Helgerson’s Hints

JasonLeopold linked to two interviews with John Helgerson, who as the CIA’s former Inspector General, oversaw its investigation into torture. (Fox, Spiegel)

Helgerson and Cheney

The Fox one, perhaps predictably, focuses on Helgerson’s reported interactions with Cheney, providing a counterpoint to Jane Mayer’s portrayal of discussions between the two men as heated.

"The VP (whom I had long known reasonably well, as, in a non-IG capacity, I used to brief the House Intelligence Committee on a weekly basis when he was an active Member) received me graciously and asked a number of good and appropriate questions. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, he did not attempt in any way whatsoever to intimidate me or influence what we were finding, concluding and recommending," Helgerson wrote in an e-mail to FOX News. 

Of course, if Helgerson was briefing the committee regularly during this period, it is likely he was interacting with Addington, then a Counsel on the committee. Also at that time, one of CIA’s young lawyers, John Rizzo, was "the Agency’s focal point in dealing with the joint congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra Affair." So, curiously, Cheney, Addington, Rizzo, and Helgerson were probably all involved with the House Intelligence Committee during the Iran-Contra issues.

Given the description he gives of his relationship with Cheney, I’m particularly interested in Helgerson’s description of how and why Cheney got a briefing.

"Only infrequently do IG reports take on such significance that they need to be briefed to the VP, and when this is the case, normally White House or NSC Counsel, or the VP’s own staff, receive the material first and then inform the VP as they see fit," he wrote.

Helgerson said that at the time the review had been completed, he and others in the spy agency briefed a number of key parties about the program and the IG’s findings. They included members of the White House, the National Security Council, Congress and the Department of Justice.

He said he briefed the vice president because he thought it was "important that he know what was up for a number of reasons, including the elementary bureaucratic fact, for us in the Executive Branch, that the VP should know the same things senior Members in Congress were being told about a program that was as sensitive as this one."

The language here is very vague–perhaps deliberately so. Helgerson seems to suggest that normally, the VP would only be briefed if someone at NSC–presumably, the National Security Advisor–believed the VP needed to be briefed. He even seems to suggest that–in this "normal" scenario–someone from NSC or the White House would do the briefing, not the Inspector General.

The timing here is particularly vague: "at the time the review had been completed" he and others briefed a number of key parties. But here’s what that possible timeline looks like:

February 4, 2004: IG Report drafted.

May 7, 2004: IG Report completed.

May 2004: Scott Muller meets with Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Bellinger, "and senior Department of Justice officials" about the IG Report.

May 25, 2004: In a letter to Helgerson, Jack Goldsmith describes having recently received the IG Report from Muller.

Week of June 22, 2004: Muller releases IG Report to Congress.

July 13, 15, 2004: National Clandestine Services and Office of General Counsel brief Jane Harman and Porter Goss, and Jello Jay and Pat Roberts, respectively. According to the notoriously unreliable torture briefing list, OIG participated in the Senate, but not the House, briefing.

In other words, David Addington got briefed on the document some time in May, whereas Congress didn’t get the report for another month, and didn’t get briefed for yet another month. So the "at the time the review had been completed" describes a time frame of at least two months duration. And presumably, if Cheney hadn’t been briefed before the May 2004 meeting with Addington, he was briefed very quickly thereafter.

And the other amusing thing about this passage is that Helgerson doesn’t even address the other well-known bureaucratic issues at play here: that Cheney was this program’s sponsor, and that he, not the President, was making many of the decisions on it. I can see why you’d have to brief Cheney, as the program’s sponsor, well before Jane Harman and Jello Jay found out about the review. Which is the underlying subtext here.

Note, Helgerson says Cheney "did not attempt in any way whatsoever to intimidate me or influence what we were finding, concluding and recommending." In the Spiegel interview, however, he does confirm that those with equities in the review within CIA were given a chance to comment.

Helgerson: It was not easy for another reason. Our review was difficult because of the disorganization of the whole interrogation program. So much was being improvised in those early years in so many locations. There were no guidelines, no oversight, no training. How will you review a program handled differently in so many places in the world? The extended time it took to complete the review was also due to a practice to permit all agency individuals and components who are subjects of our work to review our reports in draft, and to comment on them. Owing to the complexity and sensitivity of this matter, that process took a long time.

At a minimum, this would have included John Rizzo who, after all, led the efforts to get OLC opinions on torture. Given Rizzo’s close work and close relationship with Addington, it’s pretty certain Addington got a head’s up on what was included in the review.

