Leahy to hold hearing on DoJ report

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will hold a hearing Friday to examine a report that allowed two Bush administration officials to escape any formal punishment regarding their role in drafting the legal justification for the harsh interrogations of detainees.

Jay Bybee and John Yoo, two former high-level Bush administration officials who drafted the legal basis for the Bush administration’s treatment of overseas terror suspects, escaped any formal punishment in a long-awaited Justice Department report released Friday evening.

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Leahy also called on federal appeals court judge Bybee to step down from the lifetime appointment over his role in the matter.

Some Democrats, as well as civil liberties and human rights advocates, had demanded the lawyers face some legal sanction because their legal memos were used to justify harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.

The new report, written by Deputy Associate Attorney General David Margolis, reversed the recommendations of ethics officials within the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which earlier had concluded the state bar committees should decide whether Bybee’s and Yoo’s law licenses should be revoked.

Leahy condemned the report’s findings Monday.

“The deeply flawed legal opinions proffered by these former [Office of Legal Counsel] officials created a ‘golden shield’ that sought to protect from scrutiny and prosecution the Bush administration’s torture of detainees in U.S. custody,” Leahy said in a statement. “In drafting and signing these unsound legal analyses, OLC attorneys sanctioned torture, contrary to our domestic anti-torture laws, our international treaty obligations and the fundamental values of this country.”

If senators had known about Bybee’s role in creating these polices before his confirmation to the lifetime appoint to the federal bench, he would never have been confirmed, Leahy asserted.

“The right thing to do would be for him to resign from this lifetime appointment,” he added.

After reviewing the OPR’s recommendations, Margolis concluded that Bybee, a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Yoo, currently a University of California, Berkeley law professor, had demonstrated poor judgment but had not committed any ethical violations.

Over the weekend, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) said the Justice Department should have held its officials to a higher standard.

“The materials released today make plain that those memos were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound,” said Conyers. “While the Department ultimately concluded that the lawyers did not breach their minimum professional obligations, I certainly hold top lawyers at (the Justice Department) to a higher standard than that, as all Americans should.”

Common Cause, a Washington D.C. watchdog organization, on Monday called Margolis’s report a “whitewashing” of the OPR’s prior findings and asked Attorney General Eric Holder to reject its recommendations.

“This sad chapter in our nation's history should not end with one man's interpretation that flies in the face of international standards and our own nation's prior positions," Common Cause President Bob Edgar said, referring to Margolis. "This report only drives home what we suspected: The top lawyers advising President Bush on the issue of torture had no regard for the Constitution, and no regard for international law."

Republicans on Capitol Hill have said Bybee and Yoo were simply doing their jobs in a difficult legal post-Sept. 11th 2001 legal environment.

“In the wake of 9-11, attorneys at the Justice Department were faced with unprecedented challenges, not knowing whether other attacks were imminent,” said House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas). “They did their best to follow the law.”