Torture

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UNCAT Process Exposes Flaw in US Torture Coverup: DOJ Not Final Authority

A combination of factors is forcing the issue of US torture back into the international spotlight and there are even hints that progress on some fronts is occurring. Consider, for instance, James Risen’s report this morning that the American Pyschological Association, greatly embarrassed by the revelations in Risen’s just-published book, has re-opened an investigation into the role the association played in giving cover to pyschologists who lent their credentials to the torture program in an effort to pronounce it medically ethical. We also have gotten the first official hint from Mark Udall himself that he has not ruled out using the Senate’s speech and debate clause to enter the Senate Intelligence Committtee’s report on torture into the record (the way that Mike Gravel disclosed the Pentagon Papers), bypassing the two year old debate about redactions.

We should pay special attention, though, to word filtering out of Geneva as the United Nations Committee Against Torture reviews the report submitted by the US. As a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, the US is required to make periodic reports to the committee. The process, however, is exceedingly slow. The current report from the US (pdf) is finally getting around to answering questions submitted to the US in 2006 and 2010. A New York Times story from Charlie Savage shows that the committee has been paying close attention both to what the US is saying and to what the US is doing. Consider this blockbuster:

Alessio Bruni of Italy, a member of the United Nations committee, pressed the delegation to explain Appendix M of the manual, which contains special procedures for separating captives in order to prevent them from communicating. The appendix says that prisoners shall receive at least four hours of sleep a day — an amount Mr. Bruni said would be sleep deprivation over prolonged periods and unrelated to preventing communication.

Brig. Gen. Richard C. Gross, the top legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that reading the appendix as intended to permit sleep deprivation was a misinterpretation. Four hours is “a minimum standard; it’s not the maximum they can get,” he said, adding that the rule had to be read in the context of the rest of the manual, including a requirement for medical and legal monitoring of treatment “to ensure it is humane, legal and so forth.”

Mr. Bruni was not persuaded. He said that calling the provision a minimum standard still meant four hours a night for long periods was “permissible.” He suggested that Appendix M “be simply deleted.”

This exchange counts as a huge victory for the community of activists who have fought hard to abolish all forms of torture by the US. When it comes to the Appendix M battle, though, perhaps nobody has been more determined to expose the torture still embedded in Appendix M practices than Jeff Kaye, and he is to be congratulated for the support he provided in getting this question to the forefront.

The most important part of the proceedings, though, pertains to the questions about US investigation of torture since it now openly admits torture took place. Returning to Savage’s report:

A provision of the treaty, the Convention Against Torture, requires parties to investigate and provide accountability for past instances of torture. The American delegation said that the United States had investigated the C.I.A. program, and that the coming publication of a Senate Intelligence Committee report would add to the public record.

/snip/

The American officials pointed to a criminal investigation by John H. Durham, an assistant United States attorney in Connecticut, whom Michael B. Mukasey, then attorney general, appointed in 2008 to look at whether the C.I.A. had broken the law by destroying videotapes of its interrogations of Qaeda suspects.

In 2009, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to look at C.I.A. torture that went beyond what the Justice Department had said was legal. Mr. Durham eventually closed the investigation without indicting anyone.

Another member of the United Nations panel, Jens Modvig of Denmark, pressed for details. He asked if Mr. Durham’s team had interviewed any current or former detainees.

It is clear from Modvig’s question that he feels the US investigation fell short of what is required. To get a good feel for that, we can look to this terrific “shadow report” (pdf) to the UNCAT prepared by “Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions” at Harvard Law School.

The report does an excellent job of framing the questions at hand, beginning with the observation that “The U.S. Government’s criminal program of torture was authorized at the highest levels” (fitting nicely with Marcy’s post earlier today about it being authorized by the President). But when we get to inadequacy of Durham’s investigation, we see this (footnotes removed): Continue reading

Unsaid at the UN: “Because the President Ordered It”

I caught a bit of the grilling that UN experts put the US panel of witnesses through, asking about the various areas where the US does not abide by our treaty obligations on torture and cruel treatment. The spin was thick, as US officials tried to pretend things like the Durham investigation were legitimate exercises. Here’s Kevin Gosztola’s take:

One of the many critical issues raised was the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder had appointed Assistant US Attorney John Durham in 2009 to conduct a preliminary review into “whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” But, in June 2011, Durham decided that only the death of two individuals in US custody at overseas locations warranted the opening of “full criminal investigations.”

By August 30, 2012, the criminal investigations into the deaths of those individuals were closed. The Department of Justice declined to prosecute “because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

David Bitkower, who is the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, attempted to satisfy the concerns of the Committee:

…Mr. Durham and his team reviewed the treatment of 101 such detainee cases. In so doing, he drew upon information provided by the CIA inspector general and report from the International Committee of the Red Cross regarding the treatment of high-value detainees formerly in CIA custody, the Department of Justice’s report on legal guidance related to enhanced interrogation techniques and other sources. After reviewing a substantial volume of information, Mr. Durham recommended the opening of two full criminal investigations and Attorney General Eric Holder accepted that recommendation.

After investigation the Department ultimately determined not to initiate prosecution of those cases. That decision was made based on the same principles that federal prosecutors apply in all determinations of whether to initiate a prosecution. Specifically, Mr. Durham’s review concluded that the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain convictions beyond a reasonable doubt…

However, there were no specific incidents, which Durham may have examined, mentioned by Bitkower.

“Because the cases did not result in prosecutions, I cannot publicly describe with specificity the investigative methods employed by Mr. Durham or the identities of any witnesses his team may have interviewed,” he declared. “Overall, however, the investigations involved interviews of approximately 96 witnesses and the examination of physical and documentary evidence. In short, Mr. Durham had access to and reviewed a broad array of information relating to allegations of mistreatment.”

The easy explanation these officials should have offered is that Durham let the Statutes of Limitation on torture expire on the torture and wrongful death cases he investigated.

But there’s another, one mirrored in US claims that David Passaro represents its commitment to prosecute abuse. Passaro, I’ve pointed out, was specifically denied documents that would have shown his alleged conduct (there were other problems with his trial) fell squarely in the Interrogation Guidelines in place at the time. Passaro was also denied access to the Presidential finding, which not only authorized his function in training Afghan paramilitaries, but authorized what was ultimately the torture program. (See my review of these issues from the last time the government used Passaro’s case as an exemplar.)

The people Durham would have investigated would all have had much better access to those documents (though Passaro had a briefcase of documents that were seized from him). As soon as you got to the Jonathan Fredmans and the Stephen Kappes, you’d have people with good claims to have been ordered personally to implement a torture program.

Ordered, by the President.

That’s why the panel yesterday all gave such consistently awkward answers. They’re still trying to hide that this came right from the President.

Bizarre Deployment of McDonough Torture Role in Article Bitching about Obama Non-Panic

Brennan with TortureThe NYT has a long story claiming to show that Obama is “lurching from crisis to crisis” but ultimately providing evidence to support this observation, which appears at the very end of the story.

Yet he remains deliberative, methodical and not swayed by outside criticism of his style.

It seems DC has decided it is a Big Story that Obama doesn’t show senseless panic, like the inept members of Congress do.

What the story also shows is that Obama — like all Presidents going back to Reagan — relies too much on his National Security Council and not enough on his agencies. There’s a hint of an argument that that is what leads to Obama’s apparent lack of strategy (which as I said earlier this week, may be an appearance or may be real, I’m not sure anyone knows).

And to support that, the story includes this incident (which is by far the most interesting part of the article aside from where it says Chuck Hagel doesn’t speak up often in larger meetings for fear it will leak to the press, as his explanation for not speaking up got leaked to the press).

Over the Columbus Day weekend, the White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, traveled to the San Francisco home of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to negotiate personally over redactions in a Senate report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation policies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

That Mr. McDonough would get involved in such an arcane matter puzzles some legislative aides on Capitol Hill, given the other demands on his time.

[snip]

Some liberals have been deeply disappointed with Mr. Obama’s slowness in embracing the Senate report, and have questioned Mr. McDonough’s involvement in redacting it, noting his close ties to the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, with whom he served as a deputy national security adviser during the president’s first term. Mr. McDonough said he traveled to Mrs. Feinstein’s home because he views the role of Congress in foreign policy as sacrosanct.

