The interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in 2002 triggered
concerns among senior Pentagon officials that they could face criminal prosecution
under U.S. anti-torture laws, ABC News has learned.
Notes from a series of meetings at the Pentagon in early 2003 -- obtained by
ABC News -- show that Alberto Mora, general counsel of the Navy, warned his
superiors that they might be breaking the law.
During a January 2003 meeting involving top Pentagon lawyer William Haynes
and other officials, the memo shows that Mora warned that "use of coercive
techniques ... has military, legal, and political implication ... has international
implication ... and exposes us to liability and criminal prosecution."
Mora's deep concerns about interrogations at Guantanamo have been known, but
not his warning that top officials could go to prison.
In another meeting held March 8, 2003, the group of top Pentagon lawyers concluded
-- according to the memo -- "we need a presidential letter approving the
use of the controversial interrogation to cover those who may be called upon
to use them."
No such letter was issued.
White House: Tactics Are Legal
Today, the White House insisted that tactics used at Guantanamo Bay are now
-- and have been -- legal.
"All interrogation techniques that have been approved are lawful and consistent
with our obligations," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
In another internal memo obtained by ABC News, a Navy psychologist observing
the interrogation warned that the tactics used against Mohammed al Qahtani --
dubbed "the 20th hijacker" -- revealed "a tendency to become
increasingly more aggressive without having a definite boundary."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that interrogating al Qahtani
had produced results.
"Qahtani and other detainees have provided valuable information, including
insights into al Qaeda planning for September 11th, including recruiting and
logistics," he said during a news conference.
Human rights lawyers say Mora was right to raise objections to what his superiors
"It's clear that individuals who engage in abusive treatment of this nature
may be criminally liable for the conduct that they engage in," said Deborah
Pearlstein, the director of the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human Rights
First. "So if I were one of the troops who was being asked to conduct interrogations
using these techniques, I would certainly want to ask my lawyer whether he thought
this was legal."