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Not Three Branches, Not Two Branches, Just One Branch of Government

Apparently, in addition to sending out a chain letter stating "butt out" to five or six members of Congress yesterday, DOJ also sent a letter to Judge Henry Kennedy, telling him not to get involved in the torture tape question (h/t Scarecrow).

The Bush administration told a federal judge it was not obligated to preserve videotapes of CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists and urged the court not to look into the tapes’ destruction.

In court documents filed Friday night, government lawyers told U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy that demanding information about the tapes would interfere with current investigations by Congress and the Justice Department.

Now, BushCo is apparently claiming–to Kennedy, at least–that the CIA was free to destroy the torture tapes since the tapes didn’t come from Gitmo.

Kennedy ordered the administration in June 2005 to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay."

Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos. The recordings involved suspected terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Government lawyers told Kennedy the tapes were not covered by his court order because Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were not at the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba. The men were being held overseas in a network of secret CIA prisons. By the time President Bush acknowledged the existence of those prisons and the prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo, the tapes had been destroyed.

Of course, such sophistry won’t work for Leonie Brinkema–whose questions about interrogation tapes would seem to have included the Abu Zubaydah tapes. Nor should they cover the FOIA court battle in Alvin Hellerstein’s court, which pertain to all detainees held abroad. Read more

Oversight or Politics?

Michael Mukasey has engaged in a remarkable bit of sophistry with his refusal to clue Congress in on the joint DOJ/CIA IG investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes. He explains his decision as an attempt to avoid "any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence."

As to your remaining questions, the Department has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters. This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence. Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter, but appreciate the Committee’s interests in this matter. At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice. Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry, and the relevant law applied.

Of course, the "political influence" Mukasey was asked to address during his nomination hearings was the kind exerted when a Senator or a Congresswoman called the Attorney General privately to demand that a USA either accelerate the prosecution of a political figure or be fired. In this matter, Mukasey has been asked to respond to what is an almost unparalleled degree of bipartisan support for an open inquiry into a matter that just stinks, already, of a cover-up. Leahy and Specter (and Reyes and Hoekstra and Durbin and Biden and more) called for a procedure that had oversight built in.

And Mukasey said no. Read more

Congress and the Torture Tapes

First, let me start with some congratulations. For once, Jane Harman appears to have been on the right side of an issue, in this case warning the CIA (in writing) not to destroy the torture tapes. She’s now demanding that Michael Hayden declassify that letter so we can all see it.

This matter must be promptly and fully investigated and I call for my letter of February 2003, which was never responded to and has been in the CIA’s files ever since, to be declassified.

Congratulations Jane. Glad to have you on the side of light and goodness for the moment.

Harman’s then-counterpart in the Senate (Harman is no longer in HPSCI, which is why she didn’t learn of the tapes when HPSCI did), Jello Jay Rockefeller, appears to have followed the CIA’s script they gave him–until he stopped to think or someone did so for him. On Thursday, as this news was coming out, Jello Jay released the following statement.

While we were provided with very limited information about the existence of the tapes, we were not consulted on their usage nor the decision to destroy the tapes. And, we did not learn until much later, November 2006 — 2 months after the full committee was briefed on the program — that the tapes had in fact been destroyed in 2005.

And then, yesterday he revealed that that story was what the CIA had told him, not what he knew or believed to be true or, more importantly, what the record proved.

Last night, the CIA informed me that it believes that the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee was told of the decision to destroy the tapes in February 2003 but was not told of their actual destruction until a closed committee hearing held in November 2006.

The committee has located no record of either being informed of the 2003 CIA decision or being notified late last year of the tapes having being destroyed. A review of the November 2006 hearing transcript finds no mention of tapes being destroyed.

No wonder Jello Jay always touts the CIA party line–his first instinct is to read from the script they give him.

Meanwhile, Crazy Pete Hoekstra, current Ranking Member of HPSCI, sounds remarkably like Dick Durbin. Here’s Durbin: Read more

Hayden’s Letter

Marty Lederman has posted a copy of Michael Hayden’s letter to the CIA from yesterday. I wanted to riff further on it. The non-bold brackets below are Marty’s comments. The bold italics are mine. I know this may be hard to read, but I wanted to leave in Marty’s comments because he’s a lot smarter than I am.