“This is an important case study of the role of Congress in foreign policy,” he said, “and I want to get it right.”

Forgive me if you spat up your drink, reading about McDonough’s deep respect for Congress’ “sacrosanct” role in foreign policy. What a load of baloney!

But of course McDonough needed to provide an alternate explanation for the real one — the one that explains why McDonough’s investment in the torture report is no surprise.

President Obama’s White House has been heavily involved in the torture declassification process for years, since when National Security Advisor James Jones intervened to keep a short phrase secret making it clear torture was authorized by a Presidential finding, not by OLC memos. This is more of the same (and probably arises out of precisely the same instincts). That’s not in the least news, even if the NYT hasn’t acknowledged what is going on.

The headline for this story should be, “BREAKING White House intervening to protect torture.” Instead, the NYT has taken a No Drama Obama story and turned into a demand for MOAR PANIC.

Connecting the Dots on the CIA Torture Report

I want to pull several details of the HuffPo’s last two pieces on the CIA torture report together (kudos to HuffPo for stealing Ali Watkins from McClatchy).

Tuesday’s story presents conflicting claims about whether the CIA impersonated SSCI staffers to access the part of the server dedicated to their work.

One side — explicitly relying on the CIA Inspector General’s own report — say the CIA impersonated staffers, and possibly worse.

According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency’s inspector general report remain classified.

“If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It’s straight out of a movie,” said one Senate source familiar with the document.

The quote from the other side issued a non-denial denial (though perhaps there was a more direct denial not quoted): CIA did not use Administrator access (which is not what the other source claimed).

A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue.

“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.

Now consider today’s story, which describes the inconclusive result of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms report. Here, the dispute is portrayed as a disagreement over whether the CIA has the original access logs, or only copies of them.

Computer records may have provided evidence on how the CIA document made its way into the Intelligence Committee’s hands. Those records, Senate sources said, were erased by the CIA.

The claim is technically true. The computer audit logs that recorded activity on the CIA computers used for the committee’s report were overridden from the machines’ local drives at regular intervals throughout the five-year study, HuffPost has learned. The records, however, continued to be stored elsewhere, and were provided to the Sergeant-at-Arms office for its inquiry. The CIA said that the Senate office received the computer audit records earlier this year.

“CIA cooperated fully with the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms review and provided all the relevant information that the [Sergeant-at-Arms] requested,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. “In fact, audit data was specifically provided to the [Sergeant-at-Arms] in July 2014. Furthermore, CIA continues to maintain copies of this audit data to this day. Claims alleging otherwise are patently false.”

[snip]

A source familiar with the Senate inquiry has since said that the CIA submitted copies of records to the Sergeant-at-Arms, rather than the records themselves, which the investigators considered unreliable.

The Sergeant-at-Arms “can’t verify any of what CIA is saying,” said the source, who was briefed on the investigation.

In other words, the Sergeant-at-Arms got records that they can’t actually use to verify what happened on the servers. They would have gotten those logs after this issue had already blown up.

I’m reminded of the White House emails, where the content of the emails appears to have been doctored right as Patrick Fitzgerald was subpoenaing specific accounts.

If the CIA had doctored the access logs they stored, they would have been able to eliminate any trace of CIA using SSCI credentials to access the server.

So where does the claim that CIA impersonated the SSCI staffers come from? And what as the inaccurate information based on which the CIA IG referred Senate staffers for investigation?

The CIA had asked the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against the Senate staff for removing the document, which the Justice Department declined in June to investigate. The CIA’s inspector general has since determined that the criminal referral was based on “inaccurate information.” The inspector general also publicly accused CIA staff of misleading the offices’ investigators during its inquiry.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Inspector General was working with dodgy access logs. CIA has any number of ways to lie — it’s what we pay them to do. By 2010, after all, the CIA had already altered or destroyed all this evidence of their torture:

Since there are so many incidences of destroyed or disappearing torture evidence, I thought it time to start cataloging them, to keep them all straight.

