WASHINGTON ― A former George W. Bush administration official who authored legal memos authorizing interrogation techniques widely regarded as torture was spotted in the White House complex last week, setting off speculation that he’s under consideration for a job in the Trump administration.
Steven G. Bradbury, the former acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, evidently arrived at the complex for a meeting with the Office of Presidential Personnel.
Bradbury, along with John Yoo and Jay Bybee, were the key authors of documents that came to be known as the “torture memos” ― legal opinions that approved the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The White House declined to comment on whether Bradbury is under consideration for a position within the administration, with a spokesperson saying the Trump administration does not address personnel issues. Bradbury, for his part, did not deny that he’s under consideration for a post in the current executive branch.
“I’m not in the position of talking about anything like that, so I’m sorry I can’t really be of help. I’m not able to confirm that I’m talking to the administration about anything,” Bradbury told The Huffington Post. “I’m not really in a position to comment about anything related to a position with the administration.”
Bradbury wrote four memos related to the CIA interrogation program. One memo he authored on May 10, 2005, authorized the use of 13 different techniques against high-value detainees: dietary manipulation, nudity, attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap or insult slap, abdominal slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, water dousing, sleep deprivation of more than 48 hours and waterboarding.
Bradbury’s memo concluded that waterboarding did not cause “severe physical suffering” because it would only be allowed for 40 seconds, and that any distress “would not be expected to have the duration required to amount to severe physical suffering.” The “panic brought on by the waterboard during the very limited time it is actually administered, combined with any residual fear that may be experienced over a somewhat longer period, could not be said to amount to the ‘prolonged mental harm,’” he wrote.
A later review by the Justice Department’s ethics office found “serious concerns” about some of Bradbury’s analysis, although the attorneys in the Office of Professional Responsibility did not conclude that the “failings rose to the level of professional misconduct.”
Attorneys said there were indications that Bradbury’s memos “were written with the goal of allowing the ongoing CIA program to continue” and reflected “uncritical acceptance of the CIA’s representations regarding the method of implantation” of certain methods.
From the OPR report:
For example, in concluding that prolonged sleep deprivation, which involves shackling and diapering detainees, did not constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, Bradbury noted that the CIA asserted that the use of diapers was necessary because releasing detainees from shackles to relieve themselves “would present a security problem and would interfere with the effectiveness of the technique” and that “diapers are used solely for sanitary and health reasons and not in order to humiliate the detainee.”... However, the CIA’s 2002 list of proposed [enhanced interrogation techniques] described diapering as a separate [enhanced interrogation techniques], in which the detainee “is forced to wear adult diapers and is denied access to toilet facilities for an extended period, in order to humiliate him.”
In one memo, Bradbury wrote approvingly of the diaper practice as long as the diaper “is checked regularly and changed as necessary.”
Bradbury admitted he didn’t attempt to verify the information he was given about the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation technics,” saying it was “not my role, really, to do a factual investigation of that.”
The ethics attorneys in OPR were not as critical of Bradbury as they were of the other torture memo authors, saying Bradbury qualified his conclusions, circulated drafts widely, and wrote his memos in a “careful, thorough, lawyerly manner.” But they also said he should have “cast a more critical eye” in his work.
“Mr. Bradbury fought the law, and the law won,” said Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The torture regime he helped put in place has been a stain on our nation’s legal, moral, and ethical credibility. He shouldn’t be allowed near a government office for the rest of his life.”
President Donald Trump recently said he “absolutely” believes waterboarding works.
“When ISIS is doing things that no one has ever heard of, since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding?” Trump said. “As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”
During the campaign, he said the U.S. would have to do “unthinkable” things in battling ISIS. “When you look at what’s happening to us, when you look at what’s going on in this country and throughout the world and we don’t want, you know they’re allowed to cut off heads and they’re allowed to chop off heads, and we can’t waterboard,” Trump said.
Yoo is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, while Bybee is a federal judge. Bradbury is currently a partner at Dechert LLP, where he recently represented Verizon (which owns AOL, HuffPost’s parent company) before the Federal Communications Commission.
When HuffPost contacted Bradbury this week, he asked what information the reporter had heard. When informed that he had been seen visiting the White House last week, said that a visit to the White House doesn’t necessarily mean he’s up for a position in the administration.
“I have friends that I know over there, so, you know, just because I’m over there doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Bradbury said. “And, in any event, I’m not, you know, not in a position to confirm anything or really comment.”
S.V. Date contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to include comment from the ACLU national political director.