OPR: “Not a Routine Investigation”

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The Office of Professional Responsibility report on the Bush administration’s torture memos—released at long last this evening, completely bollixing this reporter’s plans for after work cocktails—is remarkable on a number of levels, not least the duration it took to put together. The report was almost five years in the making. What took so damn long? “This was not a routine investigation,” the report notes, going on to detail a laundry list of complications. One was the deletion of the email records of Office of Legal Counsel officials John Yoo and Patrick Philbin. (Sound familiar?)

The report elaborates in a footnote:

OLC initially provided us with a relatively small number of emails, files, and draft documents. After it became apparent, during the course of our review, that relevant documents were missing, we requested and were given direct access to the email and computer records of [REDACTED], Yoo, Philbin, [Assistant Attorney General Jay] Bybee, and [Assistant Attorney General Jack] Goldsmith. However, we were told that most of Yoo’s email records had been deleted and were not recoverable. Philbin’s email records from July 2002 through August 5, 2002—the time period in which the Bybee Memo was completed and the Classified Bybee Memo…was created—had also been deleted and were reportedly not recoverable.

Also slowing down the process was some “witnesses’ initial reluctance to provide information,” and a complete lack of cooperation by others, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal counsel and later chief of staff David Addington and former deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, both of whom refused interviews.

 

And there was at least one other complicating factor. During the years the OPR was conducting its inquiry into the memos, the watchdog was saddled with so many other allegations of malfeasance by the Bush Justice Department (including, presumably, the agency’s politicized hiring practices and the US attorney firings) it was difficult to keep up with it all:

All of these problems were exacerbated by limited OPR resources, in light of an unprecedented number of complex investigations of high-level officials occurring during this same time period.

Given the range of difficulties OPR “experienced in obtaining information over the past five years,” the watchdog leaves open the possibility that its exhaustive report may not even be the final word on the controversial memos: “It remains possible that additional information eventually will surface regarding the CIA program and the military’s interrogation programs that might bear upon our conclusions.”

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate