Not to be missed today: The ACLU’s release of three memos it received from the Department of Justice and the CIA in response to a FOIA request. All three, issued between 2002 and 2004, detail the authorization of “enhanced” interrogation tactics for use on specific detainees.

From the AP:

The Justice Department in 2002 told the CIA that its interrogators would be safe from prosecution for violations of anti-torture laws if they believed “in good faith” that harsh techniques used to break prisoners’ will would not cause “prolonged mental harm.”

The Aug. 1, 2002, legal opinion signed by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee was issued the same day he wrote a memo for then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales defining torture as only those “extreme acts” that cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure. The Bybee legal opinion defining torture was withdrawn more than two years later.

The new documents indicate that senior Bush administration officials were aware of the controversial and potentially problematic use of certain interrogation methods, including waterboarding.

Track those officials yourself with today’s interactive flash feature from Slate, Crimes and Misdemeanors: An interactive guide to Bush-administration lawbreaking:

Says Slate:

The accompanying diagram highlights a truth of criminal conspiracy: Whenever legal liability is spread among many actors, it becomes difficult to ascertain with any specificity who’s on the hook for what. This, to steal a phrase from Douglas Feith, is “the whole point.”

While the graphic doesn’t offer any new information, it does give a stark, powerful visualization of which officials have been involved in warrantless wiretapping, coercive interrogation, Department of Justice hiring and firing practices, and the destruction of CIA video tapes – and which ones might stand a chance of being prosecuted.

For example, here’s what Slate detailed on Bybee:

Jay Bybee
Office of Legal Council
Implicated in: coercive interrogation

As the head of the OLC, Bybee signed the infamous August 2002 torture memo. Now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, he was confirmed before the memos leaked and hasn’t come under the same scrutiny as Yoo. Should he? By all accounts, Bybee relied heavily on Yoo’s work. But the ACLU just released another memo that Bybee signed, which explicitly approved enhanced interrogation techniques for use on a specific detainee, based on the questionable theory that they did not constitute torture because “we believe those carrying out these procedures would not have the specific intent to inflict severe physical pain or suffering.”

Case for prosecuting: By signing these memos, Bybee took responsibility for them. He may have also helped draft them. Yoo testified before Congress in May that his superiors reviewed and edited the torture memos.

Case against prosecuting: As with Yoo, there is resistance to prosecuting Bybee for giving legal advice. He is a sitting federal judge to boot. And as far as we know, there’s no evidence that he helped set policy on interrogation.

Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon will be online Friday at noon EST to discuss the story behind the project, and its possible impact.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.