[JURIST] Two secret legal opinions circulated within the US Department of Justice in 2005 endorsed "severe" interrogation techniques, including "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures," the New York Times reported Thursday. The DOJ opinions, the first of which was released soon after Alberto Gonzales became US Attorney General in February 2005, reversed the DOJ's position that such interrogation techniques are "abhorrent" and to be avoided. Around the time Congress was considering a statutory ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" interrogation techniques [JURIST document], the DOJ circulated a second classified opinion stating that all techniques used by the CIA are legal under that standard. President Bush signed the defense spending bill containing the anti-torture language [JURIST report] on the last day of 2005.
Officials speaking to the Times on condition of anonymity said the 2005 opinions remain in effect today and have been confirmed by subsequent internal legal memoranda. White House spokesperson Tony Fratto on Wednesday refused to comment on the 2005 opinions, but said the administration has been mindful that all interrogation practices are legal under US and international law. James Comey, the former US Deputy Attorney General who in 2004 opposed Gonzales' attempts to persuade a then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the warrantless domestic spying program while he was in the hospital, told the Times that he disagreed with the opinions. Comey said he told DOJ colleagues in 2005 they would be "ashamed" of the opinions if the public became aware of them. The New York Times has more.
3:19 PM ET – In a press briefing [transcript] Thursday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino responded to the Times report:
In this new war, which is an unprecedented war, facing an enemy unlike we've ever faced before, sometimes — oftentimes the best information that you get is from the terrorists themselves. They know where the other terrorists are hiding and what the other terrorists are planning. And to win the war on terror we must be able to detain them, interrogate them, question them, and when appropriate, prosecute them — in America — when we capture them here in America and on battlefields around the world. The policy of the United States is not to torture. The President has not authorized it, he will not authorize it.
But he had done everything within the corners of the law to make sure that we prevent another attack on this country, which is what we have done in this administration. I am not going to comment on any specific alleged techniques. It is not appropriate for me to do so. And to do so would provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these techniques. And so I am going to decline to comment on those, but I will reiterate to you once again that we do not torture. We want to make sure that we keep this country safe.
And I think another thing that everyone should keep in mind is that here in this country, it's quite a testament that even though we have a sworn enemy of the United States that has declared war on us and has acted upon that and killed thousands of our own citizens here just seven — six years ago, we are still having a debate to talk about how we should make sure that we treat people, and that we don't torture them. That is quite a testament to this country. And the President is very proud to lead it.
AP has more.
4:45 PM ET – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) each requested Thursday that the Justice Department turn over the memos to their committees. Leahy expressed concern that the memos indicate that the Justice Department has "reinstated a secret regime." Conyers also asked that the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel [official website] official who signed the opinions, Steven Bradbury, be made available to his committee for testimony. The New York Times has more.