Torture Tape

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A Guide to John Rizzo’s Lies, For Lazy Journalists

By my count, John Rizzo completes his first lie in his purported “memoir,” Company Man, at the 64th word:

55: Zubaydah

56: was

57: a

58: senior

59: figure

60: in

61: the

62: Al

63: Qaeda

64: hierarchy

Zubaydah complained in his diary (see page 84) before he was captured in 2002 that he was being called Osama bin Laden’s heir when he wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda. And in his Combatant Status Review Board hearing in 2007 (see page 27), Zubaydah described his interrogators admitting he wasn’t Al Qaeda’s number 3, not even a partner. And in a 2009 habeas document the government calls Zubaydah an Al Qaeda affiliate, not a member (see 35 to 36 and related requests).

And yet Rizzo tells this lie right in the first paragraph of his book.

Granted, I’m more sympathetic to this lie than many of Rizzo’s other lies. I understand why he must continue telling it.

Back in 2002, Rizzo told John Yoo that Abu Zubaydah was a top al Qaeda figure during the drafting of the August 1, 2002 Bybee Memo authorizing torture. And based on that information, Yoo wrote,

As we understand it, Zubaydah is one of the highest ranking members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, with which the United States is currently engaged in an international armed conflict following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

[snip]

Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.

[snip]

Zubaydah, though only 31, rose quickly from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda. He has served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant.

If Rizzo were to admit that the representations he made to Yoo back in 2002 were false, then the legal sanction CIA got to conduct torture would crumble.

And unlike a lot of the lies CIA — and John Rizzo in particular — told DOJ during the life of the torture program, I’m not absolutely certain CIA knew this one to be a lie when they told it. CIA (and FBI) definitely believed Zubaydah was a high ranking al Qaeda figure when they caught him. In his CSRT, Zubaydah describes admitting he was al Qaeda’s number 3 under torture. Though it’s not clear whether that was the torture that took place before or after the memo authorizing that torture got written, raising the possibility that CIA presented lies Zubaydah told under torture to DOJ to get authorization for the torture they had already committed. But by the time of the memo, CIA had also had 4 months to to read Zubaydah’s diaries, which make such matters clear (and had it in their possession, so that by itself should invalidate the memo). So they should have and probably did know, but I think it marginally conceivable they did not.

Still, that doesn’t excuse journalists who have these facts available to them yet treat Rizzo as an honest interlocutor, as James Rosen is only the latest in a long line of journalists to do.

So as a service to those journalists who aren’t doing the basic work they need to do on this story, I thought I’d make a list of the documented lies Rizzo tells just in the first 10 pages of his “memoir.” These don’t include items that may be errors or lies. These don’t include everything that I have strong reason to believe is a lie or that we know to be lies but don’t yet have official documentation to prove it. They include only the lies that are disproven by CIA and other official documents that have been in the public domain for years.

These lies, like Rizzo’s lie about Abu Zubaydah’s role in 9/11, also serve important purposes in the false narrative the torturers have told.

I’ve gone through this exercise (I’m contemplating a much longer analysis of all the lies Rizzo told, but it makes me nauseous thinking about it) to point out that any journalist who treats him as an honest interlocutor, accepting his answers — he made some of the same claims to Rosen as he made here — as credible without real challenge is just acting as a CIA propagandist.

Don’t take my word for it — take the CIA’s word, as many of Rizzo’s claims are disproven by CIA’s own documents!

Update, April 21: Ben Wittes, in his review of this tract: “Rizzo is just being honest.” To be fair, Wittes appears to have meant it to describe Rizzo’s unvarying viewpoint, always serving his loyalty to the CIA. But in a review that doesn’t mention Rizzo’s serial lies, it’s embarrassing.


(1) Abu Zubaydah was not CIA’s first significant “catch.” Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was, though the CIA outsourced his torture to the Egyptians.

(3) Correspondence describes tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s torture in April 2002, not July 2002, as Rizzo claims. (see PDF 1)

(3-4) Obviously, CIA had another option besides torture: to let the FBI continue interrogating Zubaydah. Even if you don’t believe FBI had the success they claim to have had, they were an alternative that Rizzo makes no mention of.

(4) The first torture memo was not the August 1, 2002 one. Yoo wrote a shorter fax on July 13, 2002, which (according to the OPR Report) is actually the memo CTC’s lawyers relied on for their guidance to the torturers.

(5) Jose Rodriguez did not decide to destroy the tapes in October; he decided on September 5, the day after first briefing Nancy Pelosi on torture (without having told her they had already engaged in it).

