WASHINGTON: The administration of US President George W. Bush authorized the CIA to waterboard Al-Qaeda suspects according to two secret memos issued in 2003 and 2004, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The memos were issued at the request of intelligence officials who were “troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing, the newspaper said, citing four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents.
“The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, the Post said.
“Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing.
Tenet’s first request for written approval by the White House came in 2003, during a meeting with National Security Council members including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the paper quoted the unnamed officials as saying.
The first secret memo was issued shortly thereafter, “a brief memo conveying the administration’s approval for the CIA’s interrogation methods, the officials said.
Tenet made a second request in 2004 as revelations of abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison came to light.
“Officials who held senior posts at the time also spoke of deteriorating relations between the CIA and the White House over the war in Iraq – a rift that prompted some to believe that the agency needed even more explicit proof of the administration’s support, the report said.
The newspaper said administration officials “confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their contents in detail because they remain classified.
A White House spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Waterboarding, a staple of brutal interrogations from the Spanish Inquisition to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime, usually consists of strapping down a captive, covering his face with a cloth and pouring water onto the cloth to simulate drowning.
The Central Intelligence Agency has admitted using the technique on Al-Qaeda suspects including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed following the 2001 attacks, at a time when further strikes on the United States were believed to be imminent.
Rights groups have decried the technique as torture.
The White House, which has not previously acknowledged it was aware of the specific techniques being used by interrogators, has said the United States does not currently use waterboarding, but that it would not rule out the use of such techniques in the future. -AFP