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The Timeline of Torture Tape Destruction in John Durham’s Documents

As I said the other day, most of the documents we received the other day are the 13 or so documents that CIA had cleared for FOIA release, but over which John Durham had declared a law enforcement privilege. This chart compares what we got with what had been declared in Vaughn Indices in November (this showed the hard copy documents explaining the destruction of the torture tapes) and January (this showed the electronic documents discussing the destruction of the torture tapes; there are 6 files total to this index). While this doesn’t show us everything John Durham is looking at (presumably, there are a number of documents that are too sensitive to release), looking at the documents from this perspective gives us a sense of what Durham is investigating.

As you’ll see from the chart, I have numbered the documents from 1 to 27. I just assigned them in the order the documents appear in the complete PDF file. I’ll also refer to the PDF number for each document.

The Documents Not on Durham’s List

First, assuming I matched the documents up to the Vaughn descriptions properly, there are four documents that were not on Durham’s list:

  • Document 9, January 9, 2003, Review of Interrogation Videotapes (PDF 24-28)
  • Document 11, June 18, 2003, Interview Report (PDF 33-37)
  • Document 22, December 3, 2007, Potential Statement (PDF 86-93)
  • Document 23, December 10, 2007, Trip Report (PDF 95-99)

I believe these documents all did appear elsewhere in the earlier FOIAs on this (I’m going to try to find the Vaughn descriptions later), but presumably CIA had earlier said it could not release them, which meant it was that decision, rather than Durham’s determination, that had prevented their earlier release.

Most of these documents (except the questions) pertain to the CIA Office of General Counsel review of the torture tape, and the Inspector General’s subsequent discovery that the original review had neglected to mention key details about blank tapes and discrepancies between what was portrayed in the video and what OLC authorized. Curiously, their release seems to be tied to the events reported by the WaPo, in which John McPherson, reportedly the lawyer who conducted that review, was given immunity to testify before the grand jury in the last month or so. In other words, now that McPherson has testified about this stuff, CIA has decided to release the details of his review publicly. I have included the documents in the timeline below.

Update: I’ve added in some of the dates reflected in the Vaughn Indices that I think flesh out this timeline. Those dates will not be bolded.

The Chronology on the Tapes

Many of the rest of these documents pertain to the correspondence regarding videotapes. The chronology they show is:

April 13, 2002: Interrogators start videotaping interrogations.

April 17, 2002: Two page Top Secret cable providing guidance on the retention of video tapes.

April 27, 2002: A letter directing the tapes “should all be catalogued and made into official record copies” and asking when they would “arrive here.” (Document 1; PDF 1)

May 6, 2002: Someone sends a cable providing guidance to “please do not tape over or edit videos of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations” and “please preserve all videos.” Note, we don’t get the original copy of this, but it appears in an email forwarding the cable to Scott Muller and John Rizzo in January 2003. (Document 10; PDF )

September 5, 2002: According to October 25, 2002 cable (see below), “HQS elements discussed the disposition of the videotapes” and determined that “the continued retention of these tapes … represents a serious security risk.” (Documents 2 and 3; PDF 3-7)

September 6, 2002: Two emails: A five-page email between CIA attorneys regarding a draft of a cable discussing the disposition of the video tapes, and a one-page email between CIA attorneys on the revisions of a draft cable regarding the disposition of the video tapes.

October 25, 2002: Cable directing field to tape over tapes each day and promising someone will deploy to assist in destroying the existing tapes. (Document 2, Document 3; PDF 3-7)

October 27, 2002: Some excerpts the October 25 cable and another one (which is entirely redacted) into a one-page summary. Note that both prior cables were classified Secret, but this summary is classified Top Secret. (Document 4; PDF 9)

November 28, 2002: It appears this cable was included among those collected in Document 12 some time after the tape destruction. But what we got in FOIA cuts off the cable (and entirely redacts what is there). (PDF 39-50) Note that the November 11, 2009 Vaughn Index described document 12 as a 13 page document, but we’ve only got 12 pages.

November 30, 2003: John McPherson reviews the torture tapes. This is noted in an undated timeline of the facts surrounding the torture tape destruction. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

December 1, 2002: A two-page email that discusses the notes of a CIA attorney.

December 3, 2002: After McPherson reviewed the videotapes on November 30, someone sent out a cable stating that it was a mistake to move the videotapes, and ordering that “no tapes will be destroyed until specific authorization is sent.” Documents 5, 6, and 7 all appear to be identical copies of this cable, save for routing information that is redacted; the routing on Document 6 is very long. (PDF 11-18)

December 3, 2002: A one-page email outlining the destruction plan for video tapes.

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What Happened to that OTHER OPR Report?

Remember the OPR Report? No, not the OPR Report on John Yoo’s laughably bad torture memos. I’m talking about the OPR Report on John Yoo’s even worse memo(s) authorizing domestic surveillance. The Torture OPR Report notes that it was the domestic surveillance memo, and not the torture memos, that first clued Jack Goldsmith into how dangerous John Yoo was.

