Memos Reveal Military Lawyers’ Anger Over White House Interrogation Policy

Washington, DC — Recently released memoranda from high-ranking military lawyers reveal the alarm and misgivings that the legal offices of the Marines, Air Force, Army and Navy expressed over the interrogation policy being pushed by the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office. Lawyers from the different branches of the armed forces all voiced concerns that interrogation techniques proposed for use at Guantanamo would endanger U.S. service-members, imperil pride and discipline within the military, weaken international support for military actions and counter-terror efforts, and violate both civilian and military laws. Many of those techniques are still in effect at Guantanamo and were also implemented in Afghanistan and Iraq.


“Had the White House and Pentagon leadership heeded the concerns of the uniformed military, the abuses at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been avoided,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “The White House and Justice Department lawyers were asking ‘how do we get around the laws against torture and abuse’ while the military lawyers were asking: is this the right thing for the United States to be doing?”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the JAG memos into the congressional record on July 25, 2005 in support of amendments he co-sponsored with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other Republican lawmakers to reform interrogation policy. The amendments would establish the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation as the sole interrogation policy for all detainees in military custody and would categorically prohibit any U.S. personnel from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The White House opposes these amendments and sought through procedural means to prevent them from being introduced and voted on during Senate consideration of the defense authorization bill. The debate on the amendments will likely take place in September.

The JAG memos were responding to the “Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism.” That report, prepared under the leadership of Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes, provided the legal framework for DOD interrogation policy implemented on April 16, 2003 at Guantanamo Bay. The Report borrowed heavily from an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo, which had defined torture so narrowly as to include only harm “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Techniques still authorized for use at Guantanamo include sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, isolation and exposure to severe changes in temperature and environment. In addition to criticizing specific techniques, the military lawyers questioned the legal reasoning being pushed by White House and civilian DOJ lawyers, including the argument that the President could authorize violations of any laws that limit interrogation. Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, Army JAG, and Maj. Gen. Jack Rives, Air Force Deputy JAG expressed doubts that such a theory would prevail in any U.S. or international court.

The Administration had sought to keep these memoranda classified. Senators Graham, McCain and Carl Levin (D-MI) initially requested the documents in October 2004. Numerous other relevant memoranda and investigation reports remain classified, however, despite requests made by Human Rights First under the Freedom of Information Act and by other members of Congress.

Read the memos

Read more on US torture and abuses


Published on July 25, 2005


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