In any case, this seems to support a view that, if some of the tensions and inconsistencies within the IG Report came from Helgerson’s interactions with others, it came via CIA personnel, not via Cheney directly.

Oral Authorizations Months Before

Speaking of the authorizations, let’s move onto one of the most interesting passages from the Spiegel interview. Helgerson basically confirms what we’ve long known: that someone gave oral authorization for torture "months before" the August 1, 2002 OLC memo.

SPIEGEL: Abu Zubaydah, a man the CIA considered to be a key player in al-Qaida, was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan and quickly transferred to a black site prison in Thailand. Apparently, he was the first detainee subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques," as the practices such as waterboarding were known. That was well before Aug. 1, 2002, the date of the first Justice Department memorandum legalizing these techniques. Did the lawyer who signed the memorandum simply authorize a technique months after this technique had already been applied?

Helgerson: My problem is I cannot go beyond the published report. But you are basically right. There was some legal advice given orally to the CIA that had then been followed up by memorandums months later.

Again, Helgerson’s vagueness here is probably deliberate: "legal advice … was given." He doesn’t say whom it came from–perhaps because (as reports have indicated), it came not from OLC, but from Alberto Gonzales. 

Which again raises questions about the structure of the IG Report itself–which (at least in the unredacted sections) doesn’t describe these oral reports, and–assuming they did come from the White House and not OLC–doesn’t reflect the centrality of the White House in the approval process. 

The Legal Opinion Behind the IG Investigation

Finally, check out how Helgerson explains why he conducted an investigation.

SPIEGEL: Why did you initiate a review of the CIA’s interrogations program at the beginning of 2003?

John Helgerson: At the time, we thought it important to look systematically at such an important program that had been in operation since shortly after 9/11. In addition, we wanted to respond to expressions of concern by some agency employees involved with the program who were uneasy about it. Actually there were a number of individuals who expressed to me their concern about various aspects of this program. They had the feeling that what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with past US government policy and American values. It was something new and unprecedented for the agency. A critical legal opinion was missing which I believed was needed to protect agency employees and detainees. It was then my own initiative to undertake this review. And in the process we found things that we did not expect to find.

His reasons are:

  • The importance of examining "such an important program" that had been in place for over a year
  • The need to respond to concern from agency employees that  "what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with past US government policy and American values"
  • The lack of "a critical legal opinion"

I’m interested here in Helgerson’s description that the missing legal opinion–almost certainly one analyzing whether the program violated the Convention Against Torture’s prohibition on cruel and inhuman treatment–was one of the precipitating reasons for the investigation. Now, that might support Stephen Hayes’ contention that Helgerson was a "a critic of the detention program." If he started the investigation with concerns about whether the program violated CAT, then it’s perhaps unsurprising that that’s what he found. (Though Helgerson does say that he found things he did not expect.)

But if the absence of a full review of CAT’s prohibition on cruel and unusual treatment was one of the reasons behind the investigation, it might explain why, by April 2003 (three months after the start of the investigation), John Yoo and Scott Muller and the Counterterrorism Center were work on such a memo (and also one that widely excused common violations of the law). 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

47 replies
  1. WilliamOckham says:

    But if the absence of a full review of CAT’s prohibition on cruel and unusual treatment was one of the reasons behind the investigation, it might explain why, by April 2003 (three months after the start of the investigation), John Yoo and Scott Muller and the Counterterrorism Center were work on such a memo (and also one that widely excused common violations of the law).

    That is what I was trying so hard, but so poorly, to express in my comments to your ‘legal principles’ post.

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh, I think you and I agree that a combination of the concerns raised and the subsequent investigation is what led to the Legal Principles doc. I’m just not sure we can separate the chicken from the egg, here–both the clearly illegal deaths and whatever it was that raised Helgerson’s concerns about CAT in the first place.

  2. WilliamOckham says:

    Perhaps there is something between the lines here as well:

    Asked if his work as IG was obstructed, Helgerson wrote: “No, I did not feel that there was any obstruction put up by the Agency. Not surprisingly, those directly involved in the events we were looking at were apprehensive throughout, and there were those who limited their cooperation to answering direct questions. Most individuals engaged constructively with our team.”

