The Right Coast

December 31, 2004
New OLC Memo on Torture
By Mike Rappaport

Just in time for Alberto Gonzalez's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, the Office of Legal Counsel has issued a new memo on torture.

Based on the New York Times report at least, it appears to cut back on the definition of torture, but still has a relatively narrow definition:

[The 2002 memo says] that "when the pain is physical, it must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure," adding, "Severe mental pain requires suffering not just at the moment of infliction but it also requires lasting psychological harm."

In revising that view, the current memorandum parses the language and the treaty differently, saying, for example, that torture could include "severe physical suffering" as well as "severe physical pain." The [earlier] memorandum tried to limit torture to severe physical pain. But the new memorandum also noted that physical suffering is difficult to define.