WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration told the CIA in 2002 that its interrogators working abroad would not violate U.S. prohibitions against torture unless they "have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering," according to a previously secret Justice Department memo released Thursday.
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies before Congress July 17 about waterboarding.
The interrogator's "good faith" and "honest belief" that the interrogation will not cause such suffering protects the interrogator, the memo adds.
"Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture," Jay Bybee, then the assistant attorney general, wrote in the memo.
The 18-page memo is heavily redacted, with 10 of its 18 pages completely blacked out and only a few paragraphs legible on the others.
Another memo released Thursday advises that "the waterboard," or simulated drowning, does "not violate the Torture Statute."
It also cites a number of warnings against torture, including statements by President Bush and a then-new Supreme Court ruling "which raises possible concerns about future U.S. judicial review of the [interrogation] Program."
A third memo instructs interrogators to keep records of sessions in which "enhanced interrogation techniques" are used. The memo is signed by then-CIA director George Tenet and dated January 28, 2003.
The memos were made public by the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained the three CIA-related documents under Freedom of Information Act requests.
"These documents supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project.
The Bush administration has consistently denied that the United States tortures detainees.
Reports say the CIA waterboarded three "high-value detainees," including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although former Justice Department official Daniel Levin suggested in congressional testimony in June that there had been more than three instances of the practice, which critics call torture.
The third document released Thursday was blacked out except for a line saying "Unless otherwise approved by Headquarters, CIA officers (redacted) may use only Permissible Interrogation Techniques. Permissible Interrogation Techniques consist of both (a) Standard Techniques and (b) Enhanced Techniques," plus the instruction for interrogators to keep records of sessions in which enhanced interrogation techniques are used.