Did the CIA start using torture before the DOJ authorized it in the infamous torture memos?
That's what it sounded like according to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was on the Hill yesterday testifying on interrogation techniques before the House Judiciary Committee.
It was during Ashcroft's years as attorney general that the infamous "torture" memos were written. The memos approved the use of waterboarding and other forms of interrogation as long as they did not "cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure." The first memo-- often called the Bybee memo -- was dated August 1, 2002 and was written by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, who also testified before the Judiciary Committee in an earlier hearing in the series on torture.
But at least four months prior to the publication of that memo, the CIA captured al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah on March 28, 2002. Zubaydah's detention and interrogation has garnered much publicity, as it was thought to be especially brutal and involved waterboarding.
But during questioning, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., pointed out that the abuse of Zubaydah had reportedly begun weeks, if not months, earlier. "Did you offer legal approval of interrogation methods used at that time ... prior to August 2002?"
"I have no recollection of doing that at all," Ashcroft responded. He added that he did not remember anyone else at the Justice Department doing so either. He said later in the hearing that Zubaydah's interrogation "was done without the opinion that was issued on the first of August."