Attorneys weigh in on Bybee's torture memos

Attorney Mary Perry specializes in resolving family disputes in a civil manner, but when the topic turns to the nation's security, she clearly believes situations exist when harsh treatment, even torture, are warranted.

The 48-year-old might be 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jay S. Bybee's most outspoken fan.

Bybee was Perry's favorite professor as she made her way through UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law before graduating in 2001. Now, she flinches as her mentor is lambasted for signing off on a legal memo authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques on imprisoned terrorists.

"I agree with him 100 percent," Perry said.

Post 9/11, Perry said it was imperative to determine if and when the country would be attacked again. "Do you want to sleep at night or do you want to live in terror like they do in the Middle East?"

Bybee has not returned repeated calls from the Review-Journal. He sent a statement to the New York Times this week saying he stands by the decision he made in 2001 when he served as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel for the White House.

"The legal question was and is difficult," Bybee's statement to the Times said. "And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law."

The legal document in question was released by President Barack Obama's administration. The memo allowed interrogators to use controversial techniques such as "waterboarding," which simulates drowning, on al-Qaida terrorists.

Bybee told the New York Times that a fine legal line exists "between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaida terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and I continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct."

Perry, Bybee's former law student, served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly nine years and recalled their conversations about President Bill Clinton's decision to close military bases and the Republicans' support of the armed forces. But she and Bybee never discussed interrogation methods. There was no reason to do so in the time before 9/11.

"Something like that would never even cross our minds as a possibility," she said.

Perry said she truly believes Bybee's statement that he stands by the memo, adding, "He's not a flip-flopping, wishy-washy type of person.

"I'm proud of him and I sympathize with him," she said. "This is a witch-hunt. Obama should be tried for treason for letting these security secrets out."

Bybee was a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas from 1999 until 2001. He was named Professor of the Year in 2000. He is the reason attorney Brian Bradford ended up at the university.

Bradford said the law school was new and he was unsure how the programs would be assembled.

Bybee convinced him the leadership team was solid. Bradford also praised Bybee as a professor. But he was taken aback to learn that he signed off on the memos now stirring nationwide controversy.

"I was somewhat surprised his name was attached to the memos because they certainly don't espouse a view that I agree with," said Bradford, who specializes in civil law. "Knowing him, I'm somewhat surprised, but I do understand it is a difficult issue."

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, condemned the "torture memo," saying it contradicts the ideals held by the United States.

"The ideas expressed in that memo are particularly bad law, bad reasoning and totally repugnant to the ideals this country was founded on," Lichtenstein said. "Torture is torture, no matter how you dress it up."

Waterboarding is torture when it's done to U.S. soldiers and it's excessive cruelty when the technique is used on al-Qaida members, Lichtenstein said.

"I can't get into his (Bybee's) mind and I'm not going to attempt to get into his mind," he said. "I just think it's disgraceful in this country that we are having a discussion about these actions."

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at or 702-384-8710.