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Did Zero Dark Thirty Accidentally Tell the Most Dangerous Truth?

Update: Let me make this clear: I am not commenting on the content of the movie. I am commenting on the content of John Rizzo’s reactions to the movie, particularly his depiction about when and how and by whom “the box” was approved, which — as I say several times — get to the core of the legal problems with torture. 

In a development I could have predicted, one of former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo’s chief complaints with Zero Dark Thirty has to do with how the movie depicted “the box.” (This exchange comes from the first comments Rizzo made at an AEI event with him, Dick Cheney flack Marc Thiessen, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and the director of the torture program, Jose Rodriguez).

MR. RIZZO: The interrogation scenes – I mean, they were – they were striking. They were hard to watch for me, having lived through this and how the – how the actual techniques came to be, and all the safeguards we put on them, all the monitoring by medical personnel during the course of the interrogation – you know, again, it’s a movie, so you know, the character in the movie, the interrogator, seemingly making stuff up as you went along, you’re not talking – OK, bring on the water and –

MR. : (Off mic) – get the buckets.

MR. RIZZO: – and get the buckets – now, the box – people have asked me about the box. And since this whole thing has been declassified now, most of you probably know that one of the techniques was a box, putting a detainee in a box for a – for a limited duration. Now, the box in the movie is not the kind of box that was – that was used. When I say all this, I don’t want to downplay or leave any impression that the actual program, the actual – the actual waterboarding was, you know, was tame or benign. I mean, it was a very aggressive technique, as were all the – all the others. But – so on the whole, I mean, I went into it – I went into it telling myself it was going to be a movie. I was frankly relieved that there were no lawyers involved in the movie. (Laughter.) I would have just spent the next four years at cocktail parties explaining why I wasn’t that lawyer. So I was – so I mean, on the whole, it’s as they said. It was a mixed bag, but it was a terrific movie. And you know, I think it did really take no sides and Miss Bigelow and Mr. Boal, I think, skillfully teed up the complicated moral questions of all of this we’re facing, especially in those first few scary months after the 9/11 attacks.

MR. THIESSEN: Can I – just to follow up on that. I mean, you know, you were the chief legal officer at the time. I mean, would you have authorized the interrogation techniques the way they were depicted? I mean, explain the difference in the box – (chuckles) – explain the – you know, explain that you – do people just throw somebody on a mat and start pouring water over their heads? I mean –

MR. RIZZO: No, no, the – first of all, you know, it was – it was “Mother, May I.” Those interrogators were not allowed to adlib. There were certain specific –as the memos – OLC memos show at the time, I mean, it was a – there was a meticulous procedure to undertake. And before the use of the waterboard – they will confirm this – the interrogators at the site would have to come back in writing, explain why they thought the waterboard was necessary, it would be approved at headquarters. During the time the waterboard was used, which was only until mid-2003, it took the CIA director to approve the use. So it was a much more modern program. Now, the box – I mean, a box is not pleasant. First of all, there is – there was a big box authorized that the detainee could stand in and a smaller box. It wasn’t – it didn’t appear to me to be quite as small as what was depicted in the movie. But yes, there was a box technique. But again, the – I mean, when I – you know, everyone can look at this in a different way. I just had the impression from the scene that the guy was sort of, you know adlibbing as he went along, which was, believe me, far from the – far from the reality. [my emphasis]

The box — particularly the apparent portrayal (I haven’t yet seen the movie) that the torturer ad-libbed when he introduced the box — is as big a concern of Rizzo’s as waterboarding is.

Of course it is.

That’s because the coffin — later dubbed a small box to give it legal cover — used to conduct a mock burial with Abu Zubaydah is the at the heart of the legal problems with torture.

As these posts lay out (one, two, threefour), one of several main reasons CIA asked the Office of Legal Counsel for a memo authorizing torture is because Ali Soufan saw Abu Zubaydah’s torturers prepare to put Abu Zubaydah in a coffin (it’s unclear whether he or his partner Steve Gaudin saw them actually use the coffin). That is one of the things — perhaps the thing — that Soufan labeled “borderline torture.” And because an FBI officer had told CIA’s contractors he might need to prosecute them for what he had seen, CIA needed more durable legal cover than the daily approvals given by Alberto Gonzales every night.

Because an FBI officer had labeled the things approved by the White House, on the President’s authority, illegal.