Message from the Director: Taping of Early Detainee Interrogations

The press has learned that back in 2002, during the initial stage of our terrorist detention program, CIA videotaped interrogations, and destroyed the tapes in 2005. I understand Note the voice here and recall that they seem to never have fully briefed Mike McConnell on all the details of the illegal warrantless wiretap program. I’m wondering how Hayden "understands" this process? Does he have all the details? that the Agency did so only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries–including the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. [What about the 9/11 Commission? What about the failure to tell the Moussaoui judge about these tapes? What about the obvious future legislative and judicial inquiries? (Note that the destruction likely occurred just after Dana Priest broke the story of the CIA black sites in 2005.)] I’m not sure I agree with Marty–I think other possible dates for the destruction of the tapes, given the timeline, are around the time when OLC was writing new opinions on torture (between May 10 and May 30, 2005). That said, if the tapes were destroyed after Priest’s story (November 1), then they were almost certainly destroyed after Brinkema asked for the damn things (November 3) but before the government said they didn’t have them (November 14), which would make the claim that they were not relevant to a judicial proceedings a bald-faced lie. The decision to destroy the tapes was made within CIA itself. The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. [Yes, and what did they say about that?] Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed. I love the timing on this. Given the reporting, I’m guessing the Intell Committees were informed in 2003 (when Jane Harman wrote her CYA letter), and then informed they had been destroyed in 2006 (when it was too late to do anything about it). I had thought yesterday that the heads of the Intell Committees were told in 2005, during the debates on torture and the fallout from Abu Ghraib. But apparently the CIA kept mum about that.
Read more

Torture and Taping Timeline

I’m just doing this because it’s like crack for Looseheadprop and she had a bad day yesterday. Lucky I had a lot of this lying around in a drawer somewhere.

Note, all the stuff on photographing detainees comes from this post, which is worth reading because I suspect it may become relevant to this discussion.

January 20, 2002: Bybee to Abu Gonzales memo specifying that common article 3 of the Geneva Convention does not apply to "an armed conflict between a nation-state and a transnational terrorist organization."

Late 2001 to early 2002: Ibn Sheikh al-Libi captured. After being tortured, al-Libi made up stories about Al Qaeda ties to Iraq.

January 2002: Supplemental Public Affairs Guidance on Detainees affirms Geneva Convention wrt media photographs.

March 2002: Abu Zubaydah taken into custody.

June 25, 2002: Moussaoui arraigned.

August 1, 2002: "Bybee Memo" (written by John Yoo) describes torture as that which is equivalent to :the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

September 11, 2002: Ramzi bin al-Shibh captured.

November 22, 2002: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri captured.

January 2003: Leonie Brinkema grants Moussaoui right to interview Ramzi Bin-al-Shibh by video.

February 2003: CIA claims to have informed Intell leadership of torture tapes’ destruction; though SSCI has no records.

March 2003: Public Affairs Guidance for Media Coverage of EPWs and Detainees allows photos (within guidelines) but prohibits photographs of custody operations or interviews.

September 10, 2003: Government refuses to let Moussaoui question Al Qaeda witnesses.

April 28, 2004: Hamdi and Padilla argued before SCOTUS. Paul Clement assures the Court that we don’t torture. 60 Minutes breaks Abu Ghraib story and proves he’s wrong.

March 2, 2004: Padilla interrogation. The tape of the interrogation would later disappear.

May 10 2004: Sy Hersh’s Abu Ghraib story.

June 3, 2004: Tenet resigns as DCI.

June 8, 2004: WaPo reports details of Bybee Memo.

June 17, 2004: Jack Goldsmith announces his resignation.

June 22, 2004: In an off-the-record briefing, Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin renounce Bybee Memo.

June 24, 2004: Ted Olson announces his resignation, citing frustration that he did not learn of memos justifying legal decisions.

June 28, 2004: Hamdi decision.

September 22, 2004: Porter Goss becomes DCI.

November 2004: Steven Kappes resigns ; Jose Rodrigquez replaces him as Deputy Director of CIA for Operations. Rodriguez is reported to be the person who ordered the terror tapes’ destruction. Read more