As reader Tom has helpfully reminded me, both Mark Udall’s follow-up questions for Stephen Preston and the CIA’s declaration in ACLU’s FOIA to liberate the Torture Report describe the arrangements CIA required of the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as they were working on the Torture Report.
Udall described how the CIA insisted on an “unnecessary multi-layered” process that added significantly to the time and cost of the report.
The CIA declined to provide the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with access to CIA records at the Committee’s secure office space in the Hart Senate Office Building. Instead, the 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. What role did you play in the decision to employ these unnecessary multi-layered review steps that delayed CIA document production to the Committee at significant governmental expense?
And the CIA declaration emphasizes how SSCI retained complete control over the materials in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in which its staffers had been required to work.
One key principle necessary to this inter-branch accommodation, and a condition upon which SSCI insisted, was that the materials created by SSCI personnel on this segregated shared drive would not become “agency records” even though this work product was being created and stored on a CIA computer system. Specifically, in a 2 June 2009 letter from the SSCI Chairman and Vice Chairman to the CIA Director, the Committee expressly stated that the SSCI’s work product, including “draft and final recommendations, reports or other materials generated by Committee staff or Members, are the property of the Committee” and “remain congressional records in their entirety.” The SSCI further provided that the “disposition and control over these records, even after the completion of the Committee’s review, lies exclusively with the Committee.”
Based on this inter-branch accommodation, SSCI personnel used the segregated shared drive to draft the document that is the subject of this litigation. As sections of the report reached a certain stage, the SSCI worked with the CIA information technology and security personnel to transfer these drafts from the segregated shared drive to the SSCI’s secure facilities at the U.S. Capitol complex so that the Committee could complete the drafting process in its workspaces.
Here’s the thing. The purported control SSCI had over the materials in this SCIF is central to CIA’s claim that the Torture Report is not an Agency document and therefore is immune from FOIA.
If SSCI did not have complete control over this material — if CIA could spy on SSCI at will (if, as seems to be the case when viewed in retrospect) — then it guts their argument that the Torture Report is a Congressional document.
If CIA pwned SSCI in that SCIF, then it should make this material (at least the draft reports, before they got moved over to SSCI’s own SCIF) FOIA-able.
So either CIA should be prosecuted for hacking SSCI. Or it should hand over the last draft of the report that resided on servers it felt free to hack into.
As I noted in January, comments Mark Udall made in the course of confirming Stephen Preston to be DOD General Counsel make it clear that CIA’s lies about a detainee generally believed to be Hassan Ghul are one of the new revelations in the Torture Report. For a number of reasons, I believe one thing CIA lied to DOJ about is when they tortured Ghul.
As I’ll show in a follow-up post, the question of when they tortured Hassan Ghul may reflect not just on the torture program, but also on the dragnet.
The public record claiming Ghul was tortured in July and August, 2004
We can lay out a rough timeline of the torture of the detainee believed to be Ghul based on several data points. First, Jay Bybee’s response to the Office of Professional Responsibility report (see page 22) makes it clear a July 2, 2004 Principals Committee meeting pertained to detainee “Janat Gul,” custody of whom CIA had reportedly (see PDF 59) just obtained (Bybee would not have been at the meeting — he had become a Circuit Court Judge over a year earlier — so he must be relying on what the OPR report says).
In addition, we can trace back the documents leading up to a reference to “Gul” in the May 30, 2005 CAT memo (see page 7). That reference describes an August 25, 2004 letter that asked for permission to use — among other things — water dousing and abdominal slaps. The approval to that request, dated August 26, 2004, cites the August 25 letter, an August 2, 2004 letter from John Rizzo, and a July 30, 2004 letter. An August 6, 2004 letter approving waterboarding also cites the August 2 Rizzo letter.
In the August 10, 2005 Techniques memo, some of these same documents are cited; the memo also reveals its subject was obese and had heart problems. Although the Techniques memo approved waterbaording, it said it was not used with the subject of the memo because of a medical contraindication.