  • Before May 2003: 15 of 92 torture tapes erased or damaged
  • Early 2003: Gitmo commander Mike Dunlavey’s paper trail documenting the torture discussions surrounding Mohammed al-Qahtani “lost”
  • Before August 2004: John Yoo and Patrick Philbin’s torture memo emails deleted
  • June 2005: most copies of Philip Zelikow’s dissent to the May 2005 CAT memo destroyed
  • November 8-9, 2005: 92 torture tapes destroyed
  • July 2007 (probably): 10 documents from OLC SCIF disappear
  • December 19, 2007: Fire breaks out in Cheney’s office

(I put in the Cheney fire because it happened right after DOJ started investigating the torture tape destruction.)

Add to that the 920 documents (potentially pertaining to White House involvement) stolen back from the server after they had originally been made available.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

Again, we don’t know that the CIA altered the access logs.

But if they didn’t, it would almost constitute an exception to their rule of destroying evidence.

Update: As a reminder, here were the conclusions in the CIA IG Report summary that was publicly released.

Agency Access to Files on the SSCI RDINet: Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet.

Agency Crimes Report on Alleged Misconduct by SSCI Staff: The Agency filed a crimes report with the DOJ, as required by Executive Order 12333 and the 1995 Crimes Reporting Memorandum between the DOJ and the Intelligence Community, reporting that SSCI staff members may have improperly accessed Agency information on the RDINet. However, the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.

Office of Security Review of SSCI Staff Activity: Subsequent to directive by the D/CIA to halt the Agency review of SSCI staff access to the RDINet, and unaware of the D/CIA’s direction, the Office of Security conducted a limited investigation of SSCI activities on the RDINet. That effort included a keyword search of all and a review of some of the emails of SSCI Majority staff members on the RDINet system.

Lack of Candor: The three IT staff members demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews by the OIG.

Update: Katherine Hawkins reminds me that Manadel al-Jamadi’s blood-stained hood disappeared.

The Obama Administration Debate on the Convention Against Torture and Anas al-Libi

For some reason, the NYT decided to bury this article from Charlie Savage on page A21. It explains that the Obama Administration is debating internally whether to overturn Obama’s ban against cruelty (which is also mandated by the Detainee Treatment Act). Some intelligence lawyers, apparently, believe Obama’s torture ban and the DTA are too limiting.

It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

[snip]

State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.

But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

There were remarkable amounts of denial in response to this, from people who seem totally unaware of the kind of practices — that appear to include isolation, sleep deprivation, food manipulation, and other forms of coercion — currently used by High Value Interrogation Group (HIG), the inter-Agency group used to interrogate terrorist suspects. And this post from David Luban, which lays out some of the loopholes the government might be using to engage in abuse, misses a few.

We know, for example, that there are 2 OLC opinions that say Presidents don’t have to change the text of Executive Orders they choose to ignore, meaning Obama could ignore his torture ban “legally.” There’s also the Appendix M OLC opinion that has approved whatever DOD wants to sneak into the sometimes classified appendix in advance.

All of these issues have been invoked in the case of Anas al-Libi, who recently testified in his challenge to the use of the statements he made to FBI’s Clean Team in his trial, invoking the anxiety produced by the “CIA” interrogation al-Libi experienced on the USS San Antonio. (The interrogation was conducted by the HIG; note that while al-Libi has retained counsel, Bernard Kleinman, I believe he also still has public defenders, including Sabrina Shroff, who has represented HIG-interrogated defendants before, so she can attest to the continuity of the methods involved.)

Al-Libi, a 50-year-old Libyan whose legal name is Nazi Abdul al-Ruqai, testified before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in an evidentiary hearing tightly focused on the moments following al-Libi’s transfer on October 12, 2013, from military to civilian custody.

Given the situation, “I couldn’t concentrate on anything,” al-Libi told the court through an Arabic translator. When asked by his attorney, Bernard Kleinman, why he signed the papers waving his Miranda rights and paving the way for an FBI interview, al-Libi said, “You have no choice but to sign it.”

And in a filing calling on the government to preserve videotapes and any other records of his shipboard interrogation, al-Libi’s Libyan-retained lawyer invoked precisely the law and Executive Order in question.

