Marty Lederman has another in his series of extraoridanry posts on the legal regulation of US torture and torture-like activiites. Here's one of the key legal points:
The problem, which I've tried to explain in somewhat soporific detail in posts here, here, here, here, here and here, is that Congress (at the urging of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush) has defined the term “torture” exceedingly narrowly—so narrowly, in fact, that OLC has concluded it does not cover techniques such as waterboarding, threats of live burial, and threats of rendition to nations that do torture. Those forms of highly coercive interrogation, going just up to the line of “torture” without going over, are generally unlawful, not
because they are “torture,” but because they fall within the category of conduct denominated “cruel, inhuman and degrading (“CID”) treatment,” i.e., conduct that “shocks the conscience” and hence would violate due process if it occurred within the U.S. Such CID treatment is categorically off limits to the military by virtue of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the President's directive that the military treat all detainees “humanely.” Such CID treatment is also categorically prohibited — even for the CIA — with respect to detainees protected by the Geneva Conventions; and such CID treatment would (by definition) be unconstitutional — even for the CIA and even as applied to Al Qaeda detainees — here in the U.S.
But the Administration has concluded the CID treatment is not unlawful when the CIA interrogates Al Qaeda suspects outside U.S. jurisdiction.