Because of the problems with Yoo’s NSA opinions, Goldsmith asked Philbin, who was familiar with Yoo’s work at OLC, to bring him copies of any other opinions that might be problematic.

And it was OPR’s investigation into the domestic surveillance memo–not the investigation into torture memos (as far as we know)–that George Bush tried to spike by refusing investigators the clearance to conduct the investigation.

Last we’ve heard official mention of this OPR investigation was last July, in the combined IG Report on warrantless wiretapping. At that point, we know, the investigation was not yet complete.

Title III of the FISA Amendments Act required that the report of any investigation of matters relating to the PSP conducted by the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) be provided to the DOJ Inspector General, and that the findings and conclusions of such investigation be included in the DOJ OIG review. OPR has initiated a review of whether any standards of professional conduct were violated in the preparation of the first series of legal memoranda supporting the PSP. OPR has not completed its review.

Since then we’ve heard nothing.

It turns out, I asked DOJ a week and a half ago about the report and got a “Oh, let me do research.” I did a follow-up last week (as it happens, on Friday, the day Dawn Johnsen withdrew her nomination) and got a very different response: “We don’t comment on OPR investigations.” Now, perhaps that’s just a prudent response after all the accusations Yoo and Bybee made that OPR was leaking information on the Torture memo investigation.

Still.

I find the secrecy around the domestic surveillence OPR Report all the more interesting given that DOJ still hasn’t decided what to do about the 2006 White Paper used to justify warrantless wiretapping after Jim Comey and Jack Goldsmith realized the inherent powers argument failed. Mind you, David Barron’s OLC passed what appears–from Glenn Fine’s description–just as troubling as those two earlier memos back on January 8, 2010. So maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we’re doomed to have OLC recklessly authorize illegal wiretapping of Americans in the dark of night, no matter who’s in charge there.

Nevertheless, it does seem worthwhile to remember that John Yoo was investigated not just for his egregious torture memos, but also for saying the President didn’t have to follow the law–even the laws saying that Presidents can’t wiretap Americans.

Daniel Levin Tells Jim Haynes, Again, Not to Torture

We’ve long known that in February 2005, then-acting head of OLC Daniel Levin contacted DOD General Counsel to remind him that the March 14, 2003 Yoo memo on torture had been withdrawn. But I, for one, had never seen a copy of that letter. It turns out the government included it with their Appeals brief in the David Passaro case (see pages 99-100).

The memo is important for several reasons.

First, note the date: February 4, 2005. The memo was written on Levin’s last day as acting OLC head, the day Alberto Gonzales was confirmed Attorney General. Particularly given questions about what authority DOD had for detainee interrogations after Jack Goldsmith purportedly withdrew the memo, the fact that Levin saw the need to formally remind Haynes the memo had been withdrawn on his last day is telling. Remember, too that Levin had real concerns about whether Steven Bradbury–who would take over as acting head of OLC the following day and would go on to write a crazy opinion authorizing DOD’s Appendix M the following year–should be appointed OLC head.

Only, it’s not entirely clear Goldsmith ever did withdraw the memo.

Here is the text of the memo:

In December 2003, then-Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith advised you that the March 2003 Memorandum was under review by his Office and should not be relied upon for any purpose. Assistant Attorney General Goldsmith specifically advised, however, that the 24 interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary of Defense for use with al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base were authorized for continued use as noted below. I understand that, since that time, the Department of Defense has not relied on the March 2003 Memorandum for any purpose. I also understand that, to the extent that the March 2003 Memorandum was relied on from March 2003 to December 2003, policies based on the substance of that Memorandum have been reviewed and, as appropriate, modified to exclude such reliance. This letter will confirm that this Office has formally withdrawn the March 2003 Memorandum.

The March 2003 Memorandum has been superseded by subsequent legal analyses. The attached Testimony of Patrick F. Philbin before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, July 14, 2004, reflects a determination by the Department of Justice that the 24 interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary of Defense mentioned above are lawful when used in accordance with the limitations and safeguards specified by the Secretary. This also accurately reflects Assistant Attorney General Goldsmith’s oral advice in December 2003. In addition, as I have previously informed you, this Office has recently issued a revised interpretation of the federal criminal prohibition against torture, codified at 18 USC 2340-2340A, which constitutes the authoritative opinion as to the requirements of that statute. [citation omitted; my emphasis]

Note that Levin makes it clear that Goldsmith did not withdraw the memo in December 2003, he just advised Haynes not to rely on it (we knew this). But Levin also makes no mention of Goldsmith formally withdrawing the memo, as the OPR Report suggests happened, in spring of 2004. And while Levin makes it clear–as he did in his September 2004 memo summarizing the advice OLC had given on torture–that Pat Philbin’s testimony to HPSCI was understood to serve as OLC advice to DOD, Levin’s statement that he was “confirming” that OLC had withdrawn the memo suggests DOD had not yet received such a written notice before then.

