CIA Puts Harsh Tactics On Hold
Memo on Methods Of
Interrogation Had Wide Review
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page A01
The CIA has suspended the use of extraordinary
interrogation techniques approved by the White
House pending a review by Justice Department and
other administration lawyers, intelligence
The "enhanced interrogation techniques,"
as the CIA calls them, include feigned drowning
and refusal of pain medication for injuries. The
tactics have been used to elicit intelligence from
al Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida and Khalid
Current and former CIA officers aware of the
recent decision said the suspension reflects the
CIA's fears of being accused of unsanctioned and
illegal activities, as it was in the 1970s. The
decision applies to CIA detention facilities, such
as those around the world where the agency is
interrogating al Qaeda leaders and their
supporters, but not military prisons at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.
"Everything's on hold," said a former
senior CIA official aware of the agency's
decision. "The whole thing has been stopped
until we sort out whether we are sure we're on
legal ground." A CIA spokesman declined to
comment on the issue.
CIA interrogations will continue but without the
suspended techniques, which include feigning
suffocation, "stress positions," light
and noise bombardment, sleep deprivation, and
making captives think they are being interrogated
by another government.
The suspension is the latest fallout from the
abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and is
related to the White House decision, announced
Tuesday, to review and rewrite sections of an Aug.
1, 2002, Justice Department opinion on
interrogations that said torture might be
justified in some cases.
Although the White House repudiated the memo
Tuesday as the work of a small group of lawyers at
the Justice Department, administration officials
now confirm it was vetted by a larger number of
officials, including lawyers at the National
Security Council, the White House counsel's office
and Vice President Cheney's office.
The memorandum was drafted by the Justice
Department's Office of Legal Counsel to help the
CIA determine how aggressive its interrogators
could be during sessions with suspected al Qaeda
members. The legal opinion was signed by Jay S.
Bybee, then head of the office and now a federal
judge. The office consists mainly of political
appointees and is considered the executive branch
agencies' legal adviser. Memos signed by the head
of the office are given the weight of a binding
A Justice Department official said Tuesday at a
briefing that the office went "beyond what
was asked for," but other lawyers and
administration officials said the memo was
approved by the department's criminal division and
by the office of Attorney General John D.
In addition, Timothy E. Flanigan -- then deputy
White House counsel -- discussed a draft of the
document with lawyers at the Office of Legal
Counsel before it was finalized, the officials
said. David S. Addington, Cheney's counsel, also
weighed in with remarks during at least one
meeting he held with Justice lawyers involved with
writing the opinion. He was particularly
concerned, sources said, that the opinion include
a clear-cut section on the president's authority.
That section of the memo has become among the most
controversial within the legal community that has
analyzed the opinion since it was made public by
The Washington Post. During Tuesday's briefing,
White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales called the
commander in chief section
The Justice Department, he said, "will make a
decision as to whether or not that is something
that should continue to remain in the
opinion." Justice Department officials said
it would be scrapped.
The commander in chief section of the opinion said
laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the
President's detention and interrogation of enemy
combatants" in his role as commander in
chief. Congress, which has signed international
laws prohibiting torture, "may no more
regulate the President's ability to detain and
interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate
his ability to direct troop movements on the
battlefield," according to the August
Another element of the opinion criticized by
outside lawyers is that it defines torture as pain
"equivalent in intensity to the pain
accompanying serious physical injury, such as
organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or
even death." That standard would allow a
variety of tactics that would be considered cruel
and inhumane under international law, legal
experts have said.
At a briefing Tuesday, Gonzales declined to
answer repeated questions about how the legal
opinion, or the upcoming review of it, affected
the CIA. But, he added, "As far as I'm told,
every interrogation technique that has been
authorized throughout the government is lawful and
does not constitute torture."
Asked yesterday about the memo's circulation to a
wider group of officials than previously known,
White House spokeswoman Erin Healy replied in an
e-mail: "It would not be uncommon for the
Department of Justice to discuss issues with
lawyers throughout the administration. Regardless,
the President's policy is very clear. He expects
detainees to be treated in a manner consistent
with our laws, treaties and values. The President
has spoken out against torture, he has never
authorized it, nor will he. As we have said,
portions of the memo are overbroad and the
Department of Justice is reviewing it."
The legal debate over CIA interrogation techniques
had its origins in the battlefields of
Afghanistan, secret counterterrorism operations in
Pakistan and in President Bush's decision to use
unconventional tools in going after al Qaeda.
The interrogation methods were approved by Justice
Department and National Security Council lawyers
in 2002, briefed to key congressional leaders and
required the authorization of CIA Director George
J. Tenet for use, according to intelligence
officials and other government officials with
knowledge of the secret decision-making process.
When the CIA and the military "started
capturing al Qaeda in Afghanistan, they had no
interrogators, no special rules and no place to
put them," said a senior Marine officer
involved in detainee procedures. The FBI, which
had the only full cadre of professional
interrogators from its work with criminal networks
in the United States, took the lead in questioning
But on Nov. 11, 2001, a senior al Qaeda operative
who ran the Khaldan paramilitary camp in
Afghanistan was captured by Pakistani forces and
turned over to U.S. military forces in January
2002. The capture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a
Libyan, sparked the first real debate over
interrogations. The CIA wanted to use a range of
methods, including threatening his life and
But the FBI had never authorized such methods. The
bureau wanted to preserve the purity of
interrogations so they could be used as evidence
in court cases.
Al-Libi provided the CIA with intelligence about
an alleged plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in
Yemen with a truck bomb and pointed officials in
the direction of Abu Zubaida, a top al Qaeda
leader known to have been involved with the Sept.
In March 2002, Abu Zubaida was captured, and the
interrogation debate between the CIA and FBI began
anew. This time, when FBI Director Robert S.
Mueller III decided to withhold FBI involvement,
it was a signal that the tug of war was over.
"Once the CIA was given the green light . . .
they had the lead role," said a senior FBI
Abu Zubaida was shot in the groin during his
apprehension in Pakistan. U.S. national security
officials have suggested that painkillers were
used selectively in the beginning of his captivity
until he agreed to cooperate more fully. His
information led to the apprehension of other al
Qaeda members, including Ramzi Binalshibh, also in
Pakistan. The capture of Binalshibh and other al
Qaeda leaders -- Omar al-Faruq in Indonesia, Rahim
al-Nashiri in Kuwait and Muhammad al Darbi in
Yemen -- were all partly the result of information
gained during interrogations, according to U.S.
intelligence and national security officials. All
four remain under CIA control.
A former senior Justice Department official said
interrogation techniques for "high-value
targets" were reviewed and approved on a
case-by-case basis, based partly on what
strategies would work best on specific detainees.
Justice lawyers suggested some limitations that
were adopted, the former official said.
The former official, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue,
said the administration concluded that techniques
did not amount to torture if they did not produce
significant physical harm or injury. However,
interrogators were allowed to trick the detainees
into thinking they might be harmed or instructed
to endure unpleasant physical tasks, such as being
forced to stand or squat in stress positions.
"Clearly, that is not considered
torture," the former Justice official argued.
"It might be unpleasant and it might offend
our sensibilities in most situations, but in these
situations they were necessary and
At the same time, the former official said,
"we never had a situation where we said, 'You
can do anything you want to.' We never, ever did
that. We were aggressive, but our people were very
scholarly and lawyerlike."
Staff writers John Mintz and Dan Eggen
contributed to this report.
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