April 2nd, 2008
01:28 PM ET

Justice memo approving harsh interrogations, and its impact


Eric Lichtblau, Pulitzer Prize-winning NY Times reporter and author of 'BUSH'S LAW: The Remaking of American Justice'  is an expert on the Justice Department. Lichtblau, along with his colleague James Risen, broke the original story on the warrantless eavesdropping program in 2005

The 2003 Justice Department memo released Tuesday night, asserting an overarching, almost unchecked view of the president's wartime power, needs to be seen in the context of the Administration's efforts to justify the rough tactics it had used on al Qaeda prisoners for the first 1-1/2 years in the war on terror.

As I discuss in my new book, "Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice," John Yoo - the author of the memo released this week on the treatment of prisoners and of a still-classified opinion on the NSA wiretapping program - was the White House's point man in the Justice Department and was responsible for writing almost all the key opinions asserting presidential authority.

Despite his growing prominence in the early years of the war on terror, Yoo wasn't particularly well-liked at the Justice Department. His critics there saw him as a brilliant but sometimes sloppy lawyer who was too often willing to do the bidding of the White House and the Pentagon.

Justice Department lawyers complained that even the Attorney General wasn't aware at times what opinions Yoo was giving the White House.

"It will take 50 years," a Justice Department official who was critical of Yoo's work told me for my book, "to undo the damage that he did to the place." 

With many of the legal opinions from the early years of the war on terror still classified, it may take that long just to understand the tactics and legal tenets asserted by the Bush Administration.

– Eric Lichtblau, author and reporter for The New York Times

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Ram

    Bush administration hired John Yoo, a Berkeley liberal, put a gun to his head & ordered, sign the papers (prepared by Bush's chronies). John Yoo being of an asian (Korean) origin, chanted a few Buddhist mantras and said Peace, I will sign anything, please do not shoot me. He was more worried about his job, family & pleasing the admin . Now, he is the scapegoat. This is the way the present administration has played their game all along. Don't we know that this admin is very good at putting a monkey on somebody elses back. It is time to kick them out & prosecute the top five.

    April 3, 2008 at 9:56 am |
  2. Claudia

    Bush, Cheney and their lawyers went above and beyond the law to coverup for all their wrong doings and don't forget the justices approved what was done.

    April 3, 2008 at 9:32 am |
  3. William

    When you do the things your enemy does to you, than you are no better than your enemy.

    What happened to daddy Bush's kinder, gentler nation?

    April 3, 2008 at 6:36 am |
  4. S, Minneapolis

    I hope this story and other such journalistic reporting finds its way to CNN's broadcast soon. Thanks for putting it on the blog, I'll try to check out the book.

    April 3, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  5. Paris

    Stacy, I respect your point of view.
    But terrorists we deal with today are technologically more advanced.
    and we have no choice but to be more agile.
    We don’t want to interrogate; we don’t want to stereotype, we don’t like eavesdropping,
    We are taking all tools away and expect the government to keep us safe!
    If you are suspicious of someone unless you eavesdrop you wouldn’t know if they are terrorists.
    You can blame Bush for it all, but to me its childish we need to look at the bigger picture.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:23 am |
  6. anniekate

    Bush and Cheney have thumbed their nose at the Congress and the Constitution the entire 8 years. Their vow to support and defend the constitution of the united states against all enemies foreign and domestic turned out to be a joke – they have been the enemy of the constitution on many issues. I wonder if Bush's legacy will be the president who needed to be impeached but wasn't.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 2, 2008 at 11:39 pm |
  7. Michael Gregory

    This story that chronicles Bush's disregard for the Constitution is HUGE! The legal hocus-pocus so arrogantly written in the pages of a Justice memo that so neatly condones torture without accountability is earthshaking. Further, the fact that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg is beyond appalling.

    I have been increasingly disappointed with CNN's lack of coverage of the news. It seems more and more evident that CNN has become predominately an news as entertainment station.

    This story was not reported in your main news segment, I had to scroll down to find it as it was only mentioned as one of Anderson Cooper's blogs.

    My question is just what news is pertinent enough to you folks at CNN to report?

    April 2, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  8. Annie Kate

    Bush and his administration has tweaked laws and regulations in more than this area. In this one you get torture; in the tweaking of regulations in the environment sector you end up with polluted water and air because Bush and his lawyers changed the regulations for the Clean Water Act to make it easier for Big Coal to strip mine.

    Bush and Cheney have gone around the courts and around Congress for 8 years and have answered to no one for their actions – not even the American people. They vowed when they took he oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution, but I fail to see where they even consulted it. Its sad that Congress was too weak and lazy to impeach them.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 2, 2008 at 9:25 pm |
  9. CON

    According to Bush's law the court is just a hinderance to doing what he wants and the congrsss is a bunch of uneffective buffones who only care about themselves and their money thus allowing him to cowboy all over the world and damage the definition of an american.

    April 2, 2008 at 8:05 pm |
  10. Stacy

    Paris, the issue here is not eavesdropping on terrorists; the issue is our government being accountable to us. Of course everyone wants them to eavesdrop on terrorists, but some of us would like them to have a good reason before they tap any random phone line because they are the ones that get to define who is a terrorist. And we're not even asking for that reason up front.

    Even under the old FISA law there was a 72 hour retroactive clause, meaning that even if the ridiculous "24 scenario" were to actually happen and the government needed to listen to someone right that instant to prevent a catastrophe, they were legally free to do so, as long as they proved their case within 72 hours after the fact.

    But the Bush Administration doesn't want to be accountable to anyone and that's a fact that should disturb us all.

