[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has launched an internal probe [press release] into whether top department officials improperly approved the CIA's use of waterboarding [JURIST news archive], according to documents released Friday. The DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility investigation, which a DOJ spokesperson said has been ongoing for years, is part of a larger inquiry into the Bybee memo [PDF text, PBS backgrounder], a controversial document in which the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel defined torture as physical pain equivalent in "intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death." The Bybee memo was disavowed [JURIST report] by the White House in 2004.
Earlier this month, CIA Director Michael Hayden [official profile] told the US House Intelligence Committee that he had officially prohibited CIA agents from using waterboarding in 2006, but that the technique has not been used in almost five years. Hayden suggested that a recent Supreme Court decision on the status of detainees [JURIST report] and new laws passed since the 2002 and 2003 waterboarding incidents had made the practice illegal, in contrast to White House statements [JURIST report] earlier this month that defended the legality of the technique. AP has more.