The Wall Street Journal says up high that just before the invasion of Iraq, Bush administration lawyers issued a lengthy brief arguing that—damn the Geneva Conventions—the president is allowed to order torture. "In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander in chief authority," stated the report, complete with parenthetical. The brief, which was written by a joint task force including the White House's counsel, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon, also outlines potential defenses for any underlings who might end up torturing suspects. The document was apparently written amid frustration that al-Qaida suspects in Gitmo weren't talking. Some military lawyers working on the brief said they were uncomfortable with its conclusions. One said "political appointees" heading the task force insisted on pushing "presidential power [to] its absolute apex."
As I said before, I haven't read the actual memorandum. But, according to Slate, the memorandum specifically mentions "torture".
Abu Ghraib was not a surprise. The only thing that has surprised them is that people are upset about it.