Jane Mayer to Marc Thiessen: Your Guys’ Ignorance Got Us Attacked

Jane Mayer has a great general purpose slapdown of torture apologist Marc Thiessen love letter to torture. She hits on most of the weaknesses of Thiessen’s arguments: his false claims about what prevented the 2006 liquid explosive plane plot, apologists’ very selective examination of what counts as an attack on American, the silence about Ibn Sheik al-Libi’s (and others’) false confessions, demonstrably false claims that no one at Gitmo was ever tortured.

But there’s a point she makes that really ought to be the focus of push back against all torture apologists: the Bush Administration ignored repeated warnings about the imminent al Qaeda attack in 2001, and any ignorance about al Qaeda–which Thiessen claims was general–belongs to Bush’s top leaders, not the intelligence community.

Thiessen, citing [Michael] McConnell, claims that before the C.I.A. began interrogating detainees the U.S. knew “virtually nothing” about Al Qaeda. But McConnell was not in the government in the years immediately before 9/11. He retired as the director of the National Security Agency in 1996, and did not rejoin the government until 2007. Evidently, he missed a few developments during his time in the private sector, such as the C.I.A.’s founding, in 1996, of its bin Laden unit—the only unit devoted to a single figure. There was also bin Laden’s declaration of war on America, in 1996, and his 1998 indictment in New York, after Al Qaeda’s bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The subsequent federal trial of the bombing suspects, in New York, produced thousands of pages of documents exposing the internal workings of Al Qaeda. A state’s witness at the trial, a former Al Qaeda member named Jamal al-Fadl, supplied the F.B.I. with invaluable information about the group, including its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons. (Fadl did so without any coercion other than the hope of a future plea bargain. Indeed, the F.B.I., without using violence, has persuaded dozens of other suspected terrorists to coöperate, including, most recently, the Christmas Day bomber.)

In order to make the case that America was blind to the threat of Al Qaeda in the days before 9/11, Thiessen skips over the scandalous amount of intelligence that reached the Bush White House before the attacks. In February, 2001, the C.I.A.’s director, George Tenet, called Al Qaeda “the most immediate and serious threat” to the country. Richard Clarke, then the country’s counterterrorism chief, tried without success to get Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national-security adviser, to hold a Cabinet-level meeting on Al Qaeda. Thomas Pickard, then the F.B.I.’s acting director, has testified that Attorney General John Ashcroft told him that he wanted to hear no more about Al Qaeda. On August 6, 2001, Bush did nothing in response to a briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.” As Tenet later put it, “The system was blinking red.”

(I would add that refusal of Thiessen’s precious CIA to share information about Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar also prevented us from acting on the biggest lead that could have prevented the attack.)

This point is not repeated enough, perhaps out of some sense of comity toward a guy, Cheney, who has spent the last year (really, his entire life) breaking every rule of comity in DC.

Out of ignorance of al Qaeda, arrogance that only loyal insiders should participate in setting security priorities, and plain old bad judgment about the potential threat of terrorists, the Bush Administration failed to act on clear warnings that we would be hit on 9/11. Those are, not surprisingly, precisely the same characteristics drove us to ignore our experts on interrogation and instead follow the word of a bunch of hucksters who wanted to get rich off of torturing other human beings.

Every time someone like Thiessen attempts to push his propaganda, we really ought to be asking why we should trust the propagandist of the guys who are still trying to overcompensate for having failed in the first place.

The Request for Reaffirmation of Torture

This is going to be another weedy post…

I wanted to put two totally bureaucratic pages (PDF 23-24) from the recent FOIA dump into the context of the other known documents in the chronology. The first page is an “Executive Correspondence Routing Sheet,” sent from CIA General Counsel Scott Muller around top CIA management for approval. It reads:

This memo follows General Counsel discussion with the DCI and agreement on the need to seek reaffirmation from the NSC.

And the memo in question (the following page) appears to be a very short memo with the subject, “Review of CIA Interrogation Program,” from John Rizzo circulated to the lawyers involved with the torture program and the top CIA executives on the Executive Correspondence Routing Sheet. The Rizzo memo is dated May 24, 2004; the last signature–that of George Tenet–is dated June 4, 2004.

