By Michael Isikoff |
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Justice Department secretly gave the green light for the U.S. military to attack apartment buildings and office complexes inside the United States, deploy high-tech surveillance against U.S. citizens and potentially suspend First Amendment freedom-of-the-press rights in order to combat the terror threat, according to a memo released Monday.
Many of the actions discussed in the Oct. 23, 2001, memo to then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s chief lawyer, William Haynes, were never actually taken.
But the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel–along with others made public for the first time Monday–illustrates with new details the extraordinary post-9/11 powers asserted by Bush administration lawyers. Those assertions ultimately led to such controversial policies as allowing the waterboarding of terror suspects and permitting warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens–steps that remain the subject of ongoing investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. The memo was co-written by John Yoo, at the time a deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo, now a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, has emerged as one of the central figures in those ongoing investigations.
In perhaps the most surprising assertion, the Oct. 23, 2001, memo suggested the president could even suspend press freedoms if he concluded it was necessary to wage the war on terror. “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,” Yoo wrote in the memo entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activity Within the United States.”
This claim was viewed as so extreme that it was essentially (and secretly) revoked–but not until October of last year, seven years after the memo was written and with barely three and a half months left in the Bush administration.
At that time, Steven Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel throughout Bush’s second term, concluded that Yoo’s statements about overriding First Amendment freedoms were “unnecessary” and “overbroad and general and not sufficiently grounded in the particular circumstance of a concrete scenario,” according to a memo from Bradbury also made public Monday.
Kate Martin, the director for the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington think tank, said the newly disclosed memo by Yoo and Robert Delahunty, another OLC lawyer, was part of a broader legal reasoning that gave President Bush essentially unfettered powers in the war on terrorism. “In October 2001, they were trying to construct a legal regime that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law,” said Martin. (Yoo, also a visiting scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, did not respond to a request for comment. Gonzales’s lawyer, George Terwilliger, said he had not yet had a chance to review the newly released memo and also declined to comment.)