The memorandum has become one of the most hotly debated legal documents in the so-called war on terror. Democrats and human rights groups have complained that it created a permissive atmosphere that led to serious abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guant?namo Bay, Cuba. The memorandum was addressed to Mr. Gonzales and was signed by Jay S. Bybee, then the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
Officials dispute how much senior Justice Department officials knew of the memorandum as it was being prepared. A former official and a current one said that neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, were aware of the memorandum until it was about to be submitted to the White House.
Another former official said, however, that they were given progress reports as the memorandum took shape.
John Yoo, a senior Justice Department lawyer who wrote much of the memorandum, exchanged draft language with lawyers at the White House, the officials said. Mr. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said in an article published Sunday in The San Jose Mercury News that Mr. Gonzales did not apply any pressure on him to tailor the memorandum to accommodate the White House.
Instead, Mr. Yoo said that Mr. Gonzales was merely seeking to "understand all available options" in a perilous time, when the United States faced unprecedented threats.
But a senior administration official disagreed, saying that the memorandum's conclusions appeared to closely align with the prevailing White House view of interrogation practices. The official said the memorandum raised questions about whether the Office of Legal Counsel had maintained its longstanding tradition of dispensing objective legal advice to its clients in executive-branch agencies.
While the nature of Mr. Gonzales's specific discussions with the Justice Department remains unclear, administration officials said that Mr. Gonzales's customary way of dealing with Justice Department lawyers was to pose questions about issues rather than offer his own conclusions, although one said his preferences could sometimes be inferred easily from his questions.
Justice Department officials said that the timing of the revised memorandum, which was posted on the Justice Department's Internet site without announcement late on Dec. 30, was a result of instructions from James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general.
Mr. Comey, the officials said, told lawyers to complete the revised opinion before the end of the year. At the same time, officials said they were mindful that issuance of the new opinion might help neutralize the issue for Mr. Gonzales even as it served as a sharp critique of the earlier opinion.
Mr. Gonzales talked about the August 2002 memorandum in a meeting with reporters last June, when the White House sought to defend its actions at the height of the uproar over abuses of prisoners in Iraq.
Without discussing his own role in soliciting the document, Mr. Gonzales said that the memorandum was not a policy directive to officials in the field but a response to questions about the scope of the federal law prohibiting torture and the international convention on torture.
"The president has given no order or directive that would immunize from prosecution anyone engaged in conduct that constitutes torture," Mr. Gonzales said. "All interrogation techniques actually authorized have been carefully vetted, are lawful, and do not constitute torture."
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who has signaled an intent to question Mr. Gonzales vigorously about his role in the memorandums, said Tuesday that he has been continually frustrated by the White House in trying to obtain answers and documents.
In a letter to Mr. Gonzales on Tuesday, Mr. Leahy wrote, "I am disappointed that, contrary to your promises to me to engage in an open exchange and answer my questions in connection with your confirmation process, you have not answered my letters" requesting documents.
But Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and the new chairman of the committee, said that Mr. Leahy's complaints appeared unjustified.
The government's "October Plan," allegedly aimed at preventing
terrorist attacks before the elections [see INB 10/23/04], has
been extended and will continue through the presidential
inauguration in January.
As White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales defended the detention of terrorist suspects without access to lawyers, and the abusive interrogation tactics used at Abu Ghraib.
A court order was issued to Rackspace, an American-owned web hosting company in Uxbridge, Middlesex, forcing it to hand over two servers used by Indymedia, an international media network which covers social justice issues.
Immigration News Briefs (INB), a weekly English-language summary of US
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November 18, 2012
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