(5) CIA did not follow the guidelines laid out in the Bybee memo for waterboarding, as CIA’s IG determined in 2004, and at least by the time the CIA IG reviewed the tapes, there was a great deal censored via damage, turning off the camera, or taping over of the content.(see PDF 42 and this post)

(6) The Gang of Eight was not briefed in 2002; only the Gang of Four (the Intelligence Committee heads) was. According to CIA’s own records, only one Congressional leader got a timely briefing, Bill Frist in 2004 (though Pelosi was briefed as HPSCI Ranking Member in 2002).

(8) John McPherson did not review the tapes after Christmas, 2002; he reviewed them about a month earlier. (see this post and linked underlying documents)

(8) Jay Rockefeller was not briefed in January 2003; only a staffer of his was. See this post for all the lies they told Pat Roberts in that briefing.

(9) While John Helgerson did not write about techniques that had not been authorized, he did describe that the waterboard as performed did not follow the guidelines given by DOJ. (see PDF 42) Rizzo also doesn’t note Helgerson’s observations about the tampering done to the tapes, which may have hidden unauthorized techniques.

(10) It is false that the 9/11 Commission Report relied heavily on Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations. They are cited just 10 times, and at least one of those was not corroborated.

Shorter DiFi: The Torture Report Started in Response to Michael Hayden’s Lie

I gotta hand it to Dianne Feinstein: the closest she comes to calling Michael Hayden a shriveled impotent old man in response to his suggestions she’s a hysterical female is when (at 6 minutes) she says calling women emotional is “an old male fallback position.”

Far more interesting, though, is the description she offers for the genesis of the report. It arose in response to Hayden’s damage control after CIA’s destruction of the torture tapes became public.

In December [2007]–the 11th–Director Hayden appeared before our committee and said he would allow members and/or staff to review operational cables which he said were just as good.

[snip]

The genesis of the report was back with the videotape and back under then Chairman Rockefeller, who assigned staff, staff studied the operational cables, came back, reported to us, we took a look at that and said — both sides — we should move ahead and do a full study.

And while she doesn’t say it, she makes clear that Hayden lied in this damage control, when he said the “operational cables were just as good” as the torture tapes.

He can’t know that.

The backup to the CIA IG Report, after all, is that the even by the time CIA’s Office of General Counsel decided to destroy the tapes, they had been damaged.

[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.”

And at least one torture session, including waterboarding, was not captured on the tapes at all.

OIG compared the videotapes to logs and cables and identified a 21-hour period of time” which included two waterboard sessions” that was not captured on the videotapes.

That’s important because the IG also found that the waterboarding depicted in the videos that remained undamaged didn’t comply with the guidelines laid out by DOJ. In other words, there’s very good reason to believe that the tapes got destroyed, in part, because they showed CIA exceeding the legal limits laid out by DOJ.

To make things worse, Rockefeller had requested the torture tapes in the weeks before they got destroyed.

So I can imagine how Hayden’s bullshit line about the cables being just as good as the torture tapes withheld from Rockefeller might launch an investigation.

Michael Hayden has only himself to blame for this report.

Did CIA’s Handsomely Paid Contractors Doctor Its Log Books, Again?

I wanted to return to one other detail of John Brennan’s (designed to be made public, I believe) January 27 letter to Dianne Feinstein explaining the urgent need to continue the “investigative, protective, or intelligence activity” targeted at CIA’s overseers.

In the letter, Brennan describes the original basis for CIA’s claimed suspicion into SSCI this way:

CIA maintains a log of all materials provided to the Committee through established protocols, and these documents do not appear in that log, nor were they found in an audit of CIA’s side of the system for all materials provided to SSCI through established protocols. Because we were concerned that there may be a breach or vulnerability in the system for housing highly classified documents, CIA conducted a limited review to determine whether these files were located on the SSCI side of the CIA network and review audit data to determine whether anyone had access the files. [my emphasis]

The original basis CIA used to justify investigating their overseers was a log purportedly recording which documents they had been given.

Recall that CIA worked with contractors — SAIC, as I understand it — to review and re-review each document before they turned it over to SSCI.

CIA insisted that the Committee review documents at a government building in Virginia. Once the CIA produced relevant documents related to the CIA detention and interrogation program, the CIA then insisted that CIA personnel—and private contractors employed by the CIA—review each document multiple times to ensure unrelated documents were not provided to a small number of fully cleared Committee staff.

This process accounts for much of the $44 million cost of the report.

The log must have come out of this process: contractors, being paid handsomely by the CIA to slow the investigation, recording each document that they claimed to hand over to investigators.

So at the base of Brennan’s claim is a log, made by self-interested contractors employed by CIA, about torture.

The CIA’s contractors don’t have a very reliable history recording issues relating to torture.

Recall that — contrary to much of the public reporting on the matter — the destruction of the torture tapes did not just destroy ugly images of torture inflicted on Abu Zubaydah.

