Torture Whitewash

On Friday, the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) released a long-awaited report investigating whether the legal advice in crucial Bush administration memos authorizing torture “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” The report found that attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee “had committed professional misconduct in writing the legal opinions that authorized torture.” The report was softened, however, by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, the top career attorney at the department, who “overruled OPR’s finding of misconduct” in an accompanying memo, concluding only that that Yoo and Bybee exercised poor judgment and made bad legal arguments. While stating that his “decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies” the torture memos, Margolis also “barred OPR from referring the matter to state bar disciplinary authorities where Yoo and Bybee are licensed.” What’s troubling, Margolis’ memo indicated that Yoo and Bybee’s legal decisions were understood as having occurred in the heat of the post-9/11 moment, (even though they were written in 2002) implying that “being under pressure” is an excuse for ignoring laws against torture.

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