Much attention has been focused on the bizarre legal reasoning behind the Bush administration's "torture memos," a series of documents starting in August 2002 that OK'd detainee abuse. The memos have been widely criticized for authorizing illegal acts. But in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, former Attorney General John Ashcroft raised the possibility that the CIA started torturing at least one detainee before any of the memos were even written.
If true, that would suggest that the CIA realized that the agency might be breaking the law and sought legal cover after the fact. Attorneys say that, hypothetically, this could make it easier to prosecute those who condoned or conducted the abuse before the torture memos were produced.
Intelligence agents from the United States and Pakistan captured suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah on March 28, 2002. According to news accounts and congressional testimony, Zubaydah's interrogation began soon after his capture. His interrogation was reportedly particularly brutal, and he is one of three detainees confirmed to have been waterboarded.