The Pentagon has released a declassified 2003 Justice Department memo that claimed the president's wartime authority trumps any international ban on torture, and concluded that the Fifth and Eighth amendments do not apply to foreign prisoners held outside the country.
The memo was written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo in March 2003. He has since left the agency.
The memo was rescinded in December 2003, about nine months after Yoo sent it to top Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes II.
• Click Here to See the 2003 Pentagon 'Terror Memo': (PDF) PART 1 | PART 2
In the 81-page memo, obtained by FOX News, Yoo outlined legal reasons why military interrogators could use harsh tactics against al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. Yoo wrote that the techniques could be used as long as the interrogators did not specifically intend to torture their captors.
He argued that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits "cruel and unusual" punishment, does not apply since the detainees "have not been punished as part of a criminal proceeding."
Citing statutory language that defines torture as "severe mental pain or suffering," Yoo argued that a detainee would have to experience extreme anguish for it to rise to that level.
"The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting the loss of significantly bodily function will likely result," wrote Yoo, who was then the deputy assistant attorney general and headed the Office of Legal Counsel.
The memo also offered a defense in case any interrogator was charged with violating U.S. or international laws.
"Finally, even if the criminal prohibitions outlined above applied, and an interrogation method might violate those prohibitions, necessity or self-defense could provide justifications for any criminal liability," the memo concluded.
Haynes, the Defense Department's longest-serving general counsel, resigned in late February to return to the private sector. He has been hotly criticized for his role in crafting Bush administration policies for detaining and trying suspected terrorists that some argue led to prisoner abuses at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Yoo's memo became part of a debate among the Pentagon's civilian and military leaders about what interrogation tactics to allow at overseas facilities and whether U.S. troops might face legal problems domestically or in international courts.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has long sought the so-called torture memos from the Department of Justice, said in a statement that the newly released memo "reflects the expansive view of executive power that has been the hallmark of this administration."
He said it "seeks to find ways to avoid legal restrictions and accountability on torture and threatens our country's status as a beacon of human rights around the world."
Still, he called the release "a small step forward" in the long-running effort to obtain what he describes as "secret Justice Department opinions on interrogation practices."
In the memo, Yoo wrote that interrogating enemy combatants is one of the core duties of the commander in chief.
"It is well settled that the President may seize and detain enemy combatants, at least for the duration of the conflict, and the laws of war make clear the prisoners may be interrogated for information concerning the enemy, its strength and its plans," he wrote.
"Numerous Presidents have ordered the capture, detention and questioning of enemy combatants during virtually every major conflict in the Nation's history. ... Recognizing this authority, Congress has never attempted to restrain or interfere with the President's authority on this score."
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.