All of this would seem to give the following chronology for Hassan Ghul’s torture (assuming he is the detainee referred to as Gul):
July 2, 2004: CIA obtains custody and in a Principals Committee meeting discusses his torture
July 7, 2004: Goldsmith provides guidance on acceptable techniques
July 22, 2004 (5 days after Goldsmith’s departure): John Ashcroft approves the use of all Bybee Memo techniques, except for waterboarding
July 30, 2004: Letter to Daniel Levin including description of torture techniques
August 1, 2004: Government raises threat level in advance of election year threats, announces surveillance of financial institutions, though reports are years old
August 2, 2004: Letter from John Rizzo to Levin, including details on when the CIA would use waterboarding and a medical and psychological assessment of Ghul
August 6, 2004: Daniel Levin advises that subject to reservations, CIA’s use of waterboarding not illegal
August 19, 2004: Letter to Daniel Levin detailing new limits on waterboarding
August 25, 2004: In letter to Daniel Levin asking to water douse Ghul, CIA claims the CIA believed (when it got custody) Ghul had actionable intelligence on “pre-election” threat to United States, had extensive connections to various al Qaeda leaders, members of the Taliban, and Zarqawi, and had tried to set up a meeting “at which elements of the pre-election threat were discussed”
August 26, 2004: Levin approves four new techniques with Ghul, including water dousing
This chronology suggests DOJ repeatedly told CIA waterboarding was not permissible in the weeks after Jack Goldsmith withdrew the Bybee Memo, but after the National Security establishment raised the threat level on August 1 because of years-old surveillance in the US, DOJ relented and approved waterboarding with Ghul. Subsequently, it appears, CIA decided Ghul was not healthy enough — either because of his heart condition or his obesity — to undergo waterboarding, so they instead water doused him in near-freezing temperatures.
The problem with this chronology
There is just one problem with that chronology: the CAT memo discusses two detainees (see page 6). The description of the first detainee — someone involved in the alleged 2004 pre-election threat — mentions the August 25 letter which elsewhere in the memo ties to Gul by name.
In my last post, I noted that in his report that Hassan Ghul served as a double agent before we offed him with a drone, Aram Roston stated, without confirming via sources, that Ghul is the person whose name was not entirely redacted on the bottom of page 7 in the May 2005 Convention Against Torture (CAT) torture memo. I noted that if Ghul is the detainee (and I do think he is, contrary to what sources told AP when the CIA was hunting Ghul down with drones in 2011), then we’re going to be hearing about him — and arguing about his treatment — quite a bit more in the coming weeks.
That’s because, according to information released by Mark Udall, the detainee named in the CAT memo is one of the detainees about whose treatment the CIA lied most egregiously to DOJ. This is apparently one of the key findings from the Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report that CIA is fighting so hard to suppress.
Mark Udall’s list of torture lies
Back in August, Mark Udall posed a set of follow-up questions to then CIA and now DOD General Counsel Stephen Preston. Udall was trying to get Preston to endorse findings that appeared in the Torture Report that hadn’t appeared elsewhere (in his first set of responses about CIA’s lies to DOJ, Preston had focused on CIA’s lies about the number of waterboardings, which the CIA IG Report had first revealed). Udall noted that that lie (“discrepancy”) was known prior to the Torture Report, and asked Preston to review the “Representations” section of the Torture Report again to see whether he thought the lies (“discrepancies”) described there — and not described elsewhere — would have been material to OLC’s judgements on torture.
Udall gave Preston this list of OLC judgements that might have been different had CIA not lied to DOJ. (links added)
The 2002 memo is the original Abu Zubaydah memo, the lies in which (pertaining to who AZ was, what the torture consisted of, what had already been done to him, and whether it worked) I’ve explicated in depth elsewhere. The 2006 memo authorizes torture in the name of keeping order in confinement and the 2007 memo authorizes torture (especially sleep deprivation); both of these later memos not only rely on the 2005 memos, but on the false claims about efficacy CIA made in 2005 in their support. The lies in them pertain largely to the purpose CIA wanted to use the techniques for.
Which leaves the claims behind the 2004 letters and the 2005 memos as the key lies CIA told DOJ that remain unexplored.
The 2004 and 2005 lies to reauthorize and expand torture
I’m going to save some of these details for a post on what I think the lies told to DOJ might be, but there are two pieces of evidence showing that the 2005 memos were written to retrospectively codify authorizations given in 2004, many of them in the 2004 letters cited by Udall.
