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Bush Defends Secret Detention Facilities Amid Legal Questions

By Mark Mazzetti


In defending the CIA’s secret network of prisons on Wednesday, President Bush said the detention system had used lawful interrogation techniques, was fully described to select members of Congress and directly led to the capture of a string of terrorists over the past four years.

A review of public documents and interviews with U.S. officials raises questions about Bush’s claims on all three fronts.

Bush described the interrogation techniques used on the CIA prisoners as having been “safe, lawful and effective,” and he asserted that torture had not been used. But the Bush administration has yet to make public the legal papers prepared by government lawyers that served as the basis for its determination that those procedures did not violate U.S. or international law.

According to Bush, the Justice Department approved a set of aggressive interrogation practices for CIA detainees in 2002 after milder ones proved ineffective on Abu Zubaydah, the first of the Qaida leaders brought into CIA custody.

Current and former government officials said that specific interrogation methods were addressed in a series of documents, including an August 2002 memo by the Justice Department that authorized the CIA’s use of 20 interrogation practices.

The August 2002 memo, which was leaked to reporters in 2004, said interrogation methods just short of those that might cause pain comparable to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death” could be allowable without being considered torture.

The memo was repudiated in another Justice Department memo at the end of 2004, and congressional officials said on Thursday that they had not received documents from the administration explaining the legal underpinnings of the program.

One prisoner is known to have died in Afghanistan after interrogation by a CIA contract employee, but the agency has distanced itself from that episode, and the former employee was convicted on assault charges last month in federal court in North Carolina.