Ali Soufan

The Context of the July 13 Fax

As I pointed out in an earlier post, when Counterterrorism Center lawyer Jonathan Fredman sent the torturers in Thailand a green light for torture in August 2002, he relied on language about intent from a July 13, 2002 fax from John Yoo to John Rizzo rather than the finalized August 1 Bybee Memo. In a second post on this, I also showed that both of Yoo’s nominal supervisors–Jay Bybee and John Ashcroft–claim they knew nothing about that fax. In this post, I’m going to show how that fax appears to arise out of DOJ discomfort with CIA’s torture program.

As the timeline below shows, Yoo dated (but did not send) the fax the same day that the numerous parties involved in reviewing the Bybee Memo had an apparently contentious meeting at which they discussed the draft memo as well as the CIA’s torture plan (I’m doing a big update on the Torture Timeline, so some of this is not reflected in the timeline yet).

July 10, 2002: John Yoo tells Jennifer Koester that they will present the Bybee memo to NSC at 10:45 on July 12 (and names the Bybee Memo the “bad things opinion”!).

July 11, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester have briefing session with Michael Chertoff on Bybee Memo.

July 11, 2002: An OLC paralegal cite-checks the draft, and someone schedules a July 12 meeting with Alberto Gonzales and a July 13 meeting with (effectively) NSC.

July 12, 2002: First draft of Bybee Memo distributed outside of OLC.

July 12, 2002: John Yoo meets with Alberto Gonzales (and either David Addington or Tim Flanigan) on Bybee Memo.

July 13, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester present July 12 draft to John Rizzo, John Bellinger, Michael Chertoff, Daniel Levin, and Alberto Gonzales. Rizzo provides overview of interrogation plan. Chertoff refuses to give CIA advance declination of prosecution. Levin states that FBI would not participate in any interrogation using torture techniques, nor would it participate in discussions on the subject.

July 13, 2002: Rizzo asks Yoo for letter “setting forth the elements of the torture statute.”

July 15, 2002: John Yoo faxes John Rizzo July 13 letter on the torture statute.

July 15, 2002: John Yoo sends Jennifer Koester an email telling her to include a footnote in the opinion stating that they had not been asked about affirmative defenses like necessity, self-defense, or commander-in-chief powers.

July 16, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester meet with Alberto Gonzales and (probably) David Addington and Tim Flanigan. Yoo shared the July 13 fax with them. At the meeting, it is decided that Yoo will include Commander-in-Chief and other affirmative defenses in Bybee Memo.

July 16, 2002: In response to earlier request from Michael Chertoff (perhaps as early as July 13), John Yoo has Jennifer Koester draft, but not send, a letter to CIA refusing a letter of declination of prosecution.

July 17, 2002: George Tenet meets with Condi Rice, who advised CIA could proceed with torture, subject to a determination of legality by OLC.

Of course, two things are going on in the background. First, when Ali Soufan left the black site in May because James Mitchell threatened Abu Zubaydah with mock burial, DOJ got official notice that one of its top terrorism agents believed that the CIA was using torture with Zubaydah. Yet, two months later, the torturers were almost certainly already using the most aggressive torture with Abu Zubaydah.

What seems to have happened is the following. Yoo and Koester were all set for an NSC meeting on July 12, perhaps until they had a July 11 briefing with Chertoff. In any case, something made them reschedule that NSC meeting to arrange an Alberto Gonzales (and presumably, Addington) meeting first. After which they appear to have had an incredibly contentious meeting with Bellinger, Chertoff, Levin and others. Perhaps the fact that John Rizzo presented the latest interrogation plan (which, we suspect, was already in process anyway) made things worse. We do know, for example, that mock burial remained in the plan, even after Soufan had balked when Mitchell tried to use it two months earlier. Whether because of Rizzo’s presentation or Yoo’s draft memo, at the meeting Chertoff definitively refused an advance declination and Levin announced that FBI would have nothing more to do with CIA’s torture program.

And so Rizzo, perhaps noting that the head of DOJ’s Criminal Division and the FBI Chief of Staff were reacting rather unfavorably to CIA’s torture plan, asked Yoo for some kind of cover. In response, Yoo wrote a memo raising the bar for prosecution of inflicting severe mental suffering incredibly high.

What I find particularly interesting is the 2-day delay before Yoo sent the fax, dated July 13, to Rizzo on July 15. That likely coincided with another delay; we know Chertoff asked Yoo to send Rizzo a letter refusing advance declination sometime between July 13 and July 16, but Yoo didn’t act on that request until he had sent Rizzo his July 13 fax already.

