Months after Sept. 11, 2001, a top Bush administration lawyer authorized the CIA to use such interrogation methods as the waterboard, attention grab, sleep deprivation and cramped confinement, finding these methods could be used because they entailed "no specific intent to inflict severe mental pain or suffering."
Such details emerged today as the Justice Department released pages of legal memos from the Bush administration as a part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The memos argued that although someone subjected to waterboarding may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the actual technique "does not in our view inflict severe pain or suffering."
"These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU.
The memos included an August 2002 legal opinion signed by top Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee that provided the specific authorization for waterboarding that the CIA would use against three detainees -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- in 2002 and 2003.
The memo, written just after the CIA had captured Zubaydah, noted that he had a fear of insects and advised the CIA that it could place the detainee in a box with an insect but that the CIA must "inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain."
Bybee revealed in the memo that the CIA was concerned because there was a "level of 'chatter' equal to that which preceded the Sept. 11 attacks" and that Zubaydah is "withholding information."
Bybee noted that the CIA wished to move to an "increased pressure phase."
Also released were three memos written in 2005 by Steven G. Bradbury, who served as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. These memos were written, in part, to replace the Bybee memo that the administration withdrew out of fear that the legal analysis was not solid.
However, the so called Bradbury memos, whose existence was revealed exclusively by The New York Times in 2007, found once again that waterboarding and other techniques were not torture, and therefore legal.
Regarding waterboarding, Bradbury's wrote: "Without in any way minimizing the distress caused by this technique, we believe that the panic brought on by the waterboard during the very limited time it is actually administered, combined with any residual fear that may be experienced over a somewhat longer period, could not be said to amount to the 'prolonged mental harm'" that would cause the technique to cross the legal threshold and become illegal.
Bradbury also addressed the issue of combined techniques: "Although the insult slap, abdominal slap, attention grasp, facial hold, walling, water dousing, stress positions and cramped confinement cannot be employed during the actual session when the waterboard is being employed, they may be used at a point in time close to the waterboard, including the same day."