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Context of 'May 30, 2005: OLC Sends Secret Memo Regarding Interrogation Methods'

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The CIA’s inspector general completes a lengthy, secret report on the interrogation of detainees in US custody. The report, based on over 100 interviews, a review of the CIA’s videotapes of interrogations (see November 2005), and some 38,000 pages of documents, will remain secret throughout the Bush administration and into the first year of the Obama administration. Some portions will be made public over the years. The report includes evidence that US interrogators used harsh tactics—torture—against detainees who were not withholding information. Officials familiar with the report will say that it concludes some of the techniques used violate the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994). According to a declassified summary of the report later made public, the report finds that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” The threat of such an imminent attack was cited by the Justice Department in its numerous authorizations of torture. The report prompts CIA general counsel John Rizzo to request new statements from the Justice Department confirming the legality of CIA interrogation methods (see May 10, 2005 and May 30, 2005). [Washington Post, 5/9/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Obama administration, John Rizzo, Convention Against Torture

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA. The memo will remain classified for nearly four years (see April 16, 2009). It addresses, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “whether CIA interrogation methods violate the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment standards under federal and international law.” Bradbury concludes that neither past nor present CIA interrogation methods violate such standards. [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]
CIA Techniques Not Torture, Bradbury Explains - Bradbury calls torture “abhorrent” and “universally repudiated,” and says the US will never condone it. Afterwards, he spends a great deal of effort explaining why the various techniques used by the CIA do not constitute torture. Bradbury goes into numerous details about varieties of “harsh interrogation techniques” that can be used on prisoners, often restating details from an August 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and elaborating on those descriptions. One technique he details is forced nudity. “Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper,” he writes, and notes that the diaper is “for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique.… The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.” He cites “walling,” a technique involving slamming a detainee into a “false wall,” and writes, “Depending on the extent of the detainee’s lack of cooperation, he may be walled one time during an interrogation session (one impact with the wall) or many times (perhaps 20 or 30 times) consecutively.” Other techniques Bradbury cites include waterboarding, “abdominal slaps,” and “water dousing.” For water dousing, Bradbury gives specific restrictions: “For example, in employing this technique:
bullet “For water temperarure of 41°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 20 minutes without drying and rewarming.
bullet “For water temperarure of 50°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 40 minutes without drying and rewarming.
bullet “For water tempetarure of 59°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 60 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“The minimum permissible temperature of the water used in water dousing is 41°F, though you have informed us that in practice the water temperature is generally not below 50°F, since tap water rather than refrigerated water is generally used.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 pdf file; CNN, 4/17/2009]
Waterboarding Used More Frequently than Authorized - Bradbury also notes that waterboarding is sometimes used more times than authorized or indicated. Referring to an as-yet-unreleased 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general on torture and abuse of detainees, he writes: “The IG report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.… (‘[T]he waterboard technique… was different from the technique described in the DoJ [Department of Justice] opinion and used in the SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002). The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the [CIA] interrogator… applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real—and is more poignant and convincing.’)… The inspector general further reported that ‘OMS [the CIA’s Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.‘… We have carefully considered the IG report and discussed it with OMS personnel. As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used.… Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, ‘use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician.’” [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo. The contents and the recipient remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later determine the memo deals with the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. In early May, Bradbury determined that none of the CIA’s past or present interrogation methods violated either federal or international standards (see May 10, 2005). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
bullet First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
bullet Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
bullet Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009; Politico, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council, US Department of State, Philip Zelikow, John Bellinger, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Marcy Wheeler.Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Obama administration, FireDogLake (.com), Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, New York Times, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” [Think Progress, 4/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, Senate Armed Services Committee, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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