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.
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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