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Memo: Laws Didn't Apply to Interrogators

John C. Yoo, now a law professor in Berkeley, Calif., defended his memo, saying,
John C. Yoo, now a law professor in Berkeley, Calif., defended his memo, saying, "Our legal advice to the President, in fact, was near boilerplate." (Karen Ballard - Photo By Karen Ballard/for The Washington Post)
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In 2005, amid public controversy over such methods, Congress limited Defense Department officials to interrogation methods listed in the Army's field manual, which was rewritten to forbid many of the aggressive methods. The CIA was exempted, however, and President Bush vetoed recent legislation that would have applied the same requirements to that agency.

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Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, defended the memo in an e-mail yesterday, saying the Justice Department altered its opinions "for appearances' sake." He said his successors "ignored the Department's long tradition in defending the President's authority in wartime."

"Far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution," Yoo wrote, "our legal advice to the President, in fact, was near boilerplate."

Yoo's 2003 memo arrived amid strong Pentagon debate about which interrogation techniques should be allowed and which might lead to legal action in domestic and international courts.

After a rebellion by military lawyers, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2002 suspended a list of aggressive techniques he had approved, the most extreme of which were used on a single detainee at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoner, military investigators later would determine, was subjected to stress positions, nudity, hooding, exposure to dogs and other aggressive techniques.

Largely because of Yoo's memo, however, a Pentagon working group in April 2003 endorsed the continued use of extremely aggressive tactics. The top lawyers for each military service, who were largely excluded from the group, did not receive a final copy of Yoo's March memo and did not know about the group's final report for more than a year, officials said.

Thomas J. Romig, who was then the Army's judge advocate general, said yesterday after reading the memo that it appears to argue there are no rules in a time of war, a concept Romig found "downright offensive."

Martin S. Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel who now teaches law at Georgetown University, said the Yoo memo helped create a legal environment that allowed prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib.

"What else could have been the source of belief in Iraq that the gloves were off and all laws could be disregarded with impunity?" Lederman asked. "It created a world in which everyone on the ground believed the laws did not apply. It was a law-free zone."

In a 2004 memo for the Navy inspector general's office, then-General Counsel Alberto J. Mora objected to the ideas that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment could be allowed at Guantanamo and that the president's authority is virtually unlimited.

Mora wrote that he spoke with Yoo at the Pentagon on Feb. 6, 2003, and that Yoo "glibly" defended his own memo. "Asked whether the President could order the application of torture, Mr. Yoo responded, 'Yes,' " Mora wrote. Yoo denies saying that.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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