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Fact 6

Last updated: July 19, 2023

The CIA torture program was never legal.

The fact that lawyers in the Department of Justice signed off on “enhanced interrogation” does not mean that it was “legal.” Torture was just as unlawful then as it is now. Here’s why:

First, the idea that “enhanced interrogation” was anything other than torture is absurd (see Fact 3 and Fact 4).

Second, both U.S. domestic law and international law—in particular, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment—categorically prohibit torture, everywhere and at all times, both in peace and in war.

Third, the legal opinions that authorized “enhanced interrogation”–which have become known as the torture memos—were built on a foundation of lies. Specifically, the memos’ authors say over and over that their legal analysis is contingent upon the “facts” as described to them by the CIA. The two CIA-provided “facts” that the authors relied on most heavily, and that proved most consequential to their conclusions, were that torture was working and that it was medically safe. Both were untrue. (See Fact 5 and Fact 4).

Finally, the torture memos were so irresponsible and/or poorly reasoned that the Justice Department eventually withdrew most of them. Upon taking office, President Obama prohibited government lawyers from relying on any of them going forward, and his executive order remains in force today.