There’s an interesting passage in the DOJ IG discussion of Jack Goldsmith’s efforts to rewrite the Stellar Wind OLC memos (PDF 456).
The first passage describes Jim Comey permitting a lower standard of review to apply for activities already in process.
In explaining the rationale for the revise opinion, Comey described to the OIG his view of two approaches or standards that could be used to undertake legal analysis of government action. If the government is contemplating taking a particular action, OLC’s legal analysis will be based on a “best view of the law” standard. However, if the government already is taking the action, the analysis should instead focus on whether reasonable legal arguments can be made to support the continuation of the conduct.137
137 Goldsmith emphasized to us that this second situation almost never presents itself, and that OLC rarely is asked to furnish legal advise on an ongoing program because the pressure “to say ‘yes’ to the President” invariably would result in applying a lower standard of review. Goldsmith stated that OLC’s involvement in Stellar Wind was “unprecedented” because OLC is always asked to review the facts and formulate its advice “up front.”
If it was unprecedented on March 1, 2004, it quickly became common.
After all, Goldsmith was asked to consider how the Geneva Convention applied to various types of detainees in Iraq, after the Administration had already been and continued to render people out of that occupied country. And he was also in the midst of a review of the torture program.
Indeed, Daniel Levin, who would go on to reconsider torture approvals until Cheney booted him out of the way to have Steven Bradbury rubberstamp things, would have been a part of those discussions.
So when, in fall 2004, he was asked to reconsider torture, that lower standard of review would have been in his mind.
You could even say that this standard of review gave CIA an incentive to start and continue torturing Janat Gul, on whom they pinned their need to resume torture, even after they accepted he was not, as a fabricator had claimed, planning election year plots in the US. So long as they tortured Gul, Levin would be permitted to apply a lower standard to that torture.
In any case, if this was unprecedented then, I suspect it’s not anymore. After all, by the time David Barron first considered the drone killing memo for Anwar al-Awlaki, the Administration had apparently already tried to kill him once. And the Libyan war had already started when OLC started reviewing it (though they made a heroic effort to rule it illegal, which is a testament to just how illegal it was).
With regards to the Stellar Wind OLC, the discussion of what Goldsmith found so problematic is mostly redacted. Which is why I’m interested in his opinion that “‘we can get there’ as to [redacted] albeit by using an aggressive legal analysis.” That says that one of the things his opinion would approve — either the content collection of one-end foreign communications or the dragnet collection of telephone metadata — involved “aggressive legal analysis” even to meet this lower standard.
It’d sure be nice to know which practice was considered so marginally legal.
I’m working on a longer post on how the torture of Hassan Ghul and Janat Gul relate to the three May 2005 OLC memos, which — as Mark Udall has pointed out — were based on a series of lies from CIA.
But for the moment, I want to point to a narrower point.
As I have explained, CIA got the White House and DOJ to approve the resumption of torture in 2004 by claiming that Janat Gul had information on a pre-election threat. By October 2004, CIA confirmed that claim was based on a fabrication by a CIA source.
But even before CIA’s source admitted to fabricating that claim, on August 19, 2004, CIA’s torturers had come to the conclusion that Gul didn’t have any information on an imminent threat. The “team does not believe [Gul] is withholding imminent threat information,” they wrote in a cable that day. Two days later, folks at CIA headquarters wrote back and told the torturers to keep torturing. The cable “stated that Janat Gul ‘is believed’ to possess threat information, and that the ‘use of enhanced techniques is appropriate in order to obtain that information.'”
So, as had happened in the past, the torturers had decided the detainee had given up all the information he had, but HQ ordered them to keep torturing.
But that’s not all HQ did.
As I sort of lay out here (and will lay out at more length in my new post), we know from the May 30, 2005 CAT memo that several of the August 2004 OLC letters authorizing torture pertained to Janat Gul. At a minimum, that includes a request in response to which John Ashcroft authorized the use of most torture techniques approved in 2002 on July 22, 2004, and a series of requests in response to which Daniel Levin authorized the use of the remaining technique — the waterboard — on August 6, 2004.