How CIA Avoided Negligent Homicide Charges in the Salt Pit Killing

Since the AP story on the Salt Pit death, reporters have focused a lot of attention to a particular footnote in Jay Bybee’s second response to the OPR Report and what it claims about intent (and, to a lesser degree, what it says about Jay Bybee’s fitness to remain on the 9th Circuit). In it, Jay Bybee references a memo CIA’s Counterterrorism Center wrote in response to Gul Rahman’s death at the Salt Pit; the memo argued that the CIA officer in charge should not be prosecuted under the torture statute because he did not have the specific intent to make Rahman suffer severe pain when he doused him with water and left him exposed in freezing temperatures.

Notably, the declination memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section regarding the death of Gul Rahman provides a correct explanation of the specific intent element and did not rely on any motivation to acquire information. Report at 92. If [redacted], as manager of the Saltpit site, did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from low temperatures in his cell, he would lack specific intent under the anti-torture statute. And it is also telling that the declination did not even discuss the possibility that the prosecution was barred by the Commander-in-Chief section of the Bybee memo.

As Scott Horton noted the other day, analysis of the torture statute should not have been the only thing in the declination memo. Prosecutors should have analyzed whether or not Rahman’s killing constituted negligent homicide, among other things.

Note that the declination, issued by politically loyal U.S. attorneys who were subsequently rewarded with high postings at Main Justice, carefully follows the rationalizations that Yoo and Bybee advanced for not prosecuting deaths or serious physical harm resulting from state-sanctioned torture. But the obvious problem, as John Sifton notes at Slate, is that torture and homicide are hardly the only charges that could be brought in such a circumstance. Negligent homicide or milder abuse charges would have obviously been available, and a survey of comparable cases in the setting of state and local prisoners suggests that they are far more common. By looking only at homicide and torture, the prosecutors were paving the way for a decision not to charge.

But the OPR Report and the Legal Principles/Bullet Points documents it describes may explain why this didn’t happen. The Legal Principles/Bullet Points document shows that CIA claimed–possibly, with the tacit approval of the Principals Committee–that the only two criminal statutes that could be applied to its interrogation program were the Torture Statute and the War Crimes Statute.

As a threshold matter, Horton appears to be misstating what the declination memo described in the footnote is and–more importantly–who wrote it. “Politically loyal US Attorneys” did not write the declination described here. Some lawyer at CIA’s CTC wrote it. That’s because, as the OPR Report explains in the section preceding the entirely redacted passage that discusses this letter (the declination letter appears on PDF 98, which appears in the same section as the following quotes from pages PDF 96 and 97), DOJ told CIA to go collect facts about the abuses they reported in January 2003 (which include the Salt Pit killing and threats of death used with Rahim al-Nashiri) themselves.

According to a CIA MFR drafted by John Rizzo on January 24,2003, Scott Muller (then CIA General Counsel), Rizzo and [redacted] met with Michael Chertoff Alice Fisher, John Yoo, and [redacted–probably Jennifer Koester] to discuss the incidents at [redacted]. According to Rizzo, he told Chertoff before the meeting that he needed to discuss “a recent incident where CIA personnel apparently employed unauthorized interrogation techniques on a detainee.”

[snip]

Chertoff reportedly commented that the CIA was correct to advise them because the use of a weapon to frighten a detainee could have violated the law. He stated that the Department would let CIA OIG develop the facts and that DOJ would determine what action to take when the facts were known. According to Rizzo, “Chertoff expressed no interest or intention to pursue the matter of the [redacted].

On January 28, 2003, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson called Yoo and told him that the CIA OIG was looking into the [redacted] matter. According to Helgerson’s email message to Rizzo, Yoo “specifically said they felt they do not need to be involved until after the OIG report is completed.” Rizzo responded to Helgerson: “Based on what Chertoff told us when we gave him the heads up on this last week, the Criminal Division’s decision on whether or not some criminal law was violated here will be predicated on the facts that you gather and present to them.”

Alerted that, in the course of interrogating detainees, CIA had killed one and threatened to kill another detainee, DOJ’s first response (at least according to two different CIA versions of what happened) was to tell CIA to go collect information on the events themselves. Only after CIA finished investigating and presented the facts of the case would DOJ weigh in on whether a crime had been committed.

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How John Yoo Negated the Mental Suffering of Death Threats in the Bybee Two Memo

It’s time to read the Bybee Two memo again.