Which is why John Rizzo and John Yoo started writing first the July 13, 2002 memo generally authorizing torture (this memo is what the CIA would ultimately rely on to claim things like the murder of Gul Rahman were legal) and then, several weeks later, the Bybee Memo laying out the approved torture techniques in detail.

John Rizzo tried to get John Yoo to approve the technique that had already been used on Abu Zubaydah, the one Ali Soufan had labeled illegal. He tried to get mock burial approved as a technique; he kept trying right up until the last days before the Bybee Memo was finalized. But for some reason — I suspect, because Michael Chertoff had already agreed with the FBI that the mock burial Ali Soufan complained about was illegal — it was not included in the final list.

Instead, John Yoo and Jay Bybee approved “small box confinement.” Something that, if everyone remained silent about the intent and desired effect of shoving someone in a coffin-shaped box and leading them to believe they’d be buried alive, would both retroactively approve the use of a coffin that Abu Zubadayh’s (and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s) torturers had already used, but also let them use mock burial in the future, in spite of the fact that John Yoo — even John Yoo — had deemed it illegal.

One of the main things an FBI officer judged illegal — mock burial, a technique that had already been used, on the authority of the President — is the only single torture technique John Yoo ever deemed illegal.

Again, I have not yet paid to see the CIA’s propaganda effort. But John Rizzo, at least — the man who tried so hard to get the OLC to approve mock burial — is very concerned both about the size of the box in question (the SERE document used to label it “small box confinement” prescribed size and time limits), but more importantly that torturer in the movie is depicted as using the coffin-shaped box without first getting approval for it.

The movie, it seems, shows a torturer using a coffin before John Yoo and John Rizzo would have deliberated for weeks and decided to call it small box confinement. The movie, it seems, shows a torturer using a coffin to conduct a mock burial [Update: I’ve been told they don’t do a burial in the movie, though it does depict adlib], and doing so in terms that make it clear that the coffin preceded the DOJ approval for it.

I’m extrapolating from Rizzo’s comments, but it seems likely that his problem with the box is that ZD30 depicts its use in precisely the terms that make it illegal, the one act of torture labeled illegal as it was happening, one of the main acts of torture the OLC memos were designed to provide legal cover for.

Frankly, I’m sympathetic to Rizzo’s complaint that this depiction of a torturer ad-libbing by using a coffin is inaccurate (though not to his claim that it was an OLC memo that limited the torture). After all, we know that the White House was responding to the torturers’ “Mother, May I” on a daily or near-daily basis.

We know that the White House was renewing its Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification approval for things like mock burial at each step of the process. So it’s not like the torturers executed a mock burial without approval.

The problem, however, is that they executed a mock burial with the President’s approval, weeks and months before the DOJ would deem that one torture technique illegal.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Philip Zelikow Saves Condi Rice’s Hiney (Again)

Back in April 2009, former State Department Counselor and all-around Condi Rice fixer Philip Zelikow revealed that “in 2005,” he had written a dissent to Steven Bradbury’s 2005 Memo finding the torture program complied with the Convention against Torture, but that most copies of it had been destroyed by the Administration.

At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that:  The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives.

It turns out that David Addington didn’t succeed in destroying all the copies. The National Security Archive just liberated a copy.

Now, the memo (which was actually dated February 15, 2006) reveals Zelikow’s very sane legal argument that our torture program had to comply with the 8th Amendment. But it also reveals some subtleties about the bureaucratic maneuvering around torture. Notably, that Zelikow was trying to save Condi Rice’s arse again.

To understand why, go back to this post (see also this post), explaining what Bradbury was trying to do with his 2005 CAT Memo: respond to explicit concerns raised by Congress (probably Jay Rockefeller) about whether our torture program complied with the CAT. It shows how (as documented in the narrative on the process that Rockefeller released), the Senate Intelligence Committee had forced the Bush Administration to agree to consider whether our torture program violated CAT. The Administration agreed to do so only after the National Security Council–then chaired by Condi Rice–agreed.

According to CIA records, subsequent to the meeting with the Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman in July 2004, the CIA met with the NSC Principals to discuss the CIA’s program. At the conclusion of that meeting, it was agreed that the CIA would formally request that OLC prepare a written opinion addressing whether the CIA’s proposed interrogation techniques would violate substantive constitutional standards, including those of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments regardless of whether or not those standards were deemed applicable to aliens detained abroad.

