CIA Headquarters Ordered Janat Gul’s Torture to Keep Going for an OLC Approval

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.

David Cole’s Shiny Objects

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 9.10.21 AMDavid Cole persists in reading some selected documents in isolation from a far more extensive record and patting himself on the back that he has discovered what many of us have been saying for years: that some in the White House were also responsible for torture. But along the way he entirely misses the point.

I will return to the documents that have so entranced Cole at a later time (several other issues are more pressing right now). But for now, here are some significant problems with his latest.

Cole once again presents the CIA Saved Lives site as some mysterious cache, in spite of the fairly clear genealogy and the WSJ op-ed signed by a bunch of people who managed torture introducing it.

The documents, which were uploaded to a mysterious website by the name of, provide dramatic new details about the direct involvement of senior Bush administration officials in the CIA’s wrongs.

It’s as if Cole has never heard of PR and therefore absolves himself of presenting this as a fourth self-interested viewpoint, that of those who managed the torture — the other three being SSCI Dems plus McCain, SSCI Republicans, and official CIA — which doesn’t even encapsulate all the viewpoints that have been or should be represented in a complete understanding of the program.

And so Cole accepts that the narrative presented here is a transparent portrayal of the truth of the torture program rather than — just like the SSCI report, the CIA response, the CIA IG Report, the SASC Report, and the OPR Report — one narrative reflecting a viewpoint.

As a result, some of the conclusions Cole draws are just silly.

Back when his new CIA-friendly opinion was in its early stages at the NYT, Cole accepted as a fair critique (as do I) that Abu Zubaydah’s torture started well before the SSCI report considered, in April with his extreme sleep deprivation and not August when the waterboarding program started (if we can believe CIA records).

The committee contended that the most useful information from Mr. Zubaydah actually came while the F.B.I. was questioning him, using noncoercive tactics before he was waterboarded. But the C.I.A. points out that Mr. Zubaydah had been subjected to five days of sleep deprivation, a highly coercive and painful tactic, when the F.B.I. interrogated him.

I’d actually say — and Cole should, given that elsewhere in his NYT piece he admits we should also look at the torture done in foreign custody — that the timeline needs to come back still further, to Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s torture in January and February 2002, using the very same techniques that would be used with Abu Zubaydah, in Egyptian custody but with CIA officers present (and, importantly, authorized by the same Presidential finding). But once you do that, Cole’s depiction of the original approval process for the program becomes nonsensical.

Even though the program had been approved at its outset by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2002 and by Attorney General John Ashcroft in August 2002,

Of course, all that points back to a place that Cole so studiously avoids it’s hard to imagine it’s not willful, to the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification that CIA and SSCI both agree (though the CIAsavedlives leaves out) authorized this program. (President Obama also went to some length to hide it from 2009 to 2012, when he was busy using it to kill Anwar al-Awlaki.)

Condi didn’t give primary approval for this (and the record is not as clear as Cole claims in any case). President Bush did, months earlier, well before the February 7, 2002 date where CIAsavedlives starts its narrative. And that’s the detail from which the momentum endorsing torture builds (and the one that a Constitutional law professor like Cole might have far more productive input on than details that he appears to be unfamiliar with).

I’m not trying to protect Condi here — I believe I once lost a position I very much wanted because I hammered her role in torture when others didn’t. But I care about the facts, and there is no evidence I know (and plenty of evidence to the contrary) to believe that torