Bush’s Approved Torture … in 2003?

A number of people have pointed to a comment Bush made in MI on Thursday about his role in approving torture. Here’s how CNN described it:

Bush spoke in broad strokes about how he proceeded after the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.

"The first thing you do is ask, what’s legal?" he said. "What do the lawyers say is possible? I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, ‘I’ve done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.’ I can tell you that the information we got saved lives."

Here’s how Eartha Jane Meltzer from MI Messenger described it:

But the former president spoke indirectly of his administration’s authorization of the use of torture against detainees captured during the War on Terror, avoiding the words “torture” and “abuse.”

“You have to make tough decisions,” Bush said. “They’ve captured a guy who murdered 3,000 citizens … that affected me … They come in and say he may have more information …and we had an anthrax attack … and they say he may have more information. What do you do?“

Bush was firm and defended his record as president: “I will tell you that the information gained saved lives.”

And here’s how the Detroit Free Press described it:

Former President George W. Bush defended on Thursday his decision to allow harsh interrogation of the terrorist who ordered the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, saying it was cleared by his lawyers to prevent what his advisers believed was another, imminent attack.

"I made a decision within the law to get information so I can say, I’ve done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people," he said. "I can tell you, the information gained saved lives."

Here’s how SW MI’s Herald-Palladium described it:

He defended his decision to authorize waterboarding on the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. 

Now, I’m trying to get clarification on this point, particularly since Bush used to claim frequently that Abu Zubaydah ordered up 9/11, but between CNN and H-P, they seem to be clear that Bush was referring specifically to KSM, not AZ. [See updated below.]

If his reference to KSM was explicit, I find that very odd. 

Why would Bush talk about the seminal moments in his tenure as President, and refer to approving the torture of the third guy we waterboarded, and not number one or number two? Wouldn’t the first approval of waterboarding be the most important?

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Preventative Detention and Our Crimes

I guess the news that came out of yesterday’s great chat (if I do say so myself) with Sheldon Whitehouse is his analogy on preventative detention.

To argue by analogy, one can go to court and to a civil standard of proof show that someone is a danger to themselves or others, and obtain a civil commitment restricting their freedom. If we can do this with Americans, it seems logical that we could also do it with foreign terrorists. The question is, what checks and balances should surround the initial determination of danger, and what safeguards should stay with the person through the period of confinement? I look forward to hearing more from the Obama Administration about what schedule of rule of law safeguards they intend to apply, but I think that the example of civil commitment shows that it is not categorically forbidden to restrict someone’s freedom based on a finding of danger.

I was already thinking of what it means to use the analogy from psychiatric detention, but reading Digby talk about issues has a way of bringing them into focus. 

I think that may be even scarier than Gitmo. It implies use of psychiatric hospitals for political prisoners, a la the Soviet Union. It’s a terrible analogy.

Whitehouse is a good guy and I don’t mean to pick on him, but this just won’t do, even to make a point. Involuntary committment cannot be used for criminals, who everyone knows may very well re-offend when they are released, so it certainly cannot be used for terrorist suspects who are accused of being at war with America. (Unless, of course, you think it is insane to be at war with America.) The history of involuntary commitment is hideous throughout world history and it remains controversial to this day, even when it is used for people who are truly mentally ill. To even think of it as a way to argue that such policies are analogous to the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects is really dangerous.

You see, while I know this whole preventative detention thing is being proposed for a range of detainees, having read two recent filings from Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers and TheraP’s take on those filings, I’m mostly thinking of Abu Zubaydah, whom our government has been calling one of the 9/11 plotters for years, but who did not get charged when KSM and the others got charged. I can’t help to shake the notion that this preventative detention stuff is supposed to solve what we do with Abu Zubaydah. Read more

Did Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Begin After May 28, 2002?

I increasingly suspect that the torture index provided to ACLU may better pinpoint the day when Abu Zubaydah’s torture began. Here are they key datapoints.

April 13, 2002: CIA starts taping Abu Zubaydah interrogations.

