Amid Outcry on Memo, Signer's Private Regret
On a Saturday night in May last year, Jay S. Bybee hosted dinner for 35 at a Las Vegas restaurant. The young people seated around him had served as his law clerks in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the post Bybee had assumed after two turbulent years at the Justice Department, where as head of the Office of Legal Counsel he signed the legal justifications for harsh interrogations that have become known as the "torture memos."
Five years along in his new life as a federal judge, Bybee gathered the lawyers and their dates for a reunion, telling them he was proud of the legal work they had together produced.
And then, according to two of his guests, Bybee added that he wished he could say the same about his previous position.
It was, in the private room of a public restaurant, the kind of joyless judgment that some friends and associates say the jurist arrived at well before the public release of four additional memos last week and the resulting uproar that has engulfed Washington. One of the documents, dated Aug. 1, 2002, offered a helpfully narrow definition of torture to the CIA and soon became known as the "Bybee memo," because it bore his signature.
"I've heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,"
said a fellow legal scholar and longtime friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity while offering remarks that might appear as "piling on." "I've heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I've heard him express regret at the lack of context -- of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety."
That notoriety worsened this week as the documents -- detailing the acceptable application of waterboarding, "walling," sleep deprivation and other procedures the Bush administration called "enhanced interrogation methods" -- prompted calls from human rights advocates and other critics for criminal investigations of the government lawyers who generated them.
Of the three former Justice Department lawyers associated with the memos, the public's attention has focused particularly harshly on Bybee because of his position as a sitting federal judge;
John C. Yoo, who largely wrote the Bybee memo, returned to academic life, and Steven G. Bradbury, who signed three memos, resumed private practice at the end of the Bush administration.( Collapse )