Big Changes at the Office of Legal Counsel

by NLinStPaul at, Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 18:03:21 PST – Docudharma Tag: petition for a special prosecutor

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Obama announced that he has chosen Dawn Johnsen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel, the same position once held by the infamous John Yoo.

In filling four senior Justice Department positions Monday, President-elect Barack Obama signaled that he intends to roll back Bush administration counter-terrorism policies authorizing harsh interrogation techniques, warrantless spying and indefinite detentions of terrorism suspects.

The most startling shift was Obama’s pick of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to take charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, the unit that’s churned out the legal opinions that provided a foundation for expanding President George W. Bush’s national security powers.

Johnsen, who spent five years at the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration and served as its acting chief, has publicly assailed “Bush’s corruption of our American ideals.” Upon the release last spring of a secret Office of Legal Counsel memo that permitted the aggressive interrogations of terrorism suspects, she excoriated the unit’s lawyers for advising Bush “that in fighting the war on terror, he is not bound by the laws Congress has enacted.”

Yep, I’d say Ms. Johnsen is a bit outraged at the whole idea that a Unitary Executive can decide to torture at will. Here’s something she wrote last April when the “torture memo’s” were released.

Where is the outrage, the public outcry?!  The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it–all demand our outrage.

Yes, we’ve seen much of it before.  And yes, we are counting down the remaining months.  But we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power.  Otherwise, our own deep cynicism, about the possibility for a President and presidential lawyers to respect legal constraints, itself will threaten the rule of law–and not just for the remaining nine months of this administration, but for years and administrations to come.

Think maybe she’d join us in signing the petition for a Special Prosecutor?

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Other Obama appointees to the Justice Department include:

_ David Ogden, a top Justice Department official during the Clinton administration, as deputy attorney general, the No. 2 figure under Attorney General-designate Eric Holder.

_ Elena Kagan, the dean of the Harvard University Law School and a former Clinton White House aide, as solicitor general.

_ Tom Perrelli, counsel to Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno from 1997 to 1999, as the associate attorney general who oversees civil matters.


Addition to this essay by Edger

Dawn Johnsen is also the author of an issue brief: “All the President’s Lawyers:  How to Avoid Another “Torture Opinion” Debacle” and an article on guidelines for the President’s legal advisors.

Dawn Johnsen: The Role of the OLC and DOJ (At The American Constitution Society)

She spoke at an October 2007 event on principles to guide the Department of Justice. Below are excerpts from that panel discussion.

Dawn Johnsen discusses the role of the Office of Legal Counsel.