May 20, 2022 / by 

 

They Really Don’t Want Us Learning About the Torture Tapes, Do They?

I noted several weeks ago that Bob Bennett sounded an awful lot like he was beginning to float excuses for his client, Jose Rodriguez, to ask for immunity before he testified before Congress.

The article also includes a clear signal from the masterful press manipulator, Bob Bennett, that he intends to advise his client John Jose Rodriguez to plead the Fifth.

Bennett told NEWSWEEK that his client had been "a dedicated and loy­al public servant for 31 years" and "has done nothing wrong." But he warned that Rodriguez may refuse to cooperate with investigators if he concludes that the probes are a "witch hunt." "I don’t want him to become a scapegoat."

In case you missed it, Bennett uses the same phrase Monica Goodling’s lawyer, John Dowd, used, "witch hunts," just before he snookered Congress into offering her immunity for a bunch of stuff that Congress already had evidence she was doing. As a reminder, Monica said almost nothing that incriminated Rove or Harriet and only sort of incriminated AGAG. But she managed to get herself immunity for "crossing the line" and politicizing DOJ’s hiring practices. Bennett’s use of precisely same language as Monica’s lawyer may be no accident.

Well, surprise, surprise! Bennett just told Congress he wants Rodriguez to receive immunity before he’ll testify before Congress (h/t maryo2).

Attorneys for Jose Rodriguez told Congress that the former CIA official won’t testify about the destruction of CIA videotapes without a promise of immunity, a person close to the tapes inquiry said Wednesday.

[snip]

Defense attorney Robert Bennett told lawmakers, however, that he would not let Rodriguez testify because of the criminal investigation into the case. Without a promise of immunity, anything Rodriguez said at the hearing could be used against him in court.

Of course, Bennett’s excuse has changed. Rather than use the tired excuse Monica Goodling used–she was the "victim" of a witchhunt–Bennett is using the even more tired Iran-Contra era excuse that, um, maybe Congress can get his client out of all criminal liability if Bennett pulls a fast one … ? But honest, Bennett’s not worried about any real criminal liability, nosiree.

Meanwhile, Judge Mark Kennedy has decided he trusts DOJ a lot more than Judge Mark Wolf does, and he doesn’t see the need to conduct an inquiry into why the CIA was destroying tapes that might have been relevant to cases before him.

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. said in a three-page ruling in Washington that a group of inmates being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "offer nothing to support their assertion that a judicial inquiry" is necessary into the tape destruction. He said neither of the detainees whose interrogations were taped and later destroyed has an apparent connection to the prisoners who were demanding the review.

Kennedy also wrote that he expects the Justice Department "will follow the facts wherever they may lead and live up to the assurances it made to this court."

So, let’s see. No Rodriguez testimony before Congress (hopefully, that is … did you know that Non CIA Rat is almost an anagram for Iran-Contra?), no Kennedy inquiry into the terror tapes. That DOJ investigation into the torture tapes is looking like a pretty good way to bury any discussion of the torture tapes for a good little while, isn’t it? Maybe even long enough for Bush to start pardoning people wildly in about a year, huh?


What Did Helgerson Do with the Torture Tapes?

I noted here that both Michael Hayden and John Helgerson are recusing themselves from the torture tape criminal investigation.

Hayden said in a statement today that he was recusing himself from any involvement in the new Justice investigation because of his past role in reviewing the tape destruction. "It is important to avoid the conflict of interest, or even the appearance of conflict of interest, that surely would arise if I were also involved in the ongoing investigation," Hayden said.

CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson announced that he also would recuse himself from the criminal inquiry to avoid a conflict of interest. Helgerson said he and his staff had "reviewed the tapes at issue some years ago," during the time when agency officials were debating whether to destroy them.

"During the coming weeks I anticipate describing fully the actions I and my office took on this matter to investigators from the executive and legislative branches," Helgerson said in a statement. "It is important to avoid the conflict of interest, or even the appearance of conflict of interest, that surely would arise if I were also involved in the ongoing investigation." [my emphasis]

Since Hayden wasn’t at CIA when the tapes were destroyed in 2005, I presume when he says he was involved in reviewing the tape destruction, he’s referring to his lead-up to sending a silly letter to CIA making transparent excuses for why the torture tapes were destroyed [Update: actually, I take that back. Hayden was Deputy DNI starting in April 2005, so early enough to be party to the summer 2005 discussions between John Negroponte, then DNI, and Porter Goss, in which Negroponte told Goss not to destroy the tapes]. I’ll come back to that in a second. But for now, I’m more interested in Helgerson’s reasons for recusing (I’d point out that if he has to recuse going forward, he should have already recused. But this is the Bush Administration, after all).