DOJ stalled for 10 months. Daniel Levin, as acting head of OLC, approved more individual torture techniques. Levin wrote an unclassified memo ignoring CAT. Congress continued to pressure. The Administration laterally transferred Levin because he wasn’t writing the memos they wanted, authorizing combined techniques and waterboarding and, somehow, finding that torture program complied with CAT. Bradbury got the job to write those memos. And then, finally, 10 months after SSCI demanded that DOJ consider CAT, Bradbury wrote his memo finding that the torture program did not violate CAT’s prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

I lay out in the post the specious tricks Bradbury pulled to make that claim, and scribe laid out the legal reasons the arguments were so specious. But in specific regard to SSCI’s demand that OLC review whether the program complied with the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment, Bradbury punted by saying it didn’t have to, and certainly didn’t have to comply with the Eighth.

Based on CIA assurances, we understand that the interrogations do not take place in any … areas over which the United States exercises at least de facto authority as the government. … We therefore conclude that Article 16 is inapplicable to the CIA’s interrogation practices and that those practices thus cannot violate Article 16.

[snip]

Because the high value detainees on whom the CIA might use enhanced interrogation techniques have not been convicted of any crime, the substantive requirements of the Eighth Amendment would not be relevant here, even if we assume that Article 16 has application to the CIA’s interrogation program.

After reading drafts of such bullshit, Jim Comey tried to convince Bradbury to fix it–to no avail.

Of note, however, here’s what then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Condi–who had become Secretary of State in the interim–had to say about the importance of complying with our treaty obligations.

The AG began by saying that Dr. Rice was not interested in discussing details and that her attitude was that if DOJ said it was legal and CIA said it was effective, then that ended it, without a need for detailed policy discussion.

And so, with the Secretary of State dismissing treaty obligations by saying “that ended it,” torture got approved for use by the Executive Branch again.

Zelikow’s memo admits that State didn’t object to Bradbury’s memo.

The State Department agreed with the Justice Department May 2005 conclusion that [Article 16] did not apply to CIA interrogations in foreign countries.

Now, Zelikow claims that passage of the McCain amendment–which was signed on December 30, 2005–is what changed the State Department’s interpretation. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Government Continues To Classify WikiLeaks Cables to Cover Up Their Torture Cover Up

The government has responded to ACLU’s FOIA for a bunch of WikiLeaks cables by releasing redacted versions of just 11 of the 23 cables they FOIAed (I’ve copied, ACLU’s inventory of what they got below the fold).

Some of their redactions are unsurprising–details that show officials from other governments sucking up to the US. But some of the redactions clearly serve only to “hide” details of the government’s own cover up of its torture program. For example, consider  this passage, which is part of a substantial redaction in the FOIA release.

Meanwhile, the Embassy has been involved in DOJ-led talks to have Zaragoza – who attended the April 16 press conference – lead a four-person team of GOS officials to Washington for a possible meeting with U.S. Deputy AG David Ogden or AG Eric Holder during the week of May 18. Zaragoza’s wife, who is Conde Pumpido’s chief of staff, would reportedly be one of the four.

The passage only describes internal discussions between Embassy personnel in Spain and DOJ; there’s no mention of any Spanish actions or statements.

Yet it’s tremendously damaging to the Obama Administration because it explains how discussions between the US and Spain got from this April 1, 2009 suggestion Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza made (this is also redacted but could easily be claimed as one of those embarrassing exchanges with a foreign government official).

Zaragoza noted that Spain would not be able to claim jurisdiction in the case if the USG opened its own investigation, which he much preferred as the best way forward and described as “the only way out” for the USG.

To Obama’s April 16 assurances there would be no prosecutions for torture, to Eric Holder’s August 24 announcement (in the wake of the OPR Report, which was itself an investigation) of the John Durham investigation. In other words, the redacted paragraph provides key details showing that Spanish legal representatives met with DOJ as DOJ decided to launch an investigation that couldn’t seem to find a crime in years of torture evidence.

Similarly, this entire cable was withheld, including this passage which records only what the US Deputy Chief of Mission said to Germany’s Deputy National Security Adviser (so again, it doesn’t show anything embarrassing the Germans did).

In a February 6 discussion with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel, the DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case. The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.

But, as I noted in this post, the passage appears to show Condi using her German counterpart to create the appearance that she had no concerns about German subpoenas.

