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From ProPublica.com | Original Article with Interactive Timeline

by Dan Nguyen and Christopher Weaver, ProPublica - January 28, 2009 7:00 am EST

The Bush administration’s controversial policies on detentions, interrogations and warrantless wiretapping were underpinned by legal memoranda. While some of those memos have been released (primarily as a result of ACLU lawsuits), the former administration kept far more memos secret than has been previously understood. At least three dozen by our count.

The decision to release them now lies with President Obama. To help inform the debate—and inject an extra dose of accountability—we’re posting the first comprehensive list of the secret memos. (The ACLU first compiled a list, which ProPublica verified and expanded on.)

Note: Our list is quite inclusive, but we have chosen to leave off some documents, such as early drafts of later memos.

Click on the headline of each entry to see more information. Or mouse over the timeline and click on a box to jump to the corresponding entry. We’ll update the list if and when more memos are released.

Read about the authors behind the memos.



DateAuthorsTitleSubjectStatus
9/25/01 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo affirms the president's authority to use military force, at home and abroad, to combat terrorism and other threats to U.S. security. The president may use military action to retaliate to attacks, as well as to prevent them, and the president alone has the authority to determine threats. The memo is titled The President's Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations Against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them.
Recipient: Timothy Flanigan, Deputy Counsel to the President
Executive Power Public
9/25/01 Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo determines whether it would be unconstitutional to change the purpose of intelligence gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, exploring the groundwork for the expanded electronic surveillance program that would eventually include warrantless wiretapping, and be dubbed the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The memo is titled Constitutionality of Amending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Change the 'Purpose' Standard for Searches.
Recipient: Associate Deputy Attorney General , Associate Deputy Attorney General
Surveillance Public
10/04/01 Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo concerns what legal standards might govern the use of certain intelligence methods to monitor communications by potential terrorists. No other information is available.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Surveillance Secret
10/23/01 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC; Robert Delahunty, Special Counsel, OLC
This memo, titled Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States, concludes that the Fourth Amendment's protections against warrantless search and seizure don't apply to military operations, even when the operations take place on U.S. soil.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales , Counsel to the President
Executive Power Public
11/02/01 Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo is a response to specific requests for opinions on the 'legal parameters of foreign intelligence activities Ö following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.î No other information is available.
Recipient: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
11/05/01 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo concludes that the deputy attorney general can also approve warrantless electronic surveillance against people within the U.S. or U.S. citizens abroad when the information is collected for intelligence purposes rather than for law enforcement. An executive order states that the attorney general can approve this type of surveillance, but doesn't mention deputies. The memo is titled Authority of the Deputy Attorney General Under Executive Order 12333.
Recipient: Associate Deputy Attorney General , Associate Deputy Attorney General
Surveillance Public
11/06/01 Patrick F. Philbin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo argues that the president may establish military commissions to try terrorists without consulting Congress. The commissions, it says, are part of the president's authority to conduct military operations, but the legal argument was subsequently struck down in the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The memo is titled Legality of the Use of Military Commissions to Try Terrorists.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment;Executive Power Public
11/20/01 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC; Robert Delahunty, Special Counsel, OLC
This memo provides legal advice on U.S. and international laws that protect prisoners of war. The laws discussed are the War Crimes Act, the set of U.S. laws that American personnel could be prosecuted under if detainees were abused, and the Hague and Geneva Conventions, both of which require humane treatment of prisoners of war by members of the treaties.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Secret
12/21/01 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
One finding of this memo is that people working alongside an armed force would be subjected to the Uniform Code of Military Justice during wars both declared and undeclared. This reading of the law could prevent American citizens captured in the war on terror from gaining the protections of the federal courts. The memo is titled Re: Possible Criminal Charges Against American Citizen Who Was a Member of the Al Qaeda Terrorist Organization or the Taliban Militia.
Recipient: William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Secret
1/9/02 Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo contains a legal review by the Attorney General of the presidentís order authorizing the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the Bush administration's official name for the warrantless wiretapping program. The review was requested before one of the 45-day reauthorizations by the president required by the law.