In addition, by destroying the torture tapes, CIA destroyed evidence that:

  • The CIA’s contractors used torture on Abu Zubaydah that exceeded the guidelines provided by DOJ
  • The CIA’s contractors’ descriptions of those torture techniques — in written cables and logs — did not match what they had actually done to Abu Zubaydah
  • By the time CIA shut down the Thai black site and decided to stop taping their torture, someone (the CIA’s contractors?) had already destroyed or sabotaged a number of the torture tapes, including ones depicting waterboarding

That is, one of the likely reasons why CIA destroyed the torture tapes is that their handsomely paid self-interested contractors produced a substantively inaccurate log about torture.

And at the base of the CIA’s witch hunt into SSCI staffers is a log about torture presumably made by handsomely paid self-interested contractors.

Robert Eatinger and CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Lawyers’ Lies about Torture: A Timeline

The traditional media is catching up to my post the other day focusing on Robert Eatinger, the CIA lawyer who referred Senate Intelligence Committee staffers for criminal investigation. Welcome traditional media!!

Just to expand the discussion of how deeply involved CTC’s lawyers — including, but not limited to, Eatinger — have been in torture, I thought I’d expand on my post from the other day with a timeline of CTC documents and consultation, most from its legal team, that might be among the 1,600 mentions of Eatinger in the Senate Torture Report that Dianne Feinstein referred to the other day.

I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

Note, some of this information relies on the OPR report; at least three of CTC’s lawyers refused to cooperate with that report, two based on advice of counsel. Remember too that, just as happened with the SCIF CIA made the Senate Intelligence Committee use, between 10 and 61 torture documents disappeared from DOJ’s OLC SCIF during the period when OPR was working on its report.

April 2002: Months before the first torture memo, CTC’s lawyers, in consultation with NSC and DOJ, approved 24-48 hours of sleep deprivation for use with Abu Zubaydah (who, remember, was still recovering from life-threatening bullet wounds). The torturers promptly exceeded those limits. So CTC, on its own, approved the new amounts because, they claimed, Abu Zubaydah hadn’t suffered any adverse consequences. (See PDF 113-114)

After consulting with the NSC and DOJ, CTC[redacted] originally approved 24-48 hours of sleep deprivation.

In April 2002 CTC[redacted] learned that due to a misunderstanding, that time frame had been exceeded.

However, CTC[redacted] advised that since the process did not have adverse medical effects or result in hallucinations (thereby disrupting profoundly Abu Zubaydah’s senses or personality) it was within legal parameters.

After August 1, 2002: After the Bybee Memos laid out which torture techniques were permitted, then, CTC chief lawyer Jonathan Fredman sent out legal guidance to the torturers in Thailand. Rather than relying on the Bybee Memos, he relied on a July 13, 2002 John Yoo memo, purportedly prepared without the knowledge of Bybee (but, given the timing, probably written in response to Chertoff’s refusal to provide pre-declination andwith coaching from David Addington). The earlier memo lacked some of the key caveats of the later ones.

September 6, 2002: On September 4, 2002, Jose Rodriguez and a lawyer from CTC briefed Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss on torture. The following day, CIA started discussing destroying the torture tapes. Then, on September 6, a lawyer from CTC altered the record of the briefing to Pelosi and Goss. (see PDF 84 and PDF 11-12)

October 2, 2002: CTC top lawyer Jonathan Fredman briefs Gitmo about torture and says a number of inflammatory things about detainee treatment.

December 24, 2002: CTC completes memo advocating for destruction of torture tapes.

Early 2003: After DOJ told CIA’s Inspector General to develop its own set of facts for review of any criminal liability in torture, John Yoo and Jennifer Koester start freelancing with CTC’s lawyers to develop the “Legal Principles” or “Bullet Points” document which expanded on the analysis officially approved by OLC. Koester told DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility the document would be used to assess the legality of the torture.

She understood that the Bullet Points were drafted to give the CIA OIG a summary of OLC’s advice to the CIA about the legality of the detention and interrogation program. [Koester] understood that the CIA OIG had indicated to CTC[redacted] that it might evaluate the legality of the program in connection with its investigation, and that the Bullet Points were intended to demonstrate that OLC had already weighed in on the subject.

June 16, 2003: In her review, Koester took out language CIA had included saying that “comparable, approved techniques” to those approved in the Bybee Memo did not violate law or the Constitution. But when CTC’s lawyers sent the “Bullet Points” back to OLC in 2003 as an attempted fait accompli, that language had been inserted back into the memo.

April 2004: Eatinger takes over as top CTC lawyer.

