Steven Gill Bradbury is an American lawyer and government official. He served as Acting Assistant Attorney General (AAG) from 2005 to 2007 and Principal Deputy AAG from 2004 to 2009,:132 heading the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the U.S. Department of Justice during President George W. Bush's second term.
During his tenure in OLC, he authored a number of significant classified opinions providing legal authorization for so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques", which are frequently described as torture. Bradbury was nominated to be the Assistant Attorney General for OLC but individual Democratic Senators put holds on his nomination, preventing the full Senate from voting on it, and Democratic leaders in the Senate instituted pro forma sessions of the Senate during scheduled recesses to prevent the President from giving him a recess appointment. Bradbury continued to serve as the acting chief of OLC until the end of the Bush Administration on January 20, 2009.
He is currently a partner at the Washington, D.C., office of Dechert LLP. In June 2017, he was nominated by President Donald Trump to become General Counsel of the United States Department of Transportation.
Bradbury was born in 1958 in Portland, Oregon, the youngest of four children. His father, Edward T. Bradbury, died when he was 11 months old, and his mother supported the family by working nights and taking in laundry to supplement their Social Security income. He grew up in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Portland, where he attended Washington High School from 1972 to 1976. He was student body president his senior year. Bradbury was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a B.A. from Stanford University in 1980 with a major in English.
After working in publishing and as a legal assistant in New York in the early 1980s, Bradbury attended the University of Michigan Law School, where he received his J.D., magna cum laude, in 1988. He was an editor for the Michigan Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. In October 1988, following graduation, he married Hilde Kahn, his law school classmate.
From 1988 to 1990, Bradbury worked as an associate at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. In 1990–1991, he served as a law clerk to Judge James L. Buckley on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. After working as an Attorney-Adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1991 to 1992, he served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1992 to 1993.
Following his clerkship for Justice Thomas, Bradbury practiced law with Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., first as an associate from 1993 to 1994 and then as a partner from 1994 to 2004. In 1998, Bradbury was named one of the top 40 lawyers under 40 by Washingtonian. In his law practice at Kirkland & Ellis, he focused on antitrust (mergers and litigation), securities law (including class action litigation and regulatory investigations), and various other regulatory, constitutional, and commercial litigation matters, both at the trial and appellate levels.
In April 2004, Bradbury left private practice after being appointed as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the OLC under Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, becoming Acting Assistant Attorney General in February 2005.:132 He was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the Assistant Attorney General for OLC on June 23, 2005. The delay between his appointment and nomination was seen by some within the Justice Department as a "trial period", in which he would be susceptible to pressure, before he could be formally nominated for the position.:142
His nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in November 2005 but was never voted on by the full Senate, due to Senate holds placed by four Democratic Senators. Their resistance was due in part to his memoranda concerning the use of torture during interrogations in the War on Terror and due to questions about his role in NSA warrantless surveillance programs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to confirm 84 other stalled nominees in exchange for the White House withdrawing Bradbury's nomination, but this offer was declined by the Bush administration.
Bradbury authored numerous significant legal opinions for OLC, many of which are published on OLC's website. Among these opinions was one issued in August 2004 in which Bradbury concluded that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution secures an individual right to keep and bear arms. This opinion was cited throughout an amicus curiae brief by the Department of Justice reasoning which was adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Bradbury received a number of awards and honors while at OLC, including the Edmund J. Randolph Award for outstanding service to the Department of Justice, the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the National Security Agency's Intelligence Under Law Award, the Director of National Intelligence's Intelligence Community Legal Award, and the Criminal Division's Award for Outstanding Law Enforcement Partnerships.
In May 2005, in response to requests from the CIA, Bradbury authored the "2005 Bradbury Memo":133 confirming that 13 so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" did not constitute torture, including waterboarding, nudity,:133 walling, stress positions, slapping or striking a prisoner, exposure to extreme temperatures, dousing with cold water, and forced sleep deprivation of up to 180 hours (7.5 days). A second memorandum, the "Combined Techniques Memo":133 found that the techniques did not constitute torture, even when used in combination.:137-138 These memoranda found the CIA's practices to be lawful if applied in accordance with specified conditions, limitations, and safeguards, including those set forth in the agency’s interrogation procedures.:134 Later in May, Bradbury signed a third memo, the "Article 16 Memo",:145-151 which contained the opinion that the CIA's use of these techniques did not violate the Article 16 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, which forbids "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture".:351 These memoranda were described by Democrats as an attempt to sidestep anti-torture laws and subvert a 2004 public Justice Department legal opinion characterizing torture as "abhorrent". These memoranda were publicly released by the Obama Administration on April 16, 2009.