Recipient: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
1/11/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This letter discusses the authority of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Attorney General, the Department of Justice generally, and the State Department to interpret international law.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Secret
1/14/02 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC; Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, OLC
This letter argues that the U.S. government can't be prosecuted for war crimes arising from its treatment of al Qaeda or Taliban members.
Recipient: William H. Taft, IV , Legal Advisor, Department of State
Detainee Treatment Secret
1/22/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC; John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo, RE: Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees, finds that hardly any laws apply. If the detainees are held at Gitmo and tried by military commissions, the memo explains, POW status and other protections of the Geneva Convention from torture or inhumane treatment won't apply, and the U.S. personnel overseeing their detention couldn't be prosecuted for war crimes in U.S. courts.
Source: Made public
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President; William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel to the Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Public
1/24/02 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo discusses the application of international laws to the United States. The specific laws discussed are not known.
Recipient: Larry D. Thompson, Deputy Attorney General
Detainee Treatment Secret
1/24/02 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This pre-decisional memo suggests legal options for interpreting the application of the Geneva Conventions and prisoner of war status to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. The Geneva Conventions require humane treatment of detainees and specifically forbid cruel treatment and humiliation of prisoners. The Bush administration argued that prisoner of war status does not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Secret
1/26/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This pre-decisional memo suggests legal options for interpreting the application of the Geneva Conventions to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid cruel treatment and humiliation of prisoners.
Recipient: Larry D. Thompson, Deputy Attorney General
Detainee Treatment Secret
2/1/02 James C. Ho, Attorney-Advisor, OLC
This memo finds that the Geneva Convention's standards of conduct - including prohibitions against cruel treatment and torture and outrages upon personal dignity as listed in Article 3 of the 1949 treaty - don't apply to conflicts with terrorist organizations. The memo is titled RE: Possible interpretation of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
Recipient: John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
Detainee Treatment Secret
2/7/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo concludes that the president can deny prisoner of war status ñ a section of the Geneva Convention that entitles prisoners to protection from torture, violence, and other kinds of 'cruel treatmentî ñ to captured Taliban fighters. The memo is titled Re: Status of Taliban Forces Under Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Public
2/7/02 George W. Bush, President
In this memo, the president informs senior officials that he accepts the Department of Justiceís ruling that the Geneva convention doesnít apply to the fighting in Afghanistan, or the detention of prisoners captured there. However, he adds, the U.S. armed forces will, 'as a matter of policyî and because of 'our values as a nation,î continue to treat detainees humanely. The subject line of the memo reads: Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainee. It was not generated by the Office of Legal Counsel.
Recipient: The Vice President; The Secretary of State; The Secretary of Defense; The Attorney General; Chief of Staff to the President; Director of CIA; Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Detainee Treatment Public
3/5/02 Joan L Larsen, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC; Gregory F. Jacob
This memo informed attorneys of the Justice Department's civil division of the Office of Legal Counsel's view on whether habeas corpus relief should be available to detainees. The Bush administration took the position that terrorism detainees at Guant·namo cannot challenge their detentions in U.S. court, despite multiple Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.
Recipient: Department of Justice
Detainee Treatment Secret
3/13/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo, called RE: The President's Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captured Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations, asserts the president's constitutional authority to capture and detain enemies captured in armed conflicts. It also asserts his authority to transfer prisoners to other nations at his discretion.
Recipient: William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Public
4/8/02 Patrick F. Philbin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo, titled RE: Swift Justice Act, finds that the law is invalid in war because it contradicts the president's absolute authority to conduct military operations. The memo finds that Congress cannot exercise its authority ... to regulate military commissions.
Recipient: Daniel J. Bryant , Assistant Attorney, OLC
Detainee Treatment Public
6/13/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo asserts the president's the constitutional authority to determine not only the broad strategy of U.S. military actions, but also to make specific operational and tactical decisions. The memo also opines that when foreign affairs are at issue, the laws of Congress don't bind the president, unless the statute explicitly limits White House power. The memo is titled Re: Legal Constraints to Boarding and Searching Foreign Vessels on the High Seas.