Now, of course, this evidence of our government’s efforts to cover up their own torture isn’t really hidden. But so long as the government maintains that it remains classified, no one can use it–say, in a legal proceeding–to show high level obstruction of our own duty to investigate and prosecute this torture.

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Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Richard Ben-Veniste Calls out Obama for Spiking the Privacy Board


I just watched a scintillating panel at the Aspen Security Forum. It featured former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, Alberto Gonzales, ACLU’s Anthony Romero, John Yoo, and David Cole, moderated by Dahlia Lithwick.

The panel itself was notable for the staging of it. The panelists were seated right next to each other, with no table in front. Gonzales sat right next to Romero; Yoo sat right next to Cole. So when Romero corrected Lithwick’s assertion that the Bush Administration had showed respect for using civilian trials with terrorists by recalling that Gonzales had argued for holding American citizen Jose Padilla without trial, Gonzales shifted notably, uncomfortably, by my read. And when Cole rehearsed the language people like Michael Mukasey and Jack Goldsmith used to describe Yoo’s memo all the while pointing with his thumb at Yoo sitting next to him–“solvenly,” he emphasized–Yoo also shifted, though aggressively towards Cole. Before it all ended, Romero started reading from Yoo’s torture memo; Yoo accused him of using Dickensian dramatic delivery.

The physical tension of these men, attempting to contain the contempt they had for each other while sitting in such close proximity, was remarkable.

There were a number of other highlights: John Yoo made the ridiculous claim that no one in the human rights community had come out against drone strikes (Romero came back later and reminded him the ACLU had sued on precisely that issue, representing Anwar al-Awlaki’s family). Gonzales insisted there should be accountability (no matter that he escaped it, both when he politicized DOJ and when he took TS/SCI documents home in his briefcase). Romero hailed Obama’s “willingness to shut down secret sites,” apparently missing Jeremy Scahill’s recent scoop about the CIA-paid prison in Somalia. Yoo, as is typical, lied to protect his actions, not only repeating that canard that torture helped to find Osama bin Laden (rather than delayed the hunt as is the case), but also to claim that warrantless wiertaps helped find the couriers; they did, but those were warrantless wiretaps in the Middle East, not the US!

Just as interesting, though, were the questions. Yoo was somewhat stumped when an IAVA member and former officer asked what an officer who had taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution should do if he received what he believed was an unconstitutional order.

Finally, most interesting came when Richard Ben-Veniste–the former Watergate prosecutor and 9/11 Commissioner–asked questions. He said, first of all, that Mohammed al-Qahtani had been providing information before he was tortured (a claim I’m not sure I’ve heard before, made all the more interesting given that we know the Commission received interrogation reports on a running basis). But then his torture turned him into a “vegetable,” which meant the US was unable to prosecute him.

And then Ben-Veniste raised something that the panel, for all its discussion about accountability, didn’t mention. The 9/11 Commission recommended a privacy board to ensure that there was some balance between civil liberties and security. Bush made a half-assed effort to fulfill that requirement; after 2006, at least, there was a functioning Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. But Obama has all but spiked it, killing it by not appointing the Board.

Particularly given Ron Wyden’s and Mark Udall’s concerns about secret law, it’s time the civil liberties community returned its focus on Obama’s refusal to fulfill the law and support this board. That board is precisely the entity that should be balancing whether or not the government is making appropriate decisions about surveillance.

Update: David Cole corrected for John.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Alberto Gonzales Explains Why Torture Didn’t Work Even While Defending It

As I noted in an update to my Mushroom Cloud Brigade post, even Univision joined in the torture apologist fun, inviting Alberto Gonzales on to talk about the killing of Osama bin Laden. And Gonzales did defend torture.

Jorge Ramos: Mr. Gonzales The New York Times reported that the information that led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden was probably obtained through torture, through waterboarding, do you know if that was the case?

Alberto Gonzales: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t describe waterboarding as torture, as you just described it. At least with respect to the application of this technique back during the Bush administration because the Department of Justice issued an opinion, a painstaking analysis of the anti-torture statute and provided guidance to the CIA that if certain precautions, certain safety measures were taken in the application of this technique that it would be lawful under the anti-torture statute and so, that’s the reason why this technique was applied only three times during the Bush administration, because the President understood the need to gather information which we now believe, many are reporting, led to actual intelligence which led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Yet Gonzales didn’t defend torture very effectively. Even this statement is full of equivocations: the seeming reliance on “certain safety measures” that we know weren’t used, the illogic that because it was legal it was only used three times, and his restatement of “we now believe” to “many are reporting” that torture led to OBL.

