Judge who wrote 'torture memos' speaks at University of Utah

AP News
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Posted: Feb 20, 2015 5:10 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — More than 10 years after he authored documents now known as torture memos, federal appeals Judge Jay Bybee heard from some of his critics at the University of Utah Thursday.

In Salt Lake City to give an approximately 35-minute talk to law school students about the importance of relying on the Constitution rather than simply court rulings, Bybee also attracted a few people protesting the documents written in 2002 that gave interrogators wide latitude to use techniques like waterboarding during the questioning of terrorism detainees.

One man held a sign reading "Torture Is a War Crime." Another critic was retired Brig. Gen. David Irvine, who sharply criticized the memos as giving nearly unlimited power to the president and authorizing brutal treatment of detainees in an opinion piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Answering a question from Irvine, Bybee said he does think the president is bound by international conventions and treaties. Bybee pointed to a section in the memo telling the CIA to return for an updated opinion if the facts change. While Irvine later said he wasn't mollified by Bybee's answers, he said he would likely take him up on an offer to visit him at his offices in Las Vegas.

Bybee, a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also weighed in on the high-profile case of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who carries his own copy of the Constitution. Bundy became a symbol for resisting authority after armed supporters faced off with armed federal agents over cattle grazing fees he was ordered to pay last April.

Bybee said not everyone can interpret the law for themselves.

"I'm happy he's a fan of the Constitution," Bybee said. "I'm glad he's reading it. But at some point those orders have to kick in."

And though the founding fathers did allow the death penalty, Bybee said he wouldn't mind seeing it go by the wayside. "I'm not a fan, particularly of the way it's administered," he said

The Salt Lake Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1DBFonk) Bybee graduated from Brigham Young University and was the assistant U.S. attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel when he wrote two memos in August 2002. One said none of the CIA's planned interrogation methods would amount to torture, and the other stated that even if laws against torture were violated, lawyers could argue the statues violated the president's powers as commander in chief. They were part of a series of documents cited as justification for using harsh interrogation methods on detainees.

Bybee was nominated to the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2003.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com