2002 January 11

State Department Lawyer Protests Bush Administration War on Terror Policies


William H. Taft, IV, the chief lawyer in the State Department, on this day advised John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Justice Department, that Yoo’s January 9, 2002, memo regarding presidential power in the War on Terror was “seriously flawed.” Specifically, he argued that the President has no power to suspend the obligations of the United States under the 1949 Geneva Conventions (see below). For the adoption of the Geneva Conventions, see December 8, 1949.

Taft was only one of several administration officials who warned the George W. Bush administration that its policies on presidential power and other issues in the war on terrorism were wrong. Objections were raised by officials in the State Department, the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The administration consistently ignored all of the critics. In short, the Bush administration was out of step with virtually all of the experts on international law. But in a series of major decisions, the Supreme Court ruled against the administration on the issue of whether federal courts could rule on habeas corpus petitions from terrorist suspects and whether international law, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions, apply to the treatment of terrorist detainees. Taft is the great-grandson of former President William Howard Taft.

In October 2003, Jack Goldsmith became head of the OLC and in the spring of 2004 revoked some of the key OLC memos justifying Bush administration policies in the war on terrorism. His actions precipitated an unprecedented confrontation over administration policy on March 10, 2004, when White House officials tried to coerce Attorney General John Ashcroft when he was in the hospital for surgery.

Taft:  “[Your] assertion that the President may suspend the United States’ obligations under the Geneva Conventions is legally flawed and procedurally impossible at this stage.”


“In previous conflicts, the United States has dealt with tens of thousands of detainees without repudiating its obligations under the [Geneva] Conventions. I have no doubt we can do so here, . . . ”

Read Taft’s complete memo: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/torturingdemocracy/documents/20020111.pdf

Read Goldsmith’s inside account of the OLC memos: Jack Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (2007)

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!