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“It Smells Like a Cover-Up”

So sayeth one of Pincus and Warrick’s two sources describing the content of John Rizzo’s testimony. Mind you, that source remains anonymous, because "those in attendance were pledged to secrecy about the session." Of course, that didn’t prevent Crazy Pete Hoekstra from blabbing to the NYT and others about it, but he’s never believed that laws on secrecy should apply to him as well as staffers. Though, since I beat up Pincus yesterday for helping Bennett tamper with this investigation, let me just say that he offers, by far, the most interesting tidbit about Rizzo’s testimony.

Two of those at the hearing said that Rizzo said that after the tapes were made in 2002, lawyers at the CIA discussed the possibility that the FBI and the 9/11 Commission might want to see them.

If Rizzo has testified that lawyers at the CIA knew the 9/11 Commission might want to see the terror tapes, it strongly reinforces Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton’s claim that,

There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A. — or the White House — of the commission’s interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.

In fact, lawyers at the CIA knew that the 9/11 Commission would want to see these specific tapes. Which I guess is why George Tenet has lawyered up.

Meanwhile, the battle between Rodriguez, Rizzo, and Goss seems to be heating up. Bob Bennett specifically named Rizzo and Goss to the NYT as those who should have told Rodriguez to retain the tapes.

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Shorter Rizzo to Rodriguez: Well, If You’re Not Going to Testify, I Will Screw You

Remember how I suggested that this passage from Pincus’ love letter to Bob Bennett and his client Jose Rodriguez might be targeted to (among others) Porter Goss and John Rizzo?

"In 2003 the leadership of intelligence committees were told about the CIA’s intent to destroy the tapes. In 2005, CIA lawyers again advised the National Clandestine Service that they had the authority to destroy the tapes and it was legal to do so. It is unfortunate," Bennett continued, "that under the pressure of a Congressional and criminal investigation, history is now being revised, and some people are running for cover."

Well, here’s what Rizzo had to say to that.

 "I told the truth," Rizzo said in a brief appearance before reporters.

Which doesn’t sound like it was all too helpful for Rodriguez’ little story. Read more

The Dubious Timeline from Pincus’ Love Letter to Bob Bennett

I’ve already ranted about how irresponsible it was for Walter Pincus and Joby Warrick to publish Bob Bennett’s statement on behalf of Jose Rodriguez–a statement that Rodriguez refused to give under oath without immunity–on the same day that John Rizzo testifies before Congress. Nothing like assisting the obstruction of an ongoing investigation. But now that I’ve done my ranting (and enjoyed the sun), here is another rant about the dubious timeline offered in Pincus and Warrick’s article.

The article alternates between vague and specific in curious fashion. For example, the article specifies that the taping started in August and ended in December 2002.

According to interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials familiar with the debate, the taping was conducted from August to December 2002 to demonstrate that interrogators were following the detailed rules set by lawyers and medical experts in Washington, and were not causing a detainee’s death.

That detail directly contradicts the date offered in the CIA’s previous attempt to straighten out its story on the terror tapes, which claimed the taping started in spring 2002.

If Abu Zubaydah, a senior operative of Al Qaeda, died in American hands, Central Intelligence Agency officers pursuing the terrorist group knew that much of the world would believe they had killed him.

So in the spring of 2002, … they set up video cameras to record his every moment: asleep in his cell, having his bandages changed, being interrogated.

Now, there are two big reasons why the CIA might want to change that date. First, the CIA wasn’t authorized to torture until August 2002–so the later date magically makes any torture that happened legal, at least according to OLC. In addition, we know that Abu Zubaydah identified Padilla in the first several weeks of his captivity. By claiming no tapes were taken before August, the CIA pretends that any claim from Padilla regarding the tapes is irrelevant, since (if they really weren’t taken until August), the tapes would have no evidence relevant to Padilla’s case.

But here’s the problem with the new dates, beyond just the contradiction with the CIA’s earlier story: the CIA still wants you to believe they took the tapes to prove they weren’t killing Abu Zubaydah. But by August, he had already been under medical treatment for four months, presumably well beyond the time they needed to prove they weren’t killing Zubaydah.

