Washington Justice Department lawyers showed “poor judgment” but did not commit professional misconduct when they authorized CIA interrogators to use waterboarding and other harsh tactics at the height of the U.S. war on terrorism, an internal review released Friday found.
The decision closes the book on one of the major lingering investigations into the counterterrorism policies of George W. Bush’s administration. President Barack Obama campaigned on abolishing the simulated drowning technique of waterboarding and other tactics that he called torture, but he left open the question of whether anyone would be punished for authorizing such methods.
Liberal Democrats had pressed for action against the authors of the so-called torture memos, and they indicated they aren’t finished discussing the matter. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he was “deeply offended” by the legal memos and planned to hold a hearing Feb. 26.
An initial review by the Justice Department’s internal affairs unit found that former government lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had committed professional misconduct, a conclusion that could have cost them their law licenses. But, underscoring just how controversial and legally thorny the memos have become, the Justice Department’s top career lawyer reviewed the matter and disagreed.
“This decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies those memoranda,” Assistant Deputy Attorney General David Margolis wrote in a memo released Friday.
Margolis, the top nonpolitical Justice Department lawyer and a veteran of several administrations, called the legal memos “flawed” and said that, at every opportunity, they gave interrogators as much leeway as possible under U.S. torture laws. But he said Yoo and Bybee were not reckless and did not knowingly give incorrect advice, the standard for misconduct.