As a number of outlets have reported, the Second Circuit last month upheld the government’s effort to keep a March 29, 2002 OLC memo pertaining to targeted killing secret; the opinion was unsealed yesterday. The government is probably doing so to keep changes in their rationale for why assassinations don’t violate the prohibition on assassination in EO 12333 secret.
The judges on the panel — especially Judge Jon Normand, who wrote the opinion — had pushed during an ex parte hearing in June to release language in that earlier memo because the dog & pony show around drone strikes in 2012 to 2013 had used closely related language. But after some more secret briefing, the court decided the application of EO 12333 was different enough such that it remained properly protected.
It seems highly likely the specific part of EO 12333 under discussion pertains to the assassination ban. Between the earlier hearing and the opinion, the court pointed to language in the March 25, 2010 Harold Koh speech, the March 5, 2012 Eric Holder speech, and the April 30, 2012 John Brennan speech on targeted killing (they also pointed to two Panetta comments). Each of the cited speeches discusses the assassination ban — and little else that might directly pertain to EO 12333, besides just generally covert operations authorized under Article II. There’s this language in Koh’s speech.
Fourth and finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”
This language in Holder’s speech,
Some have called such operations “assassinations.” They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced. Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.
And this language in Brennan’s speech.
In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces are legitimate military targets. We have the authority to target them with lethal force just as we targeted enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as German and Japanese commanders during World War II.
But even though all these public speeches commented on this interpretation of the assassination ban, the 2nd Circuit still permitted the government to shield the earlier memo.
The transcript of the June ex parte hearing reveals one explanation for that: the earlier memo was a “far broader interpretation” of the issue.
Although the district court noted that the OLC-DOD Memorandum released by this Court contained a “brief mention” of Executive Order 12,333, the district court concluded that the analysis in the March 2002 Memorandum is significantly different from any legal analysis that this Court held has been officially disclosed and for which privilege has been waived.
In other words, while the earlier memo discusses the same aspect of EO 12333 as these public speeches (again, the assassination ban is by far the most likely thing), the earlier memo uses significantly different analysis, and so it may be hidden.
The June transcript also reveals that OLC lawyers reviewed and wrote on the 2002 memo at a later time — the implication being that someone in OLC reviewed the earlier memo in 2010 when writing the Awlaki one (and curiously, that hard copy with handwritten notes is the only one DOJ claims it can find).
There are two things I find increasingly interesting about this earlier memo about EO 12333 — including at least one part presumably about the assassination ban. First, the implication that one of the lawyers reviewing it in 2010 saw the need to write a new memo (perhaps seeing the need to clean up yet more crazy John Yoo language? who knows). As I repeat endlessly, we know there’s a memo of uncertain date in which Yoo said the President could pixie dust the plain language of EO 12333 without changing the public language of it, and it’s possible this is what that memo did (though the President was clearly pixie dusting surveillance rules).
But I’m also interested in the date: March 29, 2002. The day after we captured Abu Zubaydah (who, at the time, top officials at least claimed to believe was a top leader of al Qaeda). The SSCI Torture Report made it clear the CIA originally intended to disappear detainees. Were they planning to execute them? If so, what stopped things?
In any case, CIA won its battle to hide this earlier discussion so we may never know. But it appears that DOJ may have felt the need to think thing through more seriously before drone assassinating a US citizen. So there is that.
David Cole persists in reading some selected documents in isolation from a far more extensive record and patting himself on the back that he has discovered what many of us have been saying for years: that some in the White House were also responsible for torture. But along the way he entirely misses the point.
I will return to the documents that have so entranced Cole at a later time (several other issues are more pressing right now). But for now, here are some significant problems with his latest.
Cole once again presents the CIA Saved Lives site as some mysterious cache, in spite of the fairly clear genealogy and the WSJ op-ed signed by a bunch of people who managed torture introducing it.
The documents, which were uploaded to a mysterious website by the name of ciasavedlives.com, provide dramatic new details about the direct involvement of senior Bush administration officials in the CIA’s wrongs.
It’s as if Cole has never heard of PR and therefore absolves himself of presenting this as a fourth self-interested viewpoint, that of those who managed the torture — the other three being SSCI Dems plus McCain, SSCI Republicans, and official CIA — which doesn’t even encapsulate all the viewpoints that have been or should be represented in a complete understanding of the program.
And so Cole accepts that the narrative presented here is a transparent portrayal of the truth of the torture program rather than — just like the SSCI report, the CIA response, the CIA IG Report, the SASC Report, and the OPR Report — one narrative reflecting a viewpoint.
As a result, some of the conclusions Cole draws are just silly.
Back when his new CIA-friendly opinion was in its early stages at the NYT, Cole accepted as a fair critique (as do I) that Abu Zubaydah’s torture started well before the SSCI report considered, in April with his extreme sleep deprivation and not August when the waterboarding program started (if we can believe CIA records).
The committee contended that the most useful information from Mr. Zubaydah actually came while the F.B.I. was questioning him, using noncoercive tactics before he was waterboarded. But the C.I.A. points out that Mr. Zubaydah had been subjected to five days of sleep deprivation, a highly coercive and painful tactic, when the F.B.I. interrogated him.
I’d actually say — and Cole should, given that elsewhere in his NYT piece he admits we should also look at the torture done in foreign custody — that the timeline needs to come back still further, to Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s torture in January and February 2002, using the very same techniques that would be used with Abu Zubaydah, in Egyptian custody but with CIA officers present (and, importantly, authorized by the same Presidential finding). But once you do that, Cole’s depiction of the original approval process for the program becomes nonsensical.