Since the OPR Report came out, we’ve learned the following (some of it was already out there, but I, at least, hadn’t noticed it):

  • After his 63rd interrogation session, Abu Zubaydah experienced what his torturers call “hard dislocation”
  • An “issue arose” during the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah that two CIA lawyers discussed via email on July 10, 2002
  • In the days following CIA lawyers’ discussion of that issue, Criminal Division Chief Michael Chertoff got his own briefing on the torture memo (July 11), followed the next day by a meeting with Alberto Gonzales and probably David Addington (July 12), followed the next day by a larger briefing including Gonzales, Chertoff, John Rizzo and FBI Chief of Staff Daniel Levin that covered both the planned torture techniques and the torture memo (July 13)
  • After Chertoff told CIA at that July 13 meeting that he would not issue an advance declination of prosecution for torture, Rizzo asked for and received a memo laying out “the elements of the torture statute;” the July 13 memo focused closely on the definition of intent to cause mental suffering; Yoo’s supervisors John Ashcroft and Jay Bybee claim to be unaware of the memo
  • In his cable to AZ’s torture team written after both Bybee Memos were completed, Counterterrorism Center lawyer Jonathan Fredman relied on the language on intent from the July 13 memo, not the Bybee One memo
  • Also after the meeting at which Chertoff refused an advance declination, David Addington appears to have directed John Yoo to include several affirmative defenses in the Bybee One memo
  • The next draft of the memo–dated July 23 and for the first time addressed to Alberto Gonzales–included the affirmative defenses Addington had asked for as well as language on intent to cause mental harm adopted from the July 13 memo
  • In the days following that draft, several things happened to change the approach to torture authorization
  • CIA removed mock burial on its list of torture techniques because approving it would hold up the overall memo
  • CIA asked for a separate letter addressing specific techniques–what would become the Bybee Two memo
  • As part of several packets of information they received from CIA on the long term mental effects of torture, Yoo and Jennifer Koester almost certainly received a draft psychological evaluation noting that AZ had experienced “hard dislocation” after session 63, though we can’t prove that they saw that phrase because the copy of the document they received has been altered before being released in FOIA
  • A large packet of information received on the same day as one of the draft psychological evaluations disappeared from the OLC SCIF

All those details make it fairly clear that the Bybee Two memo was designed to respond to the July 13 memo. But they also help to prove that it failed to do what it was intended to do.

How John Yoo told the CIA to “negate” their specific intent to torture

Yoo’s July 13 memo stated that several things were necessary to prosecute torture for the infliction of mental suffering:

  • The commission of certain kinds of predicate acts, that included but were not limited to the use of procedures designed to profoundly disrupt the senses and/or the threat of imminent death
  • The infliction of prolonged mental harm as a result of those predicate acts
  • The specific intent to inflict the severe mental suffering from those predicate acts

But even if someone had the specific intent to commit those predicate acts and prolonged mental harm resulted, Yoo included an escape hatch. He basically said that if a person had conducted studies and based on those studies had concluded that prolonged mental harm would not result, then he could claim to have been operating with a good faith belief that those actions did not cause prolonged mental harm.

Specific intent can be negated by a showing of good faith. Thus, if an individual undertook any of the predicate acts for severe mental pain or suffering, but did so in the good faith belief that those acts would not cause the prisoner prolonged mental harm, he would not have acted with the specific intent necessary to establish torture. If, for example, efforts were made to determine what long-term impact, if any, specific conduct would have and it was learned that the conduct would not result in prolonged mental harm, any actions undertaken relying on that advice would have be [sic] undertaken in good faith. Due diligence to meet this standard might include such actions as surveying professional literature, consulting with experts, or evidence gained from past experience.

In other words, to “negate” the specific intent to cause prolonged mental harm that constituted torture, you could do a bunch of study and if that study showed no prolonged mental harm had resulted from these actions in the past, you could then claim that you had no idea that those actions might cause prolonged mental harm in the future, and therefore any deliberate actions that ended up causing prolonged mental harm weren’t really torture.

Abracadabra!!!

As I’ll show below, the Bybee Two memo was designed to show that CIA had done that kind of study. (Note, this is not an original observation; I’m fairly certain both Jeff Kaye and William Ockham have made this observation in the past.) But, as I’ll show in a follow-up post, it fails in what it was designed to do.

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CIA Lawyers Were Discussing “Issue that Arose” Three Days Before July 13 Fax

My focus on the multiple versions of Abu Zubaydah’s psychological assessment led me to review the CIA OIG Vaughn Declaration from last August, and one document that was withheld caught my eye.

The document strongly suggests that the July 13, 2002 John Yoo fax that appears to have been used as CIA’s general authorization for torture was written in response to a specific issue that had already arisen with Abu Zubaydah.

The Vaughn Index was written in response to ACLU’s FOIA for documents relating to what would have been shown on the 92 destroyed torture tapes. From the descriptions in the Vaughn, it’s clear that most of the documents include things like plans for torture techniques written both before after after Abu Zubaaydah’s torture, plans for black sites, communication about the investigation into detainee treatment (I presume that treatment of al-Nashiri would be included, since his interrogations were also on the destroyed tapes, but not the Salt Pit death of Gul Rahman, which wasn’t taped), and interviews from the investigation.

