In May 2004, CIA’s Inspector General, John Helgerson, completed a report that found that the CIA’s interrogation program violated the Convention Against Torture. By understanding the role of that report in the May 2005 Bradbury memos, we see just how weak Bradbury’s memos are.
As Jane Mayer described, the report strongly influenced Jack Goldsmith shortly before he withdrew the August 1, 2002 Bybee memo in June 2004.
The 2004 Inspector General’s report, known as a "special review," was tens of thousands of pages long and as thick as two Manhattan phone books. It contained information, according to one source, that was simply "sickening." The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized. The source said, "You couldn’t read the documents without wondering, "Why didn’t someone say, ‘Stop!’"
Goldsmith was required to review the report in order to settle a sharp dispute that its findings had provoked between the Inspector General, Helgerson, who was not a lawyer, and the CIA’s General Counsel, Scott Muller, who was. After spending months investigating the Agency’s interrogation practices, the special review had concluded that the CIA’s techniques constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, in violation of the international Convention Against Torture. But Muller insisted that every single action taken by the CIA toward its detainees had been declared legal by John Yoo. With Yoo gone, it fell to Goldsmith to figure out exactly what the OLC had given the CIA a green light to do and what, in fact, the CIA had done.
As Goldsmith absorbed the details, the report transformed the antiseptic list of authorized interrogation techniques, which he had previously seen, into a Technicolor horror show. Goldsmith declined to be interviewed about the classified report for legal reasons, but according to those who dealt with him, the report caused him to question the whole program. The CIA interrogations seemed very different when described by participants than they had when approved on a simple menu of options. Goldsmith had been comfortable with the military’s approach, but he wasn’t at all sure whether the CIA’s tactics were legal. Waterboarding, in particular, sounded quick and relatively harmless in theory. But according to someone familiar with the report, the way it had been actually used was "horrible."
After Goldsmith withdrew the Bybee memoranda, Dan Levin wrote a new more restrictive memo in December 2004. But by spring 2005, the CIA wanted to use torture with some more high value detainees (including Hassan Ghul). So they had Steven Bradbury (in what was basically an audition to head OLC) write new torture memos–not only to reauthorize waterboarding (though it was not used on Ghul, according to reports), but also to dismiss all the concerns about the CAT raised by CIA’s IG.