Even though the program had been approved at its outset by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2002 and by Attorney General John Ashcroft in August 2002,
Of course, all that points back to a place that Cole so studiously avoids it’s hard to imagine it’s not willful, to the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification that CIA and SSCI both agree (though the CIAsavedlives leaves out) authorized this program. (President Obama also went to some length to hide it from 2009 to 2012, when he was busy using it to kill Anwar al-Awlaki.)
Condi didn’t give primary approval for this (and the record is not as clear as Cole claims in any case). President Bush did, months earlier, well before the February 7, 2002 date where CIAsavedlives starts its narrative. And that’s the detail from which the momentum endorsing torture builds (and the one that a Constitutional law professor like Cole might have far more productive input on than details that he appears to be unfamiliar with).
I’m not trying to protect Condi here — I believe I once lost a position I very much wanted because I hammered her role in torture when others didn’t. But I care about the facts, and there is no evidence I know (and plenty of evidence to the contrary) to believe that torture started with Condi (there is plenty of reason to believe CIA would like to implicate Condi, however).
Cole goes onto rehearse the three times CIA got White House officials to reauthorize torture, two of which were reported years and years ago (including some limited document releases) but which he seems to have newly discovered. In doing so, he simply takes these documents from the CIA — which has been shown to have manipulated documents about briefings in just about every case — on faith.
Dan Froomkin pointed out some of the problems with the documents — something which Cole has already thrown up his hands in helplessness to adjudicate.
The new documents don’t actually refute any of the Senate report’s conclusions — in fact, they include some whopper-filled slides that CIA officials showed at the White House.
But the slides also contained precisely the kind of statements that the Senate report showed were inaccurate:
While it doesn’t excuse White House actions, the CIA demonstrably lied about the efficacy of the program. It’s not that the White House was being told they were approving a torture program that had proven counterproductive. They were told, falsely, they were approving a program that was the one thing that could prevent another attack and that it had already saved lives. That is, the people approving the torture were weighing American lives against respecting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s human rights, based on inaccurate information. And note — as the image above shows — the torture managers aren’t revealing what implicit threats they made if Bush’s aides didn’t reapprove torture (though elsewhere they make it clear they said ending torture might cause “extensive” loss of life), which is significant given that the next year they claimed they had to torture to prevent election year plotting that turned out to be based partly on a fabrication.
Those aren’t the only known lies in the documents. Take the record of the July 29, 2003 briefing and accompanying slides. Among the whoppers — even according to CIA’s own documents! — that appear are:
The fact that the CIA misrepresented how many times both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been waterboarded is significant, because that’s also related to the dispute about whether Muller’s account of the meeting was accurate. According to John Ashcroft, Muller misrepresented his comments to mean that CIA could waterboard more than had been approved in the Techniques memo, whereas what he really said is that CIA could use the techniques approved in that memo with other detainees. This does not mean — contrary to Cole’s absurd insinuation — that “Ashcroft is my hero.” It means there is a public dispute on this issue. Cole has gone from refusing to adjudicate disputes to simply taking CIA’s word on faith, in spite of the well-documented problems — even based entirely on CIA’s own documents — with their own accounts of briefings they gave.
Note, too, that whether the Abu Zubaydah memo could be used with other detainees was being discussed in 2003, when even by CIA’s count it had already subjected 13 more detainees to torture, is itself telling.
Finally, the Legal Principles are worth special note. They were, per the CIA IG Report, the OPR Report, and declassified documents, one key tension behind this July 29, 2003 briefing. As the record shows, DOJ permitted CIA’s IG to develop the agency’s own fact set about the violations that had occurred by January 2003 to determine whether doing things like mock execution with Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri and killing Gul Rahman were crimes. So CIA set about writing up its own summary of Legal Principles DOJ had given it — it claimed to John Helgerson — with the help of John Yoo and Jennifer Koester (but not, at least according to Jack Goldsmith, the involvement of Jay Bybee or the review of other OLC lawyers, which would be consistent with other facts we know as well as Bybee’s sworn testimony to Congress). That is, CIA was basically writing its own law on torture via back channel to OLC. The record shows that on several occasions, CIA delivered those documents as a fait accompli, only to have DOJ lawyers object to either some provisions or the documents as a whole. The record also shows that CIA used the memos to expand on authorized techniques (something the DOD torture memo process in 2003 also did) to include some of the ones they had used but hadn’t been formally approved by DOJ. That is, one tension underlying this meeting that Cole doesn’t discuss is that some in DOJ were already trying to limit CIA’s own claims to authorization, which devolved in part to a debate over whether bureaucratic manipulation counts as approval.
I raise all this because it gets at the underlying tension, one which, I suspect, created a kind of momentum that doesn’t excuse those involved but probably explains it. Very early after 9/11, certain people at CIA and in the White House decided to affirmatively torture. Torture started — and the Iraq War was justified — early, long before Cole presents. But at each step, that momentum — that need to, at a minimum, protect not only those who had acted on the President’s orders but also the President himself — kept it going such that by 2004, CIA had an incentive to torture Janat Gul just for the sake of having an excuse to torture again (and having an excuse to get Jay Rockefeller to buy off on torture for what appears to have been the first time).
It’s that very same momentum — the need to protect those who tortured pursuant to a President’s order, as well as the office of the presidency itself — that prevents us from holding anyone accountable for torture now. Because ultimately it all comes down to the mutual embrace of complicity between the President and the CIA. That’s why we can’t move beyond torture and also why we can’t prevent it from happening again.