And though there are a few documents that clearly are efforts to improve on the techniques used against AZ (including pictures), there are relatively few documents in CIA IG custody from the period of AZ’s most intense interrogation. There are:

  • “4-pages of handwritten notes, dated April 3, 2002, by a CIA officer regarding the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.”
  • “A 1-page email,” dated April 5, 2002, “with an attached two page cable from a CIA attorney to a CIA officer regarding the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.”
  • A “four page cable from the field to CIA Headquarters,” dated April 11, 2002, containing “information relating to the CIA’s terrorist detention and interrogation program” (note, this was the day Yoo officially started on the Bybee Memo).
  • A May 15, 2002 “two page memo from one CIA officer to another CIA officer discussing information, provided by Abu Zubaydah, relating to a classified counter-terrorism operation.”
  • A “1-page of handwritten notes dated July 24, 2002 from a CIA officer describing proposed interrogation techniques that could be considered for use on detainees.”
  • A “two page cable from the field to CIA Headquarters,” dated August 12, 2002, and “a 6-page cable from the field to CIA Headquarters,” dated August 24, 2002, both containing “information relating to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.”

(There’s also a cable listed with the date July 26, 2006, which given its place in the Vaughn Index might actually have been dated July 26, 2002, discussing AZ’s status.) There are also a few documents that pertain to discussions in DC (for example, a Memorandum of Understanding recording CIA’s version of an early meeting on the Bybee Memo).

Then there’s the email that sparked my interest, labeled Email-591, dated July 10, 2002, and classified as Top Secret.

This document is a 2-page email chain between CIA attorneys. The document contains the attorneys’ legal analysis as it relates to a specific issue that arose in the context of the CIA’s counter-terrorism program, which was created in anticipation of litigation.

In other words, on July 10, 2002, two of CIA’s lawyers were discussing something that came up–almost certainly (given the scope of the FOIA response) during Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation–in anticipation of litigation. And three days later, CIA lawyer John Rizzo would attend a meeting at which DOJ Criminal Division head Michael Chertoff refused to give CIA an advance declination for any crimes committed during Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation and FBI Chief of Staff Daniel Levin announced that the FBI would no longer have anything to do with the CIA’s interrogation program. Ostensibly, those responses came partly in response to Rizzo’s description of purportedly proposed torture techniques. Yet after that meeting, Rizzo asked John Yoo for a letter “setting forth the elements of the torture statute.” And the fax Yoo wrote in response–rather than the formal Bybee One opinion–would serve as CIA’s internal guide for the role of intent in the torture statute, particularly the way intent purportedly played into torture having to do with the infliction of several mental suffering.

All of which suggests the torturers did something to inflict severe mental suffering on Abu Zubaydah–one the CIA’s own lawyers recognized might result in litigation–just before July 10, 2002.

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The Context of the July 13 Fax

As I pointed out in an earlier post, when Counterterrorism Center lawyer Jonathan Fredman sent the torturers in Thailand a green light for torture in August 2002, he relied on language about intent from a July 13, 2002 fax from John Yoo to John Rizzo rather than the finalized August 1 Bybee Memo. In a second post on this, I also showed that both of Yoo’s nominal supervisors–Jay Bybee and John Ashcroft–claim they knew nothing about that fax. In this post, I’m going to show how that fax appears to arise out of DOJ discomfort with CIA’s torture program.

As the timeline below shows, Yoo dated (but did not send) the fax the same day that the numerous parties involved in reviewing the Bybee Memo had an apparently contentious meeting at which they discussed the draft memo as well as the CIA’s torture plan (I’m doing a big update on the Torture Timeline, so some of this is not reflected in the timeline yet).

July 10, 2002: John Yoo tells Jennifer Koester that they will present the Bybee memo to NSC at 10:45 on July 12 (and names the Bybee Memo the “bad things opinion”!).

July 11, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester have briefing session with Michael Chertoff on Bybee Memo.

July 11, 2002: An OLC paralegal cite-checks the draft, and someone schedules a July 12 meeting with Alberto Gonzales and a July 13 meeting with (effectively) NSC.

July 12, 2002: First draft of Bybee Memo distributed outside of OLC.

July 12, 2002: John Yoo meets with Alberto Gonzales (and either David Addington or Tim Flanigan) on Bybee Memo.

July 13, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester present July 12 draft to John Rizzo, John Bellinger, Michael Chertoff, Daniel Levin, and Alberto Gonzales. Rizzo provides overview of interrogation plan. Chertoff refuses to give CIA advance declination of prosecution. Levin states that FBI would not participate in any interrogation using torture techniques, nor would it participate in discussions on the subject.

July 13, 2002: Rizzo asks Yoo for letter “setting forth the elements of the torture statute.”

