Using a License to Practice Law to Facilitate Torture Should Result in Disbarment

Statement Made Upon the Filing of Complaints Seeking Disbarment of Bush-Cheney’s Cadre of Torture Lawyers

My name is Kevin Zeese, I am an attorney licensed to practice law in Washington, DC and before the U.S. Supreme Court. I serve as the executive director of VotersForPeace.US and on the board of Velvet Revolution. Today, we filed complaints with the District of Columbia Bar and with four other states seeking the disbarment of 12 Bush-Cheney torture lawyers. These lawyers misused their license to practice law to provide legal cover for the war crime of torture. This misuse of their license requires the bar association to disbar them or the bar will become complicit in torture.

Complaints have been filed against: John Yoo, Judge Jay Bybee, and Stephen Bradbury who authored the torture memoranda. As well as attorneys who advised, counseled, consulted and supported those memoranda including Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes II, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan, and David Addington. These detailed complaints, with over 500 pages of supporting exhibits, have been filed with the state bars in the District of Columbia, New York, California, Texas and Pennsylvania, and they seek disciplinary action and disbarment. Copies of the complaints and exhibits are available on-line at and

This cadre of torture lawyers colluded to facilitate the abuse and torture of prisoners (detainee) that included, evidence suggests, deaths at overseas U.S. military facilities. Human Rights Watch reports 98 deaths of people in custody of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Making torture even worse in this case is that it was used to try and get information to tie Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda – a relationship that did not exist – as well as information about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

We have asked the respective state bars to revoke the licenses of these attorneys for moral turpitude. They failed to show “respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others,” and intentionally or recklessly failed to act competently, all in violation of legal Rules of Professional Conduct. Several attorneys failed to adequately supervise the work of subordinate attorneys and forwarded shoddy legal memoranda regarding the definition of torture to the White House and Department of Defense. These lawyers further acted incompetently by advising superiors to approve interrogation techniques that were in violation of U.S. and international law. They failed to support or uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the laws of the United States, and to maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers, all in violation state bar rules.

Torture is illegal under United States and international law. It is illegal under the U.S. Constitution, domestic law and international treaties to which the United States is a party.

This includes:

1. The United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), Articles 1, 2, 3 and 16 (ratified in October 1994). Article 2(2) of the Convention states that:

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

2. The Geneva Conventions, Article 3, (ratified in August 1955). Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), held that the Geneva Conventions are applicable to accused members of al-Qaeda. Thus, due process protections apply to all detainees in U.S. custody, including those in military prisons.

3. The Eighth Amendment against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
4. The United States Criminal Code, Title 18, Prohibitions Against Torture (18 USC 2340A) and War Crimes (18 USC 2441).

Torture is a clearly defined term under international and U.S. law. The Convention Against Torture defines torture as any act by which: “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental; is intentionally inflicted on a person …”

The torture memoranda did not provide objective legal advice to government decision-makers, but instead twisted the state of the law so that it was unrecognizable. They were so inaccurate that these memoranda are more justifications about what the authors and the intended recipients wanted the law to be, rather than assessments of what the law actually is.

These laws provide no exception for torture under any circumstances. Moreover, the United States Criminal Code prohibits both torture and war crimes, the latter which includes torture. The Army Field Manual prohibits the use of degrading treatment of detainees. The individually tailored complaints allege that the named attorneys violated the rules of professional responsibility by advocating torture.

We decided to take action today because the federal government seems unable and unwilling to act. The Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility has taken nearly five years to complete its report, as some of the memoranda at issue became public in June 2004. Further, this OPR investigation is focused only on two lawyers, John Yoo and Jay Bybee rather than all those involved. This inexcusable delay is unfair to the public because the consequences of any wrongdoing are diminished. The delay has already benefited the two men under investigation, John Yoo now has tenure at Berkeley law school and Jay Bybee now has a lifetime appointment as a federal court of appeals judge. If OPR had completed its duties in a timely manner it is unlikely that either appointment would have been made.

