The Bush administration explicitly endorsed the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods against al Qaeda suspects in a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
The previously undisclosed classified memos were requested by then CIA Director George Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, the newspaper reported, citing administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents.
A White House spokesman had no comment on the report.
According the newspaper, intelligence officials sought cover from the White House because they were worried about a possible backlash if details of the interrogation program became public.
Justice Department lawyers signed off on the agency's interrogation methods beginning in 2002, but senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing, the Post reported.
Repeated requests by the CIA chief for a paper trail reflected growing worries within the agency that the administration might later distance itself from decisions about the handling of captured al Qaeda leaders, the Post said, citing former intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The officials told the newspaper Tenet first pressed the White House for written approval in June 2003 during a meeting with members of the National Security Council.
A few days later, Tenet received a brief memo conveying the administration's approval for the CIA's interrogation methods, the officials were cited as saying.
Tenet made a second request for written approval in June 2004, after the public outcry over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Post said.
Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe the still classified documents in detail, the newspaper reported.