CIA lawyer told military in 2002 that illegal torture was ‘vaguely’ defined

I’ve stumbled upon this article by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane in the International Herald Tribune.

When U.S. military officers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, struggled in the autumn of 2002 to find ways to get terrorism suspects to talk, they turned to the one agency that had spent several months experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure: the Central Intelligence Agency.

They took the top lawyer for the CIA Counterterrorist Center to Guantánamo, where he explained that the definition of illegal torture was “written vaguely.”

“It is basically subject to perception,” said the lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, according to meeting minutes that were made public Tuesday at a Senate hearing. “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

The minutes of the October 2002 meeting give an extraordinary glimpse of the confusion among government lawyers about both the legal limits and the effectiveness of interrogation methods. They also reveal for the first time the close collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department on harsh interrogation methods.

The meeting at Guantánamo showed how CIA lawyers believed they had found a legal loophole permitting the agency to use “cruel, inhuman or degrading” methods overseas as long as they did not amount to torture.

In “rare instances, aggressive techniques have proven very helpful,” Fredman said, according to the minutes.

At the meeting, lawyers talked openly about the “need to curb the harsher operations” during visits from observers with the International Committee of the Red Cross and about moving some prisoners to keep them out of sight at those times.

And Fredman warned his military counterparts never to videotape aggressive interrogations because they will “look ugly.”

The hearing was the first in a series of sessions planned by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has spent the last two years investigating the origins of the harsh methods that found their way to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much of the hearing focused on how interrogation techniques used by the Pentagon to train military personnel to withstand the rigors of captivity had been reverse engineered for use against detainees in U.S. custody. The techniques, based on the treatment that American prisoners might expect from Cold War enemies, were used both by the CIA at its secret overseas jails for suspected high-level members of Al Qaeda and at Guantánamo and other military detention centers.

A military psychologist who studies the effect of those techniques on U.S. forces told the Senate panel how concerned he was upon learning in 2002 that one of the techniques, waterboarding, was being considered for use against terrorism suspects.

“I responded by asking, ‘Wouldn’t that be illegal?”‘ said the psychologist, Jerald Ogrisseg.

The military never used waterboarding, which simulates the experience of drowning, but the CIA used it on three prisoners with the approval of the Justice Department.

Three weeks after the meeting, Mark Fallon, deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantánamo, wrote an e-mail message expressing shock at the language of Fredman and others in the meeting minutes.