Helgerson notes he and his staffers "had ‘reviewed the tapes at issue some years ago,’ during the time when agency officials were debating whether to destroy them." The "time when agency officials were debating whether to destroy them" is generally described as February pr March 2003 (when CIA first pitched destroying them to the Gang of Four) through November 2005 (when they were destroyed). We also know there was a CIA briefing for the White House involving Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and John Bellinger in May 2004, not long after the Abu Ghraib scandal became public (but long after Gonzales, at least, was likely aware of the impending scandal).

In other words, Helgerson and his staff reviewed the torture tapes sometime between early 2003 and late 2005, quite possibly close to the time of that May 2004 White House briefing.

Which is rather significant, since that earlier period (2003 to 2004) coincides with the period when Helgerson’s office was also investigating the CIA’s interrogation program. Here’s a Doug Jehl story on the report that was published (will coinkydinks never cease?!?!?!) on November 9, 2005, within days of the torture tape destruction and apparently one day after the CIA issued a statement denying they torture (though the statement doesn’t appear in their collection of public statements from the period).

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.

[snip]

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.

The agency said in a written statement in March that "all approved interrogation techniques, both past and present, are lawful and do not constitute torture." It reaffirmed that statement on Tuesday, but would not comment on any classified report issued by Mr. Helgerson. The statement in March did not specifically address techniques that could be labeled cruel, inhuman or degrading, and which are not explicitly prohibited in American law.

The officials who described the report said it discussed particular techniques used by the C.I.A. against particular prisoners, including about three dozen terror suspects being held by the agency in secret locations around the world. They said it referred in particular to the treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is said to have organized the Sept. 11 attacks and who has been detained in a secret location by the C.I.A. since he was captured in March 2003. Mr. Mohammed is among those believed to have been subjected to waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and made to believe that he is drowning.

In his report, Mr. Helgerson also raised concern about whether the use of the techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability, the officials said. They said the report expressed skepticism about the Bush administration view that any ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under the treaty does not apply to C.I.A. interrogations because they take place overseas on people who are not citizens of the United States.

I’ve seen the report’s publication date as either April or May 2004–but in any case, at almost exactly the same time CIA briefed Addington, Gonzales, and Bellinger on the torture tapes. Which makes Helgerson’s claim that he "reviewed the tapes at issue" during that period particularly interesting. Helgerson’s report–which focuses on the treatment of a number of named detainees–may have relied on those torture tapes to form the judgment that the CIA was engaged in cruel and inhuman treatment. In fact, it’s even possible that the CIA briefing in May 2004 pertained not just to Abu Ghraib (which was, after all, a DOD operation, not a CIA one), but also to the fact that the CIA IG had just declared in a written report that the tactics used (and presumably shown in the tapes) amounted to illegal treatment of detainees.

So let’s review the coinkydinks, for a moment. John Helgerson published an IG report (possibly relying on the tapes) suggesting the CIA’s interrogation program may be illegal almost exactly contemporaneously with the date of CIA-White House briefing at which they discussed destroying the torture tapes. Then, one week after the Dana Priest story and several days after Brinkema’s inquiry on whether the government had any tapes from interrogations, the CIA issues a public statement denying it tortures. And the following day, voila! The most extensive discussion of the IG report comes out in the NYT. And, either shortly before or shortly after this newspaper article, the torture tapes are destroyed.

If Helgerson viewed the tapes and used them to conclude that the interrogations were illegal, it would sure explain one of the motivations for destroying the tapes.

But that’s not all. Recall that between the time that the first tapes were found (September 13, 2007) and the time when the NYT reported on the destruction of the tapes (December 6, 2007), Michael Hayden’s investigation into Helgerson became public (October 11, 2007, also in an article by Mazzetti and Shane).

A small team working for General Hayden is looking into the conduct of the agency’s watchdog office, which is led by Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Current and former government officials said the review had caused anxiety and anger in Mr. Helgerson’s office and aroused concern on Capitol Hill that it posed a conflict of interest.

The review is particularly focused on complaints that Mr. Helgerson’s office has not acted as a fair and impartial judge of agency operations but instead has begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.

[snip]

Some agency officers believe the aggressive investigations by Mr. Helgerson amount to unfair second guessing of intelligence officers who are often risking their lives in the field.

“These are good people who thought they were doing the right thing,” said one former agency official. “And now they are getting beat up pretty bad and they have to go out an hire a lawyer.”

That investigation (which was scuttled by Congress) sure looks like it pertained to Helgerson’s investigation of CIA interrogation methods. And Hayden’s investigation of Helgerson may well have coincided with Hayden’s "review of the tape destruction."

