Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The infamous 2003 Torture Memo

Yesterday we finally had a chance to read the full text of the infamous March 14, 2003 memo from the Department of Justice on the "conduct" of "Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States", AKA The Torture Memo. The memo is described in an article in The Washington Post by  Dan Eggen and Josh White entitled "Memo: Laws Didn't Apply to Interrogators - Justice Dept. Official in 2003 Said President's Wartime Authority Trumped Many Statutes."

The full text of the memo is available as a four-part PDF file:

  1. 2003 Torture Memo - Part 1 (pages 1-19)
  2. 2003 Torture Memo - Part 2 (pages 20-39)
  3. 2003 Torture Memo - Part 3 (pages 40-59)
  4. 2003 Torture Memo - Part 4 (pages 60-81)

It was interesting how the memo spent a lot of effort trying to dance around the meaning of "severe" in "severe pain", trying to suggest that unless some hypothetical level of pain was reached, a lesser level of pain would not constitute "torture." One interpretation was that pain that was not "extreme" would fall under the international Conventions Against Torture (CAT) prohibition of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." While there was recognition of a prohibition of "excruciating and agonizing physical pain", there was little attempt to relate that to the real-world experience of how a person with common sense would react to any questionable form of treatment. Personally, it would appear quite obvious to me that a level of pain sufficient to break the will of a hardened terrorist would almost by definition be considered "extreme." After all, if the level of pain was not "excruciating and agonizing", then what exactly was it that caused the prisoner's will to break?

-- Jack Krupansky


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