    Fox didn’t quote the question, but if the question really was a blanket question about obstruction and Helgerson used the ‘by the Agency’ qualifier, I think we can speculate that someone outside the Agency may have obstructed his investigation. Yes, I’m looking in the general direction of David Addington…

    • emptywheel says:

      And there are a couple more hints of non-cooperation, particularly the reference to people who would only answer direct questions, which suggests either they weren’t giving over docs and/or they weren’t willing to describe everything they did (perhaps banking that Helgerson wouldn’t otherwise find out about it).

      Particularly given the gap in the videos when Helgerson got to them, I find that rather interesting.

  3. emptywheel says:

    Two more things about this.

    Assume for the moment that Addington was “overseeing this,” via feedback he got from Rizzo. It would be not dissimilar from the way folks in WH were watching the Plame investigation via briefings from DOJ. It feels like a familiar strategy to me of “allowing” an investigation, even while deliberately obstructing it (to the point of eliminating emails, and/or altering video, and/or withholding docs).

    And of course Cheney’s Fitz interview was the day after the IG report came out. There’s pretty clear evidence CIA protected, then slightly hung out Cheney (though still incompletely). And I can’t help but believe one of the reasons for the change in plan was the tensions surrounding Cheney hanging CIA out to dry on torture.

    • Peterr says:

      From the Spiegel interview:

      SPIEGEL: You finished your report at the end of 2003. Then there was a long period of redaction of the report before you published it in May 2004. Who at the time was authorized to read it?

      Helgerson: Once it was published it was reviewed very carefully at the White House, at the Department of Justice and within the CIA. I personally briefed it to senior members of Congress and even to the vice president. I had the conviction that individuals took it very seriously from the beginning. But I was not surprised that the former administration reacted the way they did.

      SPIEGEL: Are you satisfied now that the Obama administration wants to investigate the procedures?

      Helgerson: I think under the actual circumstances Attorney General Eric Holder had no choice than to undertake a thorough review. The Department of Justice will conduct a thorough review, and Holder has picked a very capable, experienced officer to do this job. At the end of the day, I think he will find it is not feasible to prosecute anyone who participated in the approved program. I personally would not prosecute. There are a number of complex and mitigating circumstances in all these cases, including the passage of time, the nature of the evidence, and — importantly — the clear absence of any criminal intent. I am pleased that I do not have to make the difficult decision of what the Department of Justice should do. My job was to provide the facts. And I can tell you that life is much more relaxing now that I am retired and leaving that important task to others.

      Emphasis added.

      Shorter Helgerson: “I’m not surprised that BushCo stonewalled an investigation, and Holder has no choice as to undertake one.”

      I don’t think Helgerson intended this at all, but it makes it sound awfully close to obstruction of justice for BushCo to have blocked an investigation that Holder has no choice but to undertake. If Holder has no choice now, how did Ashcroft/AGAG/Mukasey have any choice then? Legally speaking, what has changed?

      My NAL guess? Nothing.

      • timbo says:

        importantly — the clear absence of any criminal intent

        I think that is what Holder’s DOJ is currently investigating…that statement. For the actions we’ve seen over the years of the Bush Regime was a clear intent to violate laws that stood on the books and to come up with some sort of series of legal cover documents that would prevent prosecution for those obviously illegal actions. The fact that the term “clear absence of any criminal intent” may have been used to shut down investigations into obvious abuses of prisoners and American and international law might well still open the can of worms to criminal liability.

  4. klynn says:

    Fox didn’t quote the question, but if the question really was a blanket question about obstruction and Helgerson used the ‘by the Agency’ qualifier, I think we can speculate that someone outside the Agency may have obstructed his investigation. Yes, I’m looking in the general direction of David Addington…

    Good point.

  5. Mary says:

    Drive by – Helgerson is going to have to be very careful about what he says on the obstruction front if there was “direction” coming from the WH. Is it “obstruction” if the WH says to do it that way? I think we’ve heard Cheney’s Nixon revival on that point publically stated.

    On the “released to Congress” back in 2004, that was just a Gang of 8 release wasn’t it? I mention that because it seems to be in violation of statute that it was done that way and also bc I just don’t respond favorably when all the torture crew starts talking about telling “Congress” when they mean a couple of guys, 8 people, one committee, etc. I guess it’s my understanding that a non-redacted report has STILL not been given to all of COngress, but that some kind of report ws released to the full committees in 2006. Still, the members of Congress briefed and who sat silent through the trials of the “few bad apples” of Abu Ghraib soldiers – those aren’t good people. And all the CIA and DOJ cogs in the torture wheels who did the same – also not good people.

