More Details on the 2005 Torture Memos

Bump and Update: The New York Times has a new article describing the two memos from 2005:

One 2005 opinion gave the Justice Department’s most authoritative legal approval to the harshest agency techniques, including head slapping, exposure to cold and simulated drowning, even when used in combination.

The second opinion declared that under some circumstances, such techniques were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” a category of treatment that Congress banned in December 2005.

As one Senator opined today:

“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote.

As for the timing of the memos:

A senior administration official who insisted on anonymity said the opinion on the “combined effects” of different techniques was approved in May 2005.

The opinion that the methods were not cruel or inhuman was approved later in 2005, the official said. Officials have said both opinions remain in effect.

Original Post
White House Denies Memos Authorized Torture

Predictably, the White House is denying that memos issued in 2005 authorized previously prohibited CIA interrogation techniques that amount to torture.


The New York Times reported last night that the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, under Steven Bradbury, wrote memos approving the techniques and that then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed off on them. Both Big Tent and I wrote about the article here and here.

Today's article, focusing on comments by White House spokesperson Dana Perino, clarifies:

  • Two memos were issued in 2005, one on February 5. Both are classified. The Times reported another Bush signed an executive order endorsing the memo in July.
  • Congress is seeking both of them
  • The White House insists neither authorized torture or contradicted the 2004 memo revoking the 2002 Bybee memo authorizing the techniques
  • The memos dealt with specifics related to using a combination of techniques

From the Times article:

With virtually no experience in interrogations, the C.I.A. had constructed its program in a few harried months by consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods long used in training American servicemen to withstand capture. The agency officers questioning prisoners constantly sought advice from lawyers thousands of miles away.

“We were getting asked about combinations — ‘Can we do this and this at the same time?’” recalled Paul C. Kelbaugh, a veteran intelligence lawyer who was deputy legal counsel at the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center from 2001 to 2003.

Interrogators were worried that even approved techniques had such a painful, multiplying effect when combined that they might cross the legal line, Mr. Kelbaugh said. He recalled agency officers asking: “These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature — can they be combined?” Or “Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?”

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  • Display: Sort:
    The Agency (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dulcinea on Thu Oct 04, 2007 at 02:03:30 PM EST
    officers didn't know torture when they saw it?  The legality, not the morality, was questioned?  

    amount of news (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 05:53:22 PM EST
    How does the mainstream and blog news coverage of the above compare to the coverage of fifteen years of the below, and is doing nothing about Burma an "irrepairable blot" on our nation?

     MAE SOT, Thailand - Thet Oo says his military interrogators in Myanmar kicked him in the head until he blacked out, shackled his polio-ridden legs, and then threw him in a tiny, dark cell where he spent much of the next 12 years.

    "They treat people like animals," said the 46-year-old, one of dozens of former political prisoners who have fled across the border to Thailand.

    He and others recounted this week how they were imprisoned and tortured by Myanmar's military regime for their pro-democracy activities.

    Oo was a security guard for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before she was placed under house arrest in 1989. Her party won national elections the next year, but the junta did not recognize the results and began rounding up her supporters.

    Oo was detained and brought before his interrogators, who reeked of alcohol, and was beaten so badly that he lost most of his hearing.

    As Myanmar's security forces cracked down on demonstrators last week, former prisoners said they were sickened by televised images of Buddhist monks and students being chased down, bludgeoned with batons and loaded onto police trucks.

    "I'm so worried for them," Oo told an Associated Press reporter and television crew traveling through this remote border region in northern Thailand.

    Myanmar's military government has repeatedly denied using torture or abusing its prisoners.

    A group of political prisoners is collecting evidence, including lists of jailers and torturers, to give to human rights organizations.

    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, comprised of around 100 former inmates, has already put out one report on torture in Myanmar. It described homosexual rape, electric shocks to the genitals, partial suffocation by water, burning of flesh with hot wax, and being made to stand for hours in tubs of urine and feces.

    The government said 10 people were killed and nearly 2,100 arrested in last week's demonstrations, with 700 later released. Diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is likely much higher and up to 6,000 people were seized, including hundreds of monks who led the protests.

    Some were brought to Yangon's notorious Insein prison. Witnesses said others were held in university buildings and an old horse track for questioning.

    Those who have been released so far have been too frightened to speak out about their treatment. One man detained for five days, however, said he was not allowed to contact his family, had no bed, and did not get enough to eat.

    Myanmar's military seized power in 1962, ending an experiment in democracy and leading the resource-rich nation toward isolation and economic ruin. The current junta has been in power since 1988, when it crushed pro-democracy demonstrations.

    Myo Myint, who lost a leg, an arm and an eye while fighting as a soldier for the Myanmar government, was arrested in 1989 after he quit the army and switched his loyalty to the pro-democracy movement.

    He says his interrogators stripped him naked and tied him with a leather belt to a seesaw, placing him head down for four hours and pouring water in his face as he fell in and out of consciousness. Another time they put a bag over his head and kicked away his crutch.

    "I still have nightmares," the 45-year-old says. "I wake up and my whole body is wet with sweat."

    Oo Tezaniya, a 42-year-old monk who spent eight years and three months in prison for opposing the government, clenched his hands in the folds of his saffron robe as he told how he was seized in the middle of the night in 1988.

    He was brought to an interrogation center, beaten with guns, and then thrown into a dark cell for a month with two other men and no bathroom.

    "There was excrement all over the floor," he said.

    Tezaniya's heart sank this week when he saw pictures of what dissidents said was a monk's body floating face down in a Yangon river. The junta said in a statement Friday that the body was not of a monk but of a man "with a piece of saffron robe tied round the neck."

    "I thought the monks might be arrested and defrocked, but not that the troops would open fire," Tezaniya said sadly. "I'm surprised, even after all I've seen."

    The Answer to Burma (1.00 / 1) (#5)
    by MSimon on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 10:50:53 PM EST
    Military force or CIA covert action?

    To get that NOW would require action by Bush. Can't have that can we?

    No way that Bush will do anything with the No Blood for Oil snipers on his heels. Why? Burma is rich in natural gas.

    He will sit this one out. Why get the grief? It will  go back to the margins in a week or two. So why bother? A few pious platitudes and some minor action in the UN will suffice.

    With support for Iraq (all wars are fought stupidly - think Lincoln) on the left drying up why get involved? There is no profit in it.

    If you care about the next Burma - and there will be a next one - you will need to support the defeat of the Islamic fascists unequivocally. No political profit in that is there?

    Some days I despair for the world when interest trumps doing the right thing. Getting rid of Saddam was right. The mass graves of women and children attest to that. Bush is not the problem in Iraq. Islamic Fascism is the problem. To blame him for what the evil ones are doing is to prevent any action on the next genocide. I suppose it might help the progressives win the next election, so there is that.

    Well, I've reached my posting limit for the day so adieu until the next time.


    Nice Apology (none / 0) (#4)
    by squeaky on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 06:19:50 PM EST
    So by your twisted thinking eating children should be OK too because Jeffrey Dahmer did it?