A former senior military lawyer, who was involved in the deliberations but spoke on the condition of anonymity, complained that Gonzales's counsel's office had ignored the language and history of the conventions, treating the question "as if they wanted to look at the rules to see how to justify what they wanted to do."
"It was not an open and honest discussion," the lawyer said.
Alberto R. Gonzales, right, sitting in with President Bush's war council at Camp David, advises the president on sensitive foreign policy and defense issues that have seldom been addressed by previous White House counsels. During his tenure, Gonzales also has worked closely with Vice President Cheney's counsel.
(Eric Draper -- White House Via AP)
For Gonzales's aides, however, the experience only reinforced a concern that the State Department and the military legal community should not be trusted with information about such policymaking. State "saw its mission as representing the interests of the rest of the world to the president, instead of the president's interests to the world," one aide said.
The Debate Over Torture
This schism created additional problems when Gonzales approved in August 2002 -- after limited consultation -- an Office of Legal Counsel memo suggesting various stratagems that officials could use to defend themselves against criminal prosecution for torture.
Drafted at the request of the CIA, which sought legal blessing for aggressive interrogation methods for Abu Zubaida and other al Qaeda detainees, the memo contended that only physically punishing acts "of an extreme nature" would be prosecutable. It also said that those committing torture with express presidential authority or without the intent to commit harm were probably immune from prosecution.
The memo was signed by Jay S. Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal appellate judge, but written with significant input from Yoo, whom Gonzales had tried to hire at the White House and later endorsed to head Justice's legal counsel office. During the drafting of the memo, Yoo briefed Gonzales several times on its contents. He also briefed Ashcroft, Bellinger, Addington, Haynes and the CIA's acting general counsel, John A. Rizzo, several officials said.
At least one of the meetings during this period included a detailed description of the interrogation methods the CIA wanted to use, such as open-handed slapping, the threat of live burial and "waterboarding" -- a procedure that involves strapping a detainee to a board, raising the feet above the head, wrapping the face and nose in a wet towel, and dripping water onto the head. Tested repeatedly on U.S. military personnel as part of interrogation resistance training, the technique proved to produce an unbearable sensation of drowning.
State Department officials and military lawyers were intentionally excluded from these deliberations, officials said. Gonzales and his staff had no reservations about the legal draft or the proposed interrogation methods and did not suggest major changes during the editing of Yoo's memo, two officials involved in the deliberations said.
The memo defined torture in extreme terms, said the president had inherent powers to allow it and gave the CIA permission to do what it wished. Seven months later, its conclusions were cited approvingly in a Defense Department memo that spelled out the Pentagon's policy for "exceptional interrogations" of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When the text was leaked to the public last summer, it attracted scorn from military lawyers and human rights experts worldwide. Nigel Rodley, a British lawyer who served as the special U.N. rapporteur on torture and inhumane treatment from 1993 to 2001, remarked that its underlying doctrine "sounds like the discredited legal theories used by Latin American countries" to justify repression.
After two weeks of damaging publicity, Gonzales distanced himself, Bush and other senior officials from its language, calling the conclusions "unnecessary, over-broad discussions" of abstract legal theories ignored by policymakers. Another six months passed before the Office of Legal Counsel, under new direction, repudiated its reasoning publicly, one week before Gonzales's confirmation hearing.