Justice Dept. memo authorized torture

The Pentagon made public a now-defunct legal memo that approved the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terror suspects, saying that President Bush’s wartime authority trumps any international ban on torture.

The Justice Department memo, dated March 14, 2003, outlines legal justification for military interrogators to use harsh tactics against al-Qaida and Taliban detainees overseas β€” so long as they did not specifically intend to torture their captives.

Even so, the memo noted, the president’s wartime power as commander in chief would not be limited by the U.N. treaties against torture.

“Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion,” said the memo written by John Yoo, who was then deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The memo also offered a defense in case any interrogator was charged with violating U.S. or international laws.

“Finally, even if the criminal prohibitions outlined above applied, and an interrogation method might violate those prohibitions, necessity or self-defense could provide justifications for any criminal liability,” the memo concluded.

The memo was rescinded in December 2003, a mere nine months after Yoo sent it to the Pentagon’s top lawyer, William J. Haynes. Though its existence has been known for years, its release Tuesday marked the first time its contents in full have been made public.

Haynes, the Defense Department’s longest-serving general counsel, resigned in late February to return to the private sector. He has been hotly criticized for his role in crafting Bush administration policies for detaining and trying suspected terrorists that some argue led to prisoner abuses at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Yoo’s memo became part of a debate among the Pentagon’s civilian and military leaders about what interrogation tactics to allow at overseas facilities and whether U.S. troops might face legal problems domestically or in international courts.

Also of concern was whether techniques used by U.S. interrogators might someday be used as justification for harsh treatment of Americans captured by opposing forces.

The Justice Department has opened an internal investigation into whether its top officials improperly authorized or reviewed the CIA’s use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, when interrogating terror suspects. It was unclear whether the Yoo memo, which focuses only on military interrogators, will be part of that inquiry.

The declassified memo was released as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit to force the Bush administration to turn over documents about the government’s war on terror. The document also was turned over to lawmakers.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said its release “represents an accommodation of Congress’ oversight interest in the area of wartime interrogations.”

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s national security project, said Yoo’s legal reasoning puts “literally no limit at all to the kinds of interrogation methods that the president can authorize.”

“The whole point of the memo is obviously to nullify every possible legal restraint on the president’s wartime authority,” Jaffer said. “The memo was meant to allow torture, and that’s exactly what it did.”

The 81-page legal analysis largely centers on whether interrogators can be held responsible for torture if torture is not the intent of the questioning. And it defines torture as the intended sum of a variety of acts, which could include acid scalding, severe mental pain and suffering, threat of imminent death and physical pain resulting in impaired body functions, organ failure or death.

The “definition of torture must be read as a sum of these component parts,” the memo said.

The memo also includes past legal defenses of interrogations that Yoo wrote are not considered torture, such as sleep deprivation, hooding detainees and “frog crouching,” which forces prisoners to crouch while standing on the tips of their toes.

“This standard permits some physical contact,” the memo said. “Employing a shove or slap as part of an interrogation would not run afoul of this standard.”

The memo concludes that foreign enemy combatants held overseas do not have defendants’ rights or protections from cruel and unusual punishment that U.S. citizens have under the Constitution. It also says that Congress “cannot interfere with the president’s exercise of his authority as commander in chief to control the conduct of operations during a war.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said the memo “reflects the expansive view of executive power that has been the hallmark of this administration.” He called for its release four months ago.

“It is no wonder that this memo … could not withstand scrutiny and had to be withdrawn,” said Leahy, D-Vt. “This memo seeks to find ways to avoid legal restrictions and accountability on torture and threatens our country’s status as a beacon of human rights around the world.”


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.


  1. Sandra Price

    Is there any doubt that Bush is a Dictator and runs America as a madman? We must not forget that the GOP helped him in his power position and so did the Democrats!

    Let’s try for Democracy at home and stop this assault on our freedoms. NO MORE TORTURE ANYWHERE! I do not trust McCain…..Once he gets the power of the White House, he too will become a Dictator….It seems to run in the blood of the GOP.

  2. JerZGirl

    Using this kind of justification means that we also have no right to prosecute and deport anyone found in this country who served under Hitler. As leader of his country, Hitler had the right in time of war to ignore and override International Law.

    Do they not realize how dangerous that line of thinking is? How can these people sleep at night???

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  3. douin

    Until the people of the United States wake up and understand that the goal of this Bush Administration is to Control all aspects of not only our society, but also to intimidate, threaten and control the entire world, we are only asking for eventual destruction for everyone. This is the kind of thinking that has brought about the collapse of other World Powers that thought they were incapable of being removed.

    Many of the actions taken by Bush and this cabal appears to be taken right out of Hitler’s Mein Kampf…and why not ? Bush’s Grandfather did business with Hitler all through WW2. Check this out if you have any doubts.

    Our freedoms are being taken away more every day. When this government says one thing you will find the real truth by believing exactly the opposite of what you are being told. We are the last bastion standing in Bush’s way. It was planned that way. We are being weakened from within in all manner of ways. The noose is being tightened more and more every day. Soon we will have no strength or will to resist. Then where do We go for relief ? So people, you better wake up before it is too late.

    Haven’t you figured out yet that this so-called War on Terror is nothing more than a colossal diversionary tactic that has been used by other power-hungry Tyrants to start wars for political and monetary gain ? The Bush regime is no different. The issue of Torture is just another diversionary tactic, as it draws attention away from what is going on right under our very noses…the collapse of our economy.

    Hitler started the Reichstag Fire for the same reason that the WTCenters were destroyed. After all, as the Reasoning goes, who would believe that anyone would be so satanically evil as to destroy their own people for such an evil reason as War! You live by the sword..you die by the sword. It is past time we stopped being such a gullible and stupid people.

    The rest of the world already knows what is being done in Our name. Tell your sons to lay down their arms and refuse to be used as fodder for this government. It is time to take our country back. Awareness of what is going on is the first step. A Hero only dies once..a coward , many times.

  4. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Hey Seal, are you around? If your around, I thought up a variation on your term you coined, DEMOCRAPPER.

    How about when talking about a person who is a Democrat in the singular, for example: A ‘DEMOCRAPIC’ SENATOR….:D

    That sort of has a little bit of a lilt to it>