And the changing date is all the more suspicious since Zubaydah’s health remains one of the chief reasons the WaPo’s sources give for stopping the taping.

By December 2002, the taping was no longer needed, according to three former intelligence officials. "Zubaida’s health was better, and he was providing information that we could check out," one said.

If the tapes were precipitated on Zubaydah’s health, then why didn’t they start until August, according to this latest iteration of the CIA story? Read more

A Cheap Ploy to Avoid Giving Testimony, Jose Rodriguez

Today’s article from Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus answers a lot of questions we’ve been asking about the torture tapes–the biggest being that the tapes were stored and destroyed in Thailand. And it has a lot of interesting details I’ll return to in a follow-up post, after I enjoy some rare MI sun with my dog. But the most important detail readers should take away is its function, as suggested by the following two passages. First, the recognition that John Rizzo will testify before HPSCI today.

John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s acting general counsel, is scheduled to discuss the matter in a closed House intelligence committee hearing scheduled for today.

And second, the incorporation of long excerpts from a written statement from Bob Bennett to present Jose Rodriguez’ justifications for his actions.

Those three circumstances pushed the CIA’s then-director of clandestine operations, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., to act against the earlier advice of at least five senior CIA and White House officials, who had counseled the agency since 2003 that the tapes should be preserved. Rodriguez consulted CIA lawyers and officials, who told him that he had the legal right to order the destruction. In his view, he received their implicit support to do so, according to his attorney, Robert S. Bennett.

[snip]

Rodriguez, whom the CIA honored with a medal in August for "Extraordinary Fidelity and Essential Service," declined requests for an interview. But his attorney said he acted in the belief that he was carrying out the agency’s stated intention for nearly three years. "Since 2002, the CIA wanted to destroy the tapes to protect the identity and lives of its officers and for other counterintelligence reasons," Bennett said in a written response to questions from The Washington Post.

"In 2003 the leadership of intelligence committees were told about the CIA’s intent to destroy the tapes. In 2005, CIA lawyers again advised the National Clandestine Service that they had the authority to destroy the tapes and it was legal to do so. It is unfortunate," Bennett continued, "that under the pressure of a Congressional and criminal investigation, history is now being revised, and some people are running for cover." [my emphasis] Read more

No Immunity, Yet, for Rodriguez

Well, Crazy Pete Hoekstra hasn’t managed to slip a little immunity deal to Jose Rodriguez–at least not yet.

The former CIA official who destroyed videotapes showing harsh interrogation tactics has been granted a temporary reprieve by the House intelligence committee, officials said last night.

The committee had demanded that Jose Rodriguez Jr. testify before it on Wednesday, but after being told that he would not answer questions without a grant of legal immunity for his testimony, the panel withdrew its demand, according to officials familiar with the arrangement.

[snip]

Officials said that a subpoena for Rodriguez will remain in effect and that talks between lawmakers, Justice Department officials and Rodriguez’s attorney, Robert S. Bennett, will continue.

I’m not sure what to make of the description of on-going talks. Hopefully, HPSCI has agreed not to do anything to impede the criminal investigation. But I’d be a lot more comfortable if HPSCI said it would hold off entirely on Rodriguez testimony until DOJ gave the okay.

CIA Inspector General: We Never Had Any Torture Tapes!

The CIA has responded to ACLU’s motion to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying the terror tapes. They argue they shouldn’t be held in contempt for destroying the torture tapes for three reasons:

The videotapes were held in operational files. The Court ruled that the CIA’s obligation to search for records responsive to Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests did not extend to its operational files. Rather, the Court ordered the CIA to search investigative files of the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (“CIA OIG”) for operational records produced to or collected by CIA OIG during the course of CIA OIG’s investigation into allegations of impropriety in Iraq. The tapes were not produced to or collected by CIA OIG. Thus, the CIA’s destruction of the videotapes did not violate the Court’s orders.