Did Yoo get both the request for the letter refusing advance declination and the request for the letter laying out the torture statute at the same contentious meeting?

And then there’s one more unexplainable coincidence. On the same day Yoo sent the July 13 memo (on July 15), Yoo instructed Koester they not only wouldn’t include any affirmative defenses in the memo, but they would claim they weren’t asked for such things. Yet that happened just a day before heading into a meeting with Gonzales and (almost certainly) Addington, at which they did decide to include such things. And incidentally–a fact I hadn’t noted before–Yoo gave Gonzales and (almost certainly) Addington a copy of his July 13 fax at the same meeting where it was decided to add affirmative defenses to the Bybee Memo.

I can’t prove it. But it appears that Yoo wrote the July 13 fax in response to serious reservations from Chertoff and Levin. And in response to that, Addington directed him to add a bunch more defenses (literal and figurative) into the Bybee Memo.

One last point. As I said, one key difference between the July 13 fax and the Bybee Memo is that Yoo rebutted an obvious objection to his reading of how the Torture Statute treated intent with severe mental suffering.

It could be argued that a defendant needs to have specific intent only to commit the predicate acts that give rise to prolonged mental harm. Under that view, so long as the defendant specifically intended to, for example, threaten a victim with imminent death, he would have had sufficient mens rea for a conviction. According to this view, it would be further necessary for a conviction to show only that the victim factually suffered mental harm, rather than that the defendant intended to cause it. We believe that this approach is contrary to the text of the statute.

Any bets on whether Chertoff and/or Levin made precisely this argument at that July 13 meeting?

Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s and Abu Zubaydah’s Coffins

At Mary’s instigation, I went back to look at Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s description of how he was shoved into a coffin-like box in Egypt. (Thanks to burnt for the searchable copy.)

According to al-Libi, the foreign government service [redacted] “stated that the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq. … This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm.” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, alLibi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”216

(U) Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa’ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that “this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice the 50 square centimeter box and given food.”217

That mock burial–and al-Libi’s subsequent lies about Iraqi ties with al Qaeda–happened sometime before February 22, 2002, when a DIA cable challenged the report.

This is the first report from Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] in which he claims Iraq assisted al-Qa’ida’s CBRN efforts. However, he lacks specific details on the Iraqi’s involvement, the CBRN materials associated with the assistance, and the location where the training occurred. It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest. Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control

Al-Libi was, you’ll recall, the onsite manager of the Khalden training camp, a camp that trained a range of Muslims, a policy that  put it at odds with Osama bin Laden, who wanted training to be limited to al Qaeda operatives.

Just over a month after al-Libi claimed, having been shoved in a coffin for almost a day, there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the US captured al-Libi’s associate, Abu Zubaydah, who handled logistics for Khalden. Rather than send Abu Zubaydah off to the Egyptians, as the US had done with al-Libi, they instead sent Abu Zubaydah to a CIA run black site in Thailand.

And there, less than three months after the Egyptians shoved Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in a coffin overnight, James Mitchell threatened to do the same with Abu Zubaydah. Ali Soufan objected and told Mitchell doing so was torture. Soufan left the black site and alerted DOJ of what Mitchell had intended to do.

And then, some time later (Abu Zubaydah says it was about 3 months after his surgery, so perhaps mid-July) they did shove Abu Zubaydah in that coffin-like box. Continue reading

Ali Soufan Claims He Had Success with Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Too

While I’ve been taking my sweet time getting around to the ACLU document dump from Friday, Adam Serwer has been picking up the slack. Check out these posts on the FBI’s approach to torture here and here.

One of the things included in the document dump is a re-release of DOJ’s IG Report on torture, with some new disclosures. Of particular interest are details about Ali Soufan’s (recall the IG Report refers to him by the pseudonym Thomas) brief participation in the interrogation of Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

According to the, [sic] Assistant Chief for the FBI’s Counterterrorism Operational Response Team (CTORS), he and several agents, including Thomas, traveled to a CIA-controlled facility to conduct a joint interview of Binalshibh [redacted] with the CIA. The Assistant Chief said that the detainees were manacled to the ceiling and subjected to blaring music around the clock. He said the FBI agents worked with the CIA in developing questions for Binalshibh, but were denied direct access to him for 4 or 5 days, until Thomas was given 45 minutes with him. Thomas stated that Binalshibh was naked and chained to the floor when Thomas was given access to him. Thomas told the OIG that he obtained valuable actionable intelligence in a short time but that the CIA quickly shut down the interview. According to the notes of FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni, Deputy Assistant Director T.J. Harrington told her that the FBI agents who went to the CIA site saw Binalshibh [redacted].