July 15, 2002: John Yoo faxes John Rizzo July 13 letter on the torture statute.

July 15, 2002: John Yoo sends Jennifer Koester an email telling her to include a footnote in the opinion stating that they had not been asked about affirmative defenses like necessity, self-defense, or commander-in-chief powers.

July 16, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester meet with Alberto Gonzales and (probably) David Addington and Tim Flanigan. Yoo shared the July 13 fax with them. At the meeting, it is decided that Yoo will include Commander-in-Chief and other affirmative defenses in Bybee Memo.

July 16, 2002: In response to earlier request from Michael Chertoff (perhaps as early as July 13), John Yoo has Jennifer Koester draft, but not send, a letter to CIA refusing a letter of declination of prosecution.

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

Of course, two things are going on in the background. First, when Ali Soufan left the black site in May because James Mitchell threatened Abu Zubaydah with mock burial, DOJ got official notice that one of its top terrorism agents believed that the CIA was using torture with Zubaydah. Yet, two months later, the torturers were almost certainly already using the most aggressive torture with Abu Zubaydah.

What seems to have happened is the following. Yoo and Koester were all set for an NSC meeting on July 12, perhaps until they had a July 11 briefing with Chertoff. In any case, something made them reschedule that NSC meeting to arrange an Alberto Gonzales (and presumably, Addington) meeting first. After which they appear to have had an incredibly contentious meeting with Bellinger, Chertoff, Levin and others. Perhaps the fact that John Rizzo presented the latest interrogation plan (which, we suspect, was already in process anyway) made things worse. We do know, for example, that mock burial remained in the plan, even after Soufan had balked when Mitchell tried to use it two months earlier. Whether because of Rizzo’s presentation or Yoo’s draft memo, at the meeting Chertoff definitively refused an advance declination and Levin announced that FBI would have nothing more to do with CIA’s torture program.

And so Rizzo, perhaps noting that the head of DOJ’s Criminal Division and the FBI Chief of Staff were reacting rather unfavorably to CIA’s torture plan, asked Yoo for some kind of cover. In response, Yoo wrote a memo raising the bar for prosecution of inflicting severe mental suffering incredibly high.

What I find particularly interesting is the 2-day delay before Yoo sent the fax, dated July 13, to Rizzo on July 15. That likely coincided with another delay; we know Chertoff asked Yoo to send Rizzo a letter refusing advance declination sometime between July 13 and July 16, but Yoo didn’t act on that request until he had sent Rizzo his July 13 fax already.

Did Yoo get both the request for the letter refusing advance declination and the request for the letter laying out the torture statute at the same contentious meeting?

And then there’s one more unexplainable coincidence. On the same day Yoo sent the July 13 memo (on July 15), Yoo instructed Koester they not only wouldn’t include any affirmative defenses in the memo, but they would claim they weren’t asked for such things. Yet that happened just a day before heading into a meeting with Gonzales and (almost certainly) Addington, at which they did decide to include such things. And incidentally–a fact I hadn’t noted before–Yoo gave Gonzales and (almost certainly) Addington a copy of his July 13 fax at the same meeting where it was decided to add affirmative defenses to the Bybee Memo.

I can’t prove it. But it appears that Yoo wrote the July 13 fax in response to serious reservations from Chertoff and Levin. And in response to that, Addington directed him to add a bunch more defenses (literal and figurative) into the Bybee Memo.

One last point. As I said, one key difference between the July 13 fax and the Bybee Memo is that Yoo rebutted an obvious objection to his reading of how the Torture Statute treated intent with severe mental suffering.

It could be argued that a defendant needs to have specific intent only to commit the predicate acts that give rise to prolonged mental harm. Under that view, so long as the defendant specifically intended to, for example, threaten a victim with imminent death, he would have had sufficient mens rea for a conviction. According to this view, it would be further necessary for a conviction to show only that the victim factually suffered mental harm, rather than that the defendant intended to cause it. We believe that this approach is contrary to the text of the statute.

Any bets on whether Chertoff and/or Levin made precisely this argument at that July 13 meeting?

Rendering Opinions on Rendering Detainees out of Iraq

This is going to be a really weedy post trying to explore what was going on with just about the only named opinion that Jack Goldsmith wrote at OLC that has gotten focused attention–a March 19, 2004 one cataloging the protected status of different kinds of people captured in Iraq. I will return to the significance of it in a future post. But this post shows that the topic of Goldsmith’s opinion appears to have been debated up until the time he left DOJ–and after he left, another opinion served to authorize the rendition of detainees from Iraq.

Addington objects to Goldsmith’s decision that Iraqi terrorists have protection under Geneva Convention

As Goldsmith wrote in Terror Presidency, this issue is one of the first he dealt with after he became OLC head in October 2003.