Unknown date: CTC’s lawyers write a declination memo recommending against charges for Salt Pit manager Matt Zirbel in the murder of Gul Rahman based on (according to Jay Bybee’s characterization) an entirely intent-based exoneration. (see footnote 28)

Notably, the declination memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section regarding the death of Gul Rahman provides a correct explanation of the specific intent element and did not rely on any motivation to acquire information. Report at 92. If [redacted], as manager of the Saltpit site, did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from low temperatures in his cell, he would lack specific intent under the anti-torture statute. And it is also telling that the declination did not even discuss the possibility that the prosecution was barred by the Commander-in-Chief section of the Bybee memo.

May 11, 2004: White House meeting, possibly attended by Eatinger, at which White House lawyers tell CIA not to destroy torture tapes.

June 2004: According to John Rizzo, Eatinger attends White House meeting at which White House lawyers instruct not to destroy torture tapes.

August 4-5, 2004: CTC lawyers provide Daniel Levin additional information on waterboarding; the Torture Report found this information to be inaccurate.

August 19, 2004: Another CIA letter, from a lawyer other than John Rizzo, the Torture Report found to be inaccurate.

September 5, 2004: Another CIA letter, from a lawyer other than John Rizzo, the Torture Report found to be inaccurate.

September 19, 2004: Another CIA letter, from a lawyer other than John Rizzo, the Torture report found to be inaccurate.

February 2, 2005: A CTC lawyer worked closely with Daniel Levin to try to finish the Combined Memo before Levin moved to NSC. At that point, the Memo did not include waterboarding. Nevertheless, Levin did not complete it, and Steve Bradbury would add waterboarding back in when he completed the memo that April.

Febraury 14, 2005: CTC panics because Congress might hold hearings into detainee treatment.

March 1, 2005: Steven Bradbury’s main contact for Combined and other torture memos is a CTC attorney. The Torture Report found information used in these memos to be inaccurate.

March 2, 2005: CTC sends Re: Effectiveness of the CIA Counterintelligence Interrogation Techniques to Steven Bradbury for use in Special Needs argument in torture memos. Similar memos that have been released have made demonstrably false claims. John Rizzo says CTC lawyers were involved in drafting this document.

April 15, 2005: CTC sends Briefing Notes on the Value of Detainee Reporting to Steven Bradbury for use in Special Needs argument in torture memos. Similar memos that have been released have made demonstrably false claims. Rizzo says CTC lawyers were involved in drafting this document.

May 10, 2005: Steven Bradbury completes two OLC memos — the Techniques Memo and Combined Memo — that the Torture Report found are based on inaccurate information.

May 30, 2005: Bradbury completes a third OLC memo — the CAT Memo — that the Torture Report found is based on inaccurate information.

November 8, 2005: The day CIA destroyed the torture tapes, someone from CTC/LGL gave HPSCI Chair Pete Hoekstra a briefing with no staffers present. (see page 32) The briefing was included in a summary of all Congressional briefings completed that day.

November 8, 2005: Eatinger and another CTC lawyer claim there is no legal reason to retain the torture tapes, in spite of several pending legal requests covering the videos. Jose Rodriguez orders their destruction.

January 25, 2006: Another letter from a lawyer other than John Rizzo that Torture Report may have found to be inaccurate.

April 19, 2006: Fax from a lawyer other than Rizzo that Torture Report may have found to be inaccurate.

May 18, 2006: Letter from a lawyer other than Rizzo, claiming torture techniques would be used for safety reasons, the Torture Report may have found to be inaccurate.

Update: h/t to DocEx blog for some additions to this timeline.

Robert Eatinger, Lawyer Who Approved Torture Tape Destruction, Tries to Intimidate Senate Investigators

Dianne Feinstein just gave a barn burner of a speech explaining the CIA/SSCI fight over the Torture Report. There are a lot of details I’ll return to.

But one of the most important issues, in my mind, is the detail that the Acting General Counsel of the CIA, Robert Eatinger, referred the Senate Intelligence Committee investigators to DOJ for investigation. (h/t to DocexBlog for identifying Eatinger) Feinstein correctly interpreted this as an attempt to intimidate her staffers as they complete the investigation.

And, as Feinstein made clear, Eatinger is a key focus of the report. Feinstein revealed that Eatinger (whom she did not name) was named, by name, (if I heard Feinstein’s claim correctly) 1,600 times in the Torture Report.

At least some of those mentions surely describe CIA’s decision to destroy the torture tapes, an act Eatinger sanctioned.

Former CIA clandestine branch chief Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ordered the destruction of the tapes, has said through his attorney that he based his decision on legal advice from agency lawyers. The lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger, did not endorse the tapes’ destruction but rather concluded there was “no legal impediment” to disposing of them, according to sources briefed on their advice.

Hermes and Eatinger, who only recently were interviewed by Durham, continue to work at the agency and have retained counsel, the sources said.

