The legal reasoning in the 2002 memo, which covered treatment of al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody, was later used in a March 2003 report by Pentagon lawyers assessing interrogation rules governing the Defense Department's detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At that time, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had asked the lawyers to examine the logistical, policy and legal issues associated with interrogation techniques.The Defense Department is denying that the memo had any influence on policy and practice. They need to be able to back that denial up. Can they?
In the 2002 memo, written for the CIA and addressed to White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, the Justice Department defined torture in a much narrower way, for example, than does the U.S. Army, which has historically carried out most wartime interrogations.
In the Justice Department's view - contained in a 50-page document signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee and obtained by The Washington Post - inflicting moderate or fleeting pain does not necessarily constitute torture. Torture, the memo says, "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."
By contrast, the Army's Field Manual 34-52, titled "Intelligence Interrogations," sets more restrictive rules. For example, the Army prohibits pain induced by chemicals or bondage; forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time; and food deprivation. Under mental torture, the Army prohibits mock executions, sleep deprivation and chemically induced psychosis.
In a draft of the working group's report, for example, Pentagon lawyers approvingly cited the Justice Department's 2002 position that domestic and international laws prohibiting torture could be trumped by the president's wartime authority and any directives he issued.
At the time, the Justice Department's legal analysis, however, shocked some of the military lawyers who were involved in crafting the new guidelines, said senior defense officials and military lawyers.
"Every flag JAG lodged complaints," said one senior Pentagon official involved in the process, referring to the judge advocate generals who are military lawyers of each service.
"It's really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we've taught the Geneva Convention one way," said a senior military attorney. "Once you start telling people it's okay to break the law, there's no telling where they might stop."
A U.S. law enacted in 1994 bars torture by U.S. military personnel anywhere in the world. But the Pentagon group's report, prepared under the supervision of General Counsel William J. Haynes II, said that "in order to respect the President's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign . . . [the prohibition against torture] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority."
The Pentagon group's report, divulged yesterday by the Wall Street Journal and obtained by The Post, said further that the 1994 law barring torture "does not apply to the conduct of U.S. personnel" at Guantanamo Bay.