We know the 2005 memos served to retroactively authorize the treatment given to what are described as two detainees in 2004, purportedly in the months after July 2004 (though this may be part of the lie, in Ghul’s case) when DOJ and CIA were trying to draw new lines on torture in the wake of the completion of the CIA IG Report and Jack Goldsmith’s withdrawal of the Bybee Memo.
We know the May 10 Combined Memo was retroactive because Jim Comey made that clear in emails raising alarm about it.
I just finished a long call from Ted Ullyot. He said he was calling to tell me that “circumstances” were likely to require that the second opinion “be sent over tomorrow.” He said Pat had shared my concerns, which he understood to be concerns about the prospective nature of the opinion and its focus on “prototypical” interrogation.
He mentioned at one point that OLC didn’t feel like it could accede to my request to make the opinion focused on one person because they don’t give retrospective advice. I said I understood that, but that the treatment of that person had been the subject of oral advice, which OLC would simply be confirming in writing, something they do quite often.
This memo probably, though not definitely, refers to a detainee captured in August 2004 in anticipation of what the Administration claimed (almost certainly falsely) were election-related plots in the US.
And we know the May 10 Techniques and May 30 CAT memos are retroactive because we can trace back the citations about the treatment of one detainee, the detainee who appears to be Ghul, to the earlier letters from 2004.
Just as an example, the August 26 letter cited in Udall’s list relies on the August 25 CIA letter that is also cited in the CAT Memo using the name Gul (the July 22 and August 6 letters are also references, at least in part, to the same detainee).
So we know the 2005 memos served to codify the authorizations for torture that had happened in 2004, during a volatile time for the torture program.
The description of Hassan Ghul in the lying memo
There are still some very funky things about these memos’ tie to Hassan Ghul (again, that’s going to be in a later post), notably that Bush figures referred to the Ghul of the August letters as Janat Gul, including in a Principals meeting discussing his torture on July 2, 2004; sources told the AP after OBL’s killing that this Janat was different than Hassan and different than the very skinny Janat Gul who had been a Gitmo detainee.
But this description — the timing of the initial references and the description of his mission to reestablish contact with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — should allay any doubts that Ghul is one of two detainees referenced in the CAT memo.
Intelligence indicated that prior to his capture, [redacted] “perform[ed] critical facilitation and finance activities for al-Qa’ida,” including “transporting people, funds, and documents.” Fax for Jack Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, from [redacted] Assistant General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency (March 12, 2004). The CIA also suspected [redacted] played an active part in planning attacks against United States forces [redacted] had extensive contacts with key members of al Qaeda, including, prior to their captures, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”) and Abu Zubaydah. See id. [redacted] was captured while on a mission from [redacted] to reestablish contact with al-Zarqawi. See CIA Directorate of Intelligence, US Efforts Grinding Down al-Qa’ida 2 (Feb 21, 2004).
Ghul was captured by Kurds around January 23, 2004, carrying a letter from Zarqawi to Osama bin Laden.
So while there are a lot of details that the Senate Torture Report presumably sorts out in detail, it seems fairly clear that Ghul is the subject of some of the documents in question, and that, therefore, there are aspects of the treatment he endured at CIA’s hands that CIA felt the need to lie to DOJ about.
We’ve known for years that CIA lied to DOJ about what they had done and planned to do with Abu Zubaydah. But a great deal of evidence suggests that CIA lied to DOJ about what they did to Hassan Ghul, a detainee (the Senate Report also shows) who provided the key clue to finding Osama bin Laden before he was tortured.
If that’s the case, then I find the release of a story that, after that treatment, he turned double agent either directly or indirectly in our service to be awfully curious timing given the increasing chance we’re about to learn more about these lies and this treatment with any release of the Torture Report.
Both reports (per Knuckey) point to individual drone strikes on civilians that may or probably violate international law.
Specific US strikes killed civilians in violation of the law and US policy. These are the first major reports by each organization detailing field investigations into specific strikes. HRW reviewed six strikes in Yemen (occurring between December 2009 and April 2013). HRW concluded that two of the strikes violated international law (pp. 54, 67), four may have (pp. 30, 39, 43, 60), and none of the six appeared to have complied with Obama’s May 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance (p. 89). AI reviewed all 45 reported Pakistan strikes between January 2012-August 2013, and investigated nine in detail. AI’s legal findings include that “evidence indicates” that an October 2012 strike unlawfully killed a grandmother and injured eight children (p. 23), and AI had “serious concerns” that a July 2012 strike that killed 18 and injured 22 (p. 24) may have been a war crime or extrajudicial execution (p. 27). AI also investigated a number of strikes on apparent rescuers (those who came to the scene of a first strike to help the wounded), which it concluded may have been illegal (pp. 28-30). Neither report seeks to assess the total number or rate of civilian casualties for all strikes.