Recipient: William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense
Executive Power Secret
6/27/02 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo argues that the president's constitutional authority to conduct military operations extends to the detention of U.S. citizens. It appears to dismiss the Non-Detention Act during war-time, which states, No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress. The memo is titled, RE: Applicability of 18 U.S.C. ß 4001(a) to Military Detention of United States Citizens.
Recipient: Daniel J. Bryant, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
Detainee Treatment;Executive Power Public
7/22/02 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This letter suggests that the Convention Against Torture doesn't apply to domestic situations. Furthermore, international law in general 'lacks domestic legal effect, and in any event can be overridden by the President,î the memo states.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Secret
8/1/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo contains the OLC's views on whether the tactics used in a specific interrogation constitute torture, based on details provided by the agency requesting the opinion. The memo concludes that the personnel carrying out the interrogation didn't have specific intent to cause severe pain to the detainee, and therefore, didn't torture that person. A heavily redacted version of this memo has been released, but its substance remains secret.
Recipient: Unknown
Detainee Treatment Secret
8/1/02 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
In this letter, Yoo takes the view that to convict a person - such as a U.S. soldier - of torture, the prosecution would have to prove specific intent to do severe harm to the victim. Yoo dismisses the standing of the International Criminal Court to prosecute such crimes, but concludes with a warning about the possibility of a rogue prosecutor who may differ with the president's interpretation of international law.
Source: Made public
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Public
8/1/02 Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo determines that interrogation techniques should be considered torture only when they inflict pain as severe as that accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. The memo is titled RE: Standards of Conduct For Interrogation Under 18 U.S.C. ßß 2340-2340A.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Public
10/11/02 Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This is one of several memos dealing with the legal parameters of foreign intelligence activities in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. This memo addresses the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.
Recipient: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
2/7/03 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This letter responds to the American Bar Association's Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants report, including a summary of prior OLC legal advice. The report, also released in February 2003, argued that detainees should be allowed access to legal counsel and to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.
Recipient: William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Secret
2/25/03 Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo addresses the potential use of certain information collected in the course of classified foreign intelligence activities. No further information is available.
Recipient: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
3/14/03 John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo concludes that prisoners held at Gitmo and other offshore locations do not have constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment and have no guarantee of due process. Yoo also finds that federal laws ñ such as those prohibiting torturing prisoners ñ do not apply to interrogators in such settings, suggests defenses for interrogators if charges are brought and suggests that the president can waive international laws. The memo is titled Re: Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States.
Recipient: William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Public
6/1/03 The White House
A brief memo that approves the techniques already in use by the CIA was delivered to Tenet days after he requested an explicit nod from the White House, according to a Washington Post report.
Recipient: George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence
Detainee Treatment Secret
9/8/03 Sheldon Bradshaw, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo advised the Office of Management and Budget on a certain piece of draft legislation. No more is known about the memo, but government officials determined that it was responsive to a Freedom of Information Act Request for documents concerning the treatment of detainees.
Recipient: Roz Rettman, Office of Management and Budget
Detainee Treatment Secret
11/18/03 Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, OLC; Robert Delahunty, Special Counsel
This memo discussed the applicability of the Geneva Convention to the detention and treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
Recipient: Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Secret
3/11/04 Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This letter clarifies previous memos on the legality of classified intelligence activities. No further information is available.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Surveillance Secret
3/12/04 Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo contains legal advice about intelligence activities. No further information is available.
Recipient: James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
3/15/04 Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo outlines the OLC's view on certain classified foreign intelligence activities, but explicitly states that it is not a final opinion. The memo explains that OLC has not yet reached final conclusions.
