[I know buhdy already wrote on this — see cite for him below — but I figured an extra commentary wouldn’t hurt, providing also a bit more information on the legalities involved. — V.]
In a very interesting follow-up to the unfolding story on the 2003 John Yoo memorandum that justified the use of torture, ABC news is reporting how the CIA came to the White House after the spring 2002 capture of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan and asked for permission to use more “aggressive” interrogation techniques. Citing anonymous sources, ABC says that beginning with the Zubaydah case, “the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.” These discussions evidently included the use of waterboarding, as the CIA has admitted using this torture technique on Zubaydah.
The “Principals” — high-level Bush administration officials — present included National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, who chaired the meetings, “Vice President Cheney… Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.”
While Ashcroft is said to have signed off on the legality of the interrogations, he got squeamish about how it was being approved. Perhaps he was afraid of future legal and political consequences. Perhaps he remembered how the secrets of the Wannsee Conference were ultimately leaked. Per the ABC story (also reported over at Reuters):