Investigations and accountability obligations. AI states that the US has legal obligations to investigate any cases where there are “reasonable grounds to indicate that unlawful killings have occurred,” and to prosecute, and remedy where appropriate (pp. 35-37). HRW similarly states that the US has a duty to investigate violations of the laws of war, and that government secrecy effectively denies victims’ right to redress (p. 87). Both reports also state the US should provide compensation or condolence payments for any civilian harm, but that neither organization is aware of the US having done this (AI, p. 39; HRW, p. 88).
This documentation of civilian casualties, of course, provides further evidence Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers’ claims about civilian casualties are false.
Which means, in addition to the fact that we’re violating international law with some of our drone killings, we also are seeing a recurrent trend.
Even the CIA’s own lawyer agreed that CIA didn’t properly inform Congress, including the Intelligence Committees, about torture.
We’re learning that vast parts of the NSA’s spying — including spying that collects US person data — remains largely hidden from the Intelligence Committees.
And we have yet more proof they have been misinformed about drone killings.
Is there some dubiously legal program the Intelligence Community has fully informed Congress on?
Andrew Sullivan is newly convinced — but surprised and confused — that President Obama is permitting John Brennan to hold up the release of the Senate Torture Report.
It is becoming clearer and clearer that one major power-broker in Washington is resisting the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s allegedly devastating report on the torture program run by the Bush-Cheney CIA. That major power-broker is the Obama administration.
You might be surprised by this, given the president’s opposition to torture and abolition of it. But the evidence is at this point irrefutable
Brennan answers to the president, who has urged the release of the report.
So why the hold-up? That is the question.
Why is Obama allowing Brennan to undermine Obama’s own position? Why is the president allowing the CIA to prevent the very transparency he once pledged to uphold? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is now Obama who is the main obstacle to releasing the Senate Report on Torture.
The explanation for Obama’s silence on this report seems pretty obvious if you read both Stephen Preston’s answers to Mark Udall’s questions and Obama’s past actions on torture. In short:
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.
Indeed, I wonder whether the evidence in the Senate report showing CIA lied to the White House is not, in fact, cover for things some in the White House ordered CIA to do.
This is, I imagine, how Presidential Findings are supposed to work: by implicating both parties in outright crimes, it builds mutual complicity. And Obama’s claimed opposition to torture doesn’t offer him an out, because within days of his inauguration, CIA was killing civilians in Presidentially authorized drone strikes that clearly violate international law.
Again, I think this is the way Presidential Findings are supposed to work: to implicate the President deeply enough to ensure he’ll protect the CIA for the crimes he asks it to commit.
But it’s not the way a democracy is supposed to work.
A big part of Stephen Preston’s response to Mark Udall’s questions about whether he supports adequate disclosure to Congress consists of insisting the CIA Directors he worked with — Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, presumably Mike Morell as Acting Director, and John Brennan — have supported full disclosure to Congress.
Doing a better job of congressional notification and ensuring the proper provision of information concerning covert action and other intelligence activities to the Intelligence Committees has been a top priority of the Directors under which I have served, starting with Director Panetta, and one that I have fully supported.
What we regard as proper practice today is driven by faithful application of the National Security Act of 1947. It is also informed by the very high priority the Directors under which I have served have placed on doing a better job of congressional notification and ensuring the proper provision of information concerning covert action and other intelligence activities to the Intelligence Committees. To repeat, I have fully supported these efforts and, if confirmed, will be fully committed to such efforts with respect to the Armed Services Committees.
While it may or may not be true that the Directors under whom Preston has served have not engaged in the kind of manipulative briefings that characterized the torture program, every time I read these assurances from Preston I remembered what Barb Mikulski said at John Brennan’s confirmation hearing.
Now, I want to get to the job of the CIA director. I’m going to be blunt — and this would be no surprise to you, sir.
