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Terrorism & Security

Report: Bush lawyers will not face charges for approving torture

A draft report of a Justice Department inquiry recommends the officials face professional sanctions, but no criminal charges.

By Liam Stack / May 6, 2009

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A five-year-long internal Justice Department inquiry into the origin of Bush-era interrogation techniques has recommended that government lawyers who defended the legality of practices like waterboarding not face criminal charges, according to media reports.

It is the latest volley in a drawn-out political debate over whether former Bush officials should be held legally accountable for the interrogation techniques, which were approved in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. At the time, many feared that a second strike on the US was imminent.

President Barack Obama calls the techniques torture, but former President George W. Bush viewed them as an acceptable way to interrogate suspects who may know information about possible future attacks.

The legal arguments in favor of the techniques were revealed last month when President Obama released classified Justice Department memos written by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steve Bradbury, who all served in the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush.

When releasing the memos, Obama said he would not prosecute individual CIA agents who carried out the interrogations, but deferred the question of disciplining the practices's legal architects to Attorney General Eric Holder, reports the Associated Press (AP). According to the AP, sources with knowledge of the draft report say it recommends professional sanctions for two of the men and no penalties for the third, in a move that has drawn the ire of human rights groups.

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 disbarment.
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.

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