April 16, 2002: Bruce Jessen circulates draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander.

April 2002: CIA OGC lawyers begin conversations with John Bellinger and John Yoo/Jay Bybee on proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah. Bellinger briefed Condi, Hadley, and Gonzales, as well as Ashcroft and Chertoff.

May 6, 2002: Interrogators send 28-page cable to HQ.

Mid-May 2002: CIA OGC lawyers meet with Ashcroft, Condi, Hadley, Bellinger, and Gonzales to discuss alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.

Mid to late May, 2002: Ali Soufan leaves Thailand after contractors threaten to confine Abu Zubaydah in small box.

May 28, 2002: CIA HQ sends 4 page cable to interrogators in Thailand.

Early June, 2002: Soufan’s partner, Steve Gaudin, leaves Thailand.

July 13, 2002: CIA OGC (Rizzo?) meets with Bellinger, Yoo, Chertoff, Daniel Levin, and Gonzales for overview of interrogation plan.

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

It appears that, as MadDog suggested, that that May 28, 2002 cable may have been the written approval for contractor James Mitchell to start using the harsher forms of torture.

Here’s what I think happened.

First, it’s clear that Mitchell’s partner, Bruce Jessen, started circulating his exploitation plan at about the same time Mitchell took over the interrogation of AZ.  It’s equally clear that CIA’s counsel (presumably John Rizzo) started working with OLC (presumably Yoo) on formulating legal advice at about the same time. So in mid-April, you’ve already got the intent to use SERE techniques in interrogation.

Ari Shapiro described a process by which Mitchell wrote cables every night to get the next day’s torture approved by Alberto Gonzales.

The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

But a 28 pages would cover far more than the next day (the other cables are generally 2 to 5 pages long). Read more

The Context of the Torture Index

I wanted to return to the torture index released to ACLU the other day to comment on what the CIA claims to have in terms of records.

First, remember what this index is. The April 21 order required CIA to turn over two things. 

  • Records "relating to the content" of the torture tapes "from the entire period of the tapes that were destroyed"
  • "Documents relating to the destruction of the tapes, which describe the persons and reasons behind their destruction"

The second bullet (referred to as Paragraph 4 material) is the stuff discussed in the recent John Durham squabble. The first bullet (referred to as Paragraph 3 material) is the stuff we got the other daya and which I’ll discuss in this post.

The May 7 order summarizes how CIA and ACLU agreed CIA would treat those records that described the content of the torture tapes.

In response to earlier orders, the CIA originally identified appropximately 3,000 documents potentially responsive to paragraph 3 of the Court’s April 20, 2009 Order. Those 3,000 records included "contemporaneous records," which were created at the time of the interrogations or at the time the videotapes were viewed, "intelligence records," which do not describe the interrogations but contain raw intelligence collected from the interrogations, "derivative records," which summarize information contained within the contemporaneous records, and documents related to the location of the interrogations that, upon further review by the CIA, were determined not to relate to the interrogations or to the destroyed videotapes.

With respect to paragraph 3 of the April 20, 2009 Order, the parties jointly propose that the Government address the contemporaneous and derivative records, but not the intelligence records or the other records that ultimately proved to be unrelated to the interrogations or the videotapes. With respect to the contemporaneous and derivitive records, the parties jointly propose the following: 

  • May 18, 2009: The Government will produce a list of all contemporaneous records and all derivative records. The list will, to the greatest extent permissible on the public record (i.e., the list will not include classified information or information otherwise protected by statute), identify the date, sender, recipient, type, and subject matter for each record;

So the stuff we got the other day is one of three things:

  • Documentation made contemporaneously with interrogations that were videotaped
  • Documentation made contemporaneously to the viewing of the videotapes
  • Derivative records that summarize the contents of the contemporaneous record

Read more

April 13, 2002; May 6, 2002, May 20, 2002; May 23, 2002; May 28, 2002; August 4, 2002; August 11, 2002

April 13, 2002; May 6, 2002, May 20, 2002; May 23, 2002; May 28, 2002…

Those are some of the most important dates from  from the log of "all contemporaneous and derivative records" on the destruction of Abu Zubaydah’s (and some time that fall, al-Nashiri’s) interrogation tapes [corrected per Spencer–thx Spencer].

