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Congress Seeks Secret Memos On Interrogation

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 01: U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaves after he voted for the Defense Authorization Bill October 1, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey was scheduled for this week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 01: U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaves after he voted for the Defense Authorization Bill October 1, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey was scheduled for this week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)

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Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, said the agency's interrogation program "has been implemented carefully and lawfully" and has "produced vital information" to disrupt terrorist operations. "The CIA itself has sought the legal clarity on which this program rests," he said.

The CIA approached the Justice Department in mid-2004 seeking specific guidelines on interrogation methods in anticipation of legislation that sought to limit allowable techniques, according to a senior U.S. official.

The official said that, at the time of the request, the CIA wanted to ensure that its detention of terrorism suspects in secret sites overseas was sustainable, legally and politically. But the official maintained that the opinions did not "lead to anything harsher being done" to the suspects in CIA custody.

White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend also dismissed objections to the CIA program yesterday, saying during an appearance on CNN that al-Qaeda members are trained to resist harsh interrogations. She said that "we start with the least harsh measures first" and stop the progression "if someone becomes cooperative."

"If Americans are killed because we failed to do the hard things, the American people would have the absolute right to ask us why," Townsend said.

Several current and former administration officials familiar with the detainee debate also said they believe that, to some extent, the 2005 Justice memos have been overtaken by events.

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that U.S. prisoners are covered by Geneva Conventions prohibitions against degrading treatment, Bush publicly confirmed the existence of the secret CIA prisons and announced the transfer of 14 CIA prisoners to military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That same year, Congress approved changes in the interrogation and prosecution of terrorism suspects.

Bush followed up several months ago with an executive order, required by the legislation, making it clear that the CIA would comply with Geneva Conventions prohibitions. The administration did not spell out exactly what techniques are now approved or prohibited, but officials suggested that the CIA's program had been changed. Officials also said that Justice lawyers conducted a legal review of the executive order, as demanded by Congress.

"We have significantly changed what we are actually doing, and we have also changed the surrounding process," said Philip D. Zelikow, a former State Department counselor who was involved in some of the debates over interrogation policy.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a Republican presidential hopeful, said he had been assured by administration officials that the technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, is no longer being used. "I have been emphatic that techniques like waterboarding are inconsistent with America's international obligations and incompatible with our deepest values," McCain said in a statement.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a Democratic presidential candidate, advocated cutting off funding for Bradbury's office if the Justice Department does not release the memos.

Civil liberties and human rights advocates argue that the Bush administration's secretive and shifting definitions of torture have created an uncertain legal climate that encourages prisoner mistreatment, like the abuse that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"Instead of abiding by the law, the administration stocks the Justice Department with lawyers who will say that black is white and wrong is right and waterboarding is not torture," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First.

Staff writers Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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