Torture Memo Gave White House Broad Powers

The Justice Department still has not disclosed an additional February 2005 legal opinion, which was drafted after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took office. But previous interrogation memos, which have been released, include an Aug. 1, 2002 memorandum, which laid out standards and legal guidance for interrogation, including possible justification for torture.

The memo is known as the Bybee memo after Jay Bybee, who was at the time the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, though Yoo drafted much of the document.

Jack Goldsmith who headed OLC from October 2003 to July 2004, and worked at the Pentagon before coming to the department, has described many of the legal opinions, including the Bybee memo, as "flawed."

In a 2007 interview with the PBS program "Frontline," Goldsmith described the problems he had reviewing and standing by Yoo's work.

"After I read these opinions I had a whole flurry of emotions," he said. "My first one was disbelief that programs of this importance could be supported by legal opinions that were this flawed. My second was the realization that I would have a very, very hard time standing by these opinions if pressed. My third was the sinking feeling, what was I going to do if I was pressed about reaffirming these opinions or something required my decision related to these programs?"

"At that point I wasn't sure," Goldsmith said.

A Dec. 30, 2004 memorandum by former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Dan Levin replaced both memos.

Levin's memo noted, "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., weighed in on the memo Tuesday. He said in a statement that the memo's release is a "small step forward" in his quest for documents from the Bush administration, though he said there are still many documents the White House "continues to shield… even from members of Congress."

"The memo they have declassified today reflects the expansive view of executive power that has been the hallmark of this administration," Leahy said. "It is no wonder that this memo, like the now-infamous 'Bybee memo,' could not withstand scrutiny and had to be withdrawn. Like the 'Bybee memo,' this memo seeks to find ways to avoid legal restrictions and accountability on torture and threatens our country's status as a beacon of human rights around the world."

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