WASHINGTON (AP) - Bush administration lawyers who approved harsh
interrogation techniques of terror suspects should not face
criminal charges, Justice Department investigators say in a draft
report that recommends two of the three attorneys face possible
The recommendations come after an Obama administration decision
last month not to prosecute CIA interrogators who followed advice
outlined in the memos.
That decision angered conservatives who accused President Barack
Obama of selling out the CIA, and from liberals who thought he was
being too forgiving of practices they - and Obama - call torture.
The president's rhetoric, if not actual policy, shifted on the
matter as the political fallout intensified.
Officials conducting the internal Justice Department inquiry
into the lawyers who wrote those memos have recommended referring
two of the three lawyers - John Yoo and Jay Bybee - to state bar
associations for possible disciplinary action, according to a
person familiar with the inquiry. The person, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss the inquiry.
The person noted that the investigative report was still in
draft form and subject to revisions. Attorney General Eric Holder
also may make his own determination about what steps to take once
the report has been finalized.
The inquiry has become a politically loaded guessing game, with
some advocating criminal charges against the lawyers and others
urging that the matter be dropped.
In a letter to two senators, the Justice Department said a key
deadline in the inquiry expired Monday, signaling that most of the
work on the matter was completed. The letter does not mention the
possibility of criminal charges, nor does it name the lawyers under
The letter did not indicate what the findings of the final
report would be. Bybee, Yoo and Steven Bradbury worked in the
Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and played key roles
in crafting the legal justification for techniques critics call
The memos were written as the Bush administration grappled with
the fear and uncertainty following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror
attacks. Over the years that followed, lawyers re-examined and
rewrote much of the legal advice.
Last month, the Obama administration released four of the
long-secret memos about treatment of terror suspects in which
lawyers authorized methods including waterboarding, throwing
subjects against a wall and forced nudity.
In releasing the documents, President Barack Obama declared CIA
interrogators who followed the memos would not be prosecuted. Obama left it to Holder to decide whether those who authorized or
approved the methods should face charges.
When that inquiry neared completion last year, investigators
recommended seeking professional sanctions against Bybee and Yoo,
but not Bradbury, according to the person familiar with the matter.
Those would come in the form of recommendations to state bar
associations, where the most severe possible punishment is
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for
Constitutional Rights, called the decision not to seek criminal
charges "inconceivable, given all that we know about the twisted
logic of these memos."
Warren argued the only reason for such a decision "is to
provide political cover for people inside the Obama White House so
they don't have to pursue what needs to be done."
Bybee is now a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
Bradbury returned to private practice when he left the government
at the end of President George W. Bush's term in the White House.
Asked for comment, Yoo's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, said he signed
an agreement with the Justice Department not to discuss the draft
report. Lawyer Maureen Mahoney, who is representing Bybee, also
declined to comment.
"The former employees have until May 4, 2009 to provide their
comments on the draft report," states the letter from Assistant
Attorney General Ronald Weich to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.,
and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Whitehouse has scheduled a hearing on the issue next week.
Now that the deadline has passed, there is little more for
officials to do but make revisions to it based on the responses
they've received, and decide how much, if any, of the findings
should be made public.
Both Whitehouse and Durbin have pressed the Justice Department
for more information about the progress of the investigation by the
Office of Professional Responsibility.
The office examines possible ethics violations by Justice
Department employees. On rare occasions, those inquiries become
full-blown criminal investigations.
The language of the letter, dated Monday, indicates the inquiry
will result in a final report.
The letter notes that Holder and his top deputy will have access
to any information they need "to evaluate the final report and
make determinations about appropriate next steps."
The results of the investigation were delayed late last year,
when then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy asked
investigators to allow the lawyers a chance to respond to their
findings, as is typically done for those who still work for the
Investigators also shared a draft copy with the CIA to review
whether the findings contained any classified information.
According to the letter, the CIA then requested to comment on the
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