WASHINGTON — An internal Justice Department inquiry into the conduct of Bush administration lawyers who wrote secret memorandums authorizing brutal interrogations has concluded that the authors committed serious lapses of judgment but should not be criminally prosecuted, said government officials briefed on a draft of the findings.
The report by the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal ethics unit within the Justice Department, is also likely to ask that state bar associations consider possible disciplinary action, including reprimands or even disbarment, for some of the lawyers involved in writing the legal opinions, the officials said.
The conclusions of the 220-page draft report are not final and have not been approved by Attorney General Eric Holder.
The draft report was described as very detailed, tracing e-mail messages between Justice Department lawyers and officials at the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. Among the questions it is expected to consider is whether the memos reflected the lawyers' independent judgments of the limits of the federal antitorture statute or were skewed deliberately to justify what the CIA proposed.
At issue are whether the Justice Department lawyers acted ethically in writing a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2007. The main targets of criticism are John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, who as senior officials in the department's Office of Legal Counsel were the principal authors.
The opinions permitted the CIA to use interrogation methods that human rights groups have condemned as torture, including waterboarding and other techniques. The opinions allowed many of these practices to be used repeatedly and in combination.
Several legal scholars have remarked that in approving waterboarding — the near-drowning method that President Barack Obama and his aides have described as torture — the Justice Department lawyers did not cite cases in which the U.S. government had prosecuted U.S. law enforcement officials and Japanese interrogators in World War II for using the procedure.
In a letter made public Monday, the Justice Department advised two Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, that the former department lawyers who wrote the opinions had until Sunday to submit written appeals to the findings.