Cole and I agree that there are no heroes in the main part of the narrative (though there were people who deserve credit for slowing the momentum, and outside this main part of the narrative, there were, indeed, heroes, people who refused to participate in the torture who almost always paid a price). What he is absolutely incorrect about, given the public record he is apparently only now discovering, is that CIA did manipulate some in the White House and DOJ and Congress, to cover their ass. I don’t blame them, They had been ordered to torture by the President, and had good reason not to want to be left holding the bag, and as a result they engaged in serial fraud and by the end, crimes, to cover their collective asses. But the evidence is, contrary to Cole’s newly learned helplessness to investigate these issues, that CIA lied, not only lied but kept torturing to protect their earlier torture.
All that said, Cole’s intervention now is not only laughably credulous to the CIA. But it also is not the best use to which he could put his soapbox if his goal is to stop torture rather than do CIA’s bidding.
First, we actually have no idea what went on at the White House because on President Obama’s request though not formal order, CIA withheld the documents that would tell us that from SSCI. Why not spend his time calling for the release of those documents rather than parroting CIA propaganda credulously? I suspect Obama would take Professor Cole’s calls to release the documents CIA protected at the behest of the White House more seriously than he has taken mine. Let’s see what really happened in discussions between CIA and the White House, in those documents the White House has worked hard to suppress.
Just as importantly, though Cole has not mentioned it in any of his recent interventions here, what appears to have set the momentum on torture rolling (as well as the execution of an American citizen with no due process) is the abuse of covert operation authority. This is something that a prestigious Constitutional law professor might try to solve or at least raise the profile of. Can we, as a democracy, limit the Article II authority of the President to order people to break the law such that we can prevent torture?
Because if not, it doesn’t matter who we blame because we are helpless to prevent it from happening again.
One curious revelation in the Torture Report is the specific stories invented by the torturers. One of those is the oft-repeated claim that Abu Zubaydah said detainees were only permitted to start talking after they had reached the limits of their ability to endure torture.
The CIA has consistently represented that Abu Zubaydah stated that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were necessary to gain his cooperation. For example, the CIA informed the OLC that:
As Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques,’brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have ‘reached the limit of their ability to withhold it’ in the face of psychological and physical hardships.
As is described in greater detail in the full Committee Study, CIA records do not support the CIA representation that Abu Zubaydah made these statements.229 CIA records indicate that Abu Zubaydah maintained that he always intended to talk and never believed he could withhold information from interrogators.230 In February 2003, Abu Zubaydah told a CIA psychologist that he believed prior to his capture that every captured “brother” would talk in detention and that he told individuals at a terrorist training camp that “brothers should be able to expect that the organization will make adjustments to protect people and plans when someone with knowledge is captured.”231
229 While there no records of Abu Zubaydah making these statements, the deputy chief of ALEC Station, [redacted, Alfreda Bikowsky] told the Inspector General on July 17, 2003, that the “best information [the CIA] received on how to handle the [CIA] detainees came from a walk-in [a source [redacted] to volunteer information to the CIA] after the arrest of Abu Zubaydah. He told us we were underestimating Al-Qa’ida. The detainees were happy to be arrested by the U.S. because they got a big show trial. When they were turned over to [foreign governments], they were treated badly so they talked. Allah apparently allows you to talk if you feel threatened. The [CIA] detainees never counted on being detained by us outside the U.S. and being subjected to methods they never dreamed of.” See [redacted] Memorandum for the Record; subject: meeting with deputy chief, Counterterrorist Center ALEC Station; date: 17 July 2003.
More interesting still, CIA claimed that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said the US was weak and would not do what is necessary — purportedly meaning, torture — to combat al Qaeda.
The CIA representation that Abu Zubaydah “expressed [his] belief that the general US population was ‘weak,’ lacked resilience, and would be unable to ‘do what was necessary’ to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their goals” is not supported by CIA records.1190
On August 30, 2006, a CIA officer from the CIA’s al-Qa’ida Plans and Organization Group wrote: “we have no records that ‘he declared that America was weak, and lacking in resilience and that our society did not have the will to ‘do what was necessary’ to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their goals.'”1191 In a CIA Sametime communication that same day, a CIA ALEC Station officer wrote, “I can find no reference to AZ being deifant [sic] and declaring America weak… in fact everything I have read indicated he used a non deifiant [sic] resistance strategy.” In response, the chief of the [redacted] Department in CTC, [redacted], wrote: “I’ve certainly heard that said of AZ for years, but don’t know why….” The CIA ALEC Station officer replied, “probably a combo of[deputy chief of ALEC Station, [redacted, Alfreda Bikowsky] and [redacted]. I’ll leave it at that.” The chief of the Department completed the exchange, writing “yes, believe so… and agree, we shall pass over in silence.”1192
Finally, the CIA attributed to KSM,along with Abu Zubaydah, the statement that “the general US population was ‘weak,’ lacked resilience, and would be unable to ‘do what was necessary’ to prevent the teiTorists from succeeding in their goals.”1265 There are no CIA operational or interrogation records to support the representation that KSM or Abu Zubaydah made these statements.
It seems to suggest both of these claims came from Alfreda Bikowsky, who was Deputy Chief of ALEC station in this period. Indeed, it suggests that others within CIA believed she (and someone else, whose name is redacted) made that up.
These aren’t the only oft-repeated stories the report says were made up (others include the claim that Abu Zubaydah wrote the al Qaeda manual, which was always so problematic it’s surprising it lasted this long).
But I find it interesting that Bikowsky, in particular, seems to have been inventing this kind of trash talking from al Qaeda. Trash talking that served to justify torture.
Back in 2010, I pointed out a key problem with Jay Bybee lawyer Maureen Mahoney’s defense of Bybee’s endorsement of the torture memos.