The routing sheet is interesting not just because Tenet signed it the day after he resigned.

It also shows a glimpse of the bridge by which CIA responded to the CIA IG Report but also (probably) Jack Goldsmith’s unwillingness to reaffirm opinions that OLC had never made by asking the White House for some kind of written re-endorsement of the torture program.

As I’ve shown here and here, when the CIA Inspector General began its review of the torture program in response to the Salt Pit death and abuses of al-Nashiri, CIA and Jennifer Koester and John Yoo (though he denies involvement) worked back channel to develop a set of “Legal Principles” (elsewhere called “Bullet Points”) that would expand the legal authorization DOJ had given CIA’s torture program in such a way as to legally excuse the crimes the IG was inspecting. Significantly, the Legal Principles document expanded the already farcical analysis of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture that Yoo had done in the Bybee One memo.

CIA twice tried to present these Legal Principles to OLC as a fait accompli, first in June 2003, when Patrick Philbin took over many of John Yoo’s duties, and then again in March 2004, in conjunction with the finalization of the IG Report and at a time when Goldsmith headed the OLC. Both Philbin and Goldsmith refused to accept the Legal Principles as OLC sanctioned documents.

Now, significantly, the March 2, 2004 set of Legal Principles was itself a request for “reaffirmation” of the torture program’s legality. Scott Muller emphasized CIA needed that reauthorization, among other reasons, because they had incorporated new torture techniques based on the OLC “guidance.”

For example, using the applicable law and relying on OLC’s guidance, we concluded that the abdominal slap previously discussed with OLC (and mentioned in the June 2003 summary points) is a permissible interrogation technique.

Of note, Goldsmith appears to have taken special note of the description of water PFT, which (Muller’s note said explicitly) was “intended to … humiliate” detainees. Given that the IG Report concluded that the torture program probably violated Article 16, this language seemed to flout the prohibitions against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Between March 2 and May 24 (when Rizzo wrote his memo), Goldsmith did not reauthorize the Legal Principles. Nevertheless, CIA incorporated the Legal Principles into the final draft of the IG Report. Goldsmith got a copy of that document some time before May 25 and presumably spoke to Muller about the inclusion of the Legal Principles in it, because on that day, he wrote CIA’s IG noting that he had received it and asking for time to review the depiction of OLC’s legal advice in the IG Report before it got sent to Congress.

In other words, Goldsmith’s continued objection to the inclusion of the Legal Principles in the IG Report is probably what prompted John Rizzo to send out a memo referencing the IG Report (which the CIA called the “Review of the CIA Interrogation Program,” the subject of his memo) that appears to have recommended asking NSC for reaffirmation of the torture program.

So faced with Goldsmith’s refusal to reaffirm something OLC had never affirmed in the first place, CIA decided to go to the White House and get them to approve of the program in writing. Read more

Condi’s Response to Tenet’s Request for a Review of Torture

Earlier this year, WilliamOckham found a document that appears to be George Tenet’s request of Condi–on June 4, 2004–for reiteration of approval of torture and/or a White House document endorsing the torture policy (click through to the post to see WO’s outline of the false information Tenet included in that document).

The ACLU has received Condi’s response, sent a week later. (h/t MadDog) The summary of the response describes the document as “Memorandum from Condoleezza Rice … regarding review of CIA’s Interrogation Program.” Condi appears to be putting Tenet off on DOJ.

I have reviewed your memorandum to me of June 4, 2004. As we have already discussed, the next logical step is for the Attorney General to complete the relevant legal analysis now in preparation. Once this work is completed and you have returned from your current travel, we can convene a Principals Committee meeting on this subject. In the interim, I will contact Attorney General Ashcroft to underscore the priority we attach to completing expeditiously the Department of Justice’s legal analysis. I also encourage you to carry through on your expressed intention of talking to the Attorney General directly on this subject before any Principals Committee meeting.

Now, the document is interesting when read against the background of reports that–at precisely this time–Tenet requested a document from the White House endorsing torture as a policy. That is, Condi’s response to Tenet’s request for a document from President Bush might have been to pawn Tenet off on DOJ.

With that in mind look at how these two documents–and Condi’s instruction that DOJ would have to review the torture program next–fit into the timeline of debate between DOJ and CIA.