I’m interested in this revelation for two reasons. First, if Soufan’s claims are correct then it shows that the FBI repeatedly got intelligence the CIA was unable to get–and that the CIA, on at least two occasions, shut down the FBI access when they were succeeding.

But I’m also interested because the National Archives has been in the process of declassifying Soufan’s interview with the 9/11 Commission since April. Some agency appears to be sitting on it.

Among the thing Soufan said in that interview is that the FBI’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed expert was unable to interview KSM. But I wonder how many more details like this were in his interview?

About KSM’s Lies

I’ve been meaning to return to this post for some time.  But with the torture apologists teeing up for another attempt at self-justification and with Ali Soufan’s recent op-ed, now is as good a time as any.

As I suggested in that earlier post, in March 2003, the CIA subjected Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to brutal torture, including waterboarding him 183 times. Then, after that month of torture concluded, they did an assessment of what he had told him.

And the CIA itself, after torturing KSM for a month, concluded he had lied (this is from footnote 4, Chapter 7 of the 9/11 Report).

In an assessment of KSM’s reporting, the CIA concluded that protecting operatives in the United States appeared to be a "major part" of KSM’s resistance efforts. For example, in response to questions about U.S. zip codes found in his notebooks, KSM provided the less than satisfactory explanation that he was planning to use the zip code to open new email accounts. CIA report, Intelligence Community Terrorist Threat Assessment, "Khalid Shaykh Muhammed’s Threat Reporting–Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies," April 3, 2003, pp 4-5.[my emphasis]

Compare that to what Cheney’s hagiographer’s source now claims:

"Almost all of the good information came from waterboarding and the other EITs," says a former senior U.S. intelligence official. "Once they broke, they broke for good. And then they talked forever."

Hayes’ article is (plausibly or not) entirely sourced to former and current CIA officials; presumably, they’ve seen this report. They know that as soon as CIA finished waterboarding KSM, they judged that he was lying particularly about anything that would expose US operations. Yet they are out still trying to claim information KSM gave them after that point–in July and September and the following years–was tied directly to the waterboarding they did before they concluded KSM was lying to them. 

And while we’re on the subject of lying, let’s return to what KSM has said he lied about while being tortured during his 2007 Combatant Status Review Tribunal.

… I make up stories just location UBL. Where is he? I don’t know. Then he torture me. Then I said yes, he is in this area of this is al Qaida which I don’t him.

So in addition to the information about US operatives that CIA believed KSM was lying about while he was being tortured, KSM himself maintains he lied about where Osama bin Laden was.

Continue reading

From the Blogger’s Basement on Jane Mayer

Since Spencer asked, I read Jane Mayer’s piece this morning while sitting at my kitchen table eating mr. ew’s "best in the world" sourdough pancakes (from our homegrown sourdough), syrup from my syrup guy out in Mason, my butcher Bob’s amazing breakfast links, and locally roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. Though I admittedly read it while still wearing the t-shirt I had slept in.

Aside from the bloggers-on-cheetos slur, there were some interesting bits in the story. Mayer catalogs the changing fortunes of Mitchell and Jessen’s torture boondoggle.

In April, Panetta fired all the C.I.A.’s contract interrogators, including the former military psychologists who appear to have designed the most brutal interrogation techniques: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. The two men, who ran a consulting company, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, had recommended that interrogators apply to detainees theories of “learned helplessness” that were based on experiments with abused dogs. The firm’s principals reportedly billed the agency a thousand dollars a day for their services. “We saved some money in the deal, too!” Panetta said. (Remarkably, a month after Obama took office the C.I.A. had signed a fresh contract with the firm.)

According to ProPublica, the investigative reporting group, Mitchell and Jessen’s firm, which in 2007 had a hundred and twenty people on its staff, recently closed its offices, in Spokane, Washington. One employee was Deuce Martinez, a former C.I.A. interrogator in the black-site program; Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the American Psychological Association, was on the company’s board. (According to Kirk Hubbard, the former head of the C.I.A.’s research and analysis division, Matarazzo served on an agency professional-standards board during the time the interrogation program was set up, but was not consulted about the interrogations.)

I’ll note that April was the same month that the ICRC Report, SASC Report, and Ali Soufan’s first public statements came out (all of which specifically implicated the contractors). It’s amazing how quickly a little sunshine can make outsourcing torture unsustainable.

Mayer also notes something I’ve been sensing too–that John Durham’s investigation into the torture tape destruction may well have to investigate the reasons why the CIA had to destroy the tapes, most notably all the torture they did before OLC had authorized it.