18. Upon information and belief he was subjected to daily interrogation by professsional interrogator[s] of the CIA in an unrelenting, hostile, and extraordinary manner.

19.Upon information and belief this interrogation was conducted in a manner in violation of the Defendant’s rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the federal Constitution, and under applicable treaties and conventions to which the United States is a signatory.2

20.Furthermore, this interrogation was conducted in a manner of inhumane treatment. Notwithstanding the changes effected by both Congress3 and the President4 after the revelations of physical abuse and torture as conducted by the CIA in the name of national security, such measures (even if actually observed by the participants and interrogators) could easily lead to harsh, improper and inhumane treatment that would taint any and all subsequent interrogations, even if preceded by a Miranda warning and waiver execution, and conducted by the FBI or some other federal law enforcement agents.

21. Upon information and belief, these interrogations were videotaped, and otherwise recorded by the CIA, among other U.S. Government agencies.

22.It is, furthermore, reasonable and logical to presume that the interrogator[s] produced hard copy notes of their actions, and provided reports to other representatives of the United States Government (both in the Executive and Legislative branches).

3 In 2005 Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, Pub. L. No. 109-148, codified at U.S.C. §§ 2000dd, 2000dd-0, and 2000dd-J, which applied the U.S. Army Field Manual to all military interrogations. It should be noted that the Act specifically provides that

No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

The degree and extent to which the United States Government violated this statute in the kidnapping, abduction, and interrogation of the Defendant are issues to be raised similarly in any subsequent motions made pursuant to Rule 12(b).

4 On January 22, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, which directed the CIA to adopt the methods of interrogation as set forth in the U.S. Army Field Manual. See E.O. 13491,74 Fed. Reg. 4893 (Jan. 22, 2009).

5 Both the Detainee Treatment Act and E.O. 13491 refer to the U.S. ARMY FIELD MANUAL, HUMAN INTELLIGENCE COLLECTOR OPERATIONS, referenced as FM 2.22.3 (Sept. 2006 ed.).

I think there are probably a number of HIG-interrogated individuals — including some who were interrogated entirely within the US — who could claim they were subject to degrading treatment. But in this case, the person in question has a privately-retained lawyer, which may present significant concerns for the interrogators in question.

Meanwhile, the government is not providing al-Libi cancer treatment doctors at Duke said during the summer he needs to address liver cancer. Maybe the government is just hoping al-Libi will succumb to cancer before he can press these issues?

Whatever the plan, the government is at least entertaining widening the loopholes that they used in the past to protect torturers.

The Forgotten OPR Report Exposing the White House Role in Torture

Brennan with TortureMcClatchy reports today that the Senate Intelligence Report will include no details on the White House role in torture.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.

McClatchy’s story is interesting, in part, because I had heard that the report was going to admit what has been in the public domain for years: the torture program, contrary to almost all reporting, was authorized by Presidential finding, not primarily by the memos that garner all the attention.

If the Torture Report is no longer going to confirm that, it is far bigger news than McClatchy has conveyed. It would mean someone — presumably the White House! (though remember the Finding’s author, Cofer Black, was involved in reviewing the document) — had won concessions in the declassification discussions to hide the role of President Bush in personally authorizing torture.

That would be consistent with President Obama’s rather remarkable efforts to keep a short mention of the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification suppressed in ACLU’s torture FOIA (something that’s in the public record, but which I have been the only one to report).

But if President Obama’s White House has, a second time, intervened to prevent public confirmation that the President authorized torture, we really ought to start demanding to know why that’s the case. Remember when the 2nd Circuit backed White House efforts to keep mention of the MON suppressed, the White House said it was still using the MON.

The other reason I find McClatchy’s report curious is because it leaves something utterly central out of its narrative.

As Katherine Hawkins noted yesterday, McClatchy missed a key detail in the chronology of when and how Republicans backed out of the torture review.

