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07 Jun

U.S. Lawyers Agreed on Legality of Brutal Tactic

The CIA given the green light to torture

By SCOTT SHANE and DAVID JOHNSTON, NYT, June 7, 2009

Full Article

WASHINGTON — When Justice Department lawyers engaged in a sharp internal debate in 2005 over brutal interrogation techniques, even some who believed that using tough tactics was a serious mistake agreed on a basic point: the methods themselves were legal.

Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.

That opinion, giving the green light for the C.I.A. to use all 13 methods in interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation, “was ready to go out and I concurred,” Mr. Comey wrote to a colleague in an April 27, 2005, e-mail message obtained by The New York Times.

While signing off on the techniques, Mr. Comey in his e-mail provided a firsthand account of how he tried unsuccessfully to discourage use of the practices. He made a last-ditch effort to derail the interrogation program, urging Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to argue at a White House meeting in May 2005 that it was “wrong.”

“In stark terms I explained to him what this would look like some day and what it would mean for the president and the government,” Mr. Comey wrote in a May 31, 2005, e-mail message to his chief of staff, Chuck Rosenberg. He feared that a case could be made “that some of this stuff was simply awful.”

The e-mail messages are now in the hands of investigators at the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which is preparing a report expected to be released this summer on the Bush administration lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh methods. The inquiry, under way for nearly five years, will be the Justice Department’s fullest public account of its role in the interrogation program, which President Obama has ended.

In years of bitter public debate, the department has sometimes seemed like a black-and-white moral battleground over torture. The main authors of memorandums authorizing the methods — John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury — have been widely pilloried as facilitators of torture.

Others, including Mr. Comey, Jack Goldsmith and Daniel Levin, have largely escaped criticism because they raised questions about interrogation and the law.

But a closer examination shows a more subtle picture. None of the Justice Department lawyers who reviewed the interrogation question argued that the methods were clearly illegal……………………………………………………….

This is sickening.

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