Here’s why they’re important.

April 13, 2002: This is the first date, the CIA claims, for which it has any records. That either suggests they weren’t keeping records right away (in spite of claims that they were meticulously trying to document that they weren’t killing Abu Zubaydah). Or it represents the first date that the CIA got to him. If it’s the latter, it would suggest the FBI had a while–perhaps as many as ten days–working with Abu Zubaydah before the CIA came in.That would be consistent, though, with Ali Soufan’s narrative.

May 6, 2002, May 20, 2002; May 23, 2002; May 28, 2002: Check out how many pages each of these cables from the field (Thailand) back to HQ is. The longest days are:

May 6, 2002: 28 pages

May 20, 2002: 12 pages

May 23, 2002: 13 pages

May 28, 2002: 12 pages

June 12, 2002: 10 pages

August 11, 2002: 11 pages

August 20, 2002: 10 pages

November 17, 2002: 11 pages

November 30, 2002: 11 pages*

December 2, 2002: 11 pages

Most of the rest of the cables are just 2-5 pages long. 

These dates are significant because, with the exception of two August dates, all of the longer reports came when at least one of the FBI interrogators remained on the scene; the longest one came when Ali Soufan was on the scene. 

The CIA’s description of most of the cables from August are fairly standard (part one, part two).  Here’s what they’re willing to tell us about that August 11, 11-page cable:

This is an eleven-page cable from the Field to CIA Headquarters. The cable includes information concerning the strategies for interrogation sessions; the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information on terrorist operations against the U.S.; reactions to the interrogation techniques; raw intelligence; and a status of threat information. The cable also includes CIA organizational information, CIA filing information, locations of CIA facilities, and the names and/or identifying information of personnel engaged in counterterrorism operations.

Like I said, most of these descriptions are pretty standard, with just a little variation. Though we have descriptions only for August cables, not May ones.

From that we can surmise one of several things about those days when the Field sent longer cables. The days with the longer cables might include more raw intelligence. Read more

The CIA Won’t Give Abu Zubaydah His Own Diaries

When Abu Zubaydah had his Combat Status Review Tribunal hearing on March 27, 2007, the President of the tribunal admitted that the government could not or would not produce key volumes of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries in preparation for the hearing.

From the evidence request I received, again, from your Personal Representative, you believe the statements in the Summary of Evidence document that you provided that–excuse me, that you were provided are a misrepresentation of what you actually wrote in your diary. I reviewed the Summary of Evidence document and noted that there were at least three items listed which specifically cited your diary as the source of the information. Each of these items referenced operational plans and actions which were associated with enemy forces of particular interest to the Tribunal. It would be helpful for the Tribunal to review the source document of these statements and hear your representation of what you wrote in your diary. I therefore found your diary request relevant. On February 22nd, I ordered the production of your diary. As of today, the government has produced portions of your diary. These have been provided to your Personal Representative to prepare for the Tribunal’s hearing today. I understand your statements provided today or the evidence previously provided will refer and provide us some of those diary entries for us to consider. I do need to address one additional matter regarding your diary. There are two volumes of your diary in U.S. Government custody: volumes five and six. The government has made a diligent effort to produce those volumes for us today but–; however, they have not been located. So they are not available for us during this hearing. I therefore find that the volumes five and six are not available for us during this hearing. Given this situation, the Tribunal will consider your statements if you wish to make any, of what you believe the diary entries represent.

According to Abu Zubaydah, one thing included in the parts of the diary not turned over includes a condemnation of 9/11 and of the killing of innocent children, which violates the tenets of Islam.

I can’t remember exactly what you talk about in my diary. I know exactly what I wrote. — writ wrote [asks for correction from Linguist] –One part I do remember, I write against eleven September.