But I’ve been on this committee for more than 10 years. And with the exception of Mr. Panetta, I feel I’ve been jerked around by every CIA director.
I’ve either been misled, misrepresented, had to pull information out, often at the most minimal kind of way, from Tenet, with his little aluminum rods to tell us that we had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to Porter Goss, not worth coming.
You know the problems we’ve had with torture. The chair has spoken eloquently about it all the way.
And, quite frankly, during those questions, they were evaded, they were distorted, et cetera.
While she didn’t name him as she did Tenet and Goss, neither did she except David Petraeus, like she did Leon Panetta.
This would seem to suggest that Mikulski has a very different understanding of Petraeus’ commitment to briefing Congress than Preston claims to have.
Jane Mayer has obtained a set of questions Mark Udall made CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston answer before he would release a hold on the latter’s confirmation as DOD General Counsel. They address CIA’s response to the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report. I will have more to say about these answers later (see also this post from Katherine Hawkins).
But for now I want to point to one of the few questions Preston really didn’t answer. While the non-answer is not at all surprising, it does have implications far beyond torture.
The CIA response to the Committee Study states: “while it would have been prudent to seek guidance from OLC on the complete range of techniques prior to their use, we disagree with any implication that, absent prior OLC review, the use of the ‘unapproved’ techniques was unlawful or otherwise violated policy.”
The comment does two things.
First, it confirms CIA tortured before John Yoo authored memos authorizing that torture.
That confirmation is news, though we’ve long known it to be true.
But it also reflects CIA’s view that the legality of specific torture techniques did not stem from OLC review and authorization of them.
Udall asked Preston,
Please state whether you agree with this legal determination and explain your legal reasoning.
To which Preston responded,
On the particular point raised in (c) of the question, I also agree that CIA should have sought guidance from OLC with regard to the complete range of interrogation techniques prior to their use. I understand the Agency’s response to the SSCI’s study to acknowledge this point, noting only that failure to so engage with OLC did not, in and of itself, render any given technique unlawful.
Preston doesn’t actually say whether he agrees with the Agency’s legal determination or not, which was, after all Udall’s question. Which gets him out of answering Udall’s question about his legal reasoning.
But Preston has, for all intents and purposes, already answered that question in his speech last year on CIA’s use of lethal force. In it, he laid out was required for the use of lethal force (he doesn’t say it, but this includes lethal force against an American citizen) to be legal under US law.
Let’s start with the first box: Authority to Act under U.S. Law.
First, we would confirm that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in the exercise of his powers under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, for example, the President’s responsibility as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief to protect the country from an imminent threat of violent attack.
In addition, we would make sure that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in accordance with the covert action procedures of the National Security Act of 1947, such that Congress is properly notified by means of a Presidential Finding.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, Preston doesn’t even acknowledge the National Security Act’s requirement that covert actions be legal under US law.
His speech makes it clear he agrees with the CIA’s response on torture. The CIA doesn’t need OLC approval for covert operations (which torture was during its early years), the implication seems clear, because the only thing needed to make covert operations legal is Presidential authorization with adequate Congressional notice.
This is a stance that most discussions on drones and torture miss. The CIA doesn’t believe it needs OLC memos — whether authorizing belly slaps or the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. It may consider it prudent to have OLC authorization in hand, mind you. But it does not believe such authorization gives covert operations any more legal sanction that simply the President’s authorization.
Answer: They were both nominated for a lifetime appellate court seat even as the Executive continued hiding their controversial OLC opinions.
Several hours ago, Barack Obama nominated David Barron, author of the notorious OLC memos authorizing the assassination of an American citizen with the kind of “due process” the Executive Branch gives, by itself, in secret, to serve on the First Circuit.
Yet even while Obama moved to make Barron a lifetime appointed judge, the FOIA suits to liberate the troubling opinion Barron authored continues at a snail’s pace. CIA filed an intransigent opinion back in August in the more general suit (that would, however, probably return Barron’s opinions). In a response a few weeks ago, the ACLU suggested that such frivolous claims could only serve to forestall the time when it will have to release the assassination-related documents.