Mahoney spends three pages of her response (PDF pages 81 to 84) trying to justify the Bybee Memo’s unsupported reliance on a ticking time bomb scenario. After spending most of the discussion focusing on whether self-defense was viable in court (asserting, “the Memo’s intended audience would have been well aware that a ticking time bomb scenario had yet not been tested in the U.S. courts”), Mahoney tries to refute the OPR Report’s argument that the ticking time bomb scenario was not a real world scenario.
OPR states that the Memo should have discussed a real world situation in which a defendant could prove that he reasonably anticipated that torture would produce information directly responsible for preventing an immediate impending attack. But see id. at 31 n.17 (mentioning the ticking time bomb scenario as precisely such a real world situation)46
Which connects to this footnote.
Indeed, the OLC attorneys working on the 2002 Memo had been briefed on the apprehension of Jose Padilla on May 8, 2002. Padilla was believed to have built and planted a dirty bomb-a radiological weapon which combines radioactive material with conventional explosives-in New York City. It is easy for OPR, seven years removed from the horror of 9/11 to scoff at the notion of a ticking time bomb scenario, but the context in which these memos were written simply cannot be forgotten.
In other words, Maureen Mahoney, with a metaphorical straight face, points to the claim that Jose Padilla had “was believed to have built and planted a dirty bomb” to support her claim that the ticking time bomb is a realistic scenario!
Jose Padilla, of course, was arrested based on claims made by Abu Zubaydah. The dirty bomb claim–particularly the claim that Padilla had planted a dirty bomb, as opposed to just discussed the idea with Abu Zubaydah–seems to have come as a result of Abu Zubaydah’s torture. That torture was retroactively authorized by a memo signed by Maureen Mahoney’s client.
And now Mahoney is using evidence derived from that torture to argue that the claims in that memo were justified.
That’s one of the claims the Torture Report debunks.
This information was inaccurate. (181)
The Abu Zubaydah section makes clear he never believed Jose Padilla could carry out a dirty bomb attack.
Abu Zubaydah stated he did not believe the plan was viable and did not know the names of the two individuals, but provided physical descriptions of the pair. This information was acquired after Abu Zubaydah was confronted with emails indicating that he had sent the two individuals to KSM. (29)
The apologists want credit for this because it happened after AZ had begun to be subjected to sensory deprivation.
So even the torture apologists point to the ticking time bomb as a success, but in pointing to it they point to a warning that it wasn’t really a plot.
Which it wasn’t.
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.
Partly by design, the debate about torture that has already started in advance of tomorrow’s Torture Report release is focused on efficacy, with efficacy defined as obtaining valuable intelligence. Torture apologists say torture provided intelligence that helped to find Osama bin Laden. Torture critics refute this, noting that any intelligence CIA got from those who were tortured either preceded or long post-dated the torture.
Even setting aside my belief that, even if torture “worked” to elicit valuable intelligence, it still wouldn’t justify it, there’s a big problem with pitching the debate in those terms.
As the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on torture (released over 5 years ago, in far less redacted form than tomorrow’s summary will be) makes clear, the Bush regime embraced torture not for “intelligence” but for “exploitation.” In December 2001, when DOD first started searching for what would become torture, it was explicitly looking for “exploitation.”
As Administration lawyers began to reconsider U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions, the DoD Office of the General Counsel also began seeking information on detention and interrogation. In December 2001, the DoD General Counsel’s office contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for information about detainee “exploitation.
And as a footnote explaining that reference makes clear, “interrogation is only one part of the exploitation process.”
Some other things exploitation is used for — indeed the very things the torture we reverse-engineered for our own torture program was used for — are to help recruit double agents and to produce propaganda.
And we have every reason to believe those were among the things all incarnations of our torture were used for. We tortured in Abu Ghraib because we had no sources in the Iraqi resistance and for some reason we believed sexually humiliating men would shame them into turning narcs for the US.
Sami al-Hajj, the Al-Jazeera journalist held at Gitmo for 6 years, says the US wanted him to spy on ties between that outlet and al Qaeda for them.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, three people, and one translator. And they told me, “Your story is clear. You don’t have anything. But you are now in Guantánamo, and we wait until we get some decisions from Pentagon to release you. Until that time, we want you to be patient and to cooperate with our people.” Later on, someone, he came, and they told me, “You are here to preparing you to cooperate with us in future.” I told him, “What that means?” He said, “You said in Kandahar you are ready to cooperate with us.” I told him, “Yes, I said that. But I said that I mean by ‘cooperate’ to answer question, not to work with you.” He said, “No, we understand you want to be with us, work with us.” And they starting give me some offer to give me a U.S.A. nationality and take care about my family, if I work with them in CIA to continue my job being journalist with Al Jazeera, just send for them some information about the link between Al Jazeera and al-Qaeda and the terrorist people and some people in the Middle East. Of course, I refused to do that. I told them, “I’m journalist, and I will die as a journalist. I will never work as a work, and just only journalist.”
And while I question whether we’ll ever learn the truth about Hassan Ghul, he reportedly agreed to infiltrate al Qaeda for us after we tortured him before he flipped back and got killed in a drone strike.
So one reason the CIA and DOD embraced torture was in hope of recruiting people to become our spies.
The propaganda value of torture, however, will receive far less attention still, because the implications of it are truly horrible. All reports about our torture assume that we “knew” the answers we wanted because we were stupid — we assumed al Qaeda had more plots than they did, or had grander plans than they did.
Or had ties with Iraq.