And an August 25, 2004 letter in response to which Daniel Levin authorized four new techniques: dietary manipulation, nudity, water dousing, and abdominal slaps. [Update: The May 10, 2005 Techniques memo — which Comey described as “ready to go out and I concurred” in an April 27, 2005 email — served to retroactively approve all these memos and Gul’s treatment.]
That August 25, 2004 letter had to have made the claim (because Levin repeated the judgment in his letter) — 6 days after the torturers had told HQ Gul was not withholding any imminent threat information and 4 days after HQ had said, no, Gul “is believed” to have threat information — that Gul “is believed to possess information concerning an imminent terrorist threat to the United States.”
That is, CIA’s HQ made the torturers resume torturing a guy who had already asked to be killed so as to sustain the claim he had imminent threat information so as to be able to get OLC to cough up another memo.
Significantly, there’s no indication all of those four new techniques — or waterboarding — were ever used on Gul. Indeed, here’s what the torture report describes in its last description of the specific torture used on Gul.
On August 25, 2004, CIA interrogators sent a cable to CIA Headquarters stating that Janat Gul “may not possess all that [the CIA] believes him to know.”824 The interrogators added that “many issues linking [Gul] to al-Qaida are derived from single source reporting” (the CIA source).825 Nonetheless, CIA interrogators continued to question Gul on the pre-election threat. According to an August 26, 2004, cable, after a 47-hour session of standing sleep deprivation, Janat Gul was returned to his cell, allowed to remove his diaper, given a towel and a meal, and permitted to sleep.826
They got their memo, authorizing techniques that had been used without any official authorization from OLC on detainees in the years before (including on Gul Rahman before he died). And then they finally let the suicidal Janat Gul sleep.
And only months later did they get around to checking (perhaps using a polygraph?) whether their original source had been bullshitting them, as at least one CIA officer had surmised back in March.
I reported in December that they used Gul and the threat of an election year threat to get OLC to reauthorize torture generally. But this sequence makes it clear that they continued to torture Gul, all in the name of getting OLC to approve torture techniques they had already used without approval, even after the torturers were convinced he was not withholding any information.
No wonder Jim Comey doesn’t want to read any more details about Gul’s torture, which he retroactively signed off on.
Back in April 2009, former State Department Counselor and all-around Condi Rice fixer Philip Zelikow revealed that “in 2005,” he had written a dissent to Steven Bradbury’s 2005 Memo finding the torture program complied with the Convention against Torture, but that most copies of it had been destroyed by the Administration.
At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives.
It turns out that David Addington didn’t succeed in destroying all the copies. The National Security Archive just liberated a copy.
Now, the memo (which was actually dated February 15, 2006) reveals Zelikow’s very sane legal argument that our torture program had to comply with the 8th Amendment. But it also reveals some subtleties about the bureaucratic maneuvering around torture. Notably, that Zelikow was trying to save Condi Rice’s arse again.
To understand why, go back to this post (see also this post), explaining what Bradbury was trying to do with his 2005 CAT Memo: respond to explicit concerns raised by Congress (probably Jay Rockefeller) about whether our torture program complied with the CAT. It shows how (as documented in the narrative on the process that Rockefeller released), the Senate Intelligence Committee had forced the Bush Administration to agree to consider whether our torture program violated CAT. The Administration agreed to do so only after the National Security Council–then chaired by Condi Rice–agreed.
According to CIA records, subsequent to the meeting with the Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman in July 2004, the CIA met with the NSC Principals to discuss the CIA’s program. At the conclusion of that meeting, it was agreed that the CIA would formally request that OLC prepare a written opinion addressing whether the CIA’s proposed interrogation techniques would violate substantive constitutional standards, including those of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments regardless of whether or not those standards were deemed applicable to aliens detained abroad.