But that’s nothing compared to the way Gonzales completely undercuts the logic behind using torture here (in the question that preceded his answer on torture).

JR: Mr. Gonzales how do you explain that President Bush couldn’t get Osama bin Laden for eight years and Barack Obama did it in two years?

AG: Often time these kinds of successes are a function of timing, good luck, getting information from various sources, putting that information together which may then lead to actual intelligence. My understanding is this depended a lot on human intelligence and every intelligence expert I know tells me that it takes a great deal of time to develop human intelligence and so the fact that it took so long, for me I expected it to happen, I was not surprised that it happened, it was just a matter of time and it was as a result of a lot of hard work and dedication and you know the fact that it happened during the Obama administration it’s a credit to the administration, but I know this, working in the White House as the Attorney General of the United States, we did everything we could to try to find him ourselves. [my emphasis]

Implicit in the Techniques memo that authorized the Abu Zubaydah torture (which presumably served as the basis for the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed torture) is a ticking time bomb scenario. It refers to an increased level of chatter, suggesting that that means there must be an imminent attack.

Moreover, your intelligence indicates that there is currently a level of “chatter” equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks. In light of the information you believe Zubaydah has and the high level of threat you believe now exists, you wish to move the interrogations into what you have described. as an “increased pressure phase.”

And one of Jay Bybee’s defenses of the memos signed by him specifically refers to the ticking time bomb scenario (relying on faulty intelligence about Jose Padilla that was collected using torture).

In other words, the “painstaking analysis” Gonzales claims DOJ did to authorize torture relies on the argument that torture must be used because only torture will reveal information quickly enough. But here we are, nine years after that analysis was done, and the recipient of one of the memos summarizing that analysis now concedes that “every intelligence expert” he knows confirms that “it takes a great deal of time to develop human intelligence.”

The decade long search for Osama bin Laden proves that torture did not deliver on that promise–it did not yield the most crucial intelligence immediately. And Alberto Gonzales, in his effort to defend the use of torture, concedes that it did not do so. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The White Paper and the Classified Opinion

As has often been noted, the White Paper the Bush Administration released on January 19, 2006 largely repeats the analysis Jack Goldsmith did in his May 6, 2004 OLC opinion on the warrantless wiretap program. So I decided to compare the two documents.

Not only did such a comparison help me see things in both documents I hadn’t seen before. But there are a number of things that appear in the White Paper but not the unredacted parts of the opinion. Some of this, such as Administration statements after the warrantless wiretap program was exposed in 2005, simply serve as the publicly acceptable discussion of the program. Yet in one case–the White Paper’s discussion of how the Hamdi decision affected the program–this probably repeats a discussion in another, still classified, Goldsmith opinion he wrote the day before he left on July 17, 2004. Then there’s a bunch of information that appears (in both redacted and unredacted form) in the Goldsmith opinion but not the WP. As I discuss below, I think there are a number of reasons for this.

I should warn that I did this in about a day or so, so I certainly may have misstated what’s in Goldsmith’s memo. Let me know if you catch anything like that.

General Contents

Goldsmith’s memo is organized this way:

Background (including genesis of program, the scary memo process of reauthorization, two sets of modifications, and prior OLC opinions)

Analysis [of whether the illegal wiretap program is legal under 5 different criteria]

I. Executive Order 12333

II. Statutory Analysis (of FISA and Title III wiretap laws)

III. Completely redacted criterion*

IV. Completely redacted criterion*

V. Fourth Amendment (including extensive discussion of why the current threat makes the illegal program a reasonable search)

*If I had to guess what the two completely redacted criteria are, I’d say one is the Defense Appropriation of 2004, which prohibited data mining of US data, and one is the First Amendment.

The bolded subjects above don’t appear in the WP. The exclusion of some of this–the discussion of how the program works, for example–is dismissed in the WP by saying it cannot be discussed in an unclassified document. The EO 12333 discussion, which presumably pertains in part to the wiretapping of US persons overseas, didn’t seem to be the big public concern after the program was revealed (or maybe the WP didn’t want to admit that limits on wiretapping Americans were just pixie dusted away). And some of these subjects–such as the Defense Authorization, if my guess that it’s one of the totally redacted criteria is right–were no longer operative in 2006 when the WP was issued.