But when we consider the case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, whose torture-induced claim al Qaeda had ties to Iraq’s WMD programs helped drag us into Iraq,
According to al-Libi, the foreign government service [redacted] “stated that the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq. … This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm.” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, alLibi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”216
(U) Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa’ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that “this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice the 50 square centimeter box and given food.”217
And when you consider that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri claimed his torturers told him he had to claim Osama bin Laden had nukes,
>Number six. Usama bin Laden having a nuclear bomb. [REDACTED]. Then they used to laugh. Then they used to tell me you need to admit to those information. So I used to invent some of the stuff for them to say Usama bin laden had a, had a nuclear bomb. And they use to laugh and they were very happy. They were extremely happy because of the news. Then after that I told them, listen. He has no bomb.
When you consider under torture Abu Zubaydah turned Jose Padilla’s web searches into an active dirty bomb plot.
And when you consider that Dick Cheney wanted to have Iraqi Mukhabarat member Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi waterboarded because he was sure he knew of the tie between Iraq and al Qaeda,
At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.
Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”
Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.
Then it raises the really horrible possibility that Cheney pushed torture because it would produce the stories he wanted told. It would be difficult to distinguish whether Cheney believed this stuff and therefore that’s what the torture produced or whether Cheney wanted these stories told and that’s what the torture produced.
As Steven Kleinman said in an important Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye story on this subject, the torture CIA used was designed to get false confessions, not accurate information.
“This is the guidebook to getting false confessions, a system drawn specifically from the communist interrogation model that was used to generate propaganda rather than intelligence,” Kleinman said in an interview. “If your goal is to obtain useful and reliable information this is not the source book you should be using.”
The people who approved torture had the means of knowing — should have known — it would elicit false confessions. It’s just that no one can prove whether that was the entire point or not.
In this respect, then, the debate we’ll resume tomorrow is similar to the debate about the phone dragnet, where the government has not fully described the purposes it serves (indeed, in both cases, the government is hiding their use of the program to obtain spies).
It’s not just a question of whether torture is “effective” at obtaining intelligence. It’s also whether the entire point of it was to produce spies and propaganda.
At the request of some on Twitter, I’m bringing together a Twitter rant of some facts on torture here.
1) Contrary to popular belief, torture was not authorized primarily by the OLC memos John Yoo wrote. It was first authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification (that is, a Presidential Finding) crafted by Cofer Black. See details on the structure and intent of that Finding here. While the Intelligence Committees were briefed on that Finding, even Gang of Four members were not told that the Finding authorized torture or that the torture had been authorized by that Finding until 2004.
2) That means torture was authorized by the same Finding that authorized drone killing, heavily subsidizing the intelligence services of countries like Jordan and Egypt, cooperating with Syria and Libya, and the training of Afghan special forces (the last detail is part of why David Passaro wanted the Finding for his defense against abuse charges — because he had been directly authorized to kill terror suspects by the President as part of his role in training Afghan special forces).
3) Torture started by proxy (though with Americans present) at least as early as February 2002 and first-hand by April 2002, months before the August 2002 memos. During this period, the torturers were operating with close White House involvement.
4) Something happened — probably Ali Soufan’s concerns about seeing a coffin to be used with Abu Zubaydah — that led CIA to ask for more formal legal protection, which is why they got the OLC memos. CIA asked for, but never got approved, the mock burial that may have elicited their concern.
5) According to the OPR report, when CIA wrote up its own internal guidance, it did not rely on the August 1, 2002 techniques memo, but rather a July 13, 2002 fax that John Yoo had written that was more vague, which also happened to be written on the day Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination on torture prosecutions.
6) Even after CIA got the August 1, 2002 memo, they did not adhere to it. When they got into trouble — such as when they froze Gul Rahman to death after hosing him down — they went to John Yoo and had him freelance another document, the Legal Principles, which pretend-authorized these techniques. Jack Goldsmith would later deem those Principles not an OLC product.
7) During both the August 1, 2002 and May 2005 OLC memo writing processes, CIA lied to DOJ (or provided false documentation) about what they had done and when they had done it. This was done, in part, to authorize the things Yoo had pretend-authorized in the Legal Principles.
8) In late 2002, then SSCI Chair Bob Graham made initial efforts to conduct oversight over torture (asking, for example, to send a staffer to observe interrogations). CIA got Pat Roberts, who became Chair in 2003, to quash these efforts, though even he claims CIA lied about how he did so.
9) CIA also lied, for years, to Congress. Here are some details of the lies told before 2004. Even after CIA briefed Congress in 2006, they kept lying. Here is Michael Hayden lying to Congress in 2007
10) We do know that some people in the White House were not fully briefed (and probably provided misleading information, particularly as to what CIA got from torture). But we also know that CIA withheld and/or stole back documents implicating the White House. So while it is true that CIA lied to the White House, it is also true that SSCI will not present the full extent of White House (read, David Addington’s) personal, sometimes daily, involvement in the torture.
11) The torturers are absolutely right to be pissed that these documents were withheld, basically hanging them out to dry while protecting Bush, Cheney, and Addington (and people like Tim Flanigan).
12) Obama’s role in covering up the Bush White House’s role in torture has received far too little attention. But Obama’s White House actually successfully intervened to reverse Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s attempt to release to ACLU a short phrase making it clear torture was done pursuant to a Presidential Finding. So while Obama was happy to have CIA’s role in torture exposed, he went to great lengths, both with that FOIA, with criminal discovery, and with the Torture Report, to hide how deeply implicated the Office of the President was in torture.
Bonus 13) John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004.
I said yesterday that the plan, going as far back as 2002, was to let CIA and FBI tap right into NSA’s data. I base that on this explanation from Keith Alexander, which he included in his declaration accompanying the End to End Report that was submitted sometime after October 30, 2009.
By the fall of 2002, the Intelligence Community had grown increasingly concerned about the potential for further attacks on the United States. For example, during 10 to 24 September 2002, the Government raised the homeland security threat condition to “orange,” indicating a high likelihood of attack. In this context, in October 2002 the Directors of NSA, CIA, and FBI established an Inter-Agency Review Group to examine information sharing [redacted] The group’s top recommendation was that NSA create a common target knowledge database to allow joint research and information exchanges [redacted].
Of course, we now know that the threat level was high in September 2002 because the government was chasing down a bunch of false leads from Abu Zubaydah’s torture.
Abu Zubaida’s revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological “dirty bomb” in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.
“We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official said.
In other words, the justification for creating a database where CIA and FBI could directly access much of NSA’s data was a mirage, one created by CIA’s own torture.
All that’s separate from the question of whether CIA and FBI should have access directly to NSA’s data. Perhaps it makes us more responsive. Perhaps it perpetuates this process of chasing ghosts. That’s a debate we should have based on actual results, not the tortured false confessions of a decade past.
But it’s a testament to two things: the way in which torture created the illusion of danger, and the degree to which torture — and threat claims based on it — have secretly served as the basis the Executive uses to demand the FISA Court permit it to extend the dragnet.
Even the current CIA Director has admitted this to be true — though without explicitly laying out the import of it. Isn’t it time we start acknowledging this — and reassessing the civil liberties damage done because of it — rather than keeping it hidden under redactions?
Earlier today, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to pay Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri a combined total of 230,000 Euros for facilitating the torture suffered at Stare Kiejkuty.
The court found Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent torture, ensure the right to liberty, and properly investigate allegations a crime had been committed on its territory.
It ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri 100,000 euros in damages and 130,000 euros to Zubaydah.
“The ruling of the tribunal in Strasbourg on CIA jails is embarrassing for Poland and is a burden both in terms of our country’s finances as well as its image,” said Joanna Trzaska-Wieczorek, a spokeswoman for the Polish president.
Of course, that Poland hosted one of CIA’s black sites is not breaking news at all. We’ve known it for years.
But this is an official judgment affirming that to be true. Finally, a court has called America’s torture torture.
The judgment comes as the CIA dawdles over declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. One reason for the delay, prior reporting has said, comes from a desire to protect our foreign partners in crimes — notably the UK and Poland.
So now that Poland’s role has been confirmed, can we please get the torture report?
By my count, John Rizzo completes his first lie in his purported “memoir,” Company Man, at the 64th word:
Zubaydah complained in his diary (see page 84) before he was captured in 2002 that he was being called Osama bin Laden’s heir when he wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda. And in his Combatant Status Review Board hearing in 2007 (see page 27), Zubaydah described his interrogators admitting he wasn’t Al Qaeda’s number 3, not even a partner. And in a 2009 habeas document the government calls Zubaydah an Al Qaeda affiliate, not a member (see 35 to 36 and related requests).
And yet Rizzo tells this lie right in the first paragraph of his book.
Granted, I’m more sympathetic to this lie than many of Rizzo’s other lies. I understand why he must continue telling it.
Back in 2002, Rizzo told John Yoo that Abu Zubaydah was a top al Qaeda figure during the drafting of the August 1, 2002 Bybee Memo authorizing torture. And based on that information, Yoo wrote,
As we understand it, Zubaydah is one of the highest ranking members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, with which the United States is currently engaged in an international armed conflict following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.
Zubaydah, though only 31, rose quickly from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda. He has served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant.
If Rizzo were to admit that the representations he made to Yoo back in 2002 were false, then the legal sanction CIA got to conduct torture would crumble.
And unlike a lot of the lies CIA — and John Rizzo in particular — told DOJ during the life of the torture program, I’m not absolutely certain CIA knew this one to be a lie when they told it. CIA (and FBI) definitely believed Zubaydah was a high ranking al Qaeda figure when they caught him. In his CSRT, Zubaydah describes admitting he was al Qaeda’s number 3 under torture. Though it’s not clear whether that was the torture that took place before or after the memo authorizing that torture got written, raising the possibility that CIA presented lies Zubaydah told under torture to DOJ to get authorization for the torture they had already committed. But by the time of the memo, CIA had also had 4 months to to read Zubaydah’s diaries, which make such matters clear (and had it in their possession, so that by itself should invalidate the memo). So they should have and probably did know, but I think it marginally conceivable they did not.
Still, that doesn’t excuse journalists who have these facts available to them yet treat Rizzo as an honest interlocutor, as James Rosen is only the latest in a long line of journalists to do.
So as a service to those journalists who aren’t doing the basic work they need to do on this story, I thought I’d make a list of the documented lies Rizzo tells just in the first 10 pages of his “memoir.” These don’t include items that may be errors or lies. These don’t include everything that I have strong reason to believe is a lie or that we know to be lies but don’t yet have official documentation to prove it. They include only the lies that are disproven by CIA and other official documents that have been in the public domain for years.
These lies, like Rizzo’s lie about Abu Zubaydah’s role in 9/11, also serve important purposes in the false narrative the torturers have told.
I’ve gone through this exercise (I’m contemplating a much longer analysis of all the lies Rizzo told, but it makes me nauseous thinking about it) to point out that any journalist who treats him as an honest interlocutor, accepting his answers — he made some of the same claims to Rosen as he made here — as credible without real challenge is just acting as a CIA propagandist.
Don’t take my word for it — take the CIA’s word, as many of Rizzo’s claims are disproven by CIA’s own documents!