In other words, this investigation seems like nothing so much as the end product of a bloody Spook fight that follows up several skirmishes over the years.

Update: This, from Mazzetti and Johnston, appears to support my supposition that Helgerson’s investigation used the tapes in its determination that the CIA was engaged in cruel and inhuman treatment.

In an announcement on Wednesday, John Helgerson, the inspector general, said he would recuse himself from the investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Mr. Helgerson’s office had reviewed the videotapes, documenting the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, as part of an investigation into the agency ‘s secret detention and interrogation program.

The tapes are thought to portray the use of the technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning and which has widely been condemned as torture.

Mr. Helgerson completed his investigation into the program in early 2004. [my emphasis]


DOJ Launches a Criminal Probe into Torture Tapes

So says AP’s Matt Apuzzo:

"The Department’s National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Mukasey named John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to oversee the case.

Anyone know anything about John Durham?

Update: A profile on Durham here:

John H. Durham looked impatient, distracted and, odd as it might seem in the circumstance, privately amused by the spectacle of it all – which is to say, he looked pretty much like he usually looks.

He was in the cavernous new federal courthouse, off to the side of the podium, pinned down by reporters. Heavier hitters in law enforcement – drawn from their offices like moths to television lights – were looking serious and trying not to embarrass themselves while taking questions about Durham’s newest case. It involves nothing less than systemic corruption of an FBI office.

That Durham could have better explained his own case to the press is not to suggest that he is retiring. He is not. In a courtroom, prosecuting a defendant, he sometimes looks ready lunge at defense lawyers – if a 50-year-old lawyer trapped 16 hours a day in a cramped office can still lunge. He’ll clinch with anyone, anywhere. One year in Connecticut, as an assistant U.S. attorney, he put a third of New England’s mafia in jail. He has never lost a case.

[snip]

"He’s obviously a very fierce competitor," Cardinale said. "But he’s not a zealot. And he does it by the rules. He is very professional. He is courteous. I’ve been up against them all over the country and I’d put him in the top echelon of federal prosecutors. He’s such a decent guy you can’t hate him. That can make it hard to get motivated."

The view from within law enforcement is even less complicated.

"There is no more principled, there is no more better living, there is no finer person that I know of or have encountered in my life," said Richard Farley, a former assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Haven division. [my emphasis]

He certainly doesn’t look like a pushover. And given that he’s taken on the FBI, he knows how to go after Federal agencies.


Lying to Congress before the Torture Tapes

This morning I suggested that one reason the CIA destroyed the torture tapes was to protect the European countries in which the interrogations took place. I then showed that Mary McCarthy, who was fired from the CIA for allegedly serving as a source for Dana Priest’s black sites article, claims that a high level CIA official (who is likely to have been involved in the torture tape destruction) lied to Congress in the lead-up to the McCain Amendment and, therefore, in the lead-up to the destruction of the terror tapes. Now, I’d like to show how the lies alleged by McCarthy coincide with Jello Jay Rockefeller’s attempts to learn more about the CIA’s torture practices (I’ve updated my torture tapes timeline accordingly).

McCarthy alleges that a senior CIA official lied to Congress on two occasions. Once, to HPSCI (and particularly Jane Harman), in February 2005.

In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA’s detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat.

And once, to staffers of (presumably) SSCI, in June 2005:

A senior CIA official, meeting with Senate staff in a secure room of the Capitol last June, promised repeatedly that the agency did not violate or seek to violate an international treaty that bars cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees, during interrogations it conducted in the Middle East and elsewhere.

While Harman has only publicly noted her written objection to the terror tape destruction in 2003, Jello Jay has outlined his attempts to exercise oversight over the CIA’s torture.

In May 2005, I wrote the CIA Inspector General requesting over a hundred documents referenced in or pertaining to his May 2004 report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. Included in my letter was a request for the CIA to provide to the Senate Intelligence Committee the CIA’s Office of General Counsel report on the examination of the videotapes and whether they were in compliance with the August 2002 Department of Justice legal opinion concerning interrogation. The CIA refused to provide this and the other detention and interrogation documents to the committee as requested, despite a second written request to CIA Director Goss in September 2005.

It was during this 2005 period that I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. [my emphasis]

Jello Jay makes it clear that he, at least, had read the IG report on CIA’s interrogation programs by May 2005 (at least, that’s what the May 2004 document appears to be). Presumably, some of Jello Jay’s staffers at least knew of the report and its general allegations. And Jello Jay made two requests for documents referenced in the IG report–once in May 2005 (before the CIA official lied to SSCI staffers) and once in September 2005 (still two months before the CIA destroyed the tapes). Since Jello Jay appears to have been working from a copy of the IG report that apparently judges that CIA’s interrogation methods amount to cruel and inhuman treatment, the questions the SSCI staffers asked the senior CIA official were undoubtedly very pointed questions. In fact, note the description of the question relayed via McCarthy’s friends: the CIA official "promised repeatedly that the agency did not violate or seek to violate an international treaty that bars cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees" [my emphasis]. From reports of the IG report, that is precisely the language Helverson used.

A report by Mr. Helgerson’s office completed in the spring of 2004 warned that some C.I.A.-approved interrogation procedures appeared to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as defined by the international Convention Against Torture.

In other words, this CIA official appears to have been asked questions that directly pertain to material included in the IG report. But he appears to have denied facts that presumably are laid out in some detail in the report. And then, five months later, the CIA, possibly with the direct participation of this CIA official, decided to destroy tapes that proved he had lied to Congress.

But the CIA would have you believe that they destroyed the tapes to protect their own image.


Lawyering the Torture Tapes

I speculated, a week ago, that the Directorate of Operations lawyers who gave Jose Rodriguez the green light to destroy the torture tapes did not know of the outstanding court orders that would have covered the tapes.

Most importantly, it sounds like the Directorate of Operations lawyer who purportedly authorized the destruction of the tapes only said there was no legal reason not to do so.

Included in the paper trail is an opinion from a CIA lawyer assigned to the Clandestine Service that advises that there is no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes, according to both former and current officials. The document does not, however, directly authorize the tapes’ destruction or offer advice on the wisdom or folly of such a course of action, according to a source familiar with its contents, who declined to be identified discussing the controversial topic.

Which suggests this lawyer had no fucking clue that Judge Leonie Brinkema had asked the government about such tapes explicitly, within weeks of the time when the tapes were destroyed. I’m guessing that was by design–the only way they could figure out how to get a legal opinion defending the indefensible, the destruction of evidence.

Which is why I think the description in today’s NYT story on the torture tapes is so important.

The officials said that before [Jose Rodriguez] issued a secret cable directing that the tapes be destroyed, Mr. Rodriguez received legal guidance from two C.I.A. lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger. The officials said that those lawyers gave written guidance to Mr. Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.

The agency did not make either Mr. Hermes or Mr. Eatinger available for comment.

Current and former officials said the two lawyers informed the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, about the legal advice they had provided. But officials said Mr. Rodriguez did not inform either Mr. Rizzo or Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director, before he sent the cable to destroy the tapes.

“There was an expectation on the part of those providing legal guidance that additional bases would be touched,” said one government official with knowledge of the matter. “That didn’t happen.”

Look at the language of these two versions, taken together. Newsweek reports that Hermes and Eatinger offered "no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes" but did not "directly authorize the tapes’ destruction." NYT reports that they told Rodriguez that "he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws." Whether or not Hermes and Eatinger knew of the court orders and inquiries about torture tapes, their advice seems much more limited, perhaps discussing only the DO’s obligations regarding interrogation evidence in general. And even within that context, these lawyers appear not to have commented on the wisdom of destroying evidence on interrogations, which even aside from the court orders is a stupid idea. In other words, the NYT article adds support for my intuition that the legal opinion that everyone is claiming legalizes the destruction of the tapes was offered by two lawyers who may have been compartmented away from the discussions about the reasons not to destroy the tapes, and at the very least, may authorize the destruction of interrogation tapes in general, but possibly not these particular tapes.

And it is in that context that I’m most interested in the scoop-we-already-knew the story reports–the news that David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, John Bellinger, and Harriet Miers all participated in discussions of the torture tapes. After all, use of compartmentalization to gain legal authority for legally dubious acts has the all the hallmarks of David Addington’s work. So I think this story is as much about how these White House lawyers operated to ensure the destruction of the terror tapes as it is about who.

As to the implication that, if Gonzales and Addington were involved in the torture tapes, then so were Bush and Dick? I think this passage implies that Dick, at least, was part of the discussion.

One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. The former official did not specify which White House officials took this position, but he said that some believed in 2005 that any disclosure of the tapes could have been particularly damaging after revelations a year earlier of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Some other officials assert that no one at the White House advocated destroying the tapes. Those officials acknowledged, however, that no White House lawyer gave a direct order to preserve the tapes or advised that destroying them would be illegal. [my emphasis]

There are relatively few people who would merit the "top White House officials." Add in the consideration that those people would have a national security role, and you’re talking people like Condi, Scooter, Stephen Hadley. And Dick Cheney. If not Bush himself. So at least some sources are out there saying someone in the White House was actively lobbying to destroy this evidence. (Incidentally, it might be worth mentioning that Alberto Gonzales implemented the email policy that resulted in millions of lost emails, so he has a history of advocating the destruction of evidence.)

One more really important aspect of this story. Many stories that came out when this first broke named Harriet as the sole White House lawyer involved in the discussion of the torture tape. This story is perhaps most extensive in this same Newsweek article, which says that Harriet was involved for two years.

The CIA repeatedly asked White House lawyer Harriet Miers over a two-year period for instructions regarding what to do with "very clinical" videotapes depicting the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques on two top Al Qaeda captives, according to former and current intelligence officials familiar with the communications (who requested anonymity when discussing the controversial issue).

Now, that story doesn’t make sense entirely. After all Harriet wasn’t in a legal position for most of the two years in question, she was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Isikoff and Hosenball explained away that seeming oddity by saying the CIA wanted to deal with the political staff at the White House on this issue.

The reason CIA officials involved the White House and Justice Department in discussions about the disposition of the tapes was that CIA officials viewed the CIA’s terrorist interrogation and detention program—including the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques—as having been imposed on the agency by the White House. "It was a political issue," said the former official, and therefore CIA officials believed that the decision as to what to do with the tapes should be made at a political level, by Miers—a former personal lawyer to President Bush and later White House staff secretary and counsel—or someone else directly representing the president. [my emphasis]

Which amounts to a claim that the White House never engaged with this issue (at least not until 2005, when Harriet became White House Counsel) legally. The early Harriet story suggested–falsely–that the only White House involvement with the torture tapes was on the part of Harriet, and that primarily in a political role. It was a story that claimed the White House never weighed in, legally, on the destruction of the torture tapes. 

The NYT tells a different story. Not only does it list several lawyers–including Addington, who is really this Administration’s chief lawyer–who were involved in the discussion. But it states that Harriet may not have been involved until she became White House Counsel.

The only White House official previously reported to have taken part in the discussions was Ms. Miers, who served as a deputy chief of staff to President Bush until early 2005, when she took over as White House counsel. While one official had said previously that Ms. Miers’s involvement began in 2003, other current and former officials said they did not believe she joined the discussions until 2005.

It seems an early cover story for the torture tape destruction was to blame it–and any of the crappy legal advice–on Harriet Miers. Doing so makes her into the scapegoat and implies that the White House did not engage legally with this issue until she ascended to White House Counsel. But the NYT story debunks that cover story.

Now who do you think would want to pin this on poor Harriet?


Congress and the Torture Tapes

First, let me start with some congratulations. For once, Jane Harman appears to have been on the right side of an issue, in this case warning the CIA (in writing) not to destroy the torture tapes. She’s now demanding that Michael Hayden declassify that letter so we can all see it.

This matter must be promptly and fully investigated and I call for my letter of February 2003, which was never responded to and has been in the CIA’s files ever since, to be declassified.

Congratulations Jane. Glad to have you on the side of light and goodness for the moment.

Harman’s then-counterpart in the Senate (Harman is no longer in HPSCI, which is why she didn’t learn of the tapes when HPSCI did), Jello Jay Rockefeller, appears to have followed the CIA’s script they gave him–until he stopped to think or someone did so for him. On Thursday, as this news was coming out, Jello Jay released the following statement.

While we were provided with very limited information about the existence of the tapes, we were not consulted on their usage nor the decision to destroy the tapes. And, we did not learn until much later, November 2006 — 2 months after the full committee was briefed on the program — that the tapes had in fact been destroyed in 2005.

And then, yesterday he revealed that that story was what the CIA had told him, not what he knew or believed to be true or, more importantly, what the record proved.

Last night, the CIA informed me that it believes that the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee was told of the decision to destroy the tapes in February 2003 but was not told of their actual destruction until a closed committee hearing held in November 2006.

The committee has located no record of either being informed of the 2003 CIA decision or being notified late last year of the tapes having being destroyed. A review of the November 2006 hearing transcript finds no mention of tapes being destroyed.

No wonder Jello Jay always touts the CIA party line–his first instinct is to read from the script they give him.

Meanwhile, Crazy Pete Hoekstra, current Ranking Member of HPSCI, sounds remarkably like Dick Durbin. Here’s Durbin:

I urge you to investigate whether CIA officials who destroyed these videotapes and withheld information about their existence from official proceedings violated the law.

[snip]

The Executive Branch and the Congress need to decide how much they care about this question. If they want to get to the bottom of it, it’s pretty easy for people to dig up the relevant records and answer the questions that either officials of the Executive Branch or the Congress could pose.