In addition to inaction by OPR, the Congress where select Members were briefed 40 times by the CIA, seems unable to take action because of fear of its own complicity being exposed. And, Attorney General Eric Holder, has now testified that he approved renditions – which results in prisoners being tortured by other countries at the behest of the United States – during the Clinton administration. And, sadly, the President of the United States has now decided to hide evidence of war crimes by refusing to release photographic and video evidence despite a court order to do so. Finally, the administration is appointing General McChrystal to be the head of operations in Afghanistan despite being responsible for commanding Fort Nama in Iraq as well as special forces involved in torture:

An interrogator at Camp Nama described locking prisoners in shipping containers for 24 hours at a time in extreme heat; exposing them to extreme cold with periodic soaking in cold water; bombardment with bright lights and loud music; sleep deprivation; and severe beatings. When he and other interrogators went to the colonel in charge and expressed concern that this kind of treatment was not legal, and that they might be investigated by the military’s Criminal Investigation Division or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the colonel told them he had ‘this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in.’ ((Nicolas J S Davies, “Suspected War Criminal, General McChrystal, to Lead U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.”))

The unit’s slogan, which set the tone for its practices, was “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Reportedly prisoners died in the custody of troops in General McChrystal’s command and five officers were convicted of prisoner abuse.

Therefore, the people must act to face up to this issue and restore morality and Rule of Law to the United States. In addition to filing these complaints we are starting a campaign for disbarment, public torture hearings and for the appointment of an Independent Prosecutor. People who want to get involved are urged to go to and

Only by taking torture out of politics and allowing an independent prosecutor to pursue the facts and apply the law will the United States recover from these war crimes. Application of the rule of law, beginning with disbarment, is a necessary part of the process of healing the nation.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rosemarie jackowski said on May 18th, 2009 at 11:19am #

    Great article here. Yes, they should be disbarred – no question about that.

    Also the Psychologists and other medical personnel who participated in torture should also have their licenses lifted. “First do no harm”.

    Why are these elitist professionals being allowed to by-pass the law? Indictments should follow.

    If ALL else fails – the very least that should happen is that they should be given “Pardons” by Obama. That would signal the rest of the world that we recognize that crimes have been committed. I am sure that Obama will not do that because of the involvement of the dems and political considerations. I believe that there is precedent for issuing a pardon without a trial or conviction?

  2. Deadbeat said on May 18th, 2009 at 10:24pm #

    Isn’t debt a form a torture?

  3. Kevin Zeese said on May 19th, 2009 at 6:40am #

    I hope people will join efforts to do something about these issues.

    We are focusing on the torture issue through our anti-war group, VotersForPeace.US. This is just a phase of the campaign that we hope to grow but need your help to do so.

    And, economic issues are being dealt with on ProsperityAgenda.US. We recognize the economy only works for the elites and that has been true for decades. Debt is one example of that. A major focus right now is single payer health care. I was one of those arrested in front of Sen Baucus who is pushing the insurance company approach to health care.

    Get involved.

  4. bozh said on May 19th, 2009 at 9:17am #

    as deadbeat has pointed out, isn’t debt a torture? I’d like to add that warfare is the greatest torture. Threats of warfare, occupations, etc., are next greatest evil acts.
    caveat! I am in no way suggesting that kevin zeese does not recognize these facts.

    however, i do wish that he looks at the world problems from a widest vista possible. Narrower or narrowest look wld be to find an odd individual guilty for systemic crimes.
    i am not saying that every fact or event must be taken into account. But, reading journalitsts’ pieces, two of the most salient facts hardly ever are taken into account when attempting to elucidate people.

    and it takes only to omit one salient fact to present to unwary readers a fictitious realiy. Yes, folks, just omission of one fact can screw one’s life.
    the facts most often excluded from consideration are a governnance and cults; commonly called religions.

    leave out just one of these facts, and one is at sea. Governance may be defined as a system of rule. A system of rule in US not only allows but demands that all tortures known to a person be perped.

    constitution is part of governance; the most esential part. And it does not say, Thou shall not wage a war but thou shall defend self!
    it doesn’t say, Thou must obtain healthcare.

    so what is needed to stop all or most tortures is to rewrite constitution.
    if we cannot, then things continue on regardless what we do or say.
    the question arises, how can we stop any torture when the three major cults believe in inventions like mahdi, jesus, or moshiach?
    who will reward even the worst criminals.
    as issaiah said, No matter how great your sins are, they will be as wool.
    so with 3-4+ bn of people believing that their crimes against humanity will be cleansed and we being quiet about it, how can we stop any iniquity? tnx

  5. atiya said on May 19th, 2009 at 12:48pm #

    A very good article and I congratulate you for what you are doing. I’ll go and have a look at your link.