Moreover, the videotapes were not responsive to Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests because the activities depicted on the videotapes were not the subject of a CIA OIG investigation of allegations of impropriety in Iraq, or any other investigation conducted by CIA OIG. Under the Central Intelligence Agency Information Act (“CIA Information Act”), the CIA’s operational records are exempt from search or review in response to FOIA requests unless an exception to the Act applies. One exception is where the records requested are the specific subject matter of an investigation by CIA OIG into allegations of impropriety or illegality in the conduct of an intelligence activity. 50 U.S.C. § 431(c)(3). Here, CIA OIG did not conduct an investigation into allegations of impropriety or illegality relating to the interrogations on the videotapes prior to their destruction. Therefore, the tapes were exempt from search and review in response to Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests up to the time of their destruction.

Further, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has initiated a criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes. That investigation is considering, inter alia, whether the destruction of the tapes was inconsistent with or violated any legal obligations, including those arising out of civil matters such as this Court’s orders. Accordingly, if the Court does not deny the contempt application outright, it should stay these proceedings pending completion of DOJ’s criminal investigation. [my emphasis]

In other words, their reasoning depends entirely on the technical status of the CIA IG investigation into detainee interrogation. The CIA submitted a declaration describing that investigation; here’s what they said. Read more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

Is Dick Finally Going to Go After OBL?

The NYT has a disturbing story this morning, explaining that, with the US policy in tatters after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, they’re considering ratcheting up the pressure by allowing the CIA to partner with the Special Forces on operations in Pakistan.

President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The debate is a response to intelligence reports that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts there to destabilize the Pakistani government, several senior administration officials said.

[snip]

Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said. But no decisions were made, said the officials, who declined to speak for attribution because of the highly delicate nature of the discussions.

Many of the specific options under discussion are unclear and highly classified. Officials said that the options would probably involve the C.I.A. working with the military’s Special Operations forces.

Two pseudonymous counter-insurgency analysts cross-posting at Danger Zone have a good response to this: Read more

Helgerson’s Reports Will Remain Unchanged

Since I’ve been talking so much about Helgerson, and since we now have proof that Helgerson’s investigation was always central to discussions of the torture tape destruction, I would be remiss in ignoring this bit from the LAT (h/t Laura).

The CIA has completed a controversial in-house probe of its inspector general and plans to make a series of changes in the way the agency conducts internal investigations, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson has consented to more than a dozen procedural changes designed to address complaints that investigations carried out by his office were unfair to agency employees, the officials said.

But the agency will not force Helgerson to revise previously issued reports or acknowledge flaws in the reports, including one report that was sharply critical of top CIA officials for intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Read more

Harman’s Letter

TPMM has a copy of Jane Harman’s letter to then CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his reply (h/t BayStateLiberal). As Paul Kiel notes, Muller blows off Harman’s warning not to dispose of the Zubaydah tape.

You discussed the fact that there is videotape of Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry. I would urge the Agency to reconsider that plan. Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future. The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the Agency.

Muller simply doesn’t acknowledge her advice in his return letter.

But even without a response, Harman’s advice is instructive. It reveals that–at least in February 2003–CIA premised the destruction of the torture tapes on the completion of Helgerson’s IG inquiry into interrogation methods. That confirms my earlier suspicions that the torture tapes were intimately connected with the IG inquiry–and makes the May 2004 White House discussion of whether or not to destroy the tapes all the more damning. After all, they can’t very well deny that the IG reported that the tapes showed methods that may have been illegal if they claimed the torture tape destruction tied to the inquiry itself? So once the report came out, they would be bound to keep the tapes since they would have verified or refuted the IG report.

Also note, Harman mentions only Zubaydah, not al-Nashiri. Did Muller just neglect to mention the latter AQ detainee? Or are we getting a somewhat fickle depiction of what tapes were kept?

Just as interesting is the partial blow-off that Muller gives Harman on the issue of the policy wisdom of torturing detainees, as distinct from the legal implications. She asks, Read more