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The Law: Who Was John Yoo's Client? The Torture Memos and Professional Misconduct


Nancy V. Baker is a regents professor in the government department at New Mexico State University. She is the author of Conflicting Loyalties: Law and Politics in the Office of Attorney General and General Ashcroft: Attorney at War.


From 2001 to 2003, John Yoo of the U.S. Department of Justice provided legal advice that supported broad presidential authority in national security, including advice commonly known as the “torture memos.” In 2009, the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Yoo's flawed advice on torture law amounted to professional misconduct. That finding was overturned by Justice Department attorney David Margolis, who argued that the office had used too high a standard. This article argues that the higher standard was appropriate. Justice Department legal opinions are uniquely powerful and seldom are reviewed by courts. Furthermore, Justice Department attorneys serve not only the president but multiple clients, and Yoo failed them.