Feinstein described Eatinger’s key role as the Counterterrorism Center’s chief lawyer (presumably after Jonathan Fredman left). Some things CTC lawyers did were:

  • Approved the use of sleep deprivation before DOJ considered the question
  • Altered the record of the original briefing to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss
  • Used a John Yoo freelanced memo as the basis of advice to CIA on torture
  • Collaborated with John Yoo to write a “Legal Principles” document that authorized otherwise unauthorized torture techniques

Lawyers probably associated with CTC also lied about the treatment of Hassan Ghul in 2004.

Eatinger also contributed to a CIA cover-up attempt in a key State Secrets case.

There’s a lot that’s amazing about this story. But I find it particularly telling that a lawyer trying to protect his own ass — trying to hide details of the 1,600 mentions of his name in the Torture Report — has targeted Senate Intelligence Committee staffers.

Update: Given that Eatinger is apparently the person who referred the Senate staffers, it is significant that Feinstein started her speech by raising the torture tape destruction.

The origin of this study: The CIA’s detention and interrogation program began operations in 2002, though it was not until September 2006, that Members of the Intelligence Committee, other than the Chairman and Vice Chairman, were briefed. In fact, we were briefed by then-CIA Director Hayden only hours before President Bush disclosed the program to the public.

A little more than a year later, on December 6, 2007, a New York Times article revealed the troubling fact that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of some of the CIA’s first interrogations using so-called “enhanced techniques.” We learned that this destruction was over the objections of President Bush’s White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence.

After we read about the tapes’ destruction in the newspapers, Director Hayden briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee. He assured us that this was not destruction of evidence, as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper in the form of CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.

The CIA director stated that these cables were “a more than adequate representation” of what would have been on the destroyed tapes. Director Hayden offered at that time, during Senator Jay Rockefeller’s chairmanship of the committee, to allow Members or staff to review these sensitive CIA operational cables given that the videotapes had been destroyed.

Brennan Cedes to Feinstein on Torture Tape Destroyer But “Defiant” on Torture Report

The WaPo reports that the woman who helped Jose Rodriguez destroy the torture tapes will not — as had been floated — officially lead the Clandestine Services.

A female CIA officer who was the first woman to lead the agency’s clandestine service, but was also closely tied to the agency’s interrogation program, will not get to keep that job as part of a management shake-up announced Tuesday by CIA Director John O. Brennan, U.S. officials said.

The report (sourced to “US officials,” which can be code for members of Congress or staffers) emphasizes that the intervention of members of Congress — and Dianne Feinstein specifically — played in key role in persuading John Brennan such an appointment would be a problem.

But the woman, who remains under cover, faced opposition from senior lawmakers over her ties to an interrogation program that critics have said employed torture to get information from al-Qaeda captives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

[snip]

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had called Brennan to express concern over the possibility that someone so closely linked to the program would be put in position to lead the agency’s spying service.

Kudos to DiFi for what appears to be successful oversight.

The only problem is the same article notes that Brennan is preparing to blow off DiFi’s torture report.

The transition comes at a time when the agency is assembling what is said to be a defiant response to a recently completed report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that is sharply critical of the interrogation program and its results.

As I have noted in the past and elaborated on at Salon yesterday, Brennan’s “defiance” should not matter. Ultimately, the White House has the authority to release the report.

But it’s trying to dodge the issue.

And now, in spite of Panetta’s claims that the White House originally made torture a SAP, the White House has done nothing to accelerate the release of a report that — according to Democrats on the committee and John McCain — will correct many misconceptions about the torture program.

Of course, as president, Obama would have the authority to order John Brennan to declassify the report in any case. But the White House seems unwilling to acknowledge whether it possesses the sole authority over this decision. In response to a question whether — as Panetta’s statement indicates — the White House has classification authority over the program, NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden didn’t answer.

Instead, she used the same kind of stalling technique as the CIA:

The Administration is currently reviewing the full 6,000 page report at the invitation of the SSCI and we look forward to working with the Committee once that review is complete.

I suspect the White House will use Brennan’s “defiance” as cover for keeping the report hidden.

What Brennan does in personnel decisions that remain hidden won’t get the CIA out of the torture business. Only real transparency on it will.

Update: The Cable published the entire letter announcing the personnel changes at CIA. It ends with this claim about the woman passed over at Clandestine Services.

The assertion she was not chosen because of her affiliation with the CT mission is absolutely not true.

I guess for the CIA, destroying evidence of torture is considered “the [counterterrorism] mission.”

The Moral Rectitude Torture Cover-Up Promotion Czar

Oh hi! Are you folks still here? Missed you!

First off, thanks to bmaz and Jim and Rayne for holding down the fort while Mr EW, McCaffrey the MilleniaLab, and I explored Kentucky. There are many wonderful aspects of the state: the sandstone arches, the ham, and I think we’re even finally beginning to get this Bourbon thing!