The CIA’s blanket “no number no list” response is utterly deficient—indeed, it is so plainly inadequate that it verges on the frivolous. To justify a “no number no list” response, the agency must establish that not even one responsive document can be described, in any way,without revealing information that falls within FOIA’s exemptions. The CIA cannot carry this burden, and its brief barely makes the attempt. The agency’s “no number no list” response is so obviously deficient that one can only assume that the CIA’s goal is not to prevail on this motion but simply to delay as long as possible the day on which the agency will finally be required to explain what documents it is withholding and why.
While, when Bybee was confirmed to the Ninth Circuit, we had no idea about the Yoo-authored torture memos he rubber-stamped, we do know what one (of two) of Barron’s OLC opinions look like from the White Paper leaked to hasten John Brennan’s confirmation in February.
And at least from what we see, the authors of such an opinion have no business on a court. For starters, that’s because it suggested the Courts have no role in adjudicating the assassination of an American citizen.
Similarly, paragraph 23 (section IIC) refuses any review from Article III courts by invoking military (AUMF) operations to apply to some very spooky language.
Were a court to intervene here, it might be required inappropriately to issue an ex ante command to the President and officials responsible for operations with respect to their specific tactical judgement to mount a potential lethal operation against a senior operational leader of al Qa’ida or its associated forces. And judicial enforcement of such orders would require the Court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the President and his national security advisors as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorized the use of force.
I get that Courts shouldn’t be making battlefield decisions. But in spite of the fact this passage invokes the AUMF twice, the invocation of “officials responsible for operations” falls far short of limiting the assertions to just the military.
In other words, it’s another instance where the white paper asserts a claim that is uncontroversial for the military to apply to the CIA as well.
Perhaps more troubling, it suggests if the President orders the CIA to assassinate an American citizen, it is legal.
[T]he white paper effectively argues (though it doesn’t say so) that the President may, under Article II power alone, authorize the CIA to kill a U.S. citizen.
Similarly, under the Constitution and the inherent right to national self-defense recognized in international law, the President may authorize the use of force against a U.S. citizen who is a member [note, they've dropped the senior operational leader modifier here!] of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
And just to be sure, the following paragraph again adopts the dual structure, and ends by says killing an American under such circumstances isn’t assassination because the President authorized it.
In fact, several of the claims Martha Lutz, the CIA person designated to lay out why CIA cannot reveal more details, point to covert actions that would be authorized by Presidential authorization.
Similarly, references to “legal memoranda” from either the CIA’s Office of General Counsel or the Department of Justice would reveal the extent to which the CIA’s involvement required formal legal analysis, which would raise the same concerns discussed above.
Theoretically, such involvement could be based on not only the CIA’s foreign intelligence gathering functions, but also its ability to conduct covert action and other activities as directed by the President.
Hypothetically, if it was officially confirmed that the CIA possesses this extraordinary authority, it would reveal that the CIA had been granted authorities against terrorists that go beyond traditional intelligence-gathering activities.
Which is all consistent with what then CIA and currently DOD General Counsel Stephen Preston said last year.
That is, there’s reason to wonder whether Barron gave legal rubber stamp to the kind of unilateral authority that has no place in a democracy.
And yet, if the Obama Administration has its way, that won’t become public before Barron’s nomination gets considered.
The decision is based on a theory Merrick Garland used in the hearing (which Wells Bennett analyzed here). Whether or not the CIA had admitted to the agency being involved in drones, it had admitted to having an interest in them. Which makes any claim that it cannot reveal it has documents ridiculous.
And there is still more. In 2009, then-Director of the CIA Leon Panetta delivered remarks at the Pacific Council on International Policy. In answer to a question about “remote drone strikes” in the tribal regions of Pakistan, Director Panetta stated:
[O]bviously because these are covert and secret operations I can’t go into particulars. I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage. . . . I can assure you that in terms of that particular area, it is very precise and it is very limited in terms of collateral damage and, very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.8
It is hard to see how the CIA Director could have made his Agency’s knowledge of — and therefore “interest” in — drone strikes any clearer. And given these statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that “no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA . . . has an interest in drone strikes,” Cole Decl. ¶ 43; see CIA Br. 43, is at this point neither logical nor plausible.
It is true, of course, that neither the President nor any other official has specifically stated that the CIA has documents relating to drone strikes, as compared to an interest in such strikes. At this stage of this case, however, those are not distinct issues. The only reason the Agency has given for refusing to disclose whether it has documents is that such disclosure would reveal whether it has an interest in drone strikes; it does not contend that it has a reason for refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents that is independent from its reason for refusing to confirm or deny its interest in that subject. And more to the point, as it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject.