Please notify me whether you intend to investigate the CIA’s destruction of detainee interrogation videotapes. Due to the gravity of this matter, I request that you respond as soon as possible, and in no case later than Wednesday, December 12.

And here’s Crazy Pete Hoekstra, who is currently Ranking Member of HPSCI and was Chair when the tapes were destroyed:

“I think the intelligence committee needs to get all over this,” said Mr. Hoekstra, who has been a strong supporter of the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program. “This raises a red flag that needs to be looked at.”

The stars are definitely aligned weirdly when Crazy Pete and Dick Durbin agree on something.

Crazy Pete and Silvestre Reyes are also apparently in agreement, and like Jello Jay, they’re calling bull (though unlike Jello Jay, they didn’t first read from the CIA script).

We are writing to seek a clarification from you on your unclassified statements concerning the destruction of videotapes made during detainee interrogations.

Specifically, your announcement to the CIA workforce, delivered on December 6, 2007, stated that “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.”

The implication of this statement is that Congress was fully informed as to the practice of videotaping interrogations and notified “years ago” as to the destruction of the videotapes.

Based upon available records and our best recollection, this simply is not true.

This Committee was not informed of the decision to destroy these videotapes until earlier this year. The notification came in the form of an offhand comment you made in response to a question during a briefing on March 14, 2007. The destruction was briefly mentioned again in a letter to one Member of this Committee dated April 19, 2007.

We do not consider this to be sufficient notification. Moreover, these brief mentions were certainly not contemporaneous with the decision to destroy the videotapes. [my emphasis]

I kind of like that: "We do not consider this to be sufficient notification." Uh huh.

So there you have the responses of all the Intelligence Committee past or present leadership involved, save two. There’s Porter Goss, who was DCI when the tapes were destroyed. AFAIK, Goss has not issued any statement himself, neither reflecting whether he was warning in 2003 about the destruction of the tapes, nor whether he knew of their eventual destruction in 2005. Instead, he’s got a bunch of people speaking for him.

As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Porter J. Goss, then a Republican congressman from Florida, was among Congressional leaders who warned the C.I.A. against destroying the tapes, the former intelligence officials said. Mr. Goss became C.I.A. director in 2004 and was serving in the post when the tapes were destroyed, but was not informed in advance about Mr. Rodriguez’s decision, the former officials said.

[snip]

At the time of the briefing in February 2003, the lawmakers who advised Mr. Muller not to destroy the tapes included both Mr. Goss and Representative Jane Harman of California, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Ms. Harman described her role on Friday. Mr. Goss’s role was described by former intelligence officials. [my emphasis]

It strikes me that there aren’t that many "former intelligence officials" who would have been present for both the initial Congressional briefing and within Porter Goss’ inner circle at CIA when the tapes were destroyed. Granted, Goss brought a bunch of his loyal flunkeys with him from Congress, but these former intelligence officials are really limited to Goss’ flunkeys and Goss himself. All of which makes me wonder whether Mazzetti’s sources for the larger story aren’t Goss’ flunkeys, which would really raise questions for me about their motivation. Almost as many questions as I’ve got about how Crazy Pete and Dick Durbin ended up on the same side of an issue. It’s enough to make you really be cautious about the politics involved in this story.

So that about covers it right? Wait, what? You mean there’s someone missing? You mean no one has mentioned Pat Roberts, shill extraordinaire and the Chair of SSCI during the briefings about the tapes in 2003, when the tapes were destroyed in 2005, and when the CIA claims it told SSCI that the tapes had been destroyed. How can that be? He’d be one of the first people I’d talk to!

Pat Roberts, who incidentally is up for re-election next year, seems to have gone to ground, which may suggest he’s not anxious to talk about his knowledge of the torture tapes.


Absence of Torture Tape Librarian a Feature, Not a Bug

I joked a few weeks ago, that the CIA needed a dedicated torture tape librarian. Well, it was no laughing matter. The NYT reports that the CIA intentionally destroyed the torture tapes of top Al Qaeda operatives.

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said. The C.I.A. said today that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made “within the C.I.A. itself,” and they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value. The agency was headed at the time by Porter J. Goss. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined this afternoon to comment on the destruction of the tapes.

Hmmm. Porter Goss. A partisan hack brought into CIA to destroy evidence. So he wasn’t tasked just to dismantle the agency?

I’m going to just throw some points out that you can think about when you read the article yourself–you really need to read the whole thing because it is breathtaking in its implications.

  • The timing of this leak was clearly intended to have one effect: to make it impossible for Bush to veto the bill prohibiting the CIA from torturing. Now let’s see if it accomplishes that goal.
  • Another note on timing? Paul Clement’s statements at SCOTUS yesterday were not proved wrong within 24 hours, as they were when he claimed, during the Padilla hearing, that we don’t torture. But this works about as well, I think, to make sure the Justices think long and hard about our gulag in Cuba.
  • The Judge in Moussaoui’s case, Leonie Brinkema, is not going to like this one bit; these are some of the tapes government lawyers claimed didn’t exist, and she’s already steaming mad that they misled her once.
  • General Hayden claims the leaders of Congressional Oversight committees were briefed. Who? Assuming they were briefed in 2005, it would be Pat Roberts and Crazy Pete Hoekstra, both up for re-election next year. Were Jello Jay and Jane Harman also briefed? Also–I presume they briefed these folks on the destroyed evidence in 2005, right in the middle of debates on torture. Any wonder why they didn’t brief Congress as a whole?
  • General Hayden claims the CIA stopped videotaping interrogations in 2002. Given the big to-do over declassifying their change in policy on photographing detainees, consider me skeptical.
  • Guess what? AG Mukasey has a mighty big headache on his hands, a clear case of obstruction of justice involving Goss and a bunch of other people. I guess we won’t have long to wait to see whether he’s willing to spike investigations for the Unitary Executive.

[Note, I’ve been making running updates, so this has changed.]


An Unknown Unknown Made Known Known

[NB: Check the byline, thanks./~Rayne]

Others have already “eulogized” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who passed away today at age 88 — an age many victims of his war crimes and unlawful warfare will never attain. I really don’t think I can add something cogent at this time to others’ remarks on Rumsfeld’s passing.

Instead of a “eulogy,” I’ll note this site published at least 50 posts tagged “Donald Rumsfeld,” nine more related to “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld“, and an entire category with more than 1,000 posts labeled “Torture” through which you can revisit Rumsfeld’s legacy, not to mention hundreds of posts under “torture tapes” and “torture tape.” (Obviously Rumsfeld leaves behind a mess of tagging and categorizing cleanup.) Don’t forget the Torture Tape Timeline.

For once I will heed the adage about saying nothing if you can’t say anything nice.

But this is nice:

Formez la deuxième ligne. Add your “eulogy” in comments below.


Gina Haspel Destroyed the Tapes in 2005 to Hide What She Destroyed in 2002

When Gina Haspel was testifying on Wednesday, she confused those of us who know the history of the torture tapes well. She made two claims that didn’t accord with the public record of the tapes that were destroyed. First, she said that only one detainee was depicted on the 92 tapes that got destroyed. Additionally, she said she, “didn’t appear on the tapes, as has been mischaracterized in the press.”

Yet as an inventory of the tapes shows, two of the tapes depicted Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, though those tapes were taped over every day.

So there should have been two tapes depicting Nashiri’s torture, and given that she oversaw his torture, there’s a good chance she’d appear on them.

When Charlie Savage asked CIA about the discrepancy, they pointed to a CIA IG review done of the tapes that showed a number of the tapes had been altered before the review.

“Gina Haspel supervised the torture of al-Nashiri, which raises the stakes on the question of whether there were or were not remaining tapes of his torture,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the A.C.L.U.’s national security project.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy, the C.I.A. pointed without comment to several pages of another document previously released under the Freedom of Information Act that discussed how the agency logged the contents of the 92 tapes before destroying them. It said 11 were blank, two were blank “except for one or two minutes of recording,” and “two were broken and could not be reviewed.”

In 2010, I noted that John Durham was clearly investigating two rounds of torture tape destruction: the second round, in 2005, when Gina Haspel helped her boss Jose Rodriguez destroy all the undamaged tapes. And the first round, in 2002 or 2003, when someone destroyed the evidence on what must be the most damning tapes.

As you recall, when the CIA IG reviewed the torture tapes in May 2003 (that is, five months after McPherson’s review), there were 15 tapes in some state of damage or erasure.

OIG found 11 interrogation tapes to be blank. Two others were blank except for one or two minutes of recording. Two others were broken and could not be reviewed. OIG compared the videotapes to logs and cables and identified a 21-hour period of time” which included two waterboard sessions” that was not captured on the videotapes.

You see, John Durham is investigating two incidents of torture tape destruction: the first, when in 2002 or 2003 someone removed evidence of two sessions of waterboarding (and potentially, the use of mock burial that would be declared torture by John Yoo) from the videotapes. And the second one, on November 8, 2005, when someone destroyed all the tapes, which not only destroyed evidence of waterboarding that violated the terms of the Bybee Two memo, but also destroyed evidence of the first round of destruction.