Update, April 21: Ben Wittes, in his review of this tract: “Rizzo is just being honest.” To be fair, Wittes appears to have meant it to describe Rizzo’s unvarying viewpoint, always serving his loyalty to the CIA. But in a review that doesn’t mention Rizzo’s serial lies, it’s embarrassing.
(1) Abu Zubaydah was not CIA’s first significant “catch.” Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was, though the CIA outsourced his torture to the Egyptians.
(3) Correspondence describes tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s torture in April 2002, not July 2002, as Rizzo claims. (see PDF 1)
(3-4) Obviously, CIA had another option besides torture: to let the FBI continue interrogating Zubaydah. Even if you don’t believe FBI had the success they claim to have had, they were an alternative that Rizzo makes no mention of.
(4) The first torture memo was not the August 1, 2002 one. Yoo wrote a shorter fax on July 13, 2002, which (according to the OPR Report) is actually the memo CTC’s lawyers relied on for their guidance to the torturers.
(5) Jose Rodriguez did not decide to destroy the tapes in October; he decided on September 5, the day after first briefing Nancy Pelosi on torture (without having told her they had already engaged in it).
(5) CIA did not follow the guidelines laid out in the Bybee memo for waterboarding, as CIA’s IG determined in 2004, and at least by the time the CIA IG reviewed the tapes, there was a great deal censored via damage, turning off the camera, or taping over of the content.(see PDF 42 and this post)
(6) The Gang of Eight was not briefed in 2002; only the Gang of Four (the Intelligence Committee heads) was. According to CIA’s own records, only one Congressional leader got a timely briefing, Bill Frist in 2004 (though Pelosi was briefed as HPSCI Ranking Member in 2002).
(8) John McPherson did not review the tapes after Christmas, 2002; he reviewed them about a month earlier. (see this post and linked underlying documents)
(8) Jay Rockefeller was not briefed in January 2003; only a staffer of his was. See this post for all the lies they told Pat Roberts in that briefing.
(9) While John Helgerson did not write about techniques that had not been authorized, he did describe that the waterboard as performed did not follow the guidelines given by DOJ. (see PDF 42) Rizzo also doesn’t note Helgerson’s observations about the tampering done to the tapes, which may have hidden unauthorized techniques.
(10) It is false that the 9/11 Commission Report relied heavily on Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations. They are cited just 10 times, and at least one of those was not corroborated.
But much of this has been clear for even longer, having been exposed in some form in 2009-10.
Yet much of that got lost in CIA’s aggressive attack on Congress — one that anticipated what we’ve seen and will surely continue to see with the release of the Torture Report. At the time, CIA attempted to claim Congress had been fully briefed on torture, and therefore shouldn’t criticize the agency. Yet it gradually became clear how laughable CIA’s claims were. Along the way details of the lies CIA told in briefings came out.
The lies CIA told Congress in its first several years of the torture program include that it,
There are a number of claims CIA made that are almost certainly also false — most notably with regards to what intelligence came from torture — but most of that didn’t get recorded in the CIA’s records. I fully expect we’ll find details of those in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
September 17, 2001: Bush signs “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes capture and detention of top al Qaeda leaders, but leaves CIA to decide the details of that detention
Before I focus on the briefings, some background is in order.
Torture started as a covert operation authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Under the National Security Act, the Intelligence Committees had to be briefed on that Finding and they were. However, the Finding was structured such that it laid out general ideas — in this case, the capture and detention of senior al Qaeda figures — and left the implementation up to CIA. As a result, key members of Congress (notably, Jane Harman, who was Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee for much of the period during which the program operated) apparently had no idea that the Finding they had been briefed on in timely fashion actually served as the Presidential authorization for torture until years later. Also, since that September 17, 2001 Finding authorized both torture and the outsourcing of nasty jobs to foreign intelligence partners, the earliest torture, such as that of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Egyptian custody starting in February 2002 and Binyam Mohamed in Pakistani custody starting in April 2002, should be considered part of the same covert op.
April to July 2002: CIA tortures Abu Zubaydah based solely on Presidential authorization
By now there is no dispute: the CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah well before the August 1, 2002 memo that purportedly prospectively authorized that treatment. CIA even exceeded early verbal guidance on things like sleep deprivation, after which CIA unilaterally authorized what CIA had done retrospectively. The CIA appears to have gotten in real trouble when they moved to conduct mock burial with Abu Zubaydah, to which Ali Soufan objected; his objections appear to be the reason why mock burial (and by extension, mock execution) was the only technique John Yoo ultimately rejected. On July 13, after Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination of prosecution to CIA for things they were ostensibly talking about prospectively but which had in fact already occurred, Yoo wrote a short memo, almost certainly coached by David Addington but not overseen by Yoo’s boss Jay Bybee, that actually served as the authorization CIA’s CTC would rely on for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, not the August 1 memos everyone talks about. As a result, CIA could point to a document that did not include limits on specific techniques and the precise implementation of those techniques as their authorization to torture.
CIA had, in internal documents, once claimed to have briefed the Gang of Four (then Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Shelby, and Bob Graham) in April 2002. But after being challenged, they agreed they did not conduct those briefings. This, then, created a problem, as CIA had not really briefed Congress — not even the Gang of Four — about this “covert op.”
Septmber 4, 2002: CIA provides initial trial balloon briefing to Pelosi and Goss, then starts destroying evidence
On September 4, 2002, 7 months after Egypt started torturing Ibn Sheikh al-Libi at America’s behest, almost 5 months after CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah, and over a month after the OLC memo that purportedly started a month of torture for Abu Zubaydah, Jose Rodriguez, a CTC lawyer, and Office of Congressional Affairs head Stan Moskowitz first briefed Congress on torture techniques.