Obama DOJ investigation into torture is not “prior” to SSCI report. Launched after SSCI, & is reason GOP withdraws

But there’s one more part of that chronology — one McClatchy might actually review if it wants the things it says it wants: the Office of Public Responsibility report into OLC lawyers’ role in the torture memos. Reporting in 2009 made it clear that Eric Holder launched the John Durham investigation in response to reading the OPR Report. So the chronology goes OPR Report, Durham investigation, GOP withdraws from SSCI Torture Report which (McClatchy argues) is when the Democrats could have turned and pushed to get documents implicating Bush White House figures.

While both David Addington and Tim Flanigan refused to be interviewed for the OPR report, it made it clear (especially Jay Bybee and John Yoo’s rebuttals) that both had had a direct role in setting up the legal loopholes CIA used to conduct torture. Between that and other public (largely unreported by anyone but me) documents, it is fairly clear that in response to concerns raised around July 10, 2002, CIA tried to get DOJ to give “advance” declination of prosecution (though for conduct that surely had already occurred). On July 13, Michael Chertoff refused, probably because Ali Soufan had already raised concerns about the conduct (his concerns probably relate to the use of mock burial) to give advance declination for torture. This led John Yoo to freelance a July 13, 2002 fax laying out how CIA could avoid accountability; that appears to be what Jonathan Fredman relied on in his advice to the torturers, not the more famous Bybee Memos. Nevertheless, at a July 16, 2002 meeting at the White House, it was decided (Yoo and Addington differ, it appears, on who did the deciding, but it is a rock solid bet that Addington did) that the Bybee Memo would include Commander of Chief language on how to avoid prosecution.

There are a number of other moments in the history of the program where White House responsibility is clear. But at that moment on July 16, 2002, David Addington got John Yoo to provide legal cover for anything the President ordered CIA do; he did so, of course, after CIA had been torturing for months on Presidential orders.

The answers to many of the questions McClatchy says have gone unanswered are sitting right there in the OPR report. And those answers are crucial to understanding the dance over declassification going on right now.

Aside from whatever else the Torture Report is, it is also a report that dodges the underlying power structure, in which the President orders the CIA to break the law and later ensures CIA avoids any accountability for doing so. At some point in this Torture Report process — fairly recently too! — Democrats seemed interested in exposing that dynamic, a dynamic President Obama has benefitted from at least as much as Bush did, going so far as to permit him to have CIA kill a US citizen with no due process. (That’s probably why Leon Panetta told some fibs in his memoir on this point.)

Ultimately, we’re never going to rein in CIA until we expose the mutual embrace of complicity the White House and CIA repeatedly rely on. Now it looks like the Senate Intelligence Committee has — in bipartisan fashion — decided to back off doing so here.

In Telling of Brennan Fit, Panetta Somehow Forgets the Torture Documents Stolen Back for the White House

As you likely know, I’m firmly of the belief that one should call DC memoirs — especially those written by National Security figures — autobiographical novels, because they tend to stray so far from the truth (that’s true of all autobiographies, but in DC it seems far more motivated). Turbo-Tax Timmy Geithner is about the only DC figure whose memoir has ever been treated with any of the skepticism it deserves.

With that in mind, I wanted to look at this detail from Leon Panetta’s book, which Katherine Hawkins alerted me to.

To illustrate how Obama’s micromanagement hurt relations with Congress, Panetta describes the negotiations with Dianne Feinstein over the cables that went into the torture report.

She requested access for her staff to every operational cable regarding the program, a database that had to be in the hundreds of thousands of documents. These were among the most sensitive documents the agency had. But Feinstein’s staff had the requisite clearances and we had no basis to refuse her. Still, I wanted to have some control over this material, so I proposed a deal: Instead of turning over the documents en masse to her staff, we would set up a secure room in Virginia. Her staff could come out to the secure facility and review documents one by one, and though they could take notes, the documents themselves would stay with CIA.

When the White House found out, they went apeshit, calling Panetta into the Situation Room for a spanking.

“The president wants to know who the fuck authorized this release to the committees,” Rahm said, slamming his hand down on the table. “I have a president with his hair on fire, and I want to know what the fuck you did to fuck this up so bad.”