In general, Goldsmith (and the WP) replace John Yoo’s authorization of the program under Article II with what he calls “new analysis” finding that the Afghan AUMF bestowed on the President full Commander in Chief powers, which in the process meant his war powers trumped FISA. The formula isn’t much more sound than what we suspect Yoo to have said, but it gives Goldsmith lots of places to insert wiggle room into interpretations of FISA, for example, arguing that the principle of constitutional avoidance suggests that the purported conflict between the AUMF and FISA must be resolved to make sense constitutionally which, in Goldsmith’s book, means a tie goes to the Commander in Chief.

The focus on the AUMF allows both documents to rehearse a long history of wartime wiretapping that just happens to magically skip the Vietman-era wiretapping that FISA was written to prohibit.

In addition, Goldsmith (and the WP) argues that the importance of the government’s interest in wiretapping al Qaeda makes the warrantless program “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment. Note, this is almost certainly a departure from John Yoo’s November 2, 2001 Fourth Amendment based argument, given how closely that opinion seems to cling to his October 23, 2001 Fourth Amendment evisceration opinion, and given Goldsmith’s decision not to rely on that opinion on page 100. In the Fourth Amendment discussion, Goldsmith gives very extensive (but entirely redacted) information on the threats that justify such wiretapping; the WP effectively just says “trust us.”

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Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Crooks Trying to Bail-Out Alberto Gonzales

Let me start by stating that the words “legal” and “trust” don’t belong on a letterhead with Alberto Gonzales’ name blazoned at the top.

But that’s not the most interesting part of the letter soliciting donations for a legal defense fund for AGAG (linked by Main Justice). It’s the number of signers who were deeply embroiled in Bush Administration corruption. Starting, appropriately enough, with Bush himself.

President and Mrs. Bush have already made substantial gifts to the Judge’s legal expense fund.

But then there are people like Gale Norton, who resigned just as Gonzales’ DOJ began investigating an oil-trading scandal and who later was investigated for a slimy deal with her future employer, Shell Oil. Or Alphonso Jackson, who was also investigated by DOJ for cronyism in HUD contracts. Or Margaret Spellings, who declined to crack down on the pay-to-play scandal in the student loan business. Or Hank Paulson, who was buddying up to Goldman Sachs even as he was crafting out a bailout for them. I’d raise Condi and Rummy and torture; but then, Gonzales was involved as deeply as they were in torture.

Then again, the number of corrupt people soliciting money to pay off Gonzales’ legal bills may just be a function of the corruption in the Bush Administration. Because almost all of Bush’s cabinet secretaries signed this letter. So much so, that the people who didn’t sign may be more interesting than anything else. There are a number minor players here: former Department of Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, former Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige, former Ag Secretary Ann Veneman.

But there are three notable omissions among the major Secretaries: John Ashcroft, Paul O’Neill, and Colin Powell.

Oh, and one more rather notable Bush Administration guy missing from the list of people trying to help Gonzales out of his legal defense hole–a guy known to be rather fond of legal defense funds, in fact, for the right people: Dick Cheney.

Why doesn’t Dick Cheney want to help Alberto Gonzales pay for protecting the Bush Administration?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Bush Admits to Approving Torture–But Which Use of It?

The WaPo reports that Bush, in his book, admits to approving waterboarding.

In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

At one level, this is thoroughly unsurprising. We know the Bush Administration very deliberately implemented torture, so it’s unsurprising to hear that it was approved by the President.

But–at least as Jeffrey Smith relays the admission from Bush–it raises as many questions as it does answers.

It appears that Bush admits to approving torture for use with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That is, he approved torture sometime around March 1, 2003, when KSM was captured.

That date is itself very significant. After all, on February 5, 2003, the first Democrat (Jane Harman) was briefed that the CIA had used waterboarding. Her response was a letter, objecting not just to the destruction of the torture tapes, but also asking specifically whether Bush had signed off on torture.

I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?

In response, CIA appears to have met with the White House around February 19, ostensibly to talk about an appropriate response. They also appear to have consulted with the White House on how they should record the results of the Gang of 4 briefings from that month; in the end, they only recorded the outcome of the Senate briefing–which Jay Rockefeller did not attend and at which Pat Roberts is recorded to have signed off not just on torture, but on destroying the torture tapes depicting that torture. In other words, for much of February 2003, CIA was working closely with the White House to create a false appearance of Congressional approval for torture, even while they were specifically refusing to give Congress something akin to a Finding making it clear the President had signed off on that torture.

