As long as CIA agents could convince themselves they were not deliberately inflicting severe pain or suffering on detainees, they were free to do virtually anything in their questioning of suspected terrorists, including waterboarding. Furthermore, the agents' belief they weren't in fact torturing their captives didn't even need to be "reasonable."
These are the implications of a controversial August 2002 memo from the Justice Department to the CIA that was released Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union obtained several internal Bush administration documents it says authorizes the CIA to torture detainees.
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department in 2002 told the CIA that its interrogators would be safe from prosecution for violations of anti-torture laws if they believed "in good faith" that harsh techniques used to break prisoners' will would not cause "prolonged mental harm."
That heavily censored memo, released Thursday, approved the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques method by method, but warned that if the circumstances changed, interrogators could be running afoul of anti-torture laws.