    Re: the CAT memo, that probably is what was on Helgerson’s mind in the interview, but it is true that in the evolution of the memos and their segregation, we are stil missing several things. We don’t really have an Article 147 memo, a memo on “the preliminaries” and disappearing,drugging, anal assault, etc., we don’t have any memo addressing conspiracy to ship to torture, and we don’t have a memon on applying all the old memos and ones for areas I just mentioned – to someone who was never a combatant of any kind. That last part is what should be what gets a lot of attention, bc to tall those who are complacent about the torture of “bad guys” they need to understand that none of the memos, even though they recite someone being a high value al Qaeda operative as a relevant and relied upon fact (until Bradbury’s combined) rely on who they were torturing for it to be acceptable – – they instead say it just isn’t torture. They are saying that all those actions, done to anyone, are not torture.

  6. justbetty says:

    You know what’s kind of funny about this briefing of the VP is how “out of the loop” George H.W. Bush was on the Iran-Contra thing. Seems they nobody briefed the VP in those days. I guess they learned their lesson from that? Or…?

  7. whitewidow says:

    OT –

    General Hayden’s appointment to the PIDB by Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was revealed in the September 8 Congressional Record.

    PIDB = Public Interest Declassification Board

    McConnell quietly appointed Hayden during recess.

  8. fatster says:

    O/T So, does this mean we can now leave? And use our tax-dollars to improve our lives?

    McChrystal: No Major al-Qaeda Signs In Afghanistan
    US commander McChrystal sees no signs of major al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan
    MIKE CORDER
AP News
    Sep 11, 2009 09:48 EST

    “The top commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan said Friday he sees no signs of a major al-Qaida presence in the country, but says the terror group still maintains close links to insurgents.”

    More.

  9. TheraP says:

    He said he briefed the vice president because he thought it was “important that he know what was up for a number of reasons, including the elementary bureaucratic fact, for us in the Executive Branch, that the VP should know the same things senior Members in Congress were being told about a program that was as sensitive as this one.”

    Doesn’t that sound like we could infer: “We cleared with the VP what we planned to tell different groups of senior congress persons” ? So “elementary bureaucratic facts” like this had to be, naturally, cleared with the Evil One. (even though it was just to a few in tiny separate groups… told different things) Lotsa briefings I bet!

  10. fatster says:

    I don’t think this has part been linked yet, but if so apologies for the dupe. (It’s too early for me to even pretend to keep up with EW’s output.)

    Ex-Powell chief on Cheney: ‘The man is now just crazy’

    “Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell, said in response to an interviewer’s question Thursday that he believes Cheney has gone a bit farther than too far.

    ‘”I’ve come to the conclusion that the man truly is — whether he was that way when I knew him before, when he was Secretary of Defense, I don’t know, that’s not at issue with me any more — the man now is just crazy,” Wilkerson said.

    “Wilkerson was speaking in an interview with Andy Worthington, the author of a book on Guantanamo detainees.”

    More.

  11. alinaustex says:

    bmaz
    What happens if former NSC advisor / former Secretary of State Condalezza Rice is found to be part of an obstruction conspiracy regarding who knew what when about the illegal EIT/ torture ,and then she is made to turn states evidence against the EVIL doers in the OVP…
    Makes me wonder who else will drop the dime on Big Dick and his minions -especially now that the Durham GJ is up and running …

    • bmaz says:

      There would be little leverage against her without either indicting her or designating her a target. Once either of those is done, she will invoke until given either immunity or a deal. So, there is little chance of the scenario you describe occurring. Also problematic is the fact that the overt acts that would presumably be the foundation for the conspiracy would have occurred during her term as NSA and the five year statute for conspiracy is expired, or will be expired in the next 3-4 months. It is technically possible to argue around this depending on the nature and dates of the actual torture acts themselves, and her actual participation in the authorization of the same; but this seems unlikely as she would not have been in direct chain of authority/command.

      Without a lot more and better facts your scenario seems extremely difficult to picture.

      • timbo says:

        I think the question was more along the lines of whether there were statute of limitations in US law that would contraindicate such an investigation into NSC conduct and actions with regard to violations of various treaty allegations surrounding torture and conspiracy to torture. My off the wall guess is that there is no such limitation of legal action if the actions that the NSC may have taken resulted in the murder of prisoners.

  12. JasonLeopold says:

    I am really curious about the oral legal advice given to the CIA that resulted in Zubdaydah being tortured after he was captured and the torture memo that followed “months later.”

