No Comment — July 20, 2010, 5:23 pm

Non, je ne regrette rien

Strike up the band and bring on Edith Piaf: we now have Jay Bybee’s theme song. The former White House counsel who headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and oversaw what is now the most notorious legal memorandum of all time submitted to questioning by the House Judiciary Committee, and a transcript was released late last week. Bybee had avoided making public statements about his role in the issuance of the notorious torture memoranda, but a Washington Post account by Karl Vick appeared on April 25, 2009, quoted friends who said he was not exactly proud of this chapter of his life. Now Bybee corrects the record:

I have regrets because of the notoriety that this has brought me. It has imposed enormous pressures on me both professionally and personally. It has had an impact on my family. And I regret that, as a result of my government service, that that kind of attention has been visited on me and on my family.

So, he regrets the fact that the memos, intended to be secret, became a matter of public knowledge. He regrets the damage to his reputation that resulted from this process. But he apparently has no reservations whatsoever about the substance of the memos:

In terms of the analysis, I am going to stand by the memo.

The major “news” item that emerges from the Bybee interview is not surprising. Bybee agrees that the CIA apparently used practices that were beyond the scope of what the OLC authorized. That’s the same as the conclusion reached by the CIA’s Inspector General, by Attorney General Eric Holder, and by senior professional staff at the Justice Department. And it forms the basis for the decision to appoint John Durham, a career Justice Department prosecutor from Connecticut, to do a preliminary review of the matter and decide whether any of the roughly ten cases identified in the CIA IG report merited a separate criminal investigation.

But overall Jay Bybee’s comments to the committee could all have been predicted. We know from papers Bybee filed with the Judicial Council that he hired a criminal-defense lawyer to advise him in possible proceedings dealing with legal ethics issues. We don’t of course know what advice he received. But I have discussed his dilemma with several legal ethicists and have a good idea of what that advice would have been. He would have been told that for the best chance to avoid bar ethics charges or a criminal investigation he should insist that the memos actually reflect his best legal analysis and that he believes in good faith that the analysis is right—even if it is in fact outrageously wrong. Not surprisingly, Bybee’s testimony clings to that slender reed.

Remember that the Justice Department’s own professional ethics office concluded that Bybee had probably breached serious ethics rules and recommended that the matter be referred to a bar ethics committee for review and disciplinary action. The referral did not occur because David Margolis—a high-level Justice official who has built his entire career on protecting political appointees from disciplinary action—intervened to overturn the ethics experts’ recommendations on political grounds. But the story doesn’t end there. The bar associations in the District of Columbia and Nevada are free to take up the Bybee case and take action on it, so he’s still in some jeopardy.

But Bybee’s other worry has to do with his judgeship. The record is clear that Bybee, on departing the White House’s legal counsel’s office, told Alberto Gonzales that he wanted a federal judgeship. Gonzales responded to him that that would take some time, and meanwhile he had another appointment in mind—at the OLC, from which Gonzales was commissioning the torture memos. The facts suggest a clear-cut quid pro quo, under which Bybee got his judgeship in exchange for delivering the most outrageous legal memoranda ever uttered by the Justice Department—memoranda that in fact gave a green light to carefully orchestrated criminal conduct.

Although calls have issued for Bybee’s impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee, while obviously troubled by Bybee’s testimony and seeing in it evidence of criminal wrongdoing, so far shows no signs of initiating the formal removal process. On the other hand, Bybee’s legal problems are far from over. He figures as a target in criminal investigations in Spain, and faces possible arrest if he leaves the country. He’s the only member of the federal judiciary with the threat of arrest hanging over his head.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Number of rats specifically bred for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

3,000

A peanut-shaped asteroid was headed toward Earth.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today