June 3, 2004: Tenet announces his resignation; John McLaughlin resigns as well. SOUTHCOM Commander James Hill traces source of abusive techniques used on al-Qahtani to SERE training.

June 2004: (After announcing his resignation) Tenet requests more explicit approval water-boarding.

June 4, 2004: Tenet requests review from Condi.

June 7, 2004: WSJ refers to March 2003 OLC opinion.

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

June 10, 2004: Goldsmith tells Muller that the Legal Principles are not an opinion of OLC, demands any more request for opinions to be in writing.

June 11, 2004: Condi responds to Tenet’s request for review (Tenet receives this on June 14).

June 15, 2004: Goldsmith informs Ashcroft he will withdraw Bybee Memo and resigns. This effectively leaves the CIA with no legal protection for the water-boarding it had already done.

June 17, 2004: Jack Goldsmith announces his resignation.

June 18, 2004: Goldsmith writes Tenet telling him the IG Report mis-represents Ashcroft’s statements.

June 22, 2004: In an off-the-record briefing, Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin renounce Bybee Memo. Rizzo sends Philbin copy of earlier approval from Yoo. Muller responds to Goldsmith saying he had forwarded the complaints to John Helgerson, but would release the IG Report that week.

No wonder things were getting so testy between CIA and DOJ. (It may also explain why Goldsmith only withdrew the Bybee One memo, and not the Bybee Two memo.)

Bush’s July 7, 2003 Discussion about Wilson

One thing DOJ redacted in this document–the most highly protected part of the document–was Cheney relaying what was said about Joe Wilson at a meeting with Bush, probably on July 7, 2003.

When Fitzgerald asked Cheney whether he ever spoke about Wilson with Condi Rice, Andy Card, and Karl Rove, Cheney answered this way:

The Vice President advised that it was probable that he discussed Joe Wilson at some point with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, but he had no recollection of discussing Valerie Wilson at all with her. He advised his thoughts were the same regarding Presidential Chief of Staff Andrew Card–he probably would have discussed Joe Wilson with Card, but not Valerie Wilson. He said the same held true for Presidential Advisor Karl Rove–he probably discussed Joe Wilson with Rove, but would not have discussed Valerie Wilson with him.

The Vice President went on to explain his reason for believing he possibly discussed Joe Wilson with the latter three individuals. The Vice President stated that after he receives his 7:00 a.m. briefing at his residence from the CIA briefer, he travels to the White House where he joins the President for a daily CIA briefing which the President receives from either DCI Tenet or DDCI McLaughlin. Chief of Staff Card and Dr. Rice are also present for these briefings, along with a Presidential briefer from the CIA. Normally, when the CIA’s briefing is completed, the four, who are sometimes joined after the briefing by Mr. Rove, will discuss a wide range of topics. At some point in time, after the Wilson issue had become public, the Vice President recalls [two lines redacted].

The Vice President said he could not recall exactly when he had this discussion and who was present for it, but it may have been at one of the morning meetings. He said that it was possible he had the discussion with the President prior to the publication of Wilson’s editorial on 7/6/03, but it probably occurred afterwards. It may have occurred early on Monday, 7/7/03 although he stated that he would not have discussed it with the President on Sunday, 7/6/03, the day when he returned to Washington from Wyoming. Additionally, the Vice President had no recollection of discussing Wilsons wife at any time with the President.

DOJ has exempted the redaction claiming Presidential Communication. In their filing on the interview, they wrote,

The presidential communications privilege protects certain confidential communications with the President pertaining to his conduct of his Office. In this case, the privilege protects portions of the FBI report, see page 12, lines 9-11, … because they summarize a confidential conversation between the Vice President and the President.

So to review, Cheney admitted to talking to Condi, Card, and Rove about Wilson, by rather circuitously (!?!?) admitting that something was said about Wilson while they all met, possibly on the morning of July 7, 2003.

Now, I’ll come back to this admission–probably many many times.

But just to fill out the chronology a little, here’s an exchange Fitzgerald had with Libby about events of that morning during Libby’s March 5, 2004 grand jury appearance.

