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Author of 'torture memos' says CIA exceeded limits in interrogations

Jay Bybee, who drafted the controversial legal memoranda with lawyer John Yoo, tells a House committee that repeated waterboarding and other techniques were not approved by the Justice Department.

July 15, 2010|By Ken Dilanian, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The former Justice Department official who co-wrote the so-called torture memos testified that the department did not sanction some of the harsh methods the CIA used against detainees during the George W. Bush administration, including the repeated waterboarding of two suspected terrorists.

Jay S. Bybee, former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, said in testimony released Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee that the CIA went further in its tough tactics than he had outlined as permissible in a widely criticized legal memoranda. Bybee appeared before the committee May 26.

For example, Bybee said, his memo, co-written with lawyer John C. Yoo, authorized waterboarding only if there were no "substantial repetitions."

CIA contractors waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 183 times, government documents show. Government interrogators used waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, 83 times on Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda associate whose status within the organization is disputed.

Among the other techniques reportedly used on CIA detainees that were not approved by the Justice Department, Bybee testified, were diapering a detainee, forcing a detainee to defecate on himself, forcing a detainee to wear blackout goggles, extended solitary confinement or isolation, hanging a detainee from ceiling hooks, daily beatings, spraying cold water on a detainee, and subjecting a detainee to high-volume music or noise.

"So if these things occurred, dousing with cold water, subjecting to loud music to keep people from falling asleep, if that occurred, that means they were done without specific [Justice Department] authorization?" Bybee was asked by the committee.

"That's right," Bybee replied.

"So the answer is 'yes?' " one lawmaker asked.

"Those techniques were not authorized," Bybee replied.

The "testimony reveals that many brutal techniques reportedly used in CIA interrogations were not authorized by the Justice Department," Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Thursday. "The author of these legal memos has now admitted this on the record. These statements are highly relevant to the pending criminal investigation of detainee abuse."

CIA spokesman George Little said: "Opinions from the Office of Legal Counsel were the foundation for the CIA's past detention and interrogation practices. That program, now over, has been — and continues to be — the subject of extensive review. As the attorney general has said, the focus is to see if anyone involved in the program may have gone beyond the legal guidance Justice provided."

Last month, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said that Assistant U.S. Atty. John Durham is close to completing a preliminary criminal review of whether CIA agents or contractors violated the law in their use of brutal interrogation methods. Holder has said that the criminal investigation does not necessarily mean government interrogators will face charges.

President Obama, who banned waterboarding in interrogations, has said that CIA agents who were operating under Justice Department legal advice would not be prosecuted.

The CIA's inspector general previously concluded, in a 2004 report that was heavily redacted when it was released last year, that agency interrogators on occasion went beyond what the Justice Department's memos outlined as legal.

But Bybee's testimony marks the first time either of the authors has publicly agreed with that assertion. Yoo, the other principal author, now a UC Berkeley law professor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Waterboarding involves water poured over the nose and mouth of an immobilized prisoner in a way that induces panic in hopes of getting the detainee to provide information. The technique dates to the Spanish Inquisition, and evidence of waterboarding by Japanese officers was used to convict them of war crimes after World War II.

Bybee was asked by the committee why he did not take into account past prosecutions over waterboarding when he authorized the CIA to use the technique. He testified that he did not think they were relevant.

In seeking permission to use the technique, the CIA explained that waterboarding was used in the training of U.S. Special Forces soldiers, Bybee said, and that it was 100% effective in getting them to cooperate during simulated interrogation sessions.

The 2004 CIA inspector general's report concluded, however, that the way the CIA practiced waterboarding was harsher than the way it was applied to U.S. soldiers in training — which is the way Bybee said he and Yoo envisioned in their memos.

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