In response to the 2006 Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Bradbury described sections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as "hopelessly vague", singling out its ban on "outrages upon person dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" and arguing that military tribunals should admit evidence obtained during coercive interrogations.
In July 2007, Bradbury issued the "2007 Bradbury Memo":151 addressing the legality of a subset of interrogation techniques in light of Hamdan and other developments, including intervening legislation such as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the December 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. The 2007 memo provided legal authorization and OLC approval for a more limited set of actions for use when interrogating high-value detainees. This approval encompassed six listed techniques, including temporary food deprivation (no less than 1,000 calories/day), sleep deprivation by being forced to hold a "standing position for as many as four days", and several types of physical striking.
In February 2008, Bradbury testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee about the legality of waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques. During questioning, Bradbury stated that the administration did not deem techniques to be torture unless they inflicted pain that was both severe and long-lasting. This testimony was criticized by numerous civil liberties advocates and legal scholars. Bradbury did not offer an opinion if waterboarding was illegal under the Detainee Treatment Act or the Military Commissions Act of 2006, but stated that these laws "would make it much more difficult to conclude that the practice was lawful today".
Near the end of the Bush Administration, Bradbury signed two memoranda for the files; these said that, during his tenure OLC had determined that certain legal propositions, previously stated in ten OLC opinions issued between 2001 and 2003 concerning executive power in the War on Terror, no longer reflected the views of OLC and "should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose". In addition, his memo said that some of the underlying opinions had been withdrawn or superseded and that "caution should be exercised" by the Executive Branch "before relying in other respects" on the other opinions that had not been superseded or withdrawn.
A 2009 report from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility cited "serious concerns about some of his analysis" but noted that "these issues did not rise to the level of professional misconduct.":258-259
Following his term in OLC, Bradbury returned to private practice as a partner at Dechert LLP in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in antitrust, administrative litigation and enforcement actions, general commercial litigation, and appellate matters.
In February 2012, Bradbury testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on H.R. 3702, the "Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011".
In the wake of the 2013 global surveillance disclosures, Bradbury testified before Congress and authored several editorials in defense of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, including the collection of telephone metadata.
In June 2017, he was nominated by President Donald Trump to become General Counsel of the United States Department of Transportation. Bradbury's nomination was opposed by a coalition of human rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Center for Victims of Torture, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Following a preliminary hearing by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on June 29 Senator Tammy Duckworth announced that she had placed a hold on Bradbury's nomination. The Senate normally operates by unanimous consent, meaning one Senator has the ability to prevent action. As a result of Duckworth's hold, a majority of Senators would have to vote to proceed to action on the nomination in order for Bradbury to receive a confirmation vote.
After Alberto Gonzales was confirmed as the Attorney General in February 2005, Steven Bradbury was designated as acting director of OLC, and he drafted two memos that authorized the CIA to use combinations of several techniques at the same time.
SCOTT SHANE: Some people at Justice told us that that was essentially a trial period during which he had to demonstrate to the White House that he wasn't going to make any big trouble. NARRATOR: Bradbury wrote a top secret opinion to authorize the harshest techniques yet for CIA interrogations. SCOTT SHANE: These are very harsh techniques which had not been approved in decades of U.S. practice, including slapping people, keeping them in cold rooms, sleep deprivation, bombarding them with music, and even water boarding, the simulated drowning. This opinion, we're told, gives expansive approval to the combination of those different tactics. NARRATOR: Steven Bradbury passed his trial period. The president nominated him permanent head of the Office of Legal Counsel.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005, memo authorizing continued use of waterboarding
Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014
But other provisions of Common Article 3 are hopelessly vague and subject to almost unlimited interpretation – such as its prohibition on 'outrages upon person dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.'
Four previous opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel concerning interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency are withdrawn and no longer represent the views of the Office.
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