The Justice Department has finally uncovered emails written by John Yoo, the author of the so-called torture memos. But something’s missing.
Nick Baumann and Daniel Schulman
When the Justice Department’s report on the so-called torture memos was released in February, the agency’s internal watchdog noted that the five-year inquiry “had not been routine” and included the intriguing detail that a trove of key documents had been destroyed. These included almost all of Justice Department official John Yoo’s emails. The report noted that investigators for the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility had been informed that these records “had been deleted and were not recoverable.” Without the emails of one of the primary authors of the memos, the OPR could only cobble together a partial picture of how Bush administration lawyers had crafted a legal rationale for the use of torture. “Given the difficulty OPR experienced in obtaining information over the past five years,” the report said, “it remains possible that additional information eventually will surface.”
Months later John Yoo’s emails have surfaced—some of them, at least. But these are probably not the records the OPR gumshoes were after. So the mystery of the missing Yoo emails remains.
In response to a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
, the Justice Department has produced 900-plus pages of email records, and it says it has identified but is withholding an additional 147 documents for as-yet unspecified reasons. This might sound like a lot, but given that Yoo’s tenure as a top political appointee in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel spanned almost two years, from July 2001 to May 2003, the emails account for what would be less than week’s worth of email traffic for most routine email user. Though the OPR noted that the supposedly destroyed records included “relevant documents” to its investigation, nothing of the sort was included in the files Justice handed to CREW. These emails are remarkable if only because they are so mundane—and because virtually none of them have anything to do with Yoo’s official Justice Department work. If the messages are at all representative of Yoo’s stint there, they suggest that the bulk of his time was devoted to arranging speaking engagements, authoring journal articles, and, as CREW put it in a release, “expanding his credentials” for his return to academia.
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