led to widespread prisoner abuse,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “Such a review is necessary if the United States wants to put its legacy of torture to rest and restore U.S. credibility to speak out forcefully against human rights violations worldwide.”

The OPR report highlights the lack of independent judgment and perverse legal reasoning that shaped the “torture memos” and underscores the need for an independent review of how torture and other abuse of prisoners were authorized after 9/11. It provides the clearest picture to date of a flawed process by which the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which is supposed to render independent legal advice, was instead subverted to provide conclusions justifying detainee abuse that principals within the Bush administration wanted to hear.

The report also highlights in detail the flawed legal analysis by the three principal authors of the legal memoranda who gave a green light to the use of torture techniques documented in the CIA Inspector General’s report made public in August. The OPR report sharply criticizes the quality of the legal work in the memoranda, and concluding that of the lawyers who wrote these memos, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo committed intentional professional misconduct and OLC Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee acted in reckless disregard of his obligation to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice. Although the Associate Deputy Attorney General declined to adopt this opinion, choosing instead to characterize the lawyers’ work as an exercise of “poor judgment,” the fact remains that the individuals who investigated and analyzed the evidence found that Yoo’s misconduct was “intentional” and that Bybee’s was “reckless.” That calls into question the good faith of both of these lawyers, and demands further investigation.

“The scathing findings of the report suggests that the ‘torture memos’ were not merely the product of poor judgment and faulty scholarship, but a coordinated attempt to provide legal cover for illegal actions,” said Massimino.

The OPR report also notes that investigators were not provided full access to John Yoo’s emails, many of which had suspiciously been deleted. Emails and testimony from other key figures to the investigation, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former counsel to the Vice President David Addington, were also not available. An investigation where all of the relevant evidence is presented is critical to finally resolving the circumstances that led not only to the creation of these memos, but to the unlawful torture and abuse of detainees by U.S. authorities.

Following his earlier review of the OPR report released today, as well as the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report that detailed appalling abuses committed against prisoners in the CIA’s interrogation program, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in August 2009 the appointment of a prosecutor to conduct a preliminary review into only those prisoner abuses that exceeded the bounds of what was deemed permissible in the flawed OLC “torture memos.”  In light of the conclusions of the OPR report, Human Rights First urges Attorney General Holder to ensure that the appointed prosecutor has sufficient discretion to follow the facts wherever they lead, including investigating the possible criminal conduct of those who enabled and constructed the illegal system of prisoner abuse, not only those who implemented it. “The United States, to its credit, has a strong record of criticizing arbitrary detention and detainee abuse in other countries. In order to restore its credibility and leadership on human rights, the United States must engage in a full accounting of how policies of cruelty were authorized. A thorough and public examination of the past is vital in order to guard against future authorization of abuse in the name of national security,” concluded Massimino.

Press

Published on February 25, 2010

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