In its clearest departure to date from the uncompromising secrecy of the previous administration, the Justice Department yesterday released several controversial and discredited opinions produced by the Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding detention of U.S. citizens, the domestic use of military force, and other topics.
Legal conclusions advanced in those opinions “do not reflect the current views of the Office of Legal Counsel and should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose,” wrote former OLC head Steven G. Bradbury in a January 15, 2009 memorandum (pdf).
But that may be an overstatement. While they are no longer legally authoritative, the newly released OLC opinions retain their status as authoritative records of the Bush Administration, illustrating its willingness to set aside constitutional restrictions and to assert practically unlimited executive power in national security and intelligence matters. Perhaps they are also more broadly indicative of how the U.S. government tends to respond under certain kinds of stress.