John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who issued legal opinions essentially giving President George W. Bush unlimited authority to torture prisoners of war, exercised "poor judgment" but should not be disbarred, an internal review has concluded.
This, in spite of a dearth of missing e-mails from the time the infamous memos were being crafted.
Instead of being stripped of their law licenses, both Yoo and fellow former DoJ lawyer Jay Bybee are cited for "professional misconduct" and will face no criminal liability.
"These memos contained significant flaws," Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis wrote in a 69-page memo dated January 5 and released Friday. "But as all that glitters is not gold, all flaws do not constitute professional misconduct.... I conclude that Yoo and Bybee exercised poor judgment by overstating the certainty of their conclusions and underexposing countervailing arguments."
The Washington Post reports that Yoo and Bybee "allegedly worked with officials in the White House and at the CIA to structure their controversial legal analysis."
Investigators indeed concluded that Yoo "violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice," the Post continued. Bybee was cited for "reckless disregard" for ethical obligations, it said.
The long-awaited and repeatedly delayed release of the final report by the ethics unit, which capped a two-year review, was hundreds of pages long and included emails exchanged between the Justice Department, the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. It was dated July 29.
It also cleared Steven Bradbury, who headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel where Yoo and Bybee worked.
Together, they followed a broad interpretation of executive power in outlining the legal standards for interrogations of top terror suspects and providing the legal justification for the methods used.
The report criticized former attorney general John Ashcroft, then-chief of the Justice Department's Criminal Division Michael Chertoff and others for not critically examining the memos or recognizing the documents' shortcomings. But it did not cite the officials for misconduct.
In April, President Barack Obama's administration released four partially blacked out memos authored by government lawyers at the height of his predecessor George W. Bush's "war on terror."
The documents blew the lid off the CIA's ten "enhanced" interrogation techniques (EIT) approved by the Bush administration, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, the use of insects and the eleventh EIT, "prolonged diapering," first uncovered by RAW STORY.
Blogger Marcy Wheeler notes that in PDF documents released by the House Judiciary Committee, redacted portions appear to obscure perhaps another interrogation technique. "Is it the use of drugs?" she asks.
The lawyers argued that a long list of coercive techniques did not equal torture as they did not amount to inflicting severe mental or physical pain.
Obama has faced criticism across the political spectrum over the issue, with rights groups and some fellow Democrats demanding prompt prosecution of former Bush administration officials and conservatives charging the release of the memos endangered national security.
Decrying the abuses of terror suspects in US custody as "a blight on our national honor," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said the report "makes plain that those memos were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound."
The Michigan Democrat said in a statement that the lawyers "dishonored their office and the entire Department of Justice." His panel plans to hold a hearing on the matter "shortly."
The top Republican on his committee, Lamar Smith, countered that Yoo and Bybee "did their best to follow the law."
"In the wake of 9/11, attorneys at the Justice Department were faced with unprecedented challenges, not knowing whether other attacks were imminent," he added.
Rights groups did not let up on their pressure for the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for interrogation techniques widely considered torture.
The Post added: "In its final report, the OPR said it had tried unsuccessfully to access Yoo's e-mail messages during his time at the Justice Department, and was told that 'most of Yoo's e-mail records had been deleted and were not recoverable.'"
"Justice Department lawyers have an obligation to uphold the law, so when they write legal opinions that were designed to provide legal cover for torture, they need to be held accountable with more than a slap on the wrist," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.
Jameel Jaffer, who heads the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, called on the Justice Department to expand its investigation into the interrogation practices.