Required Reading: Prequels to the Torture Report

As early as tomorrow, the long-awaited Senate torture report will finally see the light of day. If all goes as planned, the Senate Intelligence Committee will release the roughly 500-page executive summary of its 6,000-page report concerning the CIA's "rendition, detention, and interrogation" program. The report is said to be highly critical of the program.

Former President Bush came out over the weekend to defend the CIA against the report's conclusions. That's not surprising, considering his own responsibility for the CIA's brutal policies.

Related: The Torture Architects [Interactive Infographic]

Despite attempts to keep the program secret, details of it came out, bit by bit, in documents released over the years. Some, but not all, of the most shocking documents – including the memos comprising the legal infrastructure of the program – are listed below. Hopefully by tomorrow, the story they tell will be more complete.

The memos

In 2002 and 2003, Justice Department lawyers issued a series of legal memos that laid the foundation for the Bush administration's torture program. Two of the most famous are the twin August 2002 memos authored by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee.

One of those memos twisted the definition of torture, concluding that in order to violate the law prohibiting torture, the resulting pain "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." It also concluded that prosecution under the law might be barred as an infringement on the president's war authority.

The other memo approved the CIA's use of torture techniques including waterboarding, cramped confinement, and sleep deprivation on Abu Zubaydah who was being held at a secret prison in Thailand. He would eventually be waterboarded 83 times.

Revelations of torture at Guantanamo Bay

In 2005, TIME magazine published a previously secret interrogation log describing brutal 20-hour interrogation sessions of Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantánamo from November 23, 2002, to January 11, 2003. On December 2, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved the application of harsher interrogation techniques on Mr. al-Qahtani. Among other things, the log describes sleep deprivation, forced shaving, use of the "Invasion of Space by a Female" technique, and in one incident, interrogators forcing Mr. al-Qahtani to bark like a dog.

Rumsfeld okays the use of torture at Guantanamo

In this memo from 2002, Rumsfeld authorized the military to use harsh interrogation techniques including stress positions, nudity, forced grooming, use of phobias, pushing, and grabbing. He famously added a note next to his signature:

I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?

At the time, Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora raised concerns that some of the methods authorized in the memo could rise to the level of torture. Mora later documented his persistent attempts to get the Defense Department to change course in a 22-page memo written in July 2004.

Yoo backs use of torture by military interrogators

A 2003 memo, written by Justice Department attorney John Yoo, gave the Defense Department expansive authority to torture and abuse detainees. It was premised on the same flawed analysis that Yoo had adopted in the 2002 memos provided to the CIA.

The CIA's inspector general launches an investigation

In May 2004, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson issued a report of his internal investigation of possible illegal conduct in the CIA's secret prisons. The report detailed the use of torture techniques that were never authorized by the Justice Department, including mock executions, "racking" a gun near a detainee's head, revving a power drill while a detainee stood naked and hooded, and forcing detainees to inhale smoke until they vomited. The report also revealed that the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times. The report was released to the public in redacted form in 2009 as a result of the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit.

 "In Kabul, the treatment got worse. I was punched and slapped in the face and on the back to the extent that I was bleeding. While having a rope tied round my neck and being tied to a pillar my head was banged against the pillar repeatedly."

FBI agents report abuses

In a series of emails released in an ACLU FOIA, FBI agents detailed the abuses they witnessed at Guantanamo Bay. In the most notorious of these, from August 2004, an FBI agent described detainees chained to the floor and left without water or food for 24 hours or more, who had urinated or defecated on themselves. One detainee was described as:

…almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.

Torture in aggregate

In December 2004, the CIA provided a backgrounder to the Justice Department to use in drafting more legal memos authorizing torture. It describes step-by-step how the CIA carried out unlawful extraordinary renditions and interrogations. It also demonstrates that the CIA routinely applied a rapidly accelerating set of harsh interrogation techniques, including nudity, sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, slaps, facial holds, and attention grasps to nearly every "high-value" detainees. Finally, it details other interrogations techniques in their arsenal including walling, water dousing, the use of stress positions, wall standing and cramped confinement. The "day-to-day look" at a sample interrogation starting on page 9 is particularly chilling.

"No torture here"

On May 10, 2005, Justice Department attorney Steven Bradbury concluded in a pair of memos that the use of each of the methods described in the CIA's backgrounder – including waterboarding– did not violate the law against torture when used individually or in combination. He followed that up on May 30, 2005, with a legal opinion concluding that the CIA's program also did not violate the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The ICRC obtains access to detainees

On September 6, 2006, the Bush administration announced that 14 so-called "high-value" detainees had been transferred from CIA detention to Guantánamo Bay. That was the first public acknowledgment that the CIA's secret detention program existed.