“Jack,” Gonzales said after cursory congratulations on my new post, “we need you to decide whether the Fourth Geneva Convention protects terrorists in Iraq. We need the answer as soon as possible, no later than the end of the week,” he added in his deadpan, nasally Texas drawl. (32)

After Goldsmith concluded in October 2003 that Iraqi members of al Qaeda were protected under the Geneva Convention, David Addington went apeshit.

“They’re going to be really mad,” [Patrick] Philbin told me as he and I were driving from the Justice Department to the White House to explain to Gonzales and Addington why the department that Iraqi terrorists were protected. “They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told ‘no’.”

Philbin was right.

“Jack, I don’t see how terrorists who violate the laws of war can get the protections of the laws of war,” said Gonzales, calmly, from his customary wing chair in his West Wing office.

[snip]

“The President has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections,” [Addington] barked. “You cannot question his decision.” (41)

Goldsmith went on to develop his oral advice into a formal opinion. And while he drafted that on March 19, 2004, he never finalized it.

Debate over detainee status between June and October

Now, as I’ll show below, the memo (or what was explained to be the memo) caused a bit of a firestorm in October 2004. But before that happened, the OLC Vaughn index shows, there appear to have been several rounds of discussion on the issue.

While the Vaughn index doesn’t list the March 19 version of this memo, it appears to show what might have been a June 29, 2004 version addressing the same topic.

This is a ten-page draft, from OLC to CIA. It is confirming legal advice, which was initially given orally, on whether a detainee is considered a protected person if involved in counterterrorism acitivies and captured.

Only this June 29, 2004 memo is 10 pages, whereas the March 19 memo is 23 pages.

Then, the following day, there is what may be CIA’s comments on that draft (with one additional page and hand-written notes), though this description doesn’t mention protected status.

This is an eleven-page document with handwriten comments, from the CIA to OLC, commenting on a draft letter regarding terrorism and interrogation of detainees.

On July 2, the same day Scott Muller wrote Jim Comey to tell him what had been approved after he and John Bellinger left a principals meeting discussing the interrogation of one particular detainee, CIA sent a second short memo describing the CIA securing custody of a detainee.

This is a two-page memo with a fax coversheet, providing legal advice regarding the CIA securing custody of a detainee and use of interrogation methods.

On July 14, three days before Goldsmith’s accelerated departure (remember, he originally intended to stay until August 6, but left on July 17 instead), there are nine copies (documents 50-58) of a one-page OLC memo written to the record (that is, not sent to the CIA per se) addressing whether a captured member of “a terrorist network” is legally protected.

This is a one-page OLC memo on whether a captured member of a terrorist network is legally protected under international law.

The number of copies written to the record suggests there may have been a face-to-face meeting on the subject after which the copies of the draft discussion were retained by OLC.

On July 15 (two days before Goldsmith left), there is a 5-page memo on the same subject.

This is a five-page OLC memo on whether a captured member of a terrorist network is legally protected under international law.

On July 21 (four days after Goldsmith’s departure), there is a 10 or 11-page document plus fax cover sheet from the White House to DOJ.

This is a ten-page document with handwritten marginalia and a fax cover sheet, which contains pre-decisional communication regarding detainees, that was sent from the EOP to the DOJ.

This is the only document in this set written by the White House.

After the White House document (which may or may not relate to the protected status of detainees) the dated OLC communication in the Vaughn Index consists exclusively of advice about torture techniques for several months.

Then, on October 4, there are a 4-page and a 5-page OLC memo written to the record “from OLC regarding application of international law, as it relates to detainees.”

Read more

“We all benefited” from Margolis’ tenure

A bunch of former DOJ bigwigs just wrote a seemingly pointless letter to Pat Leahy to assure him that David Margolis does not have a partisan–and they mean Left-Right partisan–bias. (h/t Main Justice)

I say “pointless,” to begin with, because after last Friday’s flaccid hearing on the OPR report, is anyone actually imagining that Pat Leahy is going to make a stink because the OPR Report got spiked?

And besides, no one thinks Margolis is a flaming political partisan. He’s a DOJ partisan, always putting the Department first, even ahead of justice. Hearing from a bunch of former DOJ bigwigs claiming he has no bias isn’t going to allay those concerns.

What’s particularly pathetic about this document, though, is the number people with a vested interest making the following weak claims:

we all benefited during our tenures from the wise counsel and good judgment of David Margolis

[snip]

While we do not comment here on the merits of the decision regarding the discipline of John Y00 and Jay Bybee, we are certain that it was reached conscientiously and wholly without partisan purposes.

[snip]

As those who have benefited from David Margolis’s counsel, we know he remains a great asset to the Department and the country for the present and future.

Let’s start with Alberto Gonzales, who gave approval for the use of torture techniques long before OLC did, and who was therefore perhaps the person most in need of the Get Out of Jail Free card that John Yoo wrote him. He signed this document.

