A set of legal memoranda known as the "Torture Memos" were drafted by John Yoo as Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the United States and signed in August 2002 by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, head of the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Department of Justice. They advised the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Department of Defense, and the President on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques: mental and physical torment and coercion such as prolonged sleep deprivation, binding in stress positions, and waterboarding, and stated that such acts, widely regarded as torture, might be legally permissible under an expansive interpretation of presidential authority during the "War on Terror".
Following accounts of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, one of the memos was leaked to the press in June 2004. Jack Goldsmith, then head of the Office of Legal Counsel, had already withdrawn the Yoo memos and advised agencies not to rely on them. After Goldsmith was forced to resign because of his objections, Attorney General Ashcroft issued a one paragraph opinion re-authorizing the use of torture. Then in December 2004, another head of OLC reaffirmed the original legal opinions.
In May 2005, the CIA requested new legal opinions about the interrogation techniques it was using. The OLC issued three memos that month, signed by Steven G. Bradbury, ruling on the legality of the authorized techniques if agents followed certain constraints. In addition to these memos issued by the OLC to executive agencies, internal memos were written related to the use of torture in interrogation of detainees; for instance, in 2002 and 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, signed several memos authorizing "Special Interrogation Plans" for specific detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to gain more information from them.
All of these memoranda have been the focus of considerable controversy over executive power, government practices, and the treatment of detainees during the Bush administration. The orders were rescinded by President Barack Obama on January 22, 2009, shortly after he took office.