What are the professional responsibilities of lawyers who provide legal advice to the executive branch, particularly in times of crisis? Who, exactly, is their client? Do professional responsibility standards shed any light on the circumstances that faced executive branch lawyers in the months following 9/11? What can we learn from the experience of those lawyers about competing principles of professional responsibility?
In the fall of 2001, the Bush administration was looking for a place to imprison and interrogate alleged al Qaeda members away from the prying eyes of other countries and insulated from the supervision of United States courts. The Defense Department believed that the Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba might work, so it asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) whether federal courts would entertain habeas corpus petitions filed by prisoners at Guantánamo, or whether they would dismiss such petitions as beyond their jurisdiction. On December 28, 2001, OLC responded with a thorough and balanced analysis of how the federal courts were likely to resolve the jurisdictional question. The memorandum prepared by OLC explained the arguments against such jurisdiction, but it also explored possible strengths in the opposing position. The memorandum predicted that federal courts would not exercise jurisdiction but explained the risk of a contrary ruling. Acting in reliance on this memorandum, the government started imprisoning and interrogating alleged al Qaeda members at Guantánamo the following month, cognizant of the risk that a federal court might find habeas jurisdiction.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (the “Act”) effected one of the most significant changes since 1947 in the organization of the intelligence community. Title III of the Act reorganized the entire national security clearance system, although the subject received practically no attention in public discussion during the 9/11 Commission hearings. Because this change was not fully explored in either the House or Senate hearings or during floor debate, Title III includes contradictory provisions concerning the assignment of responsibilities for security clearance policies and procedures.