OLC Memo: Status of Certain OLC Opinions Issued in the Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001

<p>An OLC memo stating that &quot;the purpose of this memorandum is to confirm that certain propositions stated in several opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel in 2001-2003 respecting the allocation of authorities between the President and Congress in matters of war and national security do not reflect the current views of this office.&quot; &nbsp;The memo concludes that &quot;the propositions highlighted in the nine opinions identified [in the memo] do not reflect the currrent views of the Office of Legal Counsel and should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.&quot; &nbsp;</p>

Doc_type: 
Legal Memo
Doc_date: 
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Doc_rel_date: 
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Doc_text: 

U.S. Department of Justice Seal u.s. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Washington. DC 20530 January 15, 2009 Office of the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General MEMORANDUM FOR THE FILES Re: Status of Certain OLC Opinions Issued in the Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 The purpose of this memorandum is to confirm that certain propositions stated in several opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel in 2001-2003 respecting the allocation of authorities between the President and Congress in matters of war and national security do not reflect the current views of this Office. We have previously withdrawn or superseded a number of opinions that depended upon one or more of these propositions. For reasons discussed herein, today we explain why these propositions are not consistent with the current views of OLC, and we advise that caution should be exercised before relying in other respects on the remaining opinions identified below.1 The opinions addressed herein were issued in the wake of the atrocities of 9/11, when policy makers, fearing that additional catastrophic terrorist attacks were imminent, strived to employ all lawful means to protect the Nation. In the months following 9/11, attorneys in the Office of Legal Counsel and in the Intelligence Community confronted novel and complex legal questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure. Perhaps reflecting this context, several of the opinions identified below do not address specific and concrete policy proposals, but rather address in general terms the broad contours of legal issues potentially raised in the uncertain aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Thus, several of these opinions represent a departure from this Office's preferred practice of rendering formal opinions addressed to particular policy proposals and not undertaking a general survey of a broad area of the law or addressing general or amorphous hypothetical scenarios involving difficult questions of law. Mindful of this extraordinary historical context, we nevertheless believe it appropriate and necessary to confirm that the following propositions contained in the opinions identified below do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of OLC. This Office has not relied upon the propositions addressed herein in providing legal advice since 2003, and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions. 1 This memorandum supplements the Memorandum for the Files from Steven G. Bradbury, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel. Re: October 23. 2001 OLC Opinion Addressing the Domestic Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities (Oct. 6, 2008). Neither memorandum is intended to suggest in any way that the attorneys involved in the preparation of the opinions in question did not satisfy all applicable standards of professional responsibility. Congressional Authority over Captured Enemy Combatants A number of OLC opinions issued in 2002-2003 advanced a broad assertion of the President's Commander in Chief power that would deny Congress any role in regulating the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants captured in the global War on Terror. The President certainly has significant constitutional powers in this area, but the assertion in these opinions that Congress has no authority under the Constitution to address these matters by statute does not reflect the current views of OLC and has been overtaken by subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court and by legislation passed by Congress and supported by the President. The following opinions contain variations of this proposition: 1. Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: The President's Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captured Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations at 4-5 (Mar. 13, 2002) ("3/13/02 Transfer Opinion") (asserting that "the power to dispose of the liberty of individuals captured and brought under the control of United States armed forces during military operations remains in the hands of the President alone" because the Constitution does not "specifically commit[] the power to Congress") ('The treatment of captured enemy soldiers is but one of the many facets of the conduct of war, entrusted by the Constitution in plenary fashion to the President by virtue of the Commander-in-Chief Clause. Moreover, it is an area in which the President appears to enjoy exclusive authority, as the power to handle captured enemy soldiers is not reserved by the Constitution in whole or in part to any other branch of the government."). 2. Memorandum for Daniel J. Bryant, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, from Patrick F. Philbin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Swift Justice Authorization Act at 2,12 (Apr. 8, 2002) ("4/8/02 Swift Justice Opinion") ("Indeed, Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to convene military commissions or to seize enemy belligerents than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.") ("Precisely because [military] commissions are an instrument used as part and parcel of the conduct of a military campaign, congressional attempts to dictate their precise modes of operation interfere with the means of conducting warfare no less than if Congress were to attempt to dictate the tactics to be used in an engagement against hostile forces."). 3. Memorandum for Daniel J. Bryant, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel. Re: Applicability of 18 U.S.C § 4001(a) to Military Detention of United States Citizen at 10 (June 27, 2002) ("6/27/02 Section 4001 Opinion") ("Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to detain enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."). 4. Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S. C §§ 2340-2340A at 35, 39 (Aug. 1, 2002) ("8/1/02 Interrogation Opinion") ("Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.") ("Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of battlefield combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President.") (previously withdrawn). 5. Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Military Interrogation of Unlawful Enemy Combatants Held Outside the United States at 13,19 (Mar. 14, 2003) (declassified by DoD Mar. 31, 2008) ("3/14/03 Military Interrogation Opinion") ("In our view, Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.") ("Congress can no more interfere with the President's conduct of the interrogation of enemy combatants than it can dictate strategic or tactical decisions on the battlefield.") (previously withdrawn). OLC has already withdrawn the last two opinions listed above, the 8/1/02 Interrogation Opinion and the 3/14/03 Military Interrogation Opinion. See Memorandum for the Deputy Attorney General from Daniel B. Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Legal Standards Applicable under 18 U.S.C. § 2340-2340A (Dec. 30, 2004), available at

Doc_nid: 
6835
Doc_type_num: 
62