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White House Endorsed Waterboarding of Detainees

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October 15, 2008

According to a news report by the Washington Post today, the White House issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of abusive interrogation practices, including the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture on detainees. The documents were requested by the then-CIA Director George Tenet, in response to fears from top CIA officials that the White House never endorsed the program in writing, and might later attempt to distance itself from decisions about the treatment of detainees. A. John Radsan, a lawyer in the CIA general counsel’s office until 2004 is quoted in the Washington Post article saying, “The question was whether we had enough ‘top cover’.”

Although top officials with the Bush administration have continued to deny knowledge of specific techniques, last month Condoleezza Rice became the first Cabinet-level official to publicly confirm the White House’s awareness of the program in its earliest phases.

In response to the article, Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project said:

This new report supplies further evidence that the decision to endorse torture was made by the administration’s most senior officials. The report also underscores once again how much information is still being withheld by this administration. The government is not permitted to withhold records in order to shield officials from embarrassment or to conceal evidence of illegal activity, but this administration continues to use the classification power to suppress information for precisely those ends.

You may recall the ACLU filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act demanding the release of information about detainees held overseas by the United States. To date, more than 100,000 pages have been released (many of these documents are compiled and analyzed in Administration of Torture, a book by Jameel and ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh), but we know many vital records are still being withheld by the government, including the memos revealed today.

As we look towards a new administration, truth and accountability are integral in coming to terms with such government-sponsored programs that have transcended the bounds of U.S. and international law. We must deal with our past as we look ahead to restoring our core values as a nation and once again establishing our country as a defender of human rights around the world.

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