A prosecutor appointed by the Justice Department, John Durham, has convened a grand jury in Washington to weigh potential criminal charges against C.I.A. officers who were involved in the destruction of ninety-two videotapes documenting the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees. Continue reading

Whitehouse: Laying the Groundwork for the Torture Case

KeithO had Sheldon Whitehouse on this evening to set up his torture hearing tomorrow (10 AM, and yes, I’m liveblogging it). Here’s what Whitehouse said he hopes to accomplish tomorrow.

I hope what America will learn is that the facts that were alleged in the torture memos are very likely not true, the legal theories were contested even by Bush Administration lawyers who weren’t in on the fix, and a little bit about what the consequences are for lawyers who commit professional malfeasance.

I explained how Ali Soufan has (and will) shown that "the facts that were alleged in the torture memos" are not true here:

Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator described in the DOJ IG report on interrogation as the interrogator (whom they call "Thomas") who called CIA’s tactics on AZ, "borderline torture," has an important op-ed in the NYT. He writes,

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. 

I pointed this out myself, in a post on why the debate over whether these techniques were necessary and effective is so heated.

Check out what the second paragraph of the Bybee Memo says:

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. Zubaydah is currently being held by the United States. The interrogation team is certain that he has additional information that he refuses to divulge. Specifically, he is withholding information regarding terrorist networks in the United Stares or in Saudi Arabia and information regarding plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas. Zubaydah has become accustomed to a certain level of treatment and displays no signs of willingness to disclose further information. Moreover, your intelligence indicates that there is currently level of "chatter" equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks. In light of the information you believe Zubaydah has and the high level of threat you believe now exists, you wish to move the interrogations into what you have described as an "increased pressure phase." [my emphasis]

Here’s what Ali Soufan says:

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Continue reading

Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission, and Effectiveness

If you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been poring through the 9/11 Report to figure out how useful the interrogation reports from the waterboarded detainees were, and when they made them.

That exercise shows that the 9/11 Report found just 10 pieces of intelligence from Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation reports informative and credible; it found just 16 pieces of such intelligence in al-Nashiri’s interrogation reports. And while the Commission did find KSM’s interrogation reports to be incredibly useful, an incomplete index (I’m working on this, but it’s on the back burner for the next week) of the references to KSM show that many of his most productive interrogation sessions came long after he was waterboarded. And, as Philip Zelikow made clear in a memo relating to the torture tape destruction, there were abundant other problems with the quality of the interrogation reports coming from CIA, too.

I emailed Zelikow yesterday to see if he would answer some more questions on this. He hasn’t responded and I haven’t had time to follow-up.

But it looks like I may not have to. Zelikow promises to address some of these issues shortly.

I will have more to say on the topic of effectiveness later. 

Of particular interest, he makes this promise to address the effectiveness of torture in the context of the work the 9/11 Commission did with Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who called George Bush a liar yesterday.

I met and interviewed Soufan in the course of my work at the 9/11 Commission, while he was still doing important work at the FBI. From my commission work, my fellow staffers and I had direct knowledge about several of the specific assertions Soufan makes in this piece: about Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. My fellow staffers and I considered Soufan to be credible. Indeed, Soufan is fluent in Arabic, and he seemed to us to be one of the more impressive intelligence agents — from any agency — that we encountered in our work.

If the 9/11 Commission spoke with Soufan about AZ’s treatment (Zelikow does not say they did, though he does say they asked why Soufan’s KSM-expert colleague wasn’t involved in those interrogations), it might explain why only 10 pieces of intelligence from AZ show up in the 9/11 Report. 

In this post, Zelikow also confirms something I suggested this afternoon. Continue reading

Abu Zubaydah’s FBI Interrogator Removes the Legal Cornerstone of the Torture Regime

Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator described in the DOJ IG report on interrogation as the interrogator (whom they call "Thomas") who called CIA’s tactics on AZ, "borderline torture," has an important op-ed in the NYT. He writes,

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. 

I pointed this out myself, in a post on why the debate over whether these techniques were necessary and effective is so heated.

Check out what the second paragraph of the Bybee Memo says:

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. Zubaydah is currently being held by the United States. The interrogation team is certain that he has additional information that he refuses to divulge. Specifically, he is withholding information regarding terrorist networks in the United Stares or in Saudi Arabia and information regarding plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas. Zubaydah has become accustomed to a certain level of treatment and displays no signs of willingness to disclose further information. Moreover, your intelligence indicates that there is currently level of "chatter" equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks. In light of the information you believe Zubaydah has and the high level of threat you believe now exists, you wish to move the interrogations into what you have described as an "increased pressure phase." [my emphasis]

Here’s what Ali Soufan says:

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Continue reading

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