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Justice Dept. Is Reviewing Interrogation Under Bush

The U.S. Justice Department’s ethics office is in the final stages of a report that sharply criticizes Bush administration lawyers who wrote legal opinions justifying waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, according to department and congressional officials.

The report, by H. Marshall Jarrett, who leads the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, would be the first accounting for legal advice that endorsed interrogation techniques historically considered by the United States and other Western countries to be illegal torture. Attorney General Eric Holder will have to decide whether to approve the findings and whether to make them public.

The report is expected to focus on three former officials of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department office that advises the executive branch on the interpretation of the law. They are John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor, now a visiting professor at Chapman University, who was the primary author of opinions on torture while at the counsel’s office in 2002; Jay S. Bybee, now a judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who as head of the office signed the 2002 opinions, which were later withdrawn; and Steven G. Bradbury, who wrote three more still-secret opinions on interrogation in 2005, when he was the top lawyer in the counsel’s office.

Jarrett’s office completed a draft report late last year, but Michael B. Mukasey, the attorney general at the time, and his deputy, Mark R. Filip, insisted that it not be considered final until written responses from Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury could be incorporated. The three are now in the process of submitting their responses, according to an official who agreed to speak about the internal report on condition of anonymity.

Saying Small Nations Count, Czechs Seek an Obama Visit

Czech officials are pushing hard for U.S. President Barack Obama to come to Prague early in April to meet the 27 leaders of the European Union, of which the Czech Republic currently holds the presidency.

The visit, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said, would be important to every smaller country in the European Union.

“It’s our impression that the new administration doesn’t just care about the fat cats — Germany, France and Britain — but they care about the small countries, too,” Schwarzenberg said in an interview. “It’s important that the United States also do this in a country that 20 years ago belonged to the Soviet pact.”

Obama, who in Europe is viewed as something akin to a rock star, will make his first trans-Atlantic visit as president in early spring, when he goes to London for a summit meeting on April 2 of the Group of 20 large industrialized countries, a session intended to discuss overhauling the global financial system and coping with a nearly worldwide recession.

On April 3 and 4, Obama will be in Strasbourg, France, and two towns in Germany — Kehl and Baden-Baden — for a NATO summit meeting marking the alliance’s 60th anniversary.

That meeting, of which France and Germany are co-hosts, is also expected to mark France’s full reintegration into the military side of the alliance, more than 40 years after Charles de Gaulle quit the joint military command and kicked NATO out of Paris.

That means Obama will have visited the main “troika” of the European Union — Britain, France and Germany — and met with the countries’ leaders.

The Czech Republic — a country of 10 million people that has been struggling to hold the European Union together under the pressure of the economic crisis and a continuing spat with the previous holder of the presidency, France — very much wants Obama to then come to Prague to meet European leaders, instead of doing it in the European Union’s bureaucratic capital, Brussels.