DOJ stalled for 10 months. Daniel Levin, as acting head of OLC, approved more individual torture techniques. Levin wrote an unclassified memo ignoring CAT. Congress continued to pressure. The Administration laterally transferred Levin because he wasn’t writing the memos they wanted, authorizing combined techniques and waterboarding and, somehow, finding that torture program complied with CAT. Bradbury got the job to write those memos. And then, finally, 10 months after SSCI demanded that DOJ consider CAT, Bradbury wrote his memo finding that the torture program did not violate CAT’s prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
I lay out in the post the specious tricks Bradbury pulled to make that claim, and scribe laid out the legal reasons the arguments were so specious. But in specific regard to SSCI’s demand that OLC review whether the program complied with the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment, Bradbury punted by saying it didn’t have to, and certainly didn’t have to comply with the Eighth.
Based on CIA assurances, we understand that the interrogations do not take place in any … areas over which the United States exercises at least de facto authority as the government. … We therefore conclude that Article 16 is inapplicable to the CIA’s interrogation practices and that those practices thus cannot violate Article 16.
Because the high value detainees on whom the CIA might use enhanced interrogation techniques have not been convicted of any crime, the substantive requirements of the Eighth Amendment would not be relevant here, even if we assume that Article 16 has application to the CIA’s interrogation program.
After reading drafts of such bullshit, Jim Comey tried to convince Bradbury to fix it–to no avail.
Of note, however, here’s what then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Condi–who had become Secretary of State in the interim–had to say about the importance of complying with our treaty obligations.
The AG began by saying that Dr. Rice was not interested in discussing details and that her attitude was that if DOJ said it was legal and CIA said it was effective, then that ended it, without a need for detailed policy discussion.
And so, with the Secretary of State dismissing treaty obligations by saying “that ended it,” torture got approved for use by the Executive Branch again.
Zelikow’s memo admits that State didn’t object to Bradbury’s memo.
The State Department agreed with the Justice Department May 2005 conclusion that [Article 16] did not apply to CIA interrogations in foreign countries.
Now, Zelikow claims that passage of the McCain amendment–which was signed on December 30, 2005–is what changed the State Department’s interpretation. Continue reading
As I noted earlier, the AP and other outlets have reported that Hassan Ghul was among the first to inform American interrogators of the importance of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Here’s what the AP reported.
Then in 2004, top al-Qaida operative Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Ghul told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was a courier, someone crucial to the terrorist organization. In particular, Ghul said, the courier was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced Mohammed as al-Qaida’s operational commander. It was a key break in the hunt for in bin Laden’s personal courier.
“Hassan Ghul was the linchpin,” a U.S. official said.
Given the apparent importance of Ghul’s interrogation, as well as reports that he was freed at some point, I wanted to point out several oddities that may relate to his interrogation.
A Long Delay Before Entering CIA Interrogation
Here’s an outdated timeline I did of Ghul’s treatment (I’m working on an updated one). But we know he was first reported captured on January 22 or 23 2004. Yet, CIA was just getting approval for interrogation techniques to use with Ghul in August 2004, seven months later.
We know this from an unredacted reference to Ghul in the May 30, 2005 CAT Memo.
The interrogation team “carefully analyzed Gul’s responsiveness to different areas of inquiry” during this time and noted that his resistance increased as questioning moved to his “knowledge of operational terrorist activities.” Id at 3. [redacted] feigned memory problems (which CIA psychologists ruled out through intelligence and memory tests) in order to avoid answering questions. Id.
At this point, the interrogation team believed [redacted] “maintains a tough, Mujahidin fighter mentality and has conditioned himself for a physical interrogation.” Id. The team therefore concluded that “more subtle interrogation measures designed more to weaken [redacted] physical ability and mental desire to resist interrogation over the long run are likely to be more effective.” Id. For these reasons, the team sought authorization to use dietary manipulation, nudity, water dousing, and abdominal slap. Id at 4-5. In the team’s view, adding these techniques would be especially helpful [redacted] because he appeared to have a particular weakness for food and also seemed especially modest.
The document referred to here was a August 25, 2004 memo from the CIA to Daniel Levin, who was acting OLC head after Jack Goldsmith left in 2004. While we haven’t seen that memo, we have seen his response, written the following day, which approves the use of dietary manipulation, nudity, water dousing, and abdominal slap. That letter also references an August 13, 2004 meeting (at which water dousing was clearly discussed), and a July 30, 3004 letter, with attachment, and the attachment to a August 2 letter.
