Primary Sources: DOJ Memos to CIA

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Last week, the ACLU released three previously sealed memos written by various CIA and Department of Justice officials, from George Tenet on down the line, that outlined the departments’ policies on torturing prisoners. The heavily redacted notes shed more light on just how slyly the two agencies sidestepped the law to escape any blame for torture.

One memo from 2004 indicates interrogators should only use “interrogation techniques, including the waterboard” if they clearly understand the “legal and policy matters” of those devices. The problem is those policy matters contradict each other and ultimately present an incredibly narrow opinion of what constitutes torture. The memo reminds the interrogator the US has implemented Article 16 of the UN’s Convention Against Torture. Article 16 outlaws “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” during an interrogation that do not necessarily amount to torture.

But the memo also directs interrogators to be aware of a document drafted in 2002 by legal councils at the Department of Justice informing (.pdf) the CIA of their opinion that “a good faith belief” that the interrogator was not intently inflicting any “prolonged” mental or physical harm on the subject does not amount to torture or cruel treatment, and therefore makes the act legal.

So, in the Department of Justice’s view, strapping someone to a board and pouring water on their face to drown him is humane and legal if the interrogator says he had no intention of causing the subject long term mental and physical suffering. Of course, it doesn’t matter that the entire point of waterboarding and other forms of torture is to do just that.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate