Helgerson and Cheney

It’s going to be a busy day for me, but one thing I’m hoping to do is nick down to Borders (hey, this branch is unionized, and Borders is local to Ann Arbor) to buy Jane Mayer’s new book. If for no other reason then to find out more about the meeting between John Helgerson, the CIA Inspector General, and Dick Cheney.

One of the lingering mysteries in Washington has been what happened to the CIA internal probe into homicides involving the program. You note that CIA Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson undertook a study and initially concluded, just as the Red Cross and most legal authorities in the United States and around the world, that the program was illegal and raised serious war crimes issues. Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney, the man who provided the impetus for the program, and it appears as a result of these meetings the IG’s report was simply shut down. Would those probes have brought into question the Justice Department’s specific approval of torture techniques used by the CIA–approval that involved not just John Yoo, but much more specifically Michael Chertoff and Alice Fisher, the two figures who ran the criminal division?

The fact that John Helgerson—the inspector general at the CIA who is supposed to act as an independent watchdog—was called in by Cheney to discuss his tough report in 2004 is definitely surprising news. Asked for comment, Helgerson through the CIA spokesman denied he felt pressured in any way by Cheney. But others I interviewed have described the IG’s office to me as extremely politicized. They have also suggested it was very unusual that the Vice President interjected himself into the work of the IG. Fred Hitz, who had the same post in previous administrations, told me that no vice president had ever met with him. He thought it highly unusual.

Helgerson’s 2004 report had been described to me as very disturbing, the size of two Manhattan phone books, and full of terrible descriptions of mistreatment. The confirmation that Helgerson was called in to talk with Cheney about it proves that–as early as then–the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The Program.

We know that in addition, the IG investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees, and that Helgerson’s office forwarded several to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution. The only case so far that has been prosecuted in the criminal courts is that involving David Passaro—a low-level CIA contractor, not a full official in the Agency. Why have there been no charges filed? It’s a question to which one would expect that Congress and the public would like some answers. Sources suggested to me that, as you imply, it is highly uncomfortable for top Bush Justice officials to prosecute these cases because, inevitably, it means shining a light on what those same officials sanctioned. Chertoff’s role in particular seems ripe for investigation. Alice Fisher’s role also seems of interest. Much remains to be uncovered. [my emphasis]

This report Mayer and Horton are discussing is the same one that I talked about repeatedly in my tracking of the torture tape disappearance.

A classified report issued last year by the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general warned that interrogation procedures approved by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture, current and former intelligence officials say.


The report, by John L. Helgerson, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, did not conclude that the techniques constituted torture, which is also prohibited under American law, the officials said. But Mr. Helgerson did find, the officials said, that the techniques appeared to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under the convention.

In that context, I was mostly interested in the remarkable coincidence of timing. The report was first done on May 7, 2004–almost the same time as Gonzales, Belllinger, and David Addington had a briefing at which the destruction of the torture tapes was discussed. And Doug Jehl had published the most comprehensive account of the IG report (that is, before Mayer’s book came out) on November 9, 2005, within days of when the torture tapes were destroyed. In short, I have argued in the past, that IG report and the leaks about it in November probably had as much to do with the torture tape destruction as Dana Priest’s article on the black sites.

And now we learn that Cheney was harassing Helgerson in 2004, around the same time as Cheney’s counsel was discussing destroying the torture tapes. That’s rather curious timing, don’t you think?

  1. darclay says:

    EW DU has an article about FISA and how it could help steal elections. Your thoughts if this is valid?

  2. bobschacht says:

    Thanks for writing about this, EW!

    As evidence accumulates not only of Cheney’s high crimes and misdemeanors, but also War Crimes, it seems that he will inevitably be indicted, or at least called before a forum where his testimony under oath is compelled, and that he cannot avoid. I am tempted to think that, like Reagan’s CIA director Bill Casey, he will die sometime after his testimony is compelled but before he actually appears to testify.

    But then, perhaps, Addington will have to stand in for Cheney, as he was Cheney’s go to guy for most of that stuff anyway, wasn’t he?

    I suspect that once Cheney takes the hit, everyone else will be let off the hook, including people like Chertoff, just like during Iran-Contra.

    Again, EW, thanks for pulling the weeds on this and putting them out where lots of people can see them!

    Bob in HI

  3. JTMinIA says:

    Sorry to reinforce posts 1 and 2, but didn’t several Democrats argue that the new FISA bill was fine because we’d have “independent IGs” checking up on things.

    Yeah, that seems to work just dandy. Them IGs sure do have their independence.

  4. skdadl says:

    EW, please forgive me as well for going somewhat O/T so early in this valuable thread, but the CBC has a video link to excerpts from the interrogation of Omar Khadr by CSIS agents at Guantanamo in February 2003. (I haven’t watched yet — the video link is at the top of the right sidebar.)

    What can I say? This was done in my name (and there are six other cases at least). I’m torn between fury and tears, and I want Canadian complicity and collusion and collaboration nailed down and stopped.

  5. selise says:

    OT – marcy, i assume you want us to stay on-topic (detainee abuse) for senator levin’s visit (and not, for example, bring up energy policy)?

    • emptywheel says:

      Actually, the specific understanding I’ve got with them is that he’s happy to look at other questions, but will take the Gitmo ones first. So pose it–see whether he bites.

      • selise says:

        thank you marcy. i don’t want to derail the detainee conversation, but i’d love to ask about energy (specifically speculation regulation) policy if the opportunity arises… i’ll probably just wait for a bit and pose it later during the visit.

        detainee abuse is definitely my priority, as i expect it is for all your readers. but the opportunity to ask the question of the senator i’ve recently been pondering is too tempting to pass up – so long as it’s ok with you. thanks!

        • emptywheel says:

          It’s okay with me, selise. I know you’ve been pursuing that for a while.

          FYI–there’s a vote at 11, so he’ll be showing up at 11:15.

      • Leen says:

        Wonder if anyone will ask if outside contractors conducted the “enhanced techniques” interrogation methods used? I was surprised no one asked about this last time. Unless I missed it.

        Did Feith take trips to Gitmo too? How many did Addington take uhh he could not quite remember “3-5″

        • george7 says:

          In Torture Team Philippe Sands has a good general discussion of the role played by Feith. He stresses that Feith was crucial in rejecting applicability of the Geneva Conventions for “unlawful combatants.” No word about his visiting Guantanamo.

  6. Mary says:

    I think it’s interesting to put up the fact that there were deaths, homicides, side by side with the finding of “no torture.” What bizarre semantics are involved there? So torture is when you cause death or organ failure, and according to Priest they expose a very young detainee to stress positions and hypothermia until he dies – – but no torture is involved?

    Apparently Mayer says the report was described to her as being the size of two Manhatten phone books and she also says that Comey and Gonzales chit chatted on the torture programs (I wonder if that was before or after Clement made his representations to the Sup Ct that we do not torture?) and Gonzales admitted to Comey that the programs were torture but that they had to have them bc Cheney wanted them. I’m not even going to start with all the places that should have taken things, once upon a time in a world where the DOJ had not thoroughly propagandized the American public into acceptance of Executive depravity as not only necessary, but somehow honorable.

    And everyone in the upper echelons was filled in, way back in 2002, that GITMO was home to a slew of Article 49 war crimes and to people who were not involved in any way with terrorism (and if GITMO was home to them, then all the other holding facilities and Pakistani tipoffs, etc. likely had their own shares) and that we were just torturing them all, anyway, and keeping them completely disappeared for years at GITMO, all to make Bush look good. They all knew it. We knew they did, but now finding out specifically that Dr. Nakhleh specifically passed on the info in 2002, just hits you in the face one more time.

    Now put those Sup Ct appearances by Clement, and Comey’s Padilla press conf and Arar affidavits, and Gonzales and Ashcrofts protestations on torture, in their proper context.

    Mayer touches on how Radack was forced out and victimized for outing the lies to the court and destruction of evidence that DOJ has now made SOP (and walks the files that ended up with missing info back to Alice Fisher). And Chertoff certainly managed to keep his presence on that torture field trip to GITMO where so many earned their BS badges, secret for a long time, but not so much now. And it sounds like Mayers sources put Chertoff directly in on some of the torture program discussions.

    THe Canadian documents show Khadr was in the “Frequent Flyer” (moved every 3 hours, nonstop, for sleep deprivation) aka Operation Sandman, for THREE WEEKS, but just when you get your head around that, it now looks like Hamdan was in it for 50 days. All the people with no charges who aren’t having anyone get access to their files – who knows?

    And the men and women who were supposed to lead have so completely and thoroughly destroyed our justice system that nothing will ever happen. It’s hard to know which hurts more, the fact that depraved sychophants have so much power in our government, or the fact that those who knew better and could have been leaders chose milquetoast as their breakfast of champions.

  7. Leen says:

    Jesus Mary and Joseph the Repugs are all ready trying to put up road blocks. What do they need a bj to investigate? Enough

  8. WilliamOckham says:


    I’m going to have go do a conf. call (and I hope I get done before the Levin chat starts), but I’ve got a question about the Helgerson investigation. The timeline I’ve seen is that it was started in January 2003 and the draft finished by May 2004. However, I’ve analyzed the Vaughn index that the CIA produced for the ACLU’s FOIA request and the earliest document I can find that references the OIG investigation directly is dated 12/2/2003 (an interview report). There are only 4 documents listed that are clearly contemporaneous references to the OIG investigation that are dated before the draft’s release. There are many documents related to the OIG investigation after that date. Why is that?

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Cheney’s bullying of the CIA IG — again, activity for which there is no precedent, meaning that Bush allowed Cheney to run rampant wherever his nose takes him — would be consistent with Addington’s effective control over who staffed OLC, shutting down potential, program-threatening criticism and, in fact, obtaining a few forged hall passes. At least until the bump in the road from the Comey-Ashcroft hospital drama.

    It seems that Cheney was unable simply to replace that IG’s senior staff with more malleable personalities. Perhaps the pods don’t grow as well in McLean as they do in Foggy Bottom, or CIA’ers don’t sleep as much.

    And those demmed elusive bureaucrats and their pesky rules about the “independence” of IG’s and about protecting employees from political retribution for doing their jobs. As if their job was to do anything but protect the Usurper-in-Chief’s short, ample backside as he waddles through government with a pitchfork. Little wonder that high on Cheney’s list, once forming DHS couldn’t be avoided, was to prohit its employees from being union members. Creative destruction without the “creative” part.