    I wonder if that will be in the OPR report.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Jason, if you look at literature by social psychologists on the dangers inherent in situations where there is a lot of ambiguity, no clear procedures, and no rules, you’ll see that’s where people get into big trouble.

      Whether this confusion was deliberate, or just more Cheney clusterf*ck, is not entirely clear to me.

      • JasonLeopold says:

        Helgerson’s explanation certainly makes it sound like there was serious confusion for all of the reasons you state.

      • Rayne says:

        Deliberate gets my vote, and I’ll also vote that the appearance of confusion is a perception on our part.

        If segments of the program to torture were a covert op contained as a Special Access Program, there’d be little written documentation except for that conveyed to a very small number of persons read into the program. Everybody outside the program is supposed to rely on what they are not permitted to see let alone know about.

        And there would have been greater use of verbal orders, no documentation.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          If segments of the program to torture were a covert op contained as a Special Access Program, there’d be little written documentation except for that conveyed to a very small number of persons read into the program. Everybody outside the program is supposed to rely on what they are not permitted to see let alone know about.

          Sure looks like that to me; it’s just that I didn’t want to say it quite so boldly.

          Is it time for me to once again (like a broken record, broken record, broken record) paste in this little tidbit from Sy Hersh’s “The Redirection“:

          The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney.

          Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.**

          Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role##, the former senior intelligence official said.

          ** Looks like we can now also add Addington and Rizzo to that Iran-Contra list.

          ## Note the oral instructions from Gonzo, and also EOH’s comment @36, which does raise a question about why the VP would be briefed in this instance. Which ties back to William [email protected]:Helgerson wrote: “No, I did not feel that there was any obstruction put up by the Agency.

          Why do I have this odd sense that things are starting to cohere?

          As if some sort of new alignment, or new center, is starting to take shape? (For more evidence of some kind of emerging coherence, see PJRourke’s comment on the next thread, linking to a remarkable OpEd in today’s Miami Herald, as well as the newly published interview with Wilkerson.)

      • JasonLeopold says:

        yes! That was it. I think it was the Ari Shaprio report. Thank you!

        Do you think that is what Helgerson was referring to or is the Gonzales thing something entirely different?

  13. bobschacht says:

    Has this been reviewed here? Or is it old news?

    Link: http://www.redress.cc/americas/pjballes20090908

    Paul J. Balles reviews Michael Haas’s book, George W. Bush, War Criminal, which argues that, under the Bush administration, the US lost its traditional respect for the rule of law and makes the case for prosecuting Bush for 269 war crimes. An “incredibly well researched” book, it should prove an invaluable resource in any future prosecution of George W. Bush.

    (h/t Joanne O’Neill)

    Bob in AZ

  14. JasonLeopold says:

    I do recall that a CIA spokesman said a month or two ago that the 8/1/02 torture memo wasn’t the only legal advice CIA received.

  15. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    From EW:

    So, curiously, Cheney, Addington, Rizzo, and Helgerson were probably all involved with the House Intelligence Committee during the Iran-Contra issues.

    So they’re all bureaucratic pros at destroying evidence, lying to investigators, overwriting files, and stonewalling. Why am I not surprised over the number of Missing WH Emails?

    EW Missing WH Emails Timeline:

    Late 2001 to early 2002: White House deactivates ARMS system put in place by Clinton Administration to archive emails.

    Between 2002 and 2003: White House converts from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange.

    March 2003: Starting date of period during which White House has incomplete archives for emails; from March to October, email archives and backup tapes are incomplete.

    And it would certainly be useful, if you were keeping an eye on anyone who wanted to investigate you, to be sure that you were secretly surveilling them. Which is not what the EW Warrantless Wiretap Timeline says, that’s simply my spin some of the key points early in that timeline:

    September 18, 2001: Bush signs AUMF.

    September 21, 2001: Yoo writes internal memo on program. (Bamford 115)

    September 25, 2001: OLC provides memo to David Kris on “a purpose” language for FISA.

    October 1, 2001: Hayden briefs HPSCI.

    October 2, 2001: Predecessor bill to PATRIOT Act introduced into House.

    October 3, 2001: 15-day exception in FISA after declaration of war expires.

    October 4, 2001, … …Warrantless wiretapping program authorized. Predecessor bill to PATRIOT Act introduced into Senate.

    October 5, 2001: Bush explicitly limits briefings to Congress.

    October 6, 2001: Program begins.

    ~October 7, 2001: Technicians discover program.