    April 2, 2008 at 7:53 pm |
  11. Paris

    Cindy, Bush kept us safe.
    Some times you have to pay a price to be safe.
    This is a complete hypocrisy.
    My 1st comment wasn’t posted so let me say it again.
    How do you suppose in this day and age they should keep us safe.
    If they don’t eavesdrop and don’t interrogate terrorist operatives, how are they going to be
    proactive and keep us SAFE?
    Be realistic people.
    If your family member was in danger what would you do? A presidents 1st responsibility is to keep us safe.

    CNN I dare you to post this.

    April 2, 2008 at 5:34 pm |
  12. Slater

    The powers of the President are laid out in Article II, Section 1, Article II, section 2 and Article II section 3 of The United States Constitution. I sure hope you include this in your book, because the ignorance of this section alone has the typical US lemming in a tizzy.

    The President cannot pick up a sword, gather a bunch of men and march into a country and declare war for no reason. These powers are specifically granted to him by the Constitution of the United States. Few presidents have exercised this power in times of war, such as president Lincoln (do the research). I bet that 0 out of 10 people know that.

    Understand, also, that there are different challenges in this day and age, such as the fact that foreign nationals are not beneficiaries of the US Constitution. Before he does this, there are steps to take and people to consult. The Attorney General is one of them. The Attorney General is the protector of the Constitution, so to speak.

    If this attorney Yoo was giving opinions with no awareness of the Attorney General, then that is a travesty that only the AG is accountable for. This really is not good news for America, because what it says is that Bush covered all his bases and made sure to get the advice according to the Constitution, but the AG gave the job to someone who was not authorized and possibly not experienced enough, to do it.

    April 2, 2008 at 5:29 pm |
  13. Nina Kohl

    Three words: "Impeach and prosecute."

    April 2, 2008 at 4:53 pm |
  14. Tina

    Bush can't make laws unless congress approves those laws. But, maybe everyone wasn't present and it went through anyway. Is that possible?

    I have to admit, there are so many rules that I can't keep up with. Let's refresh my memory....the bill goes around a few places and then is accepted or vetoed.

    We need a brand spanking new way to go about things. Half the people do not know when a bill is taking place. IT's too much to keep up with.

    We need a newsletter through the mail. The states should keep the counties updated by mail. That is what I think. AND every darn state should go by the same rules on that regard. Quess what? we (the states) never agree! What's a person to do?

    I know too much gets in the way and it often times gets bogged down.

    We are smart people though. We can get it done. Get ur done. lol My goodness.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:35 pm |
  15. xtina

    Oh please- it's the NY Times. Like they would have anything patriotic to say. Bush is not the enemy – Al Qaeda is! The monitoring is done overseas and on international calls of people already flagged to have terrorist ties. Why do these "journalists" insist on exposing the operations used by federal law enforcement officials to the enemy? This wouldn't have anything to do with selling books, would it?

    April 2, 2008 at 3:23 pm |
  16. Stacy

    That 50 year estimation by the Justice Department Official doesn't surprise me. The damage done is unfathomable. It's good to see this extremely important (and shockingly underreported) issue on the 360 blog and I can only hope that it will be discussed further on the show.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  17. Robert Baltazar

    I watch your show alot.. It seems to me that most of your news team is way out of touch with whats happening with real people..You always have a panel on talking about the economy and whats going on with wall street and whats going on with big business, politics etc....Like the rest of the media and politicians, im sorry to say you have fallen into the same rutt..Covering stories with "experts" who play the same tune day after day....The canidates say the same things over and over again, promises to never be heard from again once elected..The media falls for the same lies every election..I have lived long enough to finally say...It does no good to vote either way...Why dont you cover the millions of us out here sick of both the canidates hollow promises and the media's coverage of this....sad that the majority out here is so sick of it all, and wonder no more why we dont vote!

    April 2, 2008 at 3:05 pm |
  18. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    While speaking in San Francisco last week, AG Mukasey made the following statement regarding pre-9/11, "We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."

    Even under the "old" FISA the Bush administration could have invoked the 72 hour emergency warrantless wiretap to listen into those pre-9/11 calls, and they could have easily obtained a FISA wiretapping warrant if these calls were from suspected terrorists.

    If Mukasey's claim about this call is true, it means the Bush administration knew about a suspected terrorist call into the U.S. pre-9/11 and they did nothing about it. I'd like to hear how the Justice Department explains this.

    April 2, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  19. lucille Duncan

    Bush adminstration will take more than 50 years just to get the country out of debt. . He or they have this country in debt as everyone know it is time to get out of a ware and our men to come home.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Taj

    John Yoo is a Chinese or Korean American, brilliant & nice, liberal from Boalt school of law, Berkeley. Bush administration & justice dept is conservative, religious, Hawks & a person of Yoo's background is not easily acceptable to that group. He does not fit there. So, probably was not well liked. Tell me who has done more damage to this country than Bush adminisrtation? If somebody else (an asian or black or of different ethnic origin) has done the same thing this present administartion has done to this country their life would be taken away or probably spent their rest of their life in jail.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:12 pm |
  21. Cindy

    I can see how it'll take years and years to fix all of Bush's messes! It seems he thinks that the laws only are made for us citizens or common folk and he and his administration could make up rules and do as they please. I just don't see why nothing has been done to any of them as a result of everything that they have done.

    I read a bit of the memo and it's crazy that they thought that they could get away with torturing people in this day and age and that it wouldn't get out. I guess they figured the good ole boy system could keep it hush hush. Glad that they were wrong. We need to be kept aware of everything that they do regardless.

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    April 2, 2008 at 2:00 pm |