In October 2006, the International Committee of the Red Cross obtained access to the men for the first time. The ICRC's confidential report to the CIA was leaked and published by the New York Review of Books in 2009. The report contains detailed descriptions of abuses meted out by the CIA and concludes that the interrogation techniques and treatment the men were subjected to "singly or in combination . . . amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

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Why doesn't the ACLU go fight overseas for our rights when we are prisoners of other countries before we are beheaded?


Hippies. You are American civil liberties union. Not rag head murders civil liberties union... are you?

Vedapushpa - Ba...

The 'Torture' permitted and inflicted with a claim of political-necessity as in the tenure of G W Bush is obviously very 'inhumn' - But it needs to be enquired into as to whence such a degree oftorture got permissable - whenter it was Prez G W Bush who increased the degree of torture to that extent and expanse.

Albert Fisher

When the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU got the PhotoCop cameras removed I almost resigned then. The drivers in the Twin Cities run red lights constantly and my life is endangered with every commute. Their reasoning was so flawed I could only conclude that the people running the Minnesota chapter run red lights themselves and did not like the cameras. For me, if you have loaned your car to someone else and they are running red lights you should a) be informed about it, b) be responsible for those to whom you lend your car and c) make sure the person never does it again. Instead the ACLU decided to let such scofflaws off completely. Totally irresponsible. I came very close then to resigning.

Romero's call for Obama to pardon the war criminals of the previous administration has pushed me over the line. He could at least have solicited the opinions of his paying supporters before doing such an irresponsible thing. I have been a supporting member for over 20 years and I have had it. I am going to resign my membership. But I cannot locate any information about how to do so on your website. In fact the only thing I see about membership is how to sign up. You obviously choose to ignore your members. Well this member choses to ignore you.

Please respond and tell me what I need to do to cancel my membership. I will walk on coals, jump through hoops, whatever it takes. Enough is enough.

Yours in anger and frustration,
Albert Fisher

Family member o... we can feel fucking sorry for the people who might have really done what they did and be unfollowed on Twitter over a goddam lie.
I never approved of torture at any time any WHERE, but I don't see fuckin' BUSH, who's profiting off a book he wrote even as I speak, or CHENEY being accountable for it.
And if they helped finance the operation, they should go to prison because they're fuckin' guilty of doing something. Bringing up torture to let them run scot-free - and do it to someone else - is irresponsible and emotional manipulation.
It's actually possible to believe that both torture and burning someone out of existence are BOTH wrong.
And I don't believe anyone here knows a September 11 victim if running scot-free is what they're trying to make happen.

We have a Death In Absentia form, which means they never found his remains, so the government thought up this as a legal ditty.
A Death In Absentia form is God's way of slapping his family in the face and saying "Your relative was so unimportant to me that I made sure he never even got lucky enough (yes lucky) to have his earthly remains like 95% of the rest of the world gets to have.


It's JUST as "inhuman" to set someone on fire and then celebrate the success of your mission after your little minions are 'dead in the name of Allah's orders' as it is to torture someone, but all you people want to have happen is for the people who DID do it (and I'm referring to ONLY those who DID do it) to get off scot-free so they can do it to someone else.
How the hell is that 'humane?'
You're no more humane than the killers themselves if you want them to walk away with acquittals for what they did do, and I'm referring to what could be proven they'd done BEFORE they were tortured. I'm reFERRING to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who everyone knows is guilty of something before he was tortured.


Nice article, but I think it is a mistake to say that the 2002 and 2003 memos "laid the foundations" of the torture program. This is a key point. The torture program was already in place, and the legal justification came afterwards.

This doesn't immunize policy-makers. It might immunize people lower down in the ranks who, due to stupidity or ignorance, don't understand that torture is illegal under US law. The US statute from 1994 is perfectly clear that "enhanced interrogation" techniques (beating, walling, rectal penetration) and "stress positions" are torture. If one needed any further proof, one could just look at State Department human rights briefings to see that the kinds of things the CIA was doing to prisoners are called "torture" by name when they are done by Syria, Egypt or Jordan.

The policy-makers aren't immunized. They entered into a criminal conspiracy to create a legalistic justification for something that they had been told repeatedly was illegal. They tried to write themselves a blank check. Not only that, their first check was bad. It bounced-- lawyers in the DoD told them it didn't stand up to legal scrutiny.

So did they stop torturing? No, they just wrote themselves a second check.

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