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DOJ Releases Four OLC Memos on Torture Techniques

Brennan Center holds the view that while the memos’ release is a significant victory for transparency, the actual content of the memos is chilling and highlights the urgent need for a commission of inquiry

April 16, 2009

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212–998–6289
Susan Lehman, 212–998–6319

Memos Show Urgent Need for Commission of Inquiry

Washington D.C. – Today, the Department of Justice released four Office of Legal Counsel memoranda issued between 2002 through 2005. The memos were released as part of an ongoing court case and address the interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects during that period.

While the memos’ release is a significant victory for transparency, the actual content of the memos is chilling and highlights the urgent need for a commission of inquiry.

In a clinical and detached tone, the memos describe and endorse as legal a laundry list of abusive measures, including, among other techniques, slamming detainees into a walls and water boarding.

“As the President recognized, there is no valid reason to shield these memos when the techniques they describe have already been exposed and discontinued by the new administration,” says Elizabeth Goitein, Director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Project.

The memos even acknowledge that these techniques might “'shock the contemporary conscience’ in at least some contexts” and they bear “some resemblance” to methods employed by nations-such as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, and Iran-denounced regularly for their human rights abuses in reports issued by the U.S. State Department. Nonetheless, the memos conclude that it is entirely legal and appropriate for the U.S. to use these techniques when the government deems it necessary.

“If the rule of law is to have any meaning, we must hold accountable those responsible for developing and sanctioning these repugnant policie,” Goitein added. “We cannot move forward toward a sound and effective national security policy unless we address the systemic failures that allowed the despicable practices described in these memos to be adopted and implemented. That’s why we need an independent, non-partisan commission to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding torture and other counter-terrorism practices that violated our laws and our values.”

“The memos alone do not answer the question of how detainees in U.S. custody were treated,” The memos indicate that these techniques would be legal only if administered in certain ways and under careful constraints. The recently disclosed report of the International Committee of the Red Cross makes clear that these limitations were not always honored."

As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said today explaining the urgent need for an independent commission, “we need to understand how these policies were formed if we are to ensure that this can never happen again. . . . We must take a thorough accounting of what happened, not to move a partisan agenda, but to own up to what was done in the name of national security, and to learn from it.”

For more information or to arrange an interview with Elizabeth Goitein, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212–998–6289 or 646–265–7721 or at or Susan Lehman at 212–998–6318 or at