And John McPherson is likely the only person who can pinpoint when the first round of destruction occurred, before or after November-December 2002.

Now, all that doesn’t tell us precisely what Durham is after or whom, though I’d suggest he’s at least as interested in the people in the loop of the first round of destruction as the second.

As I said, it was not clear who he was after, the names of the people who had destroyed the tapes in the second round or in the first round.

But it appears CIA has now confirmed that: Gina Haspel. The CIA appears to be saying that Gina Haspel was the culprit both of those times.

And when she testified under oath on Wednesday that she supported destroying the tapes because the faces off officers appeared on the tapes, she was only partly telling the truth. It appears virtually certain (particularly given the focus on declassifying the Durham report so people can read his conclusions), she also supported destroying the tapes to hide the first round of destruction she had carried out. If so, she may have done so to hide the fact that her own face didn’t appear on the tapes, if it once had.

One more point: This makes Haspel’s enthusiasm for keeping torture in 2005-2007 all the more damning. Over two years earlier, Haspel appears to have destroyed evidence of how bad torture was. But she was still pushing to keep it even after hiding what she had done.


Gina Haspel’s Fluid Moral Compass

I expected to dislike Gina Haspel, but be impressed with her competence (the same view I always had about John Brennan). But she did not come off as competent in her confirmation hearing, in large part because the lies surrounding her career cannot be sustained.

Let’s start with the questions she didn’t answer (usually offering a non-responsive rehearsed answer instead). She refused to say:

  • Whether she believes, with the benefit of hindsight, torture was immoral.
  • If a terrorist tortured a CIA officer, whether that would be immoral.
  • Whether the torture program was consistent with American values.
  • Whether she oversaw the torture of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.
  • Whether she was in a role supervising torture before she became Jose Rodriguez’ Chief of Staff.
  • Whether she pushed to keep the torture program between 2005 and 2007 (see that question here).
  • Whether she would recuse from declassification decisions relating to her nomination.
  • Whether Dan Coats should oversee declassification decisions regarding her nomination.
  • Whether she has been alone with President Trump.
  • Whether she would tell Congress if he asked her for a loyalty oath.

She also answered that she didn’t think torture worked, but then hedged and said she couldn’t say that because we got evidence from it.

She did answer one question that went to the core of her abuse when she participated in the destruction of the torture tapes. She said she would consider it insubordination today if an officer bypassed her for something as substantive as destroying the tapes, as Jose Rodriguez did. But she as much as said she would have destroyed the tape much earlier, because of the security risk they posed to the officers who appeared in the videos.

Then there was the logical inconsistency of her presentation. Several Senators, including Mark Warner, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden, and Kamala Harris, complained about the selective declassification of information surrounding her confirmation. Haspel explained that she had to abide by the rules of classification just like everyone else. Not only was that transparent bullshit on its face (as Harris noted, the CIA released a great deal of information that revealed details of her operations), during the course of the hearing she provided details about her first meeting with an asset, Jennifer Matthews’ life and assignments, and a counter-drug program that also must be classified, and yet she was willing to simply blurt them out.

Perhaps most remarkable, though, is a key claim she made to excuse the destruction of the torture tape.

She claimed she did not recall which of the long list of entities that opposed the destruction of the torture tape she knew about at the time. That includes a move by Carl Levin to form a congressional commission to investigate torture. But on several occasions, she said that because the torture was covered in cable traffic, no other evidence needed to be kept.

That assumes, of course, that both the specific CIA cable and CIA cables generally are a fair rendition of any event CIA does (it’s not; in this case, and some videos were destroyed before the reviews finding them to match).

But when the Senate Intelligence Committee did a 6.700 page report based on the cables CIA used to describe their own torture, CIA wailed because SSCI didn’t interview the individual officers. Haspel effectively suggested that cables, in the absence of the torture tapes, would be sufficient for a congressional commission. Yet when Congress used cables to do an investigation of torture, CIA then claimed that was invalid.

When asked whether torture was moral, Haspel instead repeatedly insisted she has a sound moral compass. Except what her testimony made clear is that her idea of moral compass has everything to do with what is good for the CIA and its officers. It has absolutely nothing to do with traditional moral values. That’s not actually surprising. That’s what we ask of clandestine CIA officers: to break the rules normal people adhere to, in the name of serving our country, and to remain absolutely loyal to those whose lives are exposed in doing so.

Except today, Haspel proved unable to move beyond the fluid moral compass of a CIA officer to adopt a more stringent moral code of an official serving a democracy.

Copyright © 2022 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/page/5/?s=%22torture+tape%22