June 29th, 2009
06:14 PM ET
11 years ago

Disbarment of lawyers involved in interrogation policies sought

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/20/obama.cia/art.cia.gi.jpg
caption=" The National Disbar Torture Lawyers Coalition called for the disbarment of two current CIA officials Monday."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A coalition of liberal activists Monday called for the disbarment of two current CIA officials - and a former one - because of their roles in crafting and implementing Bush administration legal policies on detainee interrogations.

The National Disbar Torture Lawyers Coalition filed formal disciplinary complaints with the Washington, D.C., and New York state bar associations against John A. Rizzo, the current acting general counsel at the CIA; Jonathan M. Fredman, a CIA official currently on loan to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and Scott W. Muller, the agency's former general counsel, who is now an attorney in the private sector.

The coalition has already filed a dozen similar complaints against former White House and Justice Department officials, including former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who also was attorney general in the Bush administration; and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Jay S. Bybee, now a federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The complaints accuse the three attorneys of "advocating for immoral and unethical 'extended' or 'enhanced' interrogation techniques (amounting to torture), and other policies that resulted in clear violations of U.S. and international law." They were filed the same week that the CIA is expected to release an internal inspector-general report from 2004 criticizing the interrogation program.

CNN was unable to reach the three lawyers for comment, but CIA spokesman George Little responded, "This, to put it mildly, is something with which we do not agree."

Representatives of groups in the coalition spoke at a news conference, harkening back to previous episodes in American history.

Bruce Fein, a former senior Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, called on whistleblowers to come forward with what they know. "In Watergate, John Dean was a lawyer. He said 'there's a cancer on the presidency.' he finally decided 'I'm not going to participate in the cover-up, in the obstruction of justice.' John Dean was why the rule of law ultimately prevailed, and led to the discovery of the White House tapes. Where is the John Dean in the White House or in the Justice Department now? Where's the Elliott Richardson? Where is anybody who will stand up and say 'I'm not doing this, Mr. President.'"

While much of the attention focused on Rizzo, Muller and Fredman, President Barack Obama and Congress were not spared from criticism over the lack of prosecutions.

"If [government photos showing abuse of detainees] are not disclosed, how do we know exactly what abuses we may or may not be prosecuting for?" civil rights attorney Shahid Buttar asked. "And without knowing that, how can the debate around the prosecution have any legitimacy? How do we take comfort, for instance, in the reluctance to prosecute when the extent and scope and scale of the prosecutable behavior remains unknown?"

Fein invoked the memory of another dark episode in American military history. "Can you imagine President Nixon saying, 'We have to cover up the My Lai Massacre because we shot all those women and children in the ditch, and we can't disclose it because it'll make people angry.' You prosecute Lieutenant Calley for that, you don't cover it up," he said.

"This is President Obama saying 'Well, we have to cover this up, because there's such terrible torture things we did, people will get angry about it.'
That's why we prosecute it, you don't conceal that. That's what the Soviet Union would do, that's what China would do, not the United States of America," Fein said.

While the coalition waits on whether the Justice Department's Office of ProfessionalResponsibility will recommend prosecutions or sanctions against former Bush administration lawyers, Kevin Zeese, the executive director of the organization VotersForPeace, says that any action by the bar associations would operate on an independent timeline and process which could take several months.

He also said that if a bar association decides to disbar any of them, they will have a right to a public hearing and appeals, which could lead to disclosure of new information about how and why the legal framework of interrogation policies was crafted and implemented.

–CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report.

Filed under: Bush administration • CIA
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