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Rep. Conyers plans hearings on Bush torture lawyers

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Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has announced that he plans to hold House Judiciary Committee hearings on the Bush administration lawyers whose legal memos justified the use of torture on terrorism detainees.

Conyers’ announcement Friday follows the release of a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility which criticizes lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee for “poor judgment” but concludes that their actions did not rise to the level of professional misconduct.

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As reported by the Associated Press, “The decision closes the book on one of the major lingering investigations into the counterterrorism policies of George W. Bush’s administration.”

The AP goes on to explain, “An initial review by the Justice
Department’s internal affairs unit found that former government lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had committed professional misconduct, a conclusion that could have cost them their law licenses. But the Justice Department’s top career lawyer reviewed the matter and disagreed.”

Conyers, however, is not satisfied with allowing the matter to drop. He has posted a full set of documents at the Judiciary Committee website, including both preliminary drafts and the final Justice Department report, Yoo’s and Bybee’s responses, and Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis’s memorandum explaining why he did not feel that Yoo’s and Bybee’s actions amounted to “professional misconduct.”

“For years, those who approved torture and abuse of detainees have hidden behind legal memos issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel,” Conyers stated. “The materials released today make plain that those memos were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound, and may have been improperly influenced by a desire to tell the Bush White House and the CIA what it wanted to hear.”

“The Office of Legal Counsel has a proud tradition of providing independent, high quality legal advice to the executive branch,” Conyers’ statement continues. “The materials released today make clear that the lawyers who wrote the torture memos did not live up to that tradition. … Given the serious nature of the issues raised in this report, the Committee intends to hold hearings on these matters in the very near future.”

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Jay Bybee is now a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last April, following the release of several memos on approved interrogation techniques, the New York Times described him in an editorial as “unfit” for the job and called for him to be impeached. The Times pointed in particular to one memo in which Bybee “wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing.”

John Yoo currently teaches law at the University of California. Unlike Bybee, he has given no hint of having any regrets at the role he played, and he was recently the target of student protesters who held up a banner reading “Try Yoo for Torture” during a guest lecture he gave at Johns Hopkins University.


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