Recipient: James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
3/16/04 James B. Comey, Acting Attorney General
This memo contains legal recommendations on intelligence activities. No further information is available.
Recipient: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Surveillance Secret
3/18/04 Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo asserts that while detainees captured in the Iraqi battlefield are covered by the Geneva Conventions, there are exceptions to the conventions' protections against abuse, torture and humiliation for prisoners of war. They include U.S. nationals, citizens of countries that arenít members of the Geneva Conventions, citizens of other states hostile to the U.S., and members of al Qaeda who arenít Iraqi. This memo is called 'Protected Personî Status Under the Fourth GenevaConvention.
Recipient: Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President
Detainee Treatment Public
3/19/04 Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo concludes that the U.S. can apprehend people without official immigration status in Iraq and forcibly move them to other countries, even if they have 'protected personî status under the Geneva Convention. The memo also finds that legal aliens can be taken to other countries for 'brief, but not indefiniteî periods of interrogation. This memo is titled RE: Permissibility of Relocating Certain 'Protected Personsî from Occupied Iraq.
Recipient: William H. Taft, IV, General Counsel to the Department of State; William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel to the Department of Defense; John Bellinger, Legal Adviser for National Security; Scott Muller, General Counsel to the Central Intelligence Agency
Detainee Treatment Public
3/30/04 James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General
This memo outlines a briefing prepared for Attorney General Gonzales on 'preliminary OLC conclusionsî about the Terrorism Surveillance Program, the Bush administration's official name for the warrantless wiretapping program. It lists issues where decisions are needed, issues where further consideration is necessary and other OLC opinions on the relevant intelligence activities.
Recipient: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
5/18/04 Rene L. Lerner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC; Adrien Silas
This pre-decisional memo advised on legal approaches to National Defense Reauthorization Act of 2005, which included the so-called McCain Amendment to ban torture. Bush accepted the law, but in a signing statement, noted that the administration would not implement the amendment because it impinges on the president's constitutional authority to conduct military operations.
Recipient: William E. Moschella, Office of Legislative Affairs
Detainee Treatment Secret
7/?/2004 White House
This memo reaffirms the White House's support for the CIA's interrogation program, according to a Washington Post report. The actual date of this memo is not known.
Recipient: George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence
Detainee Treatment Secret
7/16/04 Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo evaluates the implications of a recent Supreme Court decision for certain foreign intelligence activities.
Recipient: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
8/9/04 Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo details the OLCís views on a decision to be made by the Deputy Attorney General on a classified intelligence collection activity.
Recipient: James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General
Surveillance Secret
12/06/04 Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo provides legal advice on communications between defense attorneys and detainees in combatant status review tribunals. The tribunals determined whether detainees may be held as enemy combatants when they arrived at Guant·namo Bay.
Recipient: James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General
Detainee Treatment Secret
12/30/04 Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo backpedals on the definition of torture presented in Jay Bybee's Aug. 1, 2002, memo, which described torture as interrogation techniques causing pain such as that accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. The new definition states that pain or suffering need not be excruciating and agonizing to constitute torture.
Recipient: James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General
Detainee Treatment Public
2/4/05 Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This letter responded to a DOD request for legal advice on an earlier OLC memo concerning the legal guidelines for interrogations. In December, 2004, Levin had repudiated an 2002 memo that concluded many harsh interrogation techniques were legal. Levin's memo concluded that some of those methods were unacceptable.
Recipient: William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense
Detainee Treatment Secret
5/10/05 Steven G. Bradbury, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo discusses the treatment of detainees in CIA custody. In a court filing, the Justice Department admitted that three memos covered topics reported by the New York Times. The Times had reported the existence of only two memos.
Recipient: Unknown
Detainee Treatment Secret
5/10/05 Steven G. Bradbury, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo concludes that CIA interrogation methods are legal, and based on information about actual CIA interrogations, according to legal filings and a New York Times report. The memo provides explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, the Times reported.
Recipient: Unknown
Detainee Treatment Secret
5/30/05 Steven G. Bradbury, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC
This memo contains legal analysis in the context of facts provided by the CIA. According to a New York Times report, this memo finds that none of the CIA's techniques amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
Recipient: Unknown
Detainee Treatment Secret
 
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