Deposition of OLC torture memo author Jay Bybee released

The House Judiciary Committee released on 15 July a transcript (read it here, interview documents here) from its closed-door deposition of former high-ranking Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee. As head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under President George W. Bush, Bybee authored and signed two memoranda dated August 1, 2002 that provided the legal framework for the Bush administration’s torture program.

Interviewed by Judiciary Committee members on May 26, Bybee stressed the OLC did not approve many of the torture techniques used on detainees by the CIA.

The key revelations of the interview include the following:

  • Bybee made clear that OLC never approved a number of interrogation techniques that were reportedly used on CIA detainees, and that the OLC memos did not permit “substantial repetition” of even those techniques that were approved, such as waterboarding. According to other OLC documents, one detainee was waterboarded 183 times by the CIA and another was waterboarded 83 times.
  • Bybee reported that his Deputy John Yoo never informed him of secret White House “war planning” meetings and that, based on what he knows now, he is “worried” that Yoo was too close to the White House.
  • It has been previously reported that John Yoo’s lost e-mails hampered the DOJ investigation of the torture memos – Bybee testified that he did not recall taking any steps to ensure that Yoo preserved his OLC e-mails when he worked for Bybee.
  • Despite the widespread, bipartisan criticism of the torture memos and the extreme view of presidential power that they represent, Bybee testified that “in terms of the analysis, I am going to stand by the memo.”

In response Thursday, CIA spokesman George Little said:

“Opinions from the Office of Legal Counsel were the foundation for the CIAs past detention and interrogation practices. That program, now over, has been — and continues to be — the subject of extensive review by the Department of Justice, among others. As the attorney general has said, the focus is to see if anyone involved in the program may have gone beyond the legal guidance Justice provided.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, whose Freedom of Information lawsuit helped make some of the interrogation documents public, said the criminal investigation should be expanded.

“Judge Bybee’s testimony underscores what we’ve been saying for a long time: that the Justice Department should be conducting an investigation that encompasses not just low-level interrogators but senior government officials who authorized torture,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director.

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