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The Torture Memos

The Obama administration granted legal immunity to Central Intelligence Agency officials who followed Justice Department guidelines in carrying out harsh interrogations of terror suspects following the 9/11 attacks.

But in a victory for Attorney General Eric Holder, the administration released four Justice memos on CIA interrogations mostly intact, despite CIA officials' objections. The decision concluded a hard-fought internal debate that highlighted different views on how the Democratic administration should address Bush-era antiterror policies.

Three of the memos were issued in 2005 by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and portray efforts by the Bush administration to wipe away doubts that the interrogations were legal. In one memo, Mr. Bradbury says, "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms." He follows that with multiple pages that painstakingly define the meaning of "severe" and "physical pain and suffering" to conclude that what the CIA did wasn't torture.

One key factor was the online publication last week by the New York Review of Books of an International Committee of the Red Cross account of detainee interrogations. The president read the account and concluded "virtually everything that was in these memos was out in the public domain," said the senior official.

As of May 2005, the CIA program had held 94 detainees and subjected 28 of them to enhanced interrogations, according to the memos.


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