I’d known Rahm a long time, and I was no stranger to his language or his temper, so I knew when to worry about an outburst and when it was mostly for show. On this occasion, my hunch was that Rahm wasn’t that perturbed but that Obama probably was and that others at the table, particularly Brennan and McDonough, were too. Rahm was sticking up for them by coming after me.

[snip]

It went back and forth like this for about fifteen minutes. Brennan and I even exchanged sharp words when I, unfairly, accused him of not sticking up for the agency in the debate over the interrogation memos. Finally, the White House team realized that whether they liked it or not, there was no way we could go back on our deal with the committee. And just like that, the whole matter was dropped.

Rahm and Brennan spanked Panetta, he claims, but then the whole thing blew over.

There are just three problems with this story.

First, according to the quotations Dianne Feinstein revealed from her agreement with Panetta, the CIA wasn’t supposed to “have … control over this material.”

Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a “stand-alone computer system” with a “network drive” “segregated from CIA networks” for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would “not be permitted to” “share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.”

Far more significantly, Panetta doesn’t mention the documents that disappeared during Panetta’s tenure — ostensibly, on orders from the White House.

In early 2010, the CIA was continuing to provide documents, and the committee staff was gaining familiarity with the information it had already received.

In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that [certain] documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible. Staff approached the CIA personnel at the offsite location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority. And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

And Panetta also doesn’t mention what may or may not be the same set of documents, those withheld by CIA on behalf of the White House, as described by Stephen Preston in response to Mark Udall.

With specific reference to documents potentially subject to a claim of executive privilege, as noted in the question, a small percentage of the total number of documents produced was set aside for further review. The Agency has deferred to the White House and has not been substantively involved in subsequent discussions about the disposition of those documents.

In other words, CIA didn’t live up to its deal with Feinstein, not with respect to this set of documents, anyway. After turning over all the cables it believed SSCI had a right to obtain, it then took some back. As far as we know, it never did provide them.

We know that one of the Torture Report’s conclusions is that the CIA lied to the White House.

While there’s good reason to believe CIA lied to Condi Rice, there’s also abundant reason to believe that Dick Cheney and David Addington knew precisely what was going on. If I had to guess, the documents CIA stole back probably make that clear.

Panetta would have us believe that, after his spanking by John Brennan and others, the whole matter was dropped. Which is a convenient tale, except that it obscures that the White House succeeded in clawing back documents CIA originally believed SSCI was entitled to.

Remember that Nashiri’s Torture — “Real Torture” — Didn’t Work

Yesterday, the Telegraph reported that the “waterboarding” used with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was far worse than described before — more actual drowning to the point of death than “pours.”

The description of the torture meted out to at least two leading al-Qaeda suspects, including the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, far exceeds the conventional understanding of waterboarding, or “simulated drowning” so far admitted by the CIA.

“They weren’t just pouring water over their heads or over a cloth,” said the source who has first-hand knowledge of the period. “They were holding them under water until the point of death, with a doctor present to make sure they did not go too far. This was real torture.”

That CIA was drowning people rather than “pouring” water over them is not news. Details described by the Telegraph exactly match the WaPo’s description of CIA’s drowning of Ammar al-Baluchi just months after KSM’s worst torture.

If declassified, the report could reveal new information on the treatment of a high-value detainee named Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Pakistanis captured Ali, known more commonly as Ammar al-Baluchi, on April, 30, 2003, in Karachi and turned him over to the CIA about a week later. He was taken to a CIA black site called “Salt Pit” near Kabul.

At the secret prison, Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.

As with Zubaida and even Nashiri, officials said, CIA interrogators continued the harsh treatment even after it appeared that Baluchi was cooperating.

But I’m a little curious about this story.

It comes from a “security source” (which sounds like a contractor), single sourced. And it describes the treatment of two detainees whose torture has been most closely scrutinized, which makes it interesting this is only coming out now.

All that said, one question I hope we’ll answer once the summary of the SSCI torture report gets released later this year is what happened with Nashiri’s waterboarding.

Two things distinguish his treatment from Abu Zubaydah and KSM’s, after all: at least according to public reports, he was only waterboarded twice (by whatever twisted means you want to quantify torture). More interestingly, even Liz BabyDick Cheney doesn’t claim Nashiri gave up useful information after being waterboarded.

