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Context of 'Late 2001: Justice Department Approves CIA’s Use of Sleep Deprivation, Other Harsh Interrogation Methods'

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The Justice Department sends a memo to the CIA approving inter alia the agency’s application of sleep deprivation, the use of phobias, and the deployment of “stress factors” in interrogating terrorist suspects. The only clear prohibition is “causing severe physical or mental pain.” (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) The CIA had requested legal guidance from the Justice Department on how to make interrogations more effective. The need to improve its methods was becoming pressing as the US was getting its hands on increasing numbers of people from the Afghan theater of operations. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)

In conjunction with its directive for the White House to turn over all documents and communications relating to the Plame Wilson investigation (see September 26, 2003 and September 29-30, 2003), the Justice Department asks the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department, and Defense Department not to destroy records that might be connected to the investigation, and to have them ready to turn over to the Justice Department upon request. (Lichtblau 10/10/2003)

The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)


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