Torture-memo authors avoid sanctions

TORTURE-MEMO AUTHORS AVOID SANCTIONS…. Jay Bybee and John Yoo have effectively been slapped on the wrist.

After five years of often bitter internal debate, the Justice Department concluded in a report released Friday that the lawyers who gave legal justification to the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation tactics for terrorism suspects used flawed legal reasoning but were not guilty of professional misconduct.

The report, rejecting harsher sanctions recommended by Justice Department ethics lawyers, brings to a close a pivotal chapter in the debate over the legal limits of the Bush administration’s fight against terrorism and whether its treatment of Qaeda prisoners amounted to torture.

Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) found that Bybee, now a federal judge, and Yoo, a Berkeley law professor, demonstrated “professional misconduct” when they authored the Bush administration’s torture memos. OPR’s ethics lawyers “said the lawyers had ignored legal precedents and provided slipshod legal advice to the White House in possible violation of international and federal laws on torture.”

And while “professional misconduct” findings could have led to sanctions for Bybee and Yoo — including disbarment — Deputy Associate Attorney General David Margolis, a career Justice Department official tasked with reviewing the OPR report, overruled the ethics lawyers’ conclusion. Specifically, Margolis cited the context of post-9/11 pressure, which led Bybee and Yoo to produce “flawed” advice, but not necessarily advice issued in bad faith.

Margolis nevertheless singled out Yoo for pointed criticism: “While I have declined to adopt O.P.R.’s findings of misconduct, I fear that John Yoo’s loyalty to his own ideology and convictions clouded his view of his obligation to his client and led him to author opinions that reflected his own extreme, albeit sincerely held, view of executive power while speaking for an institutional client.”

That’ll sting, but that’s all it will do.

Responding to the report, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “Mr. Bybee and Mr. Yoo may keep their law licenses, but they will not escape the verdict of history.”

Given the scope and consequences of their wrongdoing, this hardly seems satisfying.