New Interrogation Details Emerge as Administration Releases Justice Department Memos
Friday, April 17, 2009
Justice Department documents released yesterday offer the fullest account to date of Bush administration interrogation tactics, including previously unacknowledged strategies of slamming a prisoner into a wall and placing an insect near a detainee terrified of bugs.
Authorities said they will not prosecute CIA officers who used harsh interrogation techniques with the department's legal blessing. But in a carefully worded statement, they left open the possibility that operatives and higher-level administration officials could face jeopardy if they ventured beyond the boundaries drawn by the Bush lawyers.
The four memos, dated from 2002 to 2005, contain few redactions, despite a fierce battle within the highest ranks of the Obama White House about the benefits of releasing the information. Intelligence experts said the documents could ignite calls in Congress and among international courts for a fresh, independent investigation of detainee treatment.
The documents lay out in clinical, painstaking detail a series of practices intended to get prisoners to share intelligence about past wrongdoing and future attacks. The legalistic analysis under anti-torture laws and the Geneva Conventions is at odds with the severity of the strategies, which include 11-day limits on sleep deprivation as well as waterboarding and nude shackling.
Step by step, experts considered the legality of slapping prisoners' faces and abdomens, dousing them with water, and confining them in small boxes, with the last strategy limited to two hours. The techniques were designed to inspire "dread," according to a footnote.
Some of the practices were used against more than a dozen detainees whom authorities considered to be of particularly high intelligence value after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes. But President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. reassured CIA employees anew yesterday that interrogators would not face criminal prosecution so long as they followed legal advice.
Both Obama and Holder for months have indicated a desire to look forward rather than conduct investigations that could alienate the intelligence community and incite partisan rancor. "This is a time for reflection, not retribution," Obama said in a statement, even as he bemoaned the "dark and painful chapter in our history."
A multiagency task force Obama established in his first days in office is evaluating other options for questioning such suspects and is exploring whether individual CIA officers may have committed crimes by overstepping the limits imposed by lawyers.
"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 in a statement.
For the first time, officials said yesterday that they would provide legal representation at no cost to CIA employees subjected to international tribunals or inquiries from Congress. They also said they would indemnify agency workers against any financial judgments.
The announcement appeared to be designed to soothe concerns expressed by top intelligence officials, who argued in recent weeks that the graphic detail in the memos could bring unwanted attention to interrogators and deter others from joining government service.
CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told employees that the interrogation practices won approval from the highest levels of the Bush administration and that they had nothing to fear if they followed the legal guidance from the Justice Department.