The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public.
The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing.
The memos were the first — and, for years, the only — tangible expressions of the administration’s consent for the CIA’s use of harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders, the sources said.
It is weird that after everything we know today, including other excellent reporting by the Post, they still included the bolded part. Saying that the administration only approved the torture of “al Qaeda leaders” is like arguing that everybody who stops at a sobriety checkpoint is a drunk. America held and tortured tens of thousands of people at a dozen or more sites around the world. How many of those could a credible person describe as “al Qaeda leaders?” A tenth of one percent? We gave cash rewards for warm bodies. Half of the male population of Afghanistan and ‘liberated’ Iraq carries a kalashnikov. None of the people we tortured to death anything to do with anti-American terrorism. Our strategy, like the Spanish Inquisition, was to torture a whole lot of muslims and punish whoever confessed.
Even better, for every story we know there is always something worse.
If there is anything to feel cheerful about in this ethical black hole, at least the Bush administration left a paper trail for war crimes courts to work with.