Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture Tactics Predate OLC Memos

There's an awful lot of information to unpack in the Senate Armed Services Committee report, but the headline of this Washington Post story, "Harsh Tactics Readied Before Their Approval", raises a rather obvious point that bears repeating:

Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.

Previously secret memos and interviews show CIA and Pentagon officials exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, investigators found.


The report shows Pentagon officials reaching out to the military agency for advice on interrogations as early as December 2001 and finding some specialists eager to help. By late 2001, counterterrorism officials were becoming frustrated by the paucity of useful leads coming from interrogations -- a meager showing that was linked, according to one Army major, to interrogators' insistence on "establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq," the report said.


The school instructors conducted a training seminar for intelligence officials in early July 2002. At the seminar, two "agency legal personnel" told the group that harsh measures were already deemed acceptable, even though Justice Department approval was still a month away.

"They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the 'water board,' " the lawyers were quoted as saying at the seminar. Waterboarding might also be permitted, but the interrogators "would need prior approval," the report said.

The Senate report confirms participation by SERE officials in the interrogation of Abu Zubaida, an al-Qaeda associate who was the first high-level CIA detainee and the first to be subjected to waterboarding.

"At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high level al Qaeda operative," according to the Senate report. A June 20, 2002, memo described the assistance as "training" and noted that the JPRA psychologist suggested "exploitation strategies to [redacted] officer."

They wanted torture, and they got torture, even before the Bybee memo was authored. Given what was happening, can you see anyone at the OLC concluding that torture was in fact, illegal? Yeah, me neither.

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