Jay Bybee, the federal appellate judge targeted by some for impeachment, has been invited by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to explain his role in legal opinions that justified the harsh interrogation of detainees.
Bybee wrote the memos in 2002, while head of the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, before he was named to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the Washington Post, Leahy wrote to Bybee, “There is significant concern about the legal advice provided by OLC while you were in charge, how that advice came to be generated . . . and the role played by the White House.”
Calls for Bybee’s impeachment began in the blogosphere, but have since been embraced by some in Congress and by John Podesta, President Clinton’s chief of staff who also headed up President Obama’s transition team.
In several Gavel Grab posts, Justice at Stake has expressed deep reservations about any talk of impeachment of Bybee, saying it could open the door to recurring impeachment threats against judges over political disputes. As we recently wrote, “Impeaching judges for legal work done before they take the bench could open a real can of worms. If that can is opened, it’s won’t take long before we’re back to the days when Congressman Tom DeLay was threatening to impeach judges for a wide variety of political reasons.”
According to the Post and the New York Times, Bybee also denied reports that he regretted his legal opinions in the OLC, saying in a written statement that his opinions were written in “good faith” and involved difficult legal questions at a time of national crisis.
According to the articles, Bybee wrote:
“The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.”
“The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.”