Release of 2003 Torture Memo Critical First Step in Accountability

Kevin Lanigan is the Director of the Law and Security program at Human Rights First. The following statement is his response to the release of the March 2003 Office of Legal Counsel memo.

The release yesterday of a widely discredited March 2003 Office of Legal Counsel memo by John Yoo is a telling reminder not only of how the Justice Department twisted the laws against torture in order to authorize torture, but also that CIA interrogators continue to operate a secret detention and interrogation program pursuant to secret legal memos that have been withheld from Congress.

In fact, while the Yoo memo was rescinded 9 months after it was issued, the “shocks the conscience” test Yoo advanced for evaluating the legality of interrogation techniques is not substantively different from the Bush administration’s current policy, established by executive order last July, under which “willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse” appear to be permitted so long as their primary purpose is to gain intelligence rather than humiliate or degrade.

The long-overdue release of the Yoo memo underscores the Alice-in-Wonderland legal world that produced a policy of torture, in which memos construing a federal criminal statute against torture conclude that torture is permissible. The American people have the right to know the legal theories on which the current interrogation program operating in their name is based. These legal memos remain classified. Releasing these documents to the public is a critical first step in holding government officials accountable for sanctioning torture and cruel treatment. Accountability for past violations is crucial to deterring future violations.


Published on April 2, 2008


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