Daniel Levin is a former United States Assistant Attorney General who attracted attention in 2004 when he spoke out about the issue of torture, particularly the practice known as waterboarding. Levin's outspoken commentary about the issue ultimately led to his ouster, leading to widespread public comment on the American stance towards torture. Many activists feel that Levin was dismissed unfairly in an attempt to suppress his political views.
Levin started working as an Assistant Attorney General in 2004, and he took an interest in the official administration stance on torture shortly after taking his position. During his tenure, he researched various torture and interrogation methods, and even underwent waterboarding himself so that he would understand what the practice feels like. In this interrogation tactic, also known as “simulated drowning,” a prisoner is laid out flat on a board while water is poured over his or her head, simulating the experience of drowning. Discussing the practice after his experience, Daniel Levin said that although he knew that he would not be allowed to drown, he was in extreme emotional distress.
In December 2004, Daniel Levin issued a memo which directly contradicted a 2002 memo written by Jay Bybee, in which the use of torture in certain circumstances was justified. Levin felt that tactics like waterboarding would only be considered acceptable in extremely limited and closely supervised situations, and suggested that the lack of clear guidelines on waterboarding was a serious issue. Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales ordered Levin to adjust the content of the memo, and ultimately fired Levin before he had a chance to write and publish a second, more strongly-worded memo.
Had Daniel Levin been given a chance to write a second memo, the memo probably would have contained a recommendation for an outright ban on waterboarding, as Levin defined the practice as torture. This would have directly contradicted statements made by the Presidential Administration which indicated that the United States did not practice torture as an interrogation tactic, and this would obviously have been a source of humiliation for several government leaders.
While Daniel Levin is not one of the more widely known figures in American politics, he is sometimes credited with drawing greater public attention to the waterboarding issue, and activists point out that his determined opposition to the practice was a mark of integrity. Levin may have lost his job over the issue, but the dust-up revealed serious problems within the Presidential administration, leading some citizens to wonder how widespread practices like waterboarding might be in American detainee camps and prisons.