A setback for drive to punish Bush-era 'war criminals' 

One cherished goal of legal activists on the left is to punish the "war criminals" who helped shape terrorist interrogation policies during the Bush administration. Some of those activists now work in the Obama Justice Department and have been hoping the Department would find two Bush-era lawyers in particular, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, guilty of professional misconduct -- a move that would likely result in both men facing disbarment proceedings.

The activists are sure to be disappointed in a new report by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, who say a still-unreleased report from the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility "clears the Bush administration lawyers who authored the 'torture' memos of professional-misconduct allegations." More from Isikoff and Hosenball:

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques, Newsweek has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors -- Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor -- violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed "poor judgment," say the sources. (Under department rules, poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct.) The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action -- which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.

Isikoff and Hosenball say a Justice Department official declined to explain Margolis' reasons for making the change. But the authors say the official noted that Margolis is "a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from [Attorney General Eric] Holder."

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