Hot Document

The Torture Memo

The Justice and Defense departments have released an 81-page government memo that effectively justifies the use of torture by U.S. troops (see excerpts below and on the following nine pages). The document, one in a series of such memos, differs from the others mainly in that it focuses on the military (as opposed to the Central Intelligence Agency). It was made public April 1 in response to demands  from Congress and a request from the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. The memo was written in March 2003 by John C. Yoo, then a deputy assistant attorney general, and was rescinded nine months later by Jack Goldsmith, who was briefly head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (and who is now a Slate contributor).

As in other Bush administration documents previously made public, this memo argues that neither Fifth Amendment due-process guarantees (Pages 6-10) nor Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment (Page 10) “extend to alien enemy combatants held abroad.”  Further, “federal criminal law” may not be applied to “interrogations of enemy combatants, undertaken by military personnel in the course of an armed conflict” (below), because, Yoo argues, that would be an unconstitutional infringement on executive-branch power. The memo interprets the U.N. Convention Against Torture  in determinedly narrow fashion and asserts that the Geneva Conventions  (“grave breaches” of which—by or against Americans—were criminalized by Congress under the War Crimes Act) do not apply to al-Qaida prisoners. To read the memo in its entirety, click here and here.

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