I’ll be catching up for a few days, probably commenting on things that broke while I’m away. Such as this news, that John Brennan is showing his leadership at CIA by having three former CIA people weigh in on whether he should retain the woman who destroyed the torture tapes as the head of the clandestine service (she’s the acting head now, Brennan is considering making her appointment permanent; Mark Mazzetti has more details on her career here).

To help navigate the sensitive decision on the clandestine service chief, Brennan has taken the unusual step of assembling a group of three former CIA officials to evaluate the candidates. Brennan announced the move in a previously undisclosed notice sent to CIA employees last week, officials said.

[snip]

“Given the importance of the position of the director of the National Clandestine Service, Director Brennan has asked a few highly respected former senior agency officers to review the candidates he’s considering for the job,” said Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman.

The group’s members were identified as former senior officials John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes and Mary Margaret Graham.

Note that at least two of these three were deeply implicated in the torture program, with McLaughlin involved in decisions and briefing of the program itself (and also vouching for Brennan’s claimed opposition to torture back when it mattered, solely because he’s “honest”), and Kappes involved in covering up the Salt Pit killing of Gul Rahman, among other things. So they’re not exactly neutral on the contributions of people who cover up the CIA’s torture program. While the selection of these three is being spun as expertise (I suspect they were also selected because Dianne Feinstein respects them, though that’s a guess), it should be clear that they are not neutral on torture.

But I’m just as amused at how this process — Brennan’s fairly transparent attempt to outsource the morally repugnant decision to promote someone involved in torture and its cover-up — undermines all the carefully cultivated claims about Brennan’s role as the priest serving as a moral compass for others, at least on the drone program.

Among other descriptions offered of the guy in charge of drone assassinations, Harold Koh described him as a priest.

“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

That same formulation–moral rectitude–shows up in Karen DeYoung’s profile of John Brennan today.

Some White House aides describe him as a nearly priest-like presence in their midst, with a moral depth leavened by a dry, Irish wit.

One CIA colleague, former general counsel John Rizzo, recalled his rectitude surfacing in unexpected ways. Brennan once questioned Rizzo’s use of the “BCC” function in the agency’s e-mail system to send a blind copy of a message to a third party without the primary recipient’s knowledge.

“He wasn’t joking,” Rizzo said. “He regarded that as underhanded.”

Back when Brennan’s boosters were promising he’d be a controlling figure at CIA, they suggested he’d make these decisions based on a priest-like moral compass.

Yet, just weeks into the job, he has instead asked those who benefitted from this woman’s cover-up to bless her promotion, thereby dodging the responsibility himself.

I warned that this moral rectitude thing was just a myth when Brennan was nominated. It sure didn’t take long to be proven right.

 

Did Logistics Guy John Brennan Set Up the Torture Taping System? Did He Buy the Torture Coffin?

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This was one of the most interesting little-noticed exchanges at John Brennan’s confirmation hearing last week.

CHAMBLISS: In 2002 what was your knowledge of interrogation videotapes about Abu Zubaydah, and did you seek any information about an Office of General Counsel review of them in 2002?

BRENNAN: I have — I don’t have a recollection of that, Senator.

CHAMBLISS: Of the tapes, or that request?

BRENNAN: At the time, in 2002, I do not know what my involvement or knowledge was at the time of the tapes. I believe that they — I was aware of the Abu Zubaydah debriefings and interrogation sessions being taped.

John Brennan not only knew of the torture tapes but … well, he doesn’t remember whether he asked about the OGC review of torture tapes or not.

As a threshold matter, remember that Brennan was in a logistical role at the time the torture sessions were first taped. He had nothing to do with the development of the techniques, he says. But thus far, I think no one has asked him if he procured any of a number of items the torturers used.

For example, did John Brennan help set up the torture taping system? That would explain how he knew they were taping the sessions.

But that’s not all. Remember, the Office of General Counsel reviewed the torture tapes — originally as a preliminary to them being destroyed in 2002 — to make sure what the torturers did matched what DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel approved them to do.

We know they shouldn’t have. We know the tapes should have shown the torturers exceeding the guidelines of waterboarding. We know the tapes should have shown the torture preceding the date when OLC actually approved it.

And we know the tapes should have shown the torturers putting Abu Zubaydah in a box as part of a mock burial, the only torture technique John Yoo ever labeled illegal.

In short, we know that the tapes should have shown that the torturers exceeded even the limited restrictions OLC put on them.

Instead, by the time OGC reviewed the torture tapes, 15 of the tapes were already partially or entirely destroyed. Some were taped over, some were broken, some showed the taping system had been shut off. 21 hours of Abu Zubaydah’s torture somehow did not remain on the tapes at the time of the OGC review in November to December 2002. As it happened, when the Inspector General later reviewed the tapes and compared what John McPherson, the OGC lawyer who had reviewed the tapes, actually recorded, he discovered that McPherson had found it unremarkable that the torturers were deviating from the guidelines approved by OLC.