    October 11, 2001: Nancy Pelosi writes Michael Hayden with concerns about the program.

    October 18, 2001: Michael Hayden responds to Pelosi.

    I’m not entirely clear on the structure of how this worked, but this certainly would have enabled those on the ‘inside’ to listen in on anyone — foreign or domestic — that they viewed as a threat to their political agendas.

    Which IMVHO lends a very icy, potentially sinister edge to William Ockham’s point @2:

    Fox didn’t quote the question, but if the question really was a blanket question about obstruction and Helgerson used the ‘by the Agency’ qualifier, I think we can speculate that someone outside the Agency may have obstructed his investigation. Yes, I’m looking in the general direction of David Addington…

    Addington, who surely had access to the surveilled information.
    After all, Gellman reports in Angler about Eric Edelman getting all hot and pissy in Jan 2003 (three months before BushCheney started the Iraq War) over intercepting conversation in which Dept of State’s Dir of Policy Richard Haass was in Dubai making overtures to Iranians about the importance of diplomacy and discussions. [p 242]

    If that doesn’t smack of being able to surveil your own nation’s foreign policy employees to ensure that — God forbid! — their efforts to ensure peace are sabotaged in the months leading up to a war you want to begin, and if it doesn’t smack of this whole business going back almost 30 years, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

    Fantastic pass by JasonLeopold; phenomenal catch by Emptywheel.

    William Ockham’s point at 2 merits far more attention and discussion in the blogosphere generally, and also by anyone disgusted at how torture has damaged the military’s efforts in the MidEast.

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Only infrequently do IG reports take on such significance that they need to be briefed to the VP, and when this is the case, normally White House or NSC Counsel, or the VP’s own staff, receive the material first and then inform the VP as they see fit,” he wrote.

    There’s never a need to brief the VP, that is, unless the president is unavailable or has delegated to the VP certain tasks. He has none to perform on his own authority. He or she is legally an appendage of the president, but for limited duties in the Senate (but only as its titular, non-voting, non-deliberating head).

    Cheney’s version of the vice presidency is as much at odds with the US political system as his vision of the law is at odds with its legal system.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Again, Helgerson’s vagueness here is probably deliberate: “legal advice … was given.”

    The ever useful passive voice, devoid of participation, agency and liability. As EW says, this construction omits who was involved, what sort of and how credible was the legal advice given, and how it could be appropriately relied upon if given only orally, with no factual predicates limiting its scope, and rendered quite possibly outside the DoJ’s legal formal chain of command.

    The process does not suggest prompt responses under ad hoc, emergency circumstances. It suggests a deliberate attempt to hide the process and its outcomes.

    All these players knew this process was warped. They knew that relying on verbal, unwritten “legal advice” was a big pot of trouble where the actions for which advice was sought were glaring violations of traditional US law and practice.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      The process does not suggest prompt responses under ad hoc, emergency circumstances. It suggests a deliberate attempt to hide the process and its outcomes.

      Jesus, Mary, and Joesph… it sure does have that look about it.

  18. alinaustex says:

    bmaz @ 25
    Unless of course the obstruction that occurred with Condi Rice’s active participation included homicice – and or war crimes such as crimes against humanity -which have parallell US criminal liabilities -then the statutes of limitation would not apply , right ?
    And my question to you presumed that Condi Rice would have been declared a target -and if it involved a homicide say at Camp Nama -while she was still NSC active -why that might just focus her mind as it pertains to SBB, JSOC , Rummy and the BigDick ….
    And my hard earned two hundred dollars wager with you fully expects new ,and better facts coming out about who knew what & when about homicides caused by illegal acts of torture. Would it not met the test of obstruction if she had knowledge of a homicide committed by highers ups in her chain of command and did not report this crime?

      • timbo says:

        We are keeping dreaming. Why anyone would want the reality of no prosecutions and little actual consequence for torturing and murdering people, innocent or otherwise, is beyond sensible, especially given the consequences for not holding folks accountable for such illegal and abusive behavior at the highest levels of American government.

        America was/is the most powerful country on the planet. We can argue about that if anyone cares to. But what should be obvious is that if American leadership disregards the law with regard to its own citizens and with regard to human rights, the world needs to stop it quickly, not give up with a shrug.

  19. alinaustex says:

    bmaz@ 41
    It is true,and not just a dream – that there is no statutes of limitations on homicide , crimes against humanity, or hope …
    And we can remember this exchange when the indictments up the chain from Condi are handed out regarding death by tortue and other war crimes .

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