More Bush Admin Memos Offer Up a Defense for Torturers

The ACLU today released three documents — in essence, three additional “Torture Memos” from 2002-04 — that the Bush administration has refused to disclose before now. The ACLU obtained the documents through its continuing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation against the administration.

To say the Bush administration has finally now “disclosed” these memos actually is a bit of an overstatement. Government censors have been busy: Perhaps 95% or more of the two multi-page documents in the set — an 18-page August 1, 2002, Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo to the CIA, and a 3-page January 23, 2003, CIA memo to OLC — are entirely redacted.

But even with all that’s been cut, there is still enough here that is troubling. As early media reports have pointed out — such as this one from the Associated Press — the August 2002 OLC memo purports to give CIA interrogators a “good faith” defense to criminal prosecution for torture so long as they do not believe their cruel techniques would cause “prolonged mental harm.” Perhaps even more ominous is the January 2003 CIA memo, which suggests that CIA agents anywhere in the world have blanket permission to use both standard and “enhanced” interrogation techniques — collectively labeled in the memo as the “Permissible Interrogation Techniques.”

More ominous still? In stating that these “Permissible Interrogation Techniques” are all that CIA agents may use “[u]nless otherwise approved” by CIA headquarters, the memo suggests that at the CIA there has been some category of interrogation techniques even more enhanced than the known “enhanced” techniques — such as waterboarding — that themselves are clearly torture. What were these people doing?

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Published on July 24, 2008

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