But it appears, given Saxby’s comment, that Brennan was not so much interested in what the IG found, but in what McPherson found. Brennan appears to have been interested in what remained on the tapes after they had been partially destroyed, the first time, after the presumably most incriminating aspects of Abu Zubaydah’s torture had been destroyed.

Here’s another question. Did logistics guy John Brennan procure the waterboard the use of which exceeded the guidelines laid out by OLC? More importantly, did logistics guy John Brennan procure the box used to conduct an even-John-Yoo-said-it-was-illegal mock burial? And if so, did John Brennan know that the torturers considered the box a coffin?

Did John Brennan know, because he had done the logistics for the torture program, that the torturers had violated the only law Yoo ever put into place?

It would sure explain why the Obama Administration worked so hard to cover up the torture program.

The Kiriakou Conundrum: To Plea Or Not To Plea

There are many symbols emblematic of the battle between the American citizenry and the government of the United States in the war of transparency. One of those involves John Kiriakou. Say what you will about John Kiriakou’s entrance into the public conscience on the issue of torture, he made a splash and did what all too few had, or have since, been willing to do. John Kiriakou is the antithesis of the preening torture monger apologist in sullen “big boy pants”, Jose Rodriquez.

And, so, people like Kiriakou must be punished. Not by the national security bullies of the Bush/Cheney regime who were castigated and repudiated by an electorate who spoke. No, the hunting is, instead, by the projected agent of “change”, Barack Obama. You expect there to be some difference between a man as candidate and a man governing; the shock comes when the man and message is the diametric opposite of that which he sold. And, in the sling of such politics, lies the life and fate of John Kiriakou.

Why is the story of John Kiriakou raised on this fine Saturday? Because as Charlie Savage described, Kiriakou has tread the “Path From Terrorist Hunter to Defendant”. Today it is a path far removed from the constant political trolling of the Benghazi incident, and constant sturm and drang of the electoral polling horserace. It is a critical path of precedent in the history of American jurisprudence, and is playing out with nary a recognition or discussion. A tree is falling in the forrest and the sound is not being heard.

You may have read about the negative ruling on the critical issue of “intent to harm” made in the federal prosecution of Kiriakou in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) last Tuesday. As Josh Gerstein described:

Prosecutors pursuing former CIA officer John Kiriakou for allegedly leaking the identities of two other CIA officers involved in interrogating terror suspects need not prove that Kiriakou intended to harm the United States or help a foreign nation, a federal judge ruled in an opinion made public Wednesday.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema is a defeat for Kiriakou’s defense, which asked the judge to insist on the stronger level of proof — which most likely would have been very difficult for the government to muster.

In 2006, another federal judge in the same Northern Virginia courthouse, T.S. Ellis, imposed the higher requirement in a criminal case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

However, Brinkema said that situation was not parallel to that of Kiriakou, since he is accused of relaying information he learned as a CIA officer and the AIPAC staffers were not in the government at the time they were alleged to have received and passed on classified information.

“Kiriakou was a government employee trained in the classification system who could appreciate the significance of the information he allegedly disclosed. Accordingly, there can be no question that Kiriakou was on clear notice of the illegality of his alleged communications.

Gerstein has summarized the hard news of the court ruling admirably, but there is a further story behind the sterile facts. By ruling the crucial issue of “intent” need not be proven by the accusing government, the court has literally removed a critical element of the charge and deemed it outside of the due process proof requirement, much less that of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

What does that mean? In a criminal prosecution, it means everything. It IS the ballgame.

And so it is here in the case of United States v. John Kiriakou. I am going to go a little further than Gerstein really could in his report, because I have the luxury of speculation. As Josh mentioned:

On Tuesday, Brinkema abruptly postponed a major motions hearing in the case set for Wednesday and a hearing set for Thursday on journalists’ motions to quash subpoenas from the defense. She gave no reason for canceling the hearings.

HELLO! That little tidbit is the everything of the story. I flat out guarantee the import of that is the court put the brakes on the entire case as a resultnof an off the record joint request of the parties to facilitate immediate plea negotiation. As in they are doing it as you read this.

There is simply no other reason for the court to suspend already docketed process and procedure in a significant case, much less do so without a formal motion to extend, whether by one party or jointly. That just does not happen. Well, it does not happen unless both parties talked to the court and avowed a plea was underway and they just needed the time to negotiate the details.

So, what does this mean for John Kiriakou? Nothing good, at best. Upon information and belief, Kiriakou was offered a plea to one count of false statements and no jail/prison time by the original specially designated lead prosecutor, Pat Fitzgerald. But the “word on the street” now is that, because the government’s sheriff has changed and, apparently, because Kiriakou made an effort to defend himself, the ante has been ridiculously upped.

