This one trickled out over the weekend but shouldn’t go unnoticed. Turns out defining “torture” is hard even for the most brilliant of lawyers. If only we could appoint Andrew Sullivan interrogation czar and let him decide according to his exquisite conscience. Thumbs up or thumbs down, however he’s feeling on that particular day.

Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.

That opinion, giving the green light for the C.I.A. to use all 13 methods in interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation, “was ready to go out and I concurred,” Mr. Comey wrote to a colleague in an April 27, 2005, e-mail message obtained by The New York Times…

None of the Justice Department lawyers who reviewed the interrogation question argued that the methods were clearly illegal…

[DOJ lawyer Jack] Goldsmith put a temporary halt to waterboarding. But he left intact a secret companion memorandum from 2002 that actually authorized the harsh methods, leaving the C.I.A. free to use all its methods except waterboarding, including wall-slamming, face-slapping, stress positions and more.

Mr. Levin, now in private practice, won public praise with a 2004 memorandum that opened by declaring “torture is abhorrent.” But he also wrote a letter to the C.I.A that specifically approved waterboarding in August 2004, and he drafted much of Mr. Bradbury’s lengthy May 2005 opinion authorizing the 13 methods…

“There’s no doubt whatsoever that a great deal of coercive treatment that most people would call torture is not prohibited by the federal antitorture statute,” said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has studied interrogation policy.

Exit question: How come the Democrats don’t vastly expand the antitorture statute, then? And yes, that’s rhetorical.