Office of Legal Counsel and the Torture Memos

In an article in the current New York Review of Books, “The Torture Memos: The Case Against the Lawyers,” Georgetown law professor David Cole examines the role and culpability of the lawyers of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who, under the Bush administration, wrote memoranda approving of and authorizing torture by the CIA. Cole says,

The OLC lawyers had the opportunity, and the responsibility, to prevent illegal conduct before it occurred. The lawyers involved in drafting the “torture memos”—Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Daniel Levin, and Steven Bradbury—failed to live up to these obligations. In their hands, law became not a constraint on power but the instrument of unconscionable abuse.

As difficult as the subject matter of the memos may be to read about, this is an important analysis and a cautionary tale for those who might imagine that legal training and high legal office are somehow proof against cynical and unjust conduct.

Four of the memoranda, released by the Obama administration, can be found via the following links.


  1. We can’t have linked to the article, Simon — the real subject of the post — because it was only just released. It’s in the October 8 issue of the New York Review of Books. You’re right about the memos, but a reminder of where to find them can’t be bad.