What I hear is the current offer is plead to IIPA and two plus years prison. This for a man who has already been broken, and whose family has been crucified (Kiriakou’s wife also worked for the Agency, but has been terminated and had her security clearance revoked). Blood out of turnips is now what the “most transparent administration in history” demands.

It is a malicious and unnecessary demand. The man, his family, and existence are destroyed already. What the government really wants is definable precedent on the IIPA because, well, there is not squat for such historically, and the “most transparent administration in history” wants yet another, larger, bludgeon with which to beat the baby harp seals of whistleblowing. And so they act.

To date, there have been no reported cases interpreting the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), but it did result in one conviction in 1985 pursuant to a guilty plea. In that case, Sharon Scranage, a former CIA clerk, pleaded guilty for providing classified information regarding U.S. intelligence operations in Ghana, to a Ghanaian agent, with whom she was romantically involved. She was initially sentenced to five years in prison, but a federal judge subsequently reduced her sentence to two years. That. Is. It.

So, little wonder, “the most transparent administration in history” wants to establish a better beachhead in its fight against transparency and truth. John Kiriakou is the whipping post. And he is caught in the whipsaw….prosecuted by a maliciously relentless government, with unlimited federal resources, and reliant on private defense counsel he likely long ago could no longer afford.

It is a heinous position Kiriakou, and his attorneys Plato Cacheris et. al, are in. There are moral, and there are exigent financial, realities. On the government’s end, as embodied by the once, and now seemingly distant, Constitutional Scholar President, and his supposedly duly mindful and aware Attorney General, Eric Holder, the same moralities and fairness are also at issue. Those of us in the outside citizenry of the equation can only hope principles overcome dollars and political hubris.

Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, has prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.
….
“There’s a problem with prosecutions that don’t distinguish between bad people — people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money — and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions,” said Abbe Lowell, attorney for Stephen J. Kim, an intelligence analyst charged under the Act.

The once and previous criticisms of John Kiriakou, and others trying to expose a nation off its founding tracks, may be valid in an intellectual discussion on the fulcrum of classified information protection; but beyond malignant in a sanctioned governmental prosecution such as has been propounded against a civilian servant like John Kiriakou who sought, with specificity, to address wrongs within his direct knowledge. This is precisely where, thanks to the oppressive secrecy ethos of the Obama Administration, we are today.

Far, perhaps, from the “hope and change” the country prayed and voted for in repudiating (via Barack Obama) the festering abscess of the Bush/Cheney regime, we exist here in the reality of an exacerbated continuation of that which was sought to be excised in 2008. Kiriakou, the human, lies in the whipsaw balance. Does John Kiriakou plead out? Or does he hold out?

One thing is certain, John Kiriakou is a man, with a family in the lurch. His values are not necessarily those of those of us on the outside imprinting ourselves on him.

If the government would stop the harp seal beating of Mr. Kiriakou, and at least let the man stay with his family instead of needlessly consuming expensive prison space, that would be one thing. But the senseless hammer being posited by the out for blood successor to Patrick Fitzgerald – Neil MacBride, and his deputy William N. Hammerstrom, Jr. – is scurrilous.

Rest assured, far from the hue and cry on the nets and Twitters, this IS playing out on a very personal and human scale for John Kiriakou while we eat, drink and watch baseball and football this weekend.

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. Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @bmaz At which point it becomes entirely a PR event, so he's perfect!
1mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @chrisgeidner @espinsegall Agree; not sure I see any equation between practitioners and the courts themselves.
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emptywheel RT @NSA_PAO: Adm Rogers at #ISSAConf: "We've got to create a public and private partnership" to effectively address cyber threats. #cyberse
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bmaz @ScottGreenfield You need to ask?
4mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So, hell of a job Klain.
6mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So Klain takes over as Ebola Czar on about exactly the day all known US ebola patients being cleared and all potential exposures timing out.
7mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Last state based off audit of 34/120 facilities in 1st year: remaining 9 must have been in 4-mo correction window.
9mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel DOJ IG reports on how well BOP meeting new rape prevention standards. http://t.co/QvDURmf3L1 Some prisons now meet, 3/25 do not.
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JimWhiteGNV Rory is so proud of her prize. The squirrel did eventually come down from the tree last night. http://t.co/mtZ4KdYpjB
16mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @RupertStone83 Pretty sure THAT had to do w/how much they were getting from him. How well they were exploiting him.
23mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @RupertStone83 I suspect HIG has greatest incentive to hide details of interrogations where they got most exploitation.
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emptywheel @TimothyS Surprised they just haven't renamed. I hear Blackwater is available.
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