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The Terrorism Intelligence and the Briefing Schedule

I suggested yesterday that one of the explanations for the CIA’s unreliable record of briefings on torture and terrorism in 2002 and 2003 might reflect an attempt to hide certain information.

Did CIA not reveal they were torturing detainees to dodge any question about the accuracy of claims about Iraq intelligence? 

While we don’t know the full schedule of briefings on Iraq intelligence, the schedule of intelligence documents pertaining to Iraqi ties to terrorism suggests that might be possible. Significantly, according to Bob Graham and Nancy Pelosi, they were not briefed that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured before the NIE appeared integrating his August 2002 interrogation reports. And Jane Harman was not informed he had been tortured until after the last major report on Iraqi links to terrorism came out in January 2003.

Here are the intelligence documents mentioned in the SSCI Report on Iraq, interspersed with the torture briefings.

September 21, 2001: Document written by Cofer Black (then Director of CounterTerrorism) and Near East and South Asia Directorate. Distributed only to President’s Daily Brief principals, and not revealed to Congress until June 2004. The document is described as "taking a ‘Q&A’ approach to the issue of Iraq’s possible links" to 9/11.

October 2001:  NESA document discussing Iraq’s overall ties to terrorism.CIA refused to share the document with SSCI, explaining its dissemination was limited to PDB readers.

December 18, 2001: Ibn Sheikh al-Libi captured.

February 22, 2002: First report doubting al-Libi’s claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

March 28, 2002: Abu Zubaydah captured.

June 21, 2002, Iraq and al-Qaida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship: Ostensibly a joint project between CTC and NESA, the report was a subject of a CIA Ombud invsetigation into a complaint from a NESA analyst alleging that the document did not adequately reflect the views of NESA. The document was intentionally expansive, as described by Jamie Miscik: "If you were going to stretch to the maximum the evidence you had, what could you come up with?"

July 26, 2002: OLC orally authorized waterboarding.

July 31, 2002: Second report doubting al-Libi’s claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Summer 2002, Dougie Feith’s Propaganda: This led to a series of briefings in August 2002 apparently designed to reinsert previously discredited claims into the CIA stream of intelligence. In particular, George Tenet agreed to hold up the production of Iraqi Support for Terrorism until CIA could attend a meeting with Feith’s people; the meeting took place on August 20, 2002. Read more

The 9/11 Commission and Torture

The Daily Beast is out with a story reporting that much of the information from the 9/11 Commission Report came from detainees who had been subjected to torture. That story has been picked up by people claiming, "Much of the material cited in the 9/11 Commission’s findings was derived … during brutal CIA interrogations authorized by the Bush administration," which is not what the Daily Beast reports (though the original NBC report uses similar language, stating that the "critical information it used in [the 9/11 Report] was the product of harsh interrogations."

As someone halfway through such a study myself (and who spent much of last week combing through the 9/11 Archives), let me caution about the language used here. Much of the material cited in the 9/11 Report came from detainees–particularly KSM–after they had been tortured.  But we have no evidence that the evidence came exclusively from torture, and we have a great deal of evidence that little of the information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah came from waterboarding.

I’ve written about how little the 9/11 Commission actually used from Abu Zubaydah here (just 10 pieces of intelligence in the entire report, one of which almost certainly came before he was waterboarded), and how the Commission used just slightly more from al-Nashiri (16 pieces of intelligence, almost all of it either corroborated with other reports or–in two cases–the accuracy of which the Commission questioned). So the story for Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri is that while the 9/11 Commission may have gotten a lot of information from them (though as late as 2004, they said they hadn’t gotten much from al-Nashiri), they didn’t use it. 

The story with KSM, though, is different. Huge swaths of the report rely on interrogations of KSM. Here’s an incomplete compilation of the intelligence the 9/11 Commission got from KSM (this hasn’t been proofed).  It shows:

  • Hundreds of claims in the 9/11 Report rely on KSM’s interrogation reports
  • The most productive interrogations with KSM came several months after he was waterboarded, in sessions in July, August, and November 2003 and February 2004
  • Just five of 127 citations of KSM interrogations catalogued thus far (remember, I’m only halfway) came within the month after he was waterboarded
  • One of the early citations–asserting a year-long al Qaeda anthrax program–may have come as a result of waterboarding
  • The only KSM reference to Moussaoui thus far (there are others, I think) came from the month of the harshest torture

Read more

CIA Lying to ABC about Torture. Again. ABC Reporting It Uncritically. Again.

