The Timeline Behind Yoo’s Memo

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Marty Lederman has argued that Yoo’s March, 2003 memo is “in effect, the blueprint that led to Abu Ghraib and the other abuses within the armed forces in 2003 and early 2004.” Well, we decided we needed a brief timeline to size it all up. You be the judge. TPM Research Hound Peter Sheehy provided research for this post.

August 1, 2002
John Yoo authors and Jay Bybee, then the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signs a memo (now known as the Bybee memo or the Torture Memo) that narrowly defines what constitutes illegal torture.

October, 2002
Major General Geoffrey Miller assumes command of Guantánamo Bay and pushes his superiors hard for more flexibility in interrogations.

December 2, 2002
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gives formal approval for the use of “hooding,” “exploitation of phobias,” “stress positions,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” and other coercive tactics ordinarily forbidden by the Army Field Manual.

Early, 2003
In part to satisfy internal administration critics of the Pentagon’s interrogation program at Guantanamo Bay, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 convenes a “working group” of lawyers from all branches of the armed services to develop new interrogation guidelines for the Pentagon.

March 28, 2003
Jay Bybee resigns from his Office as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

March 14, 2003
The Justice Department sends Yoo’s legal memo to Pentagon’s general counsel. The memo forms the basis of the working group’s report.April 2, 2003
The Pentagon’s “working group” (unbeknownst to a number of members of the working group) endorses the continued use of extremely aggressive tactics. Secretary Rumsfeld signs it.

April 16, 2003
The Pentagon issues a memorandum to the U.S. Southern Command, approving twenty-four of the working-group’s list of thirty-five possible interrogation methods for use at Guantánamo, including isolation and what it called “fear up harsh,” which meant “significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee.” Gen. Miller is also “briefed” on the working group’s report.

June 25, 2003
Haynes writes a letter back to Leahy saying that the Pentagon’s policy was never to engage in torture, or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.

August, 2003
The Pentagon sends General Miller to Iraq to advise officials there on interrogating Iraqi detainees.

October-December, 2003
There are numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib, as outlined in Major General Antonio M. Taguba’s report.

December, 2003
Jack Goldsmith, the new chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, decides that both the Bybee memo and Yoo’s March, 2003 opinions must be rescinded.

April 28, 2004
The Abu Ghraib scandal breaks.