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DOJ ethics report clears Bush administration 'torture memo' lawyers

[JURIST] Former US Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] lawyers John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive] and Jay Bybee [academic profile] have been cleared of allegations of wrongdoing in relation to their controversial memos asserting the legality of enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive], it was reported Friday. The results of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) [official website] investigation of the two former OLC lawyers have yet to be officially released, but the probe is reported [Newsweek report] to have concluded that the lawyers exercised poor judgment in crafting the 2002 memos, a finding that does not qualify as professional misconduct. Originally, the OPR investigation had concluded that Yoo and Bybee had violated their professional obligations in crafting the memos, but this finding was softened by the reviewer. The implications of the original findings would have been far reaching, and could have led to significant sanctions against the former officials. Yoo, now a professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law [official website], could have faced disbarment. Bybee, now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], could have faced impeachment proceedings.

A report prepared in the final months of the Bush administration came to similar conclusions, but was returned [Washington Post report] to the OPR for further investigation by then Attorney General Michael Mukasey. The five-year statute of limitations on Yoo's alleged misconduct lapsed shortly after. In June, a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a private lawsuit against Yoo could proceed. Judge Jeffrey White refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by convicted terrorist Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] that claims Yoo's legal opinions endorsing enhanced interrogation techniques led to Padilla's torture. Yoo has appealed the decision. The ruling was the first time a judge has allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a government lawyer for his opinion in the interrogation memos [JURIST report]. The Department of Justice [official website] in April released four of the memos [JURIST report] from the OLC outlining controversial CIA interrogation techniques and their legal rationale in response to a Freedom of Information Act [text] lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] during the Bush administration.

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