In other words, from this correspondence, it would appear that it took at least six months (from late January to late July) before the CIA got around to torturing Ghul.
This, in spite of the fact that an earlier reference to the August 25 letter claims that CIA believed Ghul had information about pending attacks.
On [redacted] the CIA took custody of [redacted] whom the CIA believed had actionable intelligence concerning the pre-election threat to the United States. [reference to August 25 letter] [redacted] extensive connections to various al Qaeda leaders, members of the Taliban, and the al-Zarqawi network, and intelligence indicated [redacted] arranged a … meeting between [redacted] and [redacted] at which elements of the pre-election threat were discussed. Id at 2-3; see also Undated CIA Memo, [redacted]
That paragraph is followed by more intelligence that may pertain to Ghul alone, to another detainee alone, or to Ghul and then another detainee:
Intelligence indicated that prior to his capture, [redacted] perform[ed] critical facilitation and finance activities for al-Qa’ida,” including “transporting people, funds, and documents.” Fax for Jack L. Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, from [redacted] Assistant General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency (March 12, 2004). The CIA also suspected [redacted] played an active part in planning attacks against United States forces [redacted] had extensive contacts with key members of al Qaeda, including, prior to their capture, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (“KSM”) and Abu Zubaydah. See id. [Redacted] was captured while on a mission from [redacted] to establish contact” with al-Zarqawi. See CIA Directorate of Intelligence, US Efforts Grinding Down al-Qa’ida 2 (Feb. 21, 2004)
In addition to the information on Ghul contained in the August 30 CAT Memo, there’s further reference to correspondence on Ghul in the May 10, 2005 Techniques memo (which for a variety of reasons must have been written to pertain to Ghul specifically).
You asked for our advice concerning these interrogation techniques in connection with their use on a specific high value al Qaeda detainee named [redacted] You informed us that the [redacted] had information about al Qaeda’s plans to launch an attack within the United States. According to [redacted] had extensive connections to various al Qaeda leaders, members of the Taliban, and the al-Zarqawi network, and had arranged meetings between an associate and [redacted] to discuss such an attack. August 25 [redacted] Letter at 2-3. You advised us that medical and psychological assessments completed by a CIA physician and psychologist, and that based on this examination, the physician concluded [redacted] medically stable and has no medical contraindications to interrogation, including the use of interrogation techniques addressed in this memorandum. 20
20 You have advised us that the waterboard has not been used [redacted] We understand that there may have been medical reasons against using that technique in his case. Of course, our advice assumes that the waterboard could only be used in the absence of medical contraindications.
The following footnote describes, among other things, that Ghul “was obese, and that he reported a “5-6 year history of non-exertional chest pressures.”
And there’s this information, which was leaked to Fox:
Ghul, a Pakistani, is known to have been an Al Qaeda member since the early 1990s, when Al Qaeda was established.
One official said Ghul was “definitely in Iraq to promote an Al Qaeda, Islamic extremist agenda.” Ghul is described by officials as a facilitator known in terrorist circles as “the Gatekeeper” who moves money and people around the Middle East, Africa and possibly beyond. Officials added that Ghul has extensive contacts in Al Qaeda and wider terrorist communities, and is thought to have had some kind of connection to the 1998 East African embassy bombings, though officials stress those links are still being probed.
All of which presents us with the highly implausible possibility that Ghul was captured in January 2004, believed to be a key facilitator for al Qaeda, yet not entered into the CIA program and tortured until six or seven months later.
There are several possible explanations for this odd fact, including (note, these are all possibilities–I’m not saying they definitely happened):
I believe some combination of these factors explains they delay between the time when Ghul was captured and when CIA first got approval for his interrogation. If I had to make a wildarsed guess, I think DOJ prevented Ghul’s transfer into the CIA program for some time, and once he was transferred (with approval directly from the Principals Committee and possibly without any more formal legal cover), CIA used water dousing, which had not yet been formally approved, all of which forced them to retroactively approve his treatment.
