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The Justice Department on Tuesday disavowed a memo that appeared to justify the use of torture in the war on terror and argued that the president’s wartime powers superseded anti-torture laws and treaties. The 50-page memo issued to the White House on Aug. 1, 2002, will be replaced because it contained overbroad and irrelevant advice, senior Justice Department officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The memo will be replaced with a new document narrowly addressing the question of proper interrogation techniques for al-Qaida and Taliban detainees, the officials said, citing department policy for requesting anonymity on their comments. The White House, meanwhile, stung by suggestions the administration had condoned torture, released hundreds of pages of documents concerning the treatment of prisoners captured in the war against terror. “I have never ordered torture,” said President Bush. The memos were meant to deal with a public-relations headache that followed revelations about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — but the documents shed little light on the situation in that country. The documents, many of them declassified from “secret,” originated at the Pentagon, the White House and the Justice Department. Two inches thick, they chronicled how the administration grappled between January 2002 and April 2003 with how aggressively interrogators should push detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other facilities. Besides providing the papers, top administration lawyers gave lengthy briefings in hopes of countering a perception that the administration felt the fight against the al-Qaida terror network provided a legal foundation for mistreatment of prisoners. “It was harmful to this country in terms of the notion that we may be engaged in torture,” said White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales “That’s contrary to the values of this president and this administration.” The 2002 memo the Justice Department spoke of, signed by former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, included lengthy sections that appeared to justify the use of torture in the war on terrorism and contended that U.S. personnel could be immune from prosecution for torture. The memo also argued that the president’s powers as commander in chief allow him to override U.S. anti-torture laws and international treaties banning the practice. “Congress may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield,” the Bybee memo said. Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have said that memo provided the legal underpinnings for subsequent abuses of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Justice Department officials said that no one asked for much of the advice that was included in the memo signed by Bybee, now a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The questions were focused entirely on how interrogators should treat al-Qaida and Taliban detainees and on whether the Geneva Conventions applied to them. The officials said that other memos regarding treatment of terror war detainees would be reviewed and could be repudiated and replaced. They declined to say whether they had issued any memos about interrogation techniques to the CIA. They also said there were additional techniques approved for use in the war on terrorism that would remain classified so that terror operatives would not know every possible method the United States could use. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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