The First Torture Cover-Up Was Covered Up By The First Torture Cover-Up Lawyer

Document Exploitation blog has read Jose Rodriguez’ book so I don’t have to!

Seriously, I will eventually get around to reading Rodriguez’ book, when I can get it cheaper than toilet paper. But until then, I’m glad a document wonk has done the work.

One of the more interesting observations from DocEx pertains to Judge Hellerstein’s apparent misreading of CIA’s promises to fix their contemptuous document responses. Click through for that. (Though now that I understand that Hellerstein was unsuccessfully trying to expose that the President had authorized all this torture, perhaps he believed he had achieved a just result.)

But the real “ah ha” for me was this–showing that the CIA lawyer that reviewed the already-damaged torture tapes and found evidence of that damage not noteworthy

This report appears to show McPherson admitting that he saw some of the tapes were partially blank, or had snow on them.

[Redacted] for many of the tapes one 1/2 or 3/4 of the tape “there was nothing.” [Redacted] on some tapes it was apparent that the VCR had been turned off and then turned back on right away. [Redacted] on other tapes the video quality was poor and on others the tape had been reused (taped over) or not recorded at all. [Redacted] The label on some tapes read “interrogation session,” but when viewed there was just snow. [Redaction] did not make note of this in [redaction] report. [Redaction] estimated that “half a dozen” videotapes had been taped over or were “snowy.”

Though he claims not to have noticed that two of the tapes were broken (though perhaps they were broken later). When asked why he had not reported the blank tapes in his report, McPherson said he didn’t find that “noteworthy.”

… Was also the lawyer who provided the original, contemptuous FOIA response.

Rodriguez’s account also sheds new light on a crucial lynchpin in the ACLU FOIA case by identifing the CIA attorney from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) who viewed the videotapes in Nov. 2002 as “one of the assistant general counsels” whom Rodriguez calls “a very senior Agency officer.”  The attorney was later interviewed by the CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) about that review. Rodriguez’s small, but important details corroborate earlier reporting by the AP and WashPo that the OGC attorney was John L. McPherson, who based on unrelated court filings, was an Assistant General Counsel as of 2001 and later became an Associate General Counsel.

Why is this significant? Hellerstein found the tapes subject to FOIA because they were “identified and produced to” the CIA’s OIG “as part of its investigation into allegations” of unauthorized interrogations and human rights violations. Yet Hellerstein stopped short of finding the CIA in contempt in part because “the individuals responsible for processing and responding to plaintiffs’ FOIA requests may not have been aware of the videotapes’ existence before they were destroyed.”

Remarkably, however, the crucial FOIA response from the CIA regarding the records of the OIG in April 2005 (ergo, 7 months prior to the destruction of the tapes) was written by none other than John L. McPherson. That is, the most important FOIA response in the case was written by the very CIA attorney who, if reporting that Rodriguez’s book tends to support is true, arguably knew more about the tapes than anyone else. See for yourself here.

In other words, the lawyer who chose not to mention the torture tapes in the original ACLU FOIA is the guy who first saw evidence the torturers were exceeding DOJ guidelines and covering that up on those torture tapes.

That’s the guy, by the way, John Durham gave immunity to.

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.

2 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    I’m still amazed with our system of justice that allows Durham to keep the results of his investigations secret and hidden from public view.

    I get the fact that if no criminal charges result then one should not demean the character of folks not charged with anything by washing their laundry in public.

    Still, it leaves one with the feeling of dissatisfaction. That something happened; maybe many somethings, but we the public are to put that out of our minds and pretend that nothing happened.

  2. Bob Schacht says:

    This is just so, so very wrong. I hope that the Pinochet precedent shows that the long arm of justice can move through time. I’m not saying that right, but I hope that those responsible for these war crimes will eventually be held to account.

    Bob in AZ

Comments are closed.