Sign of Progress on CIA Torture

The signs have been clear from the start that the lion's share of the US's organized and systematized torture is by the civilians in the intelligence biz. In Iraq, their example, or pressure to emulate them, appears to have inspired those military torturers who were not simply free-lance sadists.

So far, though, it appeared that the CIA's conduct (and that of other similar agencies?) was out of bounds for a discussion which focused on the uniformed services. Perhaps, though, the ice is cracking.

C.I.A. Expands Its Inquiry Into Interrogation Tactics: Former intelligence officials say that lawyers from the C.I.A. and the Justice Department have been involved in intensive discussions in recent months to review the legal basis for some extreme tactics used at those secret centers, including “waterboarding,” in which a detainee is strapped down, dunked under water and made to believe that he might be drowned.

It has been known that, after the abuses at Abu Ghraib were disclosed, the Justice Department abandoned some legal opinions written in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks that had been used as the basis for the broad latitude allowed interrogators in using extreme procedures against suspected Qaeda detainees. In recent months, government lawyers said the legal opinions were too broad and were being rewritten to restrict the harshest interrogation measures.

The broader inspector general investigation into the agency's involvement in detention and intelligence in Iraq since May 2003 was ordered in May by George J. Tenet, who was then director of central intelligence. But additional questions about the C.I.A.'s practices center on a small number of high-level suspected Qaeda detainees being held by the agency outside Iraq in undisclosed locations around the world.

The C.I.A. has already scaled back some coercive methods used against detainees, although officials would not discuss specific techniques. Agency officials have demanded advance Justice Department approval for each tactic used against detainees and a new legal analysis of federal laws on the subject, including a statute that makes it a felony for American officials, including C.I.A. employees, to engage in torture.

One seminal document repudiated by the government was an August 2002 memo by the Justice Department. It concluded that interrogators could use extreme techniques on detainees in the effort to prevent terrorism.

Unfortunately, the NYT article also suggests that the CIA is seeking, or using, torture to question Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a “high-level Al Qaeda suspect”.

Some of the most evil regimes have cloaked their vilest acts with a blizzard of paperwork and legality. Let's not end up like them.

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