The Tenth Anniversary of the First 'Torture Memo'

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush signed a two-page memorandum called "Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees." The memorandum, drafted in part by John Yoo, is now best known as the first of the so-called "terror memos." It argued that the government was exempt from the Geneva Conventions in any war on terror-related investigations, as, the document asserts, the treaty refers only to "High Contracting Parties."

As stateless enemies, the Taliban and al-Qaeda were therefore not covered by the Geneva Conventions. When the U.S. government engaged in such controversial interrogation methods as waterboarding, it was this two-page document that first gave the military license to do so.

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA Bin Laden Tracking Unit and adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies, discusses the memo's impact and legacy.


Michael Scheuer

Produced by:

Ben Gottlieb

Comments [2]


"The so-called Torture Memo" also changed the fate of thousands of people who would not be terrorist victims and changed the retirement plans of Bin Laden since he was found thanks to Bush era policies that his successor opposed but he was happy to have "inherited" the resulting intelligence that led to OBL.

Feb. 07 2012 11:44 AM
Jay from Brooklyn

Regarding the discussion of the application of the Geneva Convention. It was adopted to prevent abuses by countries in wars and applies primarily to signatories. While there are sections devoted to all people, it raises the question, how to deal with groups or even countries that as a matter of policy break the very rules the convention seeks to ban (eg. kidnapping and beheading prisoners on TV)? Before the convention, this was prevented by an implicit agreement between combatants "You don't torture us and we won't torture you."

Does this then give us the right to use the morally repugnant practices against those who use them systematically to try to prevent their use? Does it become not only morally defensible, but morally required, to try to get the other parties to ban the practice themselves. This seemed to work with nuclear weapons (mutually assured destruction).

Feb. 07 2012 08:38 AM

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