Firestorm over torture memo

Lawmakers and rights groups on Wednesday blasted the US government’s tactics in the “war on terror” saying a 2003 legal memo had given the military a green light to use torture in interrogations.

The Justice Department memo, dated March 14, 2003 and released on Wednesday, was sent to the Pentagon as it struggled to set guidelines for interrogators.

It argued the US president’s wartime authority exempted them from US and international laws banning cruel treatment.

“Today’s news that the Justice Department gave legal cover to the military to use torture and other cruel and inhuman interrogation techniques shocks the conscience,” said Democratic Senator Joseph Biden.

“This memo created the lawless atmosphere that led directly to the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. Those who wrote it and those who approved it should be held accountable,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee added in a statement.

The 81-page legal opinion was written as the Pentagon sought to draw up a list of approved interrogation methods for use on detainees at the US “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the Al-Qaeda terrorist network,” the memo says.

“In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

But veteran Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy said the memo showed that the administration of President George W. Bush had “abandoned the rule of law and adopted arguments that could be used by other nations to try to justify the torture of American troops.

“To protect our own soldiers, this administration needs to repudiate not merely withdraw these shameful and shoddy arguments.”

Rights groups were equally critical of the memo.

It “shows that the Justice Department gave virtual carte blanche to the Pentagon to engage in torture,” said Amrit Singh, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sought the document’s release.

Singh said the memo and a similar 2002 opinion for the CIA undermine the Bush administration’s argument that abuses such as the scandal in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib jail in 2003 were abberrations.

“These memos just go to show that it was the policies of the Bush administration that was driving this abuse,” she said.

Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, called the memo “incredibly disturbing.”

“It’s an attempt to write away the legal restrictions prohibiting action like torture, maiming and assault,” Daskal said.

But the Pentagon denied mistreating detainees.

“Our policy is to treat detainees humanely and that has always been the case,” Commander JD Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced in December 2002 to suspend a list of aggressive techniques amid objections from senior military lawyers.

But, largely because of the memo, a Pentagon working group in April 2003 approved the continued use of “extremely aggressive tactics,” including stress positions, nudity, exposure to dogs and hooding, The Washington Post reported.

The newly released document is similar to one written by the same Justice Department official in August 2002 giving the CIA expansive authority to interrogate detainees.

They are part of the legal framework the Bush administration built following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States to detain and interrogate “enemy combatants” around the world.

In 2005 Congress limited the interrogation tactics the Defense Department can use. But a bill passed in February to bar the CIA from using harsh methods including waterboarding was vetoed by Bush.


  1. Sandra Price

    Bush and the Republican Party must pay the price for this terrible use of torture. If McCain gets the White House, the voters are insane. I realize that the American people believe themselves to be good Christians with strong moral convictions and they need a wake up call to what morality truly is. It is actions just like this that has kept foreign soldiers out of Iraq. We have few allies because we broke the laws of war and peace.

    I used to believe that both of our political parties respected the laws that founded our nation. But since, the GOP under Bush came into the White House, I see pure evil and abuse of our government. Why is there no action involved to stop this abuse? Where is the American spine?

    We impeached one President for bopping an intern but we allow another for getting us into an illegal war.

  2. Warren

    I’m not so sure that the representatives of either of our two major parties respect the laws that founded our nation. Perhaps the republicans respect those laws a bit less than the democrats at this moment, but that isn’t saying a lot. Is it time to find another path?

  3. JerZGirl

    With this line of reasoning, Hitler was right in everything he did and we are wrong in rounding up, prosecuting and deporting anyone we locate who worked with Hitler. They were only doing what their own “Commander in Chief” ordered.

    How frightening it is knowing how complacent we have become.

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  4. old_curmudgeon

    The author of the 2003 memo was John C. Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, teaching the youth of today to think as he thinks.

  5. Wayne K Dolik

    Charge the perpetrators in the Justice Department who wrote this propaganda, an insult against all U.S. and International Law. Let the President stand there and defend these legal Sycophants with all his authority.

    Let cards fall where they fall. Let justice be served. Stop these Neocon Fascists before we loose our American soul.

  6. Pinky and the Brain

    “We do not torture.” – George Bush

    Two words: WAR CRIMINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Peace, Pinky

  7. Pinky and the Brain

    “We do not torture.” – George Bush

    Two words: WAR CRIMINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Peace, Pinky

  8. SEAL

    I saw a report today that shows 151 members of congress have mucho millions of dollars invested in defense related companies. More of them are repugnants but the democrappers have a great deal more money invested with John Kerey leading the pact. What I saw was he has profited 2.8 milion from his “war” investments since 2004.

    Significant is that the senate has a higher percentage of investment and several of the senators chair or sit on commitees that determine defense spending.

    This fact may help to explain why there is no oversite and the senate is willing to grant amnesty to the communication companies and otherwise be more compliant to Bush demands than the house.

    And that it is never a member that exposes any administration wrongdoing but some outside agency such as the ACLU that must go through a long and difficult process to gain access to information – such as the current torture document – that would be readily available to many senators.

    Or, some patriotic whisle blower destroys his career and his family’s life by telling the truth. Ever notice how these people just seem to disappear after they testify?

    The name of the game is money. That is where the vote goes.