Small Comfort

Small Comfort

By David Ignatius
Tuesday, June 15, 2004; Page A23

“The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you,” President Bush said brusquely when questioned last week about a Justice Department legal opinion authorizing harsh interrogation techniques.

We can now see the August 2002 legal opinion for ourselves, thanks to The Post, which posted the complete text on its Web site Monday. Reading the memo’s legalistic explanation of why “the mere inflicting of pain or suffering on another” is not torture, you begin to understand why Attorney General John Ashcroft refused last week to release the opinion himself — and why Bush’s description of it was so misleading. The document, in its dry, lawyerly way, is as shocking as the Abu Ghraib photographs.

Contrary to Bush’s account, the Justice Department memo wasn’t an affirmation of laws that ban torture. Instead, it was a legal interpretation explaining how CIA interrogators could avoid liability under those laws, even if they used methods that might commonly be regarded as tortur

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