A Justice Deparment lawyer, John Yoo (now a law professor at Berkeley–that’s liberal academia for you), put together a legal memo in 2003 that amounted to a justification of the President’s right to torture people in his capacity as Commander in Chief in time of war. Here’s a critical passage in that argument:
As we have made clear in other opinions involving the war against al Qaeda, the Nation’s right to self-defense has been triggered by the events of September 11. If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions. This national and international version of the right to self-defense could supplement and bolster the government defendant’s individual right.
One reason you torture someone is to discover information (whether that information is any good is another matter). You might also torture someone for fun or for punishment. But the relevant sense of torture for this memo is the former–torture for information about the future. Yoo argues that if you put "information discovery" under the broader rubric of self-defense, then you can torture anyone at any time, so long as you are attempting to "prevent future attacks" (which would probably characterize any interrogation after all).
That seems to be a rather vague standard, as it could be invoked to justify any instance of interrogation torture. But the weird thing here is that Yoo would construe this national right of self-defense (which applies I would guess to war) as applicable to individual torturers. Any particular defendant who torturers a suspect for information, you see, is merely engaging in a completely justifiable act of personal self-defense.