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Bush Administration authorized use of insects in interrogations
John Byrne
Published: Thursday April 16, 2009


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The Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to put insects inside a confinement box as part of the Administration's "harsh interrogation" practice, as well as throwing detainees into walls, according to memos released by President Barack Obama on Thursday.

Read the full memos here.

"You would like to place Zubadayah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us he has a fear of insects," the Bush White House said.

"As we understand it, no actually harmful insect will be placed in the box. Thus, though the introduction of an insect may produce trepidation in Zubaydah (which we discuss below), it certainly does not cause physical pain."

But, the memo cautioned, to comply with the law, the CIA "must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain."

Part of the text beneath a description of the insect torture was redacted.

Time's Michael Scherer notes, "The insect interrogation technique, as it turned out, was never used by the CIA, according to a second declassified memo released Thursday. 'We understand that — for reasons unrelated to any concerns that it might violate the [criminal] statute — the CIA never used the technique and has removed it from the list of authorized interrogation techniques,' wrote Steven Bradbury, a principal deputy assistant attorney general, in the footnote to a on May 10, 2005 document."

Detailed description of 'walling' detainees

It also provides a detailed description of "walling," a practice in which detainees were thrown against walls as part of the interrogation process (one detainee said his neck was tied with a towel and thrown against a plywood wall in a recently leaked Red Cross report).

"For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual's shoulder blades that hit the wall.

"During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall. You have orally informed us that the false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock or surprise in the individual. In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action."

The White House lawyers characterized this practice as "rough handling."

"While walling involves what might be characterized as rough handling, it does not involve the threat of imminent death or, as discussed above, the infliction of severe physical pain. Moreover, once again we understand that use of this technique will not be accompanied by any specific verbal threat that violence will ensue absent cooperation. Thus, like the facial slap, walling can only constitute a threat of severe physical pain if a reasonable person would infer such a threat from the use of the technique itself. Walling does not in and of itself inflict severe pain or suffering."

As part of the release of the memos Thursday, the Justice Department said they would provide attorneys to any CIA interrogator who engaged in the practice thinking it was lawful under the aegis of the memo.

According to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, writing earlier this year, former Bush officials may find themselves in hot water over one of the memos released Thursday.

"An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials," Isikoff wrote. "H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department's ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos 'was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.' According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials—Jay Bybee and John Yoo—as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)"

"The matter is under review," Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller is quoted as saying.

Read the full memos here.


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