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Memos Shed New Light on CIA Interrogation Tactics

BY Admin  April 17, 2009 at 12:30 PM EDT

CIA logo; File photo

CIA interrogators who used waterboarding on terrorism suspects will not face prosecution, President Barack Obama said in releasing the long-secret memos, which authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

The four memos, written in 2002 and 2005 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, detailed the approval of techniques including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, nudity and putting insects in with a tightly confined prisoner.

The first memo, from 2002, approves waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — and other harsh techniques on suspected high-level al-Qaida figure Abu Zubaydah. The CIA has confirmed that two other high-level al-Qaida suspects were waterboarded.

That memo found that while the “use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death” it concluded that in the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted and “the use of these procedures would not constitute torture.”

One memo said 28 terrorism suspects received harsh interrogations out of 94 held in the CIA’s detention program, according to Reuters.

A memo dated May 30, 2005, says that before the rougher methods were used on top al-Qaida detainee and alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he refused to answer questions about pending plots against the United States.

“Soon, you will know,” he told them, according to the memo.

In releasing the documents, the most comprehensive accounting yet of the controversial interrogation methods, President Obama said he wanted to move beyond “a dark and painful chapter in our history.”

“I have already ended the techniques described in the memos,” the president said in a written statement about their release.

The memos were released in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information lawsuit.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the government won’t pursue criminal charges since employees were following the legal advice of the Justice Department at the time. Holder also said the government would provide legal representation to CIA employees who may face outside domestic or international legal action over the events.

“It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” Holder said.

That government support does not extend to those outside the CIA who approved the so-called enhanced interrogation methods or to any CIA officers who may have gone beyond what was allowed in the four legal memos released Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

In a letter to employees, CIA Director Leon Panetta said that the debate over the handling of interrogation tactics will continue beyond the release of the high-profile memos.

“This is not the end of the road on these issues. More requests will come — from the public, from Congress, and the courts — and more information is sure to be released,” Panetta wrote.

Parts of the four memos were blacked out, and past and present CIA officials had pressed unsuccessfully for larger sections of the documents to be kept secret. Some critics argued that the release of the memos would make the United States less safe.

Michael Hayden, who led the CIA under President George W. Bush, said the release of the memos will have a detrimental impact on sensitive intelligence work.

“If you want an intelligence service to work for you, they always work on the edge. That’s just where they work,” Hayden told the AP. Now, he claimed, foreign partners will be less likely to cooperate with the CIA because the release shows they “can’t keep anything secret.”

Toward the end of the President Bush’s second term in office, top White House officials defended their decisions on the interrogations of key terror suspects.

“The easy thing to do is, well, let’s not do terrorist surveillance, let’s not have a robust interrogation program of these al-Qaida folks when we capture them, let’s not take aggressive action to defend the nation, because then the New York Times will love us and we’ll get editorials written about us all over the country and our numbers will go up in the polls,” former Vice President Dick Cheney told the NewsHour in a January 2009 interview.

“We had specific techniques that were approved by the Justice Department – but that we don’t torture and that we would not support torture from the standpoint of policy. It was not the policy of this administration,” Cheney said.