I’ve been looking through some old FOIA documents and noticed an interesting email exchange turned over in one of last August’s document dumps (PDF 21-22). It’s an email chain between a CTC lawyer (whose name we don’t know) and John Rizzo and others regarding a draft of the Combined OLC Memo. I’ve reversed the order of the email string so it appears chronologically.
From: CTC Lawyer
To John Rizzo [and others, redacted]
Subject: Draft OLC opinion on combined techniques has arrived
OLC wants our comments ASAP (if we have any hopes of having it completed and signed by COB Friday).
OLC also asks if its OK to share this draft opinion with appropriately cleared DOD (Jim Haynes, [redacted] and a few others) and State attorneys (currently only two, Will Taft and now also John Bellinger).
From: John Rizzo
To: CTC Lawyer
Who are “a few others” at DOD? [redacted] cleared into EITs, and perhaps [redacted] (check on this) but no one else in DOD OGC, as far as I know. Outside of lawyers, I don’t see this is any of anyone’s business on the DOD policy side.
From: CTC Lawyer
To: John Rizzo
cc: [redacted, fewer total recipients than first email]
Agree this should be limited to lawyers. I thought, though, that perhaps [redacted] was EIT briefed. The expert, of course, is [redacted].
Now, there are a whole slew of reasons I find this email exchange to be interesting.
Note the date: February 2, 2005. That was two days before Daniel Levin’s last day at OLC, which explains the rush to get this memo approved “by COB Friday.” Continue reading
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.
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):
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:
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.
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.
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:
(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.
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?
There are a couple of things that have been bugging me about the authorizations DOD got for interrogations. It’s not clear what kind of authorization DOD used to justify detainee interrogations after the Yoo memo was withdrawn in 2003-2004–they had no overall interrogation approval from OLC. While it’s possible they were just relying on already-existing DOD documents, there are hints that DOD was either relying exclusively on the CIA’s more expansive authorizations (that included waterboarding), or they had some alternative approval that may not have involved OLC at all.
As I’ve shown (here and here), in March 2004, DOD requested approval to use–at the least–extended isolation with detainees. In response, Jack Goldsmith and Steven Bradbury started trying to replace the 2003 Yoo memo.
At precisely the same time, Goldsmith was working through the mess created by the Legal Principles document. As you recall, faced with clearly illegal conduct and with the opportunity to investigate that conduct themselves in 2003, CIA worked back channel with Jennifer Koester and John Yoo to summarize the legal advice given on torture, going so far as to claim certain techniques (like abdominal slap and diapers) had been approved when they hadn’t been. During that period, Koester and Yoo gave CIA an opportunity to review and provide input on the 2003 Yoo memo. Then, Koester and Yoo relied on the Yoo memo for several of the claims they made in the Legal Principles. That raises the possibility that one reason the Yoo memo was so bad (it was even more permissive than the Bybee One memo) was to help CIA avoid criminal liability for crimes already committed.
At the very least, this is proof that CIA and DOD were both relying on advice given to the other agency to justify their own agency’s actions. We know DOD used the Bybee memos (and oral authorization from Yoo based on that analysis) to authorize its treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani in 2002-2003. And the Legal Principles show CIA was using the Yoo memo, written for DOD, to authorize its treatment of multiple detainees in anticipation of the CIA IG Report. In other words, though DOJ liked to maintain the fiction that the approval tracks for CIA and DOD were separate, they weren’t, at least not when John Yoo was involved.
And that was becoming crystal clear in spring of 2004. (In the same phone conversation in which Goldsmith confirmed that the Legal Principles weren’t an official OLC document, he also asked Yoo for details of his verbal authorizations to Jim Haynes leading up to the al-Qahtani torture, so he clearly pursued these issues in tandem.)
Yet after that, CIA’s memos got withdrawn and replaced. DOD’s Yoo memo reportedly was withdrawn. But no formal guidance from OLC ever replaced it.
So what happened after that point?
The Daniel Levin Memo
My concerns about DOD’s later authorizations stem partly from a memo Daniel Levin wrote John Ashcroft and Jim Comey in September 2004 to summarize all the advice OLC had given on torture. Continue reading