Home Government Programs Torture Memos

Torture Memos

Torture Memos


What were the Torture Memos?


The torture memos were a series of documents that informed the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of the Defense, and President of the United States on certain torture techniques that may be legal through interpretation of Geneva Conventions standards.  Some of these torture techniques called for sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and more. 


Timeline for the Torture Memos


2002 Torture Memos


Many of the memos were written by a University of California law professor named John C. Yoo who served in the Justice Department.  The memos were presented in January of 2002 and helped Bush administration officials assert that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners of war during the war in Afghanistan.


On January 25, 2002, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales sent a memo to President Bush that the claims by the Justice Department were correct and that the President should officially declare that members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not covered by the Geneva Conventions.  Making such a declaration would alleviate American officials from penalties under the War Crimes Act of 1996. 


The next day, on January 26, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell stated that the Geneva Conventions should not be rejected because the U.S. has supported the Geneva Conventions for over a century.  Rejecting the Conventions now could put U.S. troops in danger and lower support form important allies.  A similar memo was released by William H. Taft IV, the legal adviser for the State Department.  Taft stated that rejecting the Conventions for the war in Afghanistan deprived troops of protection under the Conventions if they were captured. 


On February 7, President Bush released a statement that called for a “new thinking in the law of war.”  He ordered that all persons detained in the fight against terrorism should be treated humanely even if they are not protected by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, Jay S. Bybee, a member of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, released a rationale for legal torture techniques to gain valuable information from al Qaeda members.  The documents provided definitions of torture and ways interrogators could avoid charges.

2003 Torture Memos

In March of 2003, the Defense Department declared that President Bush was not prohibited by international treaty or federal anti-torture law because he was allowed to approve any technique as the commander in chief to protection the security of the United States. 

A month later, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a memo to General James T. Hill that detailed 24 different interrogation techniques.  Four of these techniques involved so much stress that they required approval from Rumsfeld himself. 

President Obama put an end to torture memos almost immediately when he took office in 2009.  He announced that no government agency would rely on torture opinions from 2001 to 2009.  He also stated that he would not attempt to prosecute any personnel of the government agencies who carried out certain interrogation techniques during the Bush Administration because these techniques were stated as legal during the administration.