Just how bad were John Yoo’s now-infamous torture memos?
After numerous calls from Congress for the DoJ to get digging, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility told Congress in February that it is busy investigating Yoo’s infamous August, 2002 torture memo. That one, signed by then Office of Legal Counsel chief Jay Bybee, limited the definition of torture to physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” It was the administration’s so-called “golden shield” which permitted the CIA to use its most aggressive interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.
And then in March of 2003 came Yoo’s memo broadly authorizing the use of torture by military interrogators on unlawful combatants. Now OPR has told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that it will be investigating that memo, too.
It is far short of a criminal investigation. OPR’s job is to police whether the Department’s lawyers behave professionally, and so in this case, OPR’s chief Marshall Jarrett has informed Congress that the investigation will be covering “whether the legal advice contained in those memoranda was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.”
So the question for OPR will be whether Yoo came to his roundly-denounced conclusions in a professional, ethical manner. OPR’s investigations are usually not publicly released, but Jarrett wrote that “OPR will consider releasing to Congress and the public a non-classified summary of our final report.” There’s no telling when that would be.
There are plenty of grumbles that the limited scope and independence of OPR’s investigation (OPR reports to the attorney general) mean that it won’t tell us enough and won’t result in any changes. And Attorney General Michael Mukasey has already made it clear that no matter how deeply flawed an Office of Legal Counsel memo might have been (or be), anyone who relied on it “could not be the subject of a prosecution.”