February 16, 2010
Remember the OPR Report?
Cross-posted at Huffington Post. A year ago today, Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter to the Department of Justice inquiring about the status of the Office of Professional Responsibility's investigation into the conduct of Justice Department lawyers who authorized the abuse, humiliation and torture of detainees in U.S. custody. The Senators were assured that the report had been completed; it has yet to see the light of day. Last March, the administration explained that the holdup was because the attorneys representing the lawyers who had authorized torture wanted time to review the report and comment on it -- and presumably to suggest revisions. But even as the lawyers wrangled over the wording, the report's conclusions were apparently so disturbing that in August, Attorney General Holder announced that his decision to open a preliminary review into the abusive interrogation of certain detainees was based in part on the findings and analysis of the OPR report - which still had not been released. In November, Holder once again told Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee that the report was completed, was in "its last stages of review," and that by the end of the month "the report should be issued." That was three months ago. So where's the report? In January, news accounts revealed that the latest version would not recommend that the lawyers whose work laid the foundation for the Office of Legal Counsel's approval of abusive practices -- John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- be referred to their state bars for ethics violations. Earlier versions reportedly did recommend that they be referred to state disciplinary authorities for sanctions, including revocation of their licenses. Yoo is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley; Bybee is now a federal appeals judge with life tenure. Apparently their attorneys had the last word. Regardless of the Justice Department's official recommendations, the report - including all the relevant facts revealed during the investigation of the attorneys' conduct about how they came to authorize torture and other illegal acts - ought to be produced publicly. Last June, Human Rights First, along with 12 other human rights groups, appealed to Attorney General Holder to release the report and live up to the administration's promises of transparency and accountability. As the groups wrote then, release of the report is critical to demonstrating that the U.S. government has in fact made a clean break from past abuses and renounced the excessive secrecy and defective legal reasoning that marred the United States' reputation as a country that upholds the rule of law. The United States is also legally obligated under the Convention Against Torture to investigate and hold accountable those who participated in the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody; the lawyers who authorized those practices are not exempt from such an investigation. Still, eight months after human rights groups sent that letter, and a year to the day after Senators Durbin and Whitehouse sent theirs, we still have no idea when the OPR report will be released, or what is now holding it up. The longer the administration hems and haws and tinkers with the ethics report before releasing it, the more the stain of the past administration's transgressions becomes its own. It's high time for the Justice Department to come clean. Update: As Robert Parry and Scott Horton have both pointed out, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments on ABC’s “This Week” last Sunday that the OLC lawyers were just doing “what we asked them to do” when they justified “enhanced” interrogations lend support to the concern that Yoo and Bybee were instructed to find a legal justification for torture and other abusive techniques rather than to provide objective legal advice to the president. That makes the public release of the Office of Professional Responsibility’s report, complete with its detailed fact-finding and analysis, even more important now.