Q. And on July 7th, do you recall if at the 6:45 briefing in the morning you and the Vice President asking Craig Schmall about Mr. Wilson and the circumstances of his trip?

Read more

Condi’s Okay Came After OLC Approval

Here’s an interesting data point.

On July 13, 2002, representatives of CIA’s Office of General Counsel (probably John Rizzo) met with John Bellinger, John Yoo, Michael Chertoff, Daniel Levin, and Alberto Gonzales for overview of interrogation plan. That very same day, Yoo wrote Rizzo, generally laying out the logic he would use in the later memos approving the program. He wrote:

Moreover, to establish that an individual has acted with the specific intent to inflict severe mental pain or suffering, an individual must act with specific intent, i.e., with the express purpose of causing prolonged mental harm in order for the use of any of the predicate acts to constitute torture. 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 pain or suffering, he would not have acted with the specific intent necessary to establish torture.

Four days later, Condi told George Tenet the "CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaydah … subject to a determination of legality by OLC."

In other words, OLC had already given CIA a pretty broad okay before Condi gave Tenet the policy okay.

One more detail of interest. Note the redacted name on the second page of the letter–perhaps as long as 16 characters long. That’s too long to be Jay Bybee or Pat Philbin (though it could be Patrick Philbin). Though it’s probably long enough to be either Robert Delahunty (who had partnered with Yoo on some other crazy opinions by that point) or David Addington. Or, heck, even Alberto Gonzales. Whose role in the torture approval process is DOJ trying to hide?

Update: One more detail of interest. On June 22, 2004, the same day Goldsmith, Comey, and Philbin withdrew the Bybee Memo, John Rizzo sent this earlier approval to Philbin. That seems to suggest that Philbin did not know about it and may even suggest that it wasn’t in OLC’s records (though Philbin, by that point, worked under Comey at DAG. 

All the News NYT Does Not See Fit to Print


As I have pointed out in the last two posts, the NYT has a story up claiming that Jim Comey approved of torture, but that grossly misreads the Comey emails on which the story is based. In fact, the memos appear to show that the White House–especially Dick Cheney and David Addington–were pushing DOJ to approve the torture that had been done to Hassan Ghul, without the specificity to record what they had done to him; in fact, one of the things the push on the memos appears to have prevented, was for Comey and Philbin to have actually researched what happened to Ghul.

But the NYT instead claims that Jim Comey approved of torture legally, even while downplaying his concerns about the "combined techniques" memo that was the focus of his concerns (and not mentioning his response to the third memo).

But there is more news than that in the Comey emails–news the Grey Lady doesn’t seem to think is news. This includes:

Pressure on Pat Philbin

On April 27, 2005, Jim Comey alerted Chuck Rosenberg, his then Chief of Staff, on the fight over the torture emails because he was about to go on a trip, and he figured Pat Philbin would need cover from political pressure. He described that Philbin’s concerns about the memo were ignored. He closed the email by saying that Gonzales had visited the White House and–in spite of Comey’s request for a delay–told Philbin and Bradbury to finish the memo by Friday, April 29. Philbin objected that that was not enough time to do the "fact gathering" needed to fix the memo. Comey was basically asking Rosenberg to prepare to intercede on this process.

The following day, Comey emailed again to say that Ted Ullyot (who had just been read-in to this program) was pushing to get the memo done. It also appears that Ullyot was claiming Comey’s objections had to do with the prototypical interrogation included in the memo, and not the lack of specificity.

Alberto Gonzales’ Cowardice

Comey describes Dick Cheney putting a great deal of pressure on Alberto Gonzales to push through the memos in the last weeks of April.

The AG explained that he was under great pressure from the Vice President to complete both memos, and that the President had even raised it last week, apparently at the VP’s request and the AG had promised they would be ready early this week. Read more

Richard Clarke Reminds Cheney and Condi of Their Incompetence

When I saw Condi saying, "unless you were there, in a position of responsibility, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas we faced in trying to protect Americans," to Stanford students, my instinct was to remind everyone that she was forced to admit, "I believe the title was ‘Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.’"

Richard Clarke, after listening to Cheney and Condi make similar statements for a month, has a similar instinct (and of course, he’s in a position to make the argument more strongly than I). Today, he’s got an op-ed reminding readers of how Cheney and Condi refused to take terrorism seriously until it was too late. And once they did, they overreacted.

