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Release of Interrogation Memos Draws Angry Reactions

The Obama administration decided Thursday to make public a series of long-secret Bush-era memos detailing the legal justification for harsh interrogation tactics used on terrorism suspects. NPR's Ari Shapiro updates the story.

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    In the U.S. and around the world, there was angry reaction today to the Obama administration's decision to release top-secret memos authorizing extreme interrogation techniques during the Bush administration and to the decision not to prosecute any CIA operatives who used those techniques.

    Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, said the effect of publishing the Justice Department memos, quote, "will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001."

    But some civil liberties groups, and voices in the Muslim world, criticized the decision not to prosecute the CIA agents who relied on those memos. The International Commission of Jurists in Geneva said, "Without holding to account the authors of a policy of torture and those executing it, there cannot be a return to the rule of law."

    For more now, we go to Ari Shapiro, justice correspondent for National Public Radio.

    And, Ari, welcome.

  • ARI SHAPIRO, National Public Radio:

    Thanks for having me.


    All right, what's the origination of these memos? And how did they come to light now?


    Well, the ACLU had filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about five years ago asking for these memos. Yesterday was a court deadline, and the Obama administration decided to release them, under some pressure, I might add, from current and former CIA officials not to release them.

    So we have four memos. One is from 2002; the other three are from 2005. They've all since been revoked. And as you've said, they go into some detail about the kinds of extreme interrogation tactics that were allowed.


    So give us examples of the kind of things that were allowed.


    Well, these memos literally have a list, one, two, three, four, five. And it ranges from nudity, to food deprivation, to dousing with water, to putting one detainee who was afraid of insects in a confined box with a bug to try to exploit that fear. And then, of course, there was waterboarding, which they describe as the most traumatic of the CIA interrogation techniques.