A collection of organizations, most of them left-leaning, filed complaints Monday with five State Bar associations, accusing former Attorneys General John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey and nine other former Bush administration lawyers of violating professional standards by sanctioning the use of torture on terrorism suspects.
The complaints, filed with State Bars in the District of Columbia, New York, California, Texas and Pennsylvania, seek disciplinary action and disbarment. The others named in the complaints include former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury; Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division; Alice Fisher, also a former head of the Criminal Division; former Defense Department lawyers William Haynes II and Douglas Feith; former deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan; and David Addington, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
The complaints are the latest in a campaign to ratchet up the pressure on the Obama administration to investigate Bush administration officials for their roles in blessing harsh interrogation techniques. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and other officials have equated one of the methods, waterboarding, to torture. The complaints can be viewed here.
Holder has not ruled out criminal investigation, but in public testimony the attorney general has appeared tepid about the proposition. Holder has said he is waiting for the completion of a report by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which is investigating whether Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury violated professional standards in authoring several OLC opinions related to interrogation techniques and the president's wartime powers. The report is said to refer Bybee and Yoo to State Bar associations for possible disciplinary action.
Kevin Zeese, who signed the complaints filed Monday, ran unsuccessfully as Maryland's Green Party candidate in the 2006 Senate election. An activist who worked on Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, Zeese is currently executive director of VotersForPeace.US, a group seeking to end U.S. actions in Iraq. In a statement announcing the complaints, Zeese said, "It is time to hold these lawyers accountable for violating their legal oath. Just as the bar would suspend an attorney who advised a police officer to torture and brutalize a detained immigrant or criminal defendant, the bar must suspend these attorneys for advocating and causing the torture of war detainees. The disciplinary boards that hear these complaints must act or they will be seen as complicit in the use of torture. This is an important step toward the ultimate accountability of criminal prosecution."
The complaints allege the lawyers violated the Constitution, domestic law and international treaties. As reported here by The Washington Post, the bar counsel would face steep hurdles in trying to sanction the lawyers. The state regulators, which are often strapped for resources, would have a difficult time gathering witnesses and evidence and would have to show lawyers violated their duty to a client. And it's unclear whether regulators in Pennsylvania, where Yoo is barred, could even initiate an investigation. ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg has noted on her Legalities blog that the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board imposes a four-year limitation for complaints. Yoo wrote the memos in 2002 and 2003.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.