So did George Terwilliger, Alberto Gonzales’ defense attorney, representing him on a number of ethical and potentially criminal issues, and therefore, presumably, on torture, if it ever came to that.

There’s Michael Mukasey, about whom Mary wrote a 2,000 word post describing his many conflicts on this issue. And Mark Filip, who helped Mukasey try to spike this report from the start. And Craig Morford, who was Acting DAG when Mukasey reviewed the Steven Bradbury memos and found them reasonable, which was itself a key part of spiking this investigation.

And how about John Ashcroft, huh? He wants you to know that he’s sure that Margolis judged correctly when Margolis determined that Ashcroft’s subordinates did not willfully do wrong when they shredded the Constitution eight years ago under Ashcroft’s inattentive watch. The same Ashcroft who reportedly pushed for some kind of “advance pardon” for the torturers. I sure trust him to tell me whether Margolis judged rightly or wrongly.

Then there’s Paul McNulty who, as US Attorney for Eastern District of VA, declined to charge people who engaged in torture and murder pursuant to these memos. The same guy whose decision to decline prosecution was reconsidered, given all the damning evidence in the OPR Report. Do you honestly believe that McNulty doesn’t want to have his decisions–which shortly preceded his promotion to be Deputy Attorney General–scrutinized that closely?

There’s Jim Comey, who may be one of those refusing to comment on the merits of the decision here (well then, why comment?), but who, when he lost the battle on the torture memos, expressed sadness “for the Department and the AG.” But not, it should be said, for the rule of law.

Add in Larry Thompson, who is another of the lawyers who, at least according to the OPR Report, reviewed and approved of the Bybee Memos. He thinks Margolis did the right thing too.

And, finally, David Ogden, who got fired not long ago, perhaps because he was happy to put politics above the law.

Now I’ll leave it for comments to unpack why people like lobbyist hack Jamie Gorelick wants to boost Margolis. But for now, just know that when at least 10 of these 17 bigwigs say they benefited from Margolis’ “wise counsel and good judgment,” they may well be talking about personal–and significant–benefit.

A Momentous Day to Lose Your Documentation

As I explained in this post, at least ten documents that OPR should have had to conduct its investigation into the writing of the torture memos disappeared sometime over the course of the investigation (significantly, CIA had an opportunity to come and take all the documents away for a while just after OPR first got access to them).

In this post, I showed how that prevents us–at least using just the unclassified report–from confirming whether or not John Yoo ever read the document making the following points:

  • The techniques the US was considering using on detainees amounted to torture
  • Torture produces unreliable information
  • America’s use of torture would increase the chances that Americans, if captured, would be tortured themselves

But there’s one more reason losing a large document, sent on July 25, 2002 from CIA and OLC (it probably originally came from DOD), is a problem: Because that document was exchanged on one of the most momentous days of the entire development of the torture memos.

Here’s a quick review of the most significant dates in the development of the torture memos:

April 11, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester officially begin working on the torture memo, though Yoo had already done research for it

July 13, 2002: Michael Chertoff tells CIA, Yoo, and others that DOJ will not issue an “advance declination” (a Get Out of Jail Free card) covering the torture program

July 16, 2002: David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, and Tim Flanigan order Yoo to reverse course and include the Commander-in-Chief and defenses section in the Bybee One memo to make up for not offering an advance declination

July 24, 2002: Yoo gives John Rizzo oral approval to use six torture techniques (attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, and wall standing) but says DOJ needs more data before approving waterboarding and other more controversial techniques, possibly including mock burial

“Some point thereafter”: Yoo tells Rizzo it will “take longer” to approve remaining torture methods if mock burial is included

July 25, 2002: CIA sends 46 to 60 pages of documents–possibly DOD documents–to OLC; those documents have since been lost

July 26, 2002: CIA sends 3 (or 4?) more DOD documents to OLC, including a list of torture techniques used in SERE; though the OPR Report doesn’t say it in the unclassified section, OLC verbally approves remaining torture techniques (except mock burial); CIA requests, for the first time, written approval for specific techniques

August 1: Bybee One and Two memos signed, as well as letter to Gonzales on CAT

There are three main plot lines, from what we can see, in the development of the Bybee Memos: first, the refusal of an advance declination and the replacement with it of other ways to allow torturers to Get Out of Jail Free. Then, the decision not to approve mock burial in an effort to get the memo quickly. And, finally, CIA’s last minute request to get the torture techniques approved in a written document.

Two of those three events happened sometime between July 24 and July 26. I’d suggest they might even be related. And 60 pages of documentation (or maybe 46, we don’t know)–documents that might explain how mock burial got dropped and/or a written list got added–have disappeared.

My gut feel is that the disappearing documents–assuming their disappearance from a SCIF was not just a remarkable accident–have more to do with the JPRA document than with the change in approach that day. But there’s the distinct possibility that those documents also would have explained more about the dropped mock burials and the written list of torture techniques.