And now we come to find out that’s precisely the period during which–at least according to Bush–he approved torture.

But note what that leaves out. At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah.

But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book.

Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

Moreover, there’s the whole issue of the approval method for the torture that occurred before August 1, 2002.

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.

According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.

In other words, Bush has admitted to approving torture in 2003. But that likely obfuscates his earlier approval for torture at a time when he had no legal cover for doing so.

In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we’ve got silence coming from John Durham.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Timing of the Ramzi bin al-Shibh Tapes

I wanted to point out two details of timing on the Ramzi bin al-Shibh tapes:

  • The tapes were made after CIA started getting worried about making interrogation tapes
  • The tapes were disclosed after the CIA started trying to figure out what happened to the Abu Zubaydah tapes

The tapes were made after CIA already started getting worried about making interrogation tapes

The AP says the tapes were made while al-Shibh was in Morocco for the first time–sometime between September 17, 2002 and March 7, 2003.

When FBI agents finally had a chance to interview Binalshibh, they found him lethargic but physically unharmed. He projected an attitude suggesting he was unconcerned he had been caught.

Before the FBI made any real headway, the CIA flew Binalshibh on Sept. 17, 2002, to Morocco on a Gulfstream jet, according to flight records and interviews.

Current and former officials said this was the period when Binalshibh was taped. His revelations remain classified but the recordings, the officials said, made no mention of the 9/11 plot. It’s unclear who made the tapes or how they got to the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters.

In March 2003, Binalshibh was moved to a Polish facility code-named Quartz soon after his mentor, Mohammed, was nabbed in Pakistan.

This would mean al-Shibh arrived in Morocco (and therefore the tapes were made) sometime after some people met at Langley and decided they should destroy the Zubaydah tapes.

On 05 September 2002, HQS elements discussed the disposition of the videotapes documenting interrogation sessions with ((Abu Zubaydah)) that are currently being stored at [redacted] with particular consideration to the matters described in Ref A Paras 2 and 3 and Ref B para 4. As reflected in Refs, the retention of these tapes, which is not/not required by law, represents a serious security risk for [redacted] officers recorded on them, and for all [redacted] officers present and participating in [redacted] operations.

[snip]

Accordingly, the participants determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes [redacted]

The CIA appears to have already been manipulating briefing records, possibly to give the appearance of Congressional support for either the program or the destruction of the tapes.

Note, too, that there are only two video tapes (plus the “audio” tape I’ve raised questions about here). If the audio tape were, in fact, just an audio tape, that would leave two video tapes. Which is how many tapes existed of Rahim al-Nashiri’s interrogations, at least by the time they did the inventory. That’s presumably because al-Nashiri was taken into CIA custody after the point when–on October 25, 2002–HQ told the Thai black site to record over tapes every day.

It is now HQS policy that [redacted] record one day’s worth of sessions on one videotape for operational considerations, utilize the tape within that same day for purposes of review and note taking, and record the next day’s sessions on the same tape. Thus, in effect, the single tape in use [redacted] will contain only one day’s worth of interrogation sessions.

Now we know they kept two (or maybe three) tapes for al-Nashiri (presumably taking notes off one day’s tape while the other was being used to record new interrogations) because the tape inventory shows the following:

Detainee #2

[Tape] 91 [Redacted]tape and rewind #2

[Tape] 92 3 [Redacted] use and rewind #3 [redacted] final

While obviously we have no such inventory showing the al-Shibh tapes, it is possible that they were used in the same manner as the al-Nashiri tapes were–to collect just one day’s worth of interrogation to assist in transcription or note-taking. (And remember, ultimately there were transcriptions made of the al-Shibh tapes, though we don’t know when that happened). It’s possible then–though this is just a wildarsed guess–that the existence of just three tapes suggests they were started after HQ decided to tape over tapes (so after October 25), or that they first implemented the policy for al-Shibh sometime before October 25.

Also note the content of the last three–presumably chronologically–tapes of Abu Zubaydah. Tapes 89 and 90 are “use and rewind” #1 and #2. But the tape just before that–tape 88–has “no video but there is sound.” Thus, the last three tapes from Abu Zubaydah consist of two video tapes and one “audio” tape, just like the three tapes from al-Shibh.

