Justice Downgrades Criticism Of Bush-Era Lawyers

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The Justice Department said Friday that three Bush-era attorneys responsible for memos that authorized enhanced-interrogation techniques showed poor judgment, but did not violate ethics, in formulating the memos. The decision means the three won't face criminal charges or disbarment.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The legal community has been waiting years for a report that was given to Congress today. Its focus: whether Bush-era Justice Department officials violated professional ethics when they wrote memos authorizing harsh interrogations.

NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us to discuss the report's conclusions. Ari, remind us, please, who and what this report is about?

ARI SHAPIRO: There are three men at the center of this report who are the focus of it. Their names are John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury. And all three of them worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. They all played key roles in drafting these memos that authorized the harshest interrogations of terrorism detainees.

And the question before the Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducted this investigation, was whether any or all of these men had violated professional legal ethics.

BLOCK: So, what does the report conclude on that?

SHAPIRO: Well, interestingly, the cover letter on this report explains that the Office of Professional Responsibility finished its investigation in July of last year and concluded that two of the three men, Yoo and Bybee, had in fact violated professional ethics.

But there is a career official at the Justice Department, his name is David Margolis, he's been there 40 years and he oversees the work of the Office of Professional Responsibility.

He took a look at this and at the responses from Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury to the draft report, and he concluded that the report should be downgraded. The conclusion should be diluted, if you will, to say they exercised poor professional judgment, which is a step below the violating professional ethics.

BLOCK: So, what does that mean in terms of ramifications for this report?

SHAPIRO: Well, it means they won't face criminal charges. They won't face disbarment, actions that could, you know, have their licenses revoked as a lawyer. They could, in theory, have administrative punishment if they still worked at the Justice Department, but none of them do still work at the Justice Department.

Now, this report is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages long. It contains a lot of back and forth between the CIA, the Justice Department, the White House. And so, even if it doesn't have consequences for the three people at the center of this investigation, it could have consequences for other cases.

For example, there's an ongoing investigation into whether CIA interrogators who went beyond the guidelines of these memos violated the law. This report could have an impact on those sorts of things.

BLOCK: Okay, Ari, thanks.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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