As bmaz has reported, the CIA has sent a list of torture briefings to Crazy Pete Hoekstra on when and whom in Congress got briefed that the CIA was in the torture business. And ABC news, just off having to admit the CIA lied to them about torture in the past, has taken what the CIA gave them and treated it totally uncritically. Again.

Based on the list (which I’ve also obtained), they’re out with a post claiming they’ve caught Pelosi in a contradiction.

The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics. 

Setting aside the fact that the list doesn’t mention waterboarding specifically in its description of that briefing (it does in quite a few others), there are huge problems with using the list as a basis to claim anything.

First, there’s this paragraph the CIA included in the letter they sent with the briefing list to Crazy Pete (which ABC didn’t think important enough to include when they first posted this story):

This letter presents the most thorough information we have on dates, locations, and names of all Members of Congress who were briefed by the CIA on enhanced interrogation techniques. This information, however, is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals. In the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened. We can make the MFRs available at CIA for staff review. [my emphasis]

CIA: "Here’s a list, but we won’t vouch for its accuracy."

ABC: "We’ve proven that Nancy was wrong!!"

ABC, after having been burned in the past, took documents that the CIA itself said might not be accurate, and treated them as accurate.

But it gets worse. ABC printed the following description, as if it were an accurate representation of the next set of torture briefings, which took place in February 2003.

On Feb. 4, 2003, a briefing on “enhanced interrogation techniques” for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., revealed that interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri were taped.

ABC doesn’t tell you, but there’s an asterisk by Jello Jay’s name, saying, "later individual briefing to Rockefeller," Read more

Torture Tapes and Briefings

Isikoff has an article that basically catches everyone up on torture investigation. The big piece of news is that John Durham is flying spooks back from overseas stations to appear before the grand jury.

In recent weeks, prosecutor John Durham has summoned CIA operatives back from overseas to testify before a federal grand jury, according to three legal sources familiar with the case who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters. The sources said Durham is also seeking testimony from agency lawyers who gave advice relating to the November 2005 decision by Jose Rodriguez, then chief of the CIA’s operations directorate, to destroy the tapes.

There are lawyers probably named Robert Bennett quoted as saying, "maybe he’s just tying up loose ends," but that news, coupled with the news that Durham interviewed  Dusty Foggo, who had recently been hung out to dry by Porter Goss, suggests Durham has been able to break the omerta at the CIA and make some headway on this case.

But I’m sort of interested in this claim:

Durham was appointed by former attorney general Michael Mukasey shortly after the December 2007 revelation about Rodriguez’s decision. At the time, then-CIA director Michael Hayden insisted the tapes were destroyed only after "it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquiries—including the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui." But since then, declassified filings in the Moussaoui case show that around the time the tapes were destroyed, Moussaoui’s lawyers were seeking CIA records about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah—who, according to recent disclosures, was waterboarded 83 times. On Nov. 3, 2005, Judge Leonie Brinkema even ordered government lawyers "to confirm or deny that it has video- or audiotapes" of interro-gations of potential witnesses.

Now, this is assuredly not news. The Moussaoui request has been on my torture tape timeline for well over a year, based on this and other reporting. And it is just one case where a party had made a legally binding request for any torture tapes–the other two being the ACLU FOIA and the 9/11 Commission request for any such materials.

(On the 9/11 Commission request, keep in mind that Philip Zelikow, Commission Executive Director, has been saying "let the prosecutor work" in his recent public critiques of torture; he may well have been interviewed in this case, so he may have reason to be confident in the quality of the invsetigation.)

Okay, back to Moussaoui. Not new news. Read more