But again, there is more. In the above-quoted excerpt from the CIA Director’s Pacific Council remarks, the Director spoke directly about the precision of targeted drone strikes, the level of collateral damage they cause, and their usefulness in comparison to other weapons and tactics. Given those statements, it is implausible that the CIA does not possess a single document on the subject of drone strikes. Continue reading
At the time he wrote the white paper, Delery was Senior Counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder. Last March, he became Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of DOJ and, in the absence of an Assistant AG (or, as far as I can tell, even a nominee, in which case this feels a lot like what George Bush did with Steven Bradbury when he left the Acting head in charge for years on end), the Acting head of the Civil Division.
As I also noted, Delery actually argued the government’s case in the ACLU’s Drone FOIA on September 20, 2012. Now, that’s the ACLU’s other drone FOIA, not the one specifically requesting information that should have included the unclassified white paper Delery wrote if DOJ had answered the FOIA in good faith.
Nevertheless, it asked for closely related information:
The Request seeks a variety of records relating to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct targeted killings, including the legal basis for the strikes and any legal limits on who may be targeted; where targeted drone strikes can occur; civilian casualties; which agencies or other non-governmental entities may be involved in conducting targeted killings; how the results of individual drone strikes are assessed after the fact; who may operate and direct targeted killing strikes; and how those involved in operating the program are supervised, overseen or disciplined.
At the time ACLU submitted the request on January 13, 2010, Delery was in the Deputy Attorney General’s Office. DOJ responded to its part of the FOIA on February 3, 2010 — 16 days after DOJ worked on a briefing on targeted killing Eric Holder would make to President Obama and 15 days after he delivered that briefing — by claiming only FBI would have responsive records. When FBI searched its records it found none. DOJ made that initial response 6 days before someone in DAG — Delery’s office — wrote an email to OLC about the Holder briefing.
So while DOJ’s non-responsiveness in the drone FOIA is not as egregious as it was in the Awlaki FOIA, it’s still clear that the department Delery worked in, if not (as in the Awlaki FOIA) Delery’s work itself, was shielded from FOIA by a disingenuous FOIA response.
Yet Delery, the Acting head of the Civil Division, nevertheless decided he should argue the government’s case. Technically, Delery was arguing for CIA’s right to pretend it hadn’t confirmed its role in drone strikes in spite of repeated public statements doing just that, so he wasn’t defending the non-disclosure of his Department’s work, per se. Still, it’s not generally considered good form for a lawyer to argue a matter in which he has been so closely involved. He did so, however, at a time before we knew just how centrally involved he was in this matter.
With all that in mind, I thought I’d look at what Delery said to the DC Circuit.
MR. DELERY: May it please the Court, Stuart Delery for the Appellee, CIA.
This Court in several cases has identified two important interests that the strict test for official confirmation serves. It protects the Government’s vital interest in information related to national security and foreign affairs, and it advances FOIA’s interest in disclosure by not punishing officials for attempting to educate the public on matters of public concern because otherwise officials would be reluctant to speak on important national security matters.
Here, the Government has acknowledged that the United States makes efforts to target specific terrorists as part of its counter-terrorism operations, that as part of those operations or, in some cases, those operations involve the use of remotely piloted aircraft or drones, and it’s also described the legal framework and standards that apply in this context in a series of speeches and interviews including by the President’s counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, but also the Attorney General, the legal advisor to the State Department, the General Council of DOD, and as has been referenced in yesterday’s or the recent exchange of 28J letters including a recent interview by the President. But, there’s been no official acknowledgment one way or the other about whether the CIA is involved in these particular operations. [my emphasis]
Delery suggests that a series of Leon Panetta comments (both before and after he moved from CIA to DOD) making the CIA’s role in drone killing clear should not amount to confirmation that the CIA is involved in drone killing because, he says, FOIA’s interest in disclosure should not punish public officials for attempting to educate the public.
Or, to put it another way, the Administration giving a bunch of self-serving speeches should not then make the topic of those speeches subject to FOIA because, in Delery’s mind, that would work contrary to FOIA’s support for disclosure because it would punish officials for giving self-serving speeches.