There’s a story about Nashiri’s “waterboarding” that’s overdue to be told. I wonder how close to death CIA brought him?

Whatever Happened to Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi?

On the same day the NYT published the latest in a series of reports of how ISIS has incorporated Baathists from Saddam’s regime, the WaPo reported that ISIS had tortured some of its captives, including James Foley, using some of the same techniques employed by the US.

The NYT described how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi teamed up with some of Saddam’s old officers.

He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.

They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.

The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.

And WaPo described the waterboarding used with Foley — but it described it exclusively as a CIA torture technique.

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Waterboarding often involves strapping a person down on a gurney or bench and pouring cold water over a cloth covering the face. It causes the sensation of drowning. “The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult — or in some cases not possible — to breathe,” according to a Justice Department memo in May 2005 about the CIA’s use of the technique.

True, waterboarding — as opposed to simulated drowning by submersion — has only been admitted in 3 known cases, all CIA detainees — Abu Zubaydah, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (as well as Egypt’s waterboarding on our behalf of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi).

But waterboarding was at least contemplated for use on Baathists. Charles Duelfer admitted that OVP suggested a Mukhabarat officer Duelfer names as Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi be waterboarded, though Duelfer claims he ultimately wasn’t waterboarded. 

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

[snip]

Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.

[snip]

“Everyone knew there would be more smiles in Washington if WMD stocks were found,” Duelfer said in the interview. “My only obligation was to find the truth. It would be interesting if there was WMD in May 2003, but what was more interesting to me was looking at the entire regime through the slice of WMD.”

But, Duelfer says, Khudayr in fact repeatedly denied knowing the location of WMD or links between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda and was not subjected to any enhanced interrogation. Duelfer says the idea that he would have known of such links was “ludicrous”.

Continue reading

Does Its Use of Waterboarding Make ISIS More or Less Barbaric?

When ISIS beheaded James Foley, pundits in DC pointed to it as proof of the organizations barbarism. Never mind that Saudis were busy beheading people for sorcery in the same period. Not to mention America’s latest penchant for executing people with DIY cocktails of lethal chemicals that leave them gasping for breath for hours.

It’s very confusing discerning what does and does not qualify an entity as barbaric these days.

The WaPo report that ISIS subjected Foley and others to waterboarding and mock execution makes it all the more confusing.

At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

[snip]

French journalist Didier Francois, who was imprisoned with Foley, has told reporters that Foley was targeted for extra abuse because his captors found pictures on his computer of his brother, who serves in the U.S. Air Force.

Francois said Foley was subjected to mock executions — something suspected al-Qaeda operative Nashiri also endured while being held in a secret CIA prison, according to a report by the inspector general of the CIA. The Justice Department did not sanction mock executions.

Note how carefully the WaPo skirts the political minefield and journalistic primer of whether to call waterboarding torture or not. It, unlike NYT, still refuses to call waterboarding torture, probably because its editorial page routinely serves as a lead defender of waterboarding as a value “enhanced interrogation technique.”

Nevertheless, our adversaries have moved beyond dressing up prisoners in our signature orange jumpsuits to using the techniques much of the political establishment has defended for the last decade.

That’s not surprising. It’s sickening. But it’s also going to present an interesting challenge to the DC punditry, as it tries to villainize ISIS in advance of expanding the war against it.

Update: Katherine Hawkins has convinced me that I’m unduly harsh on WaPo’s language here. I think the language in the piece is interesting, but the implications of the story are quite clear.

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JimWhiteGNV Uh oh. Kittehs in trouble.
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emptywheel Joe Lombardi remembers he has a passing QB, a few receivers of note.
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emptywheel i'm so old I remember when this was the #1 D.
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bmaz Not just executed, but was basically a drive by shooting, except done by the cops RT Tamir Rice was executed. http://t.co/TQooHREXQM
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emptywheel @rdevro Nonsense. All beheadings take place in the Middle East. I know that from YouTube.
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bmaz RT @VodkaPundit: If elected, I will kill the White House Thanksgiving turkey with my bare hands on national TV. #Vodka2016
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