He describes the panic with which Cheney responded on 9/11.

I remember that morning, too. Shortly after the second World Trade Center tower was hit, I burst in on Rice (then the president’s national security adviser) and Cheney in the vice president’s office and remember glimpsing horror on his face.

And then he catalogs how the excessiveness of Cheney’s and Condi’s response led to more failures (click through for his discussion of the Iraq debacle).

On detention, the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. courts and prisons would not work. Before the terrorist attacks, the U.S. counterterrorism program of the 1990s had arrested al-Qaeda terrorists and others around the world and had a 100 percent conviction rate in the U.S. justice system. Yet the American system was abandoned, again as part of a pattern of immediately adopting the most extreme response available. Camps were established around the world, notably in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners were held without being charged or tried. They became symbols of American overreach, held up as proof that al-Qaeda’s anti-American propaganda was right.

Similarly, with regard to interrogation, administration officials conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al-Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, there was the immediate and unwarranted assumption that extreme measures — such as waterboarding one detainee 183 times — would be the most effective.

Finally, on wiretapping, rather than beef up the procedures available under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the administration again moved to the extreme, listening in on communications here at home without legal process. Read more

Why Did Tenet Create a False Record on the Day After He “Quit”?

William Ockham made another really important discovery:

I’d like to point to a document that was released a year ago (5/27/2008) as part of the ACLU’s ongoing torture FOIA. It’s a heavily redacted memo dated June 4, 2004 from George Tenet to the National Security Advisor (Rice). By June 2004, Tenet is on his way out as CIA director, the Abu Ghraib scandal has hit with full force, the CIA IG’s report has just been finished (but not yet briefed to Congress) and the 2004 Presidential campaign is in full swing. The CIA prison system was mostly still secret, but they had just released Khaled el-Masri in May 2004. The story of the ghost detainees in Iraq was just about to break.

With that as the background, here’s the parts of the second page of the memo that aren’t redacted (all the rest except the date, sender, and addressee are redacted:

3. As you know, beginning in September 2002, the Justice Department authorized CIA in its discretion, to employ on selected HVDs [Redaction ~3 lines] waterboard, [Redaction ~2 lines] CIA has reserved use of these [Redaction] techniques to elicit ongoing threat information from the most hardcore, senior terrorist figures that have been captured– men such as Khalid Sheik Muhammad, Abu Zubaydeh, [Redaction ~ 7 lines] key members of Congress have been briefed from the beginning–CIA informed the leadership of the Congressional Intelligence Committees of the existence and nature of the Program when it commenced in late 2002, in early 2003 when members of the leadership changed, and again in September 2003.

Rice and Tenet both knew that most of that was not true. They knew the program commenced long before September 2002, that the DOJ memos (which were not authorizations) came in August, that the Congressional briefings were after the fact and completely inadequate from a statutory perspective. What is this memo other than an attempt to create an after-the-fact coverup?

I’d add two details to those WO offers. The document appears not just after Tenet was on his way out, but the day after Bush announced his resignation. And it happened around the time Tenet asked for written endorsement from Bush of the torture program.

The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — Read more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I think happened.

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

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

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

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

Interrogation and Response–the Democratic Way

Okay, I lied. I’m going to throw up a quick post.

I wanted to direct your attention to Scott Horton’s interview of the Stanford students who challenged Condi Rice on her role in torture. In particular, I wanted to point to the comments of Sammy Abusrur–whose friends are now calling him "Frost"–about Condi’s role over all as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State.

I am not a political scientist, nor an international relations major, so I am not going to pretend that I am an expert on this subject. However, in my opinion, Condoleezza Rice’s eight years in the Bush Administration were a disaster for the United States. Evidence has shown she failed to act on intelligence warning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, approved torture, and finally, unconditionally supported Israel’s campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Lebanese and Palestinian children, women, and men. Therefore, I don’t think history will look back kindly on Condoleezza Rice. Indeed, the Bush Administration left the world in a worse state than it found it.

Condi was pretty contemptuous of these students asking her questions. But I’m glad the blogosphere offers a means for these students to have their say, as well.