If in fact the 2-3 al-Shibh tapes only include the last days of his interrogation on which taping was used, then the AP source’s claim that they simply show him sitting in a room being interrogated doesn’t mean that the tapes contained no forensic evidence of something else–more abusive interrogations that happened on earlier days. After all, the tapes would no longer “show” what had happened during earlier interrogation sessions.

One more note about this early period. One question the AP raises is when and how the tapes were moved from Morocco to Langley.

It’s worth remembering that the Zubaydah and al-Nashiri tapes were also moved at one point. In a cable from HQ to the field (we know this from Vaughn Indices that described this cable before it was released) written on December 3, 2002, just days after John McPherson reviewed the torture tapes and presumably discovered they had been tampered with, someone says:

It was a mistake to move [redacted] tapes [redacted] in light of Ref C guidance.

Notably, given that this refers to tapes being moved in the past tense on December 3, this may suggest the tapes were moved from the black site before it was finally closed. Mind you, the detail may be completely irrelevant to al-Shibh’s tapes, but they do suggest people in the field were moving tapes without clear approval from HQ.

The tapes were disclosed after the CIA started trying to figure out what happened to the Abu Zubaydah tapes

As I noted here, the story the AP’s sources told (that a person stumbled across a box under a desk with all three al-Shibh tapes in it) and the story DOJ told Leonie Brinkema (that they learned first of one tape, and then, after asking CIA to make sure there were no more) differ in key ways.

But that difference gets all the more interesting given indications that CIA was trying to figure out what had happened to the Zubaydah tapes in precisely the same time period. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Why Were the Torture Tapes Destroyed?

Bob Baer has a column out stating that he can’t figure out why the torture tapes were destroyed–and repeating CIA spin claiming the torture depicted in the tapes should not, itself, be a legal problem, since it was approved by DOJ. (h/t cs)

Did the CIA want to destroy graphic evidence of sleep-deprivation or waterboarding? They were interrogation methods approved by the Department of Justice in memos sent to the CIA, and therefore shouldn’t have been deemed a legal problem. The closest thing we come to answer is an internal CIA e-mail released last Thursday, in which an unidentified CIA officer writes that Rodriguez decided to destroy the tapes because they made the CIA “look horrible; it would be devastating to us.”

[snip]

I haven’t been able to clear up the mystery either, beyond the fact that a former CIA officer aware of the details of the 2002 interrogation of the two al-Qaeda suspects told me that the tapes’ images were “horrific.” He believes that although the interrogations fell within the guidelines provided by the Department of Justice, if the public ever saw them, it would conclude that “enhanced interrogation” is just another name for torture.

Those of you who have been following along already know this, but I thought I ought to sum up what we do know–but what Baer’s CIA sources aren’t telling him.

First, Baer’s source who “believes … the interrogations fell within the guidelines provided by the Department of Justice” is wrong–at least so long as we’re talking DOJ’s written guidelines. As CIA’s Inspector General made clear, the waterboarding that was depicted on the tapes in 2003 did not fall within the limits of the Bybee Two memo, both because the torturers used far more water, forced it down Abu Zubaydah’s throat, and used it with far more repetition than allowed by the memo. Furthermore, the torturers exceeded even the guidelines the Counterterrorism Center set on sleep deprivation–though Yoo may (or may not have) have set the limit in the Bybee Two memo high enough to cover what had already been done to Abu Zubaydah. Folks in the IG’s office had about seven more pages of concerns about what was depicted on the torture tapes (PDF 86-93)–but that all remains redacted.

So the tapes did not, in fact, match the written guidelines DOJ gave them. The torturers claim to have kept John Yoo and others up-to-date on their variances, but John Yoo’s statements thus far challenge that claim.

And in any case, that only describes the evidence on the torture tapes as they existed in 2003 when the IG reviewed them and presumably in 2005 when CIA destroyed them.

The other, potentially bigger problem for those depicted in the torture tapes has to do with what once appeared on the 15 tapes that the torturers altered before November 30, 2002, when CIA lawyer John McPherson reviewed them. Before that point, the torturers had altered 21 hours of the torture tapes, which covered at least two of the harshest torture sessions. Had someone done forensics on the tapes before they were destroyed, we might have learned what happened during those 21 hours. But by destroying the tapes completely, the CIA prevented that from happening.

I’m guessing–though it’s only a guess–that was the point.

Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.