The record supports a claim that CIA provided some kind of description of torture to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss. It supports a claim that neither objected to the techniques briefed. Both Pelosi and Goss refer to this briefing, however, as a prospective briefing. Goss referred to the torture techniques as “techniques [that] were to actually be employed,” not that had already been employed, and when asked he did not claim they had been briefed on techniques that had been used. Pelosi claimed,
I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.
Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.
Thus, at least as far as Goss and Pelosi are concerned, over a month after they first waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and many more after Egypt had waterboarded al-Libi for us), CIA implied they had not yet done so with any detainee.
As striking as the evidence that CIA only briefed prospectively on torture that had been used for as many as 7 months, however, is what happened next. CIA moved to destroy evidence.
The day after that initial briefing in which CIA told Congress it might torture in the future, it “determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes.” Then, the following day, CTC altered its own notes on the substance of the briefing, taking out a sentence (it’s not clear what that sentence said). CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs never finalized a description for this, and at one time even listed Jane Harman as the attendee rather than Pelosi. In fact, in a list of the briefings on torture compiled in July 2004, it did not treat this briefing as one covering torture at all.
In addition, for some reason a briefing for Bob Graham and Richard Shelby initially scheduled for September 9 got rescheduled for the end of the month, September 27. According to available records, Jose Rodriguez did not attend. According to Bob Graham’s notoriously meticulous notes, the briefing was not conducted in a SCIF, but instead in Hart Office Building, meaning highly classified information could not have been discussed. Graham says it chiefly described the intelligence the CIA claimed to have gotten from their interrogation program. Graham insists waterboarding did not come up, but Shelby, working off memory, disputes that claim.
February 4 and 5, 2002: CIA gets Republican approval to destroy the torture tapes, kills SSCI’s nascent investigation, and refuses to explain torture’s Presidential authorization
By November 2002, Bob Graham had started to hear vague rumors about the torture program. He did not, he says, receive notice that CIA froze Gul Rahman to death after dousing him with water or even hear about it specifically. But because of those rumors, Graham moved to exercise more oversight over the torture program, asking to have another staffer read into the program, and asking that a staffer see a Black Site and observe interrogation. That effort was thwarted in the first full briefing CIA gave Congress on torture on February 4, 2002, when CIA told Pat Roberts (who had assumed Senate Intelligence Chair; newly Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller was not present at this briefing, though a staffer was) they would not meet Graham’s requests. CIA claims — but Roberts disputes — that he said he could think of “ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea” to exercise such oversight.
In addition to getting Roberts to quash that nascent assessment, CIA gave Roberts the following false information:
The Memorandum of Understanding of this briefing appears to be one of only two that got finalized (it actually included a reference that Goss and Harman had been briefed on the torture tape, but not that Harman warned against destroying it).
The February 5, 2003 briefing involving Porter Goss and Jane Harman is just as interesting, though CIA has refused to release their notes from it.
Five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter questioning whether torture had been reviewed from a policy perspective and advising against destroying Abu Zubaydah’s torture tape. In addition, she asked if the President had signed off, revealing that she didn’t know that the Finding she had been briefed on included torture. The CIA and the White House met to decide how to respond. In the end, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s response didn’t really answer any of Harman’s questions, nor note her warning against destroying the torture tape.
Also note: in the month before these briefings, the CIA prepared what appears to be a tear-line document on Abu Zubaydah. While it’s not certain the document was prepared to brief the Gang of Four, it matches what we know to have been said to Roberts, especially as regards to the torture tapes. But it also reveals real discrepancies between the tear-line (Secret) claims and the Top Secret claims it was based on, notably inflating the value of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence below the tear-line.
September 4, 2003: An innocuous briefing left off some of the tracking
We don’t really know what happened in the September 4, 2003 briefings of both Goss and Harman and Roberts and Rockfeller, which is a shame because it would have covered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment (and that of Ammar al-Baluchi, whom we now know may have been treated even worse than his uncle). In fact, it was left off lists of “sensitive” briefings at different times.
July 2004: CIA has to tell Congress even CIA(‘s IG) thinks they lied
On May 7, 2004, CIA’s IG John Helgerson completed his report finding that the torture had exceeded guidelines and questioning the value of the intelligence obtained using it. On June 23, the Roberts and Rockefeller got copies (it’s not clear whether Goss and Harman got advance copies). On July 13, 2004, CIA briefed Goss and Harman again.
The briefing did include some details from CIA IG John Helgerson’s report on the program — that it violated the Convention Against Torture and did not comply with the OLC memos. He also explained that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding was problematic, the first in execution and the second in number.
As part of that briefing (or by reading the IG Report), Harman learned that the Finding authorized this torture; in the briefing she pointed out the Finding had only authorized detention and capture, not interrogation.
But CIA persisted in a narrow dodge and two false claims:
There are few details on the briefing CIA gave Roberts and Rockefeller on July 15.
These are just the details of the lies CIA itself has documented and released CIA telling Congress. There are other allegations of CIA lies in briefings, though those records were not released under FOIA. And things started getting really funky in 2005, as Dick Cheney started participating in CIA briefings to try to defeat the Detainee Treatment Act. In addition, CIA briefed Pete Hoekstra (who had become the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee) on the morning they destroyed the torture tapes; the content of that briefing has never been revealed.
None of this excuses Congress, of course: the knew enough to know this was problematic.
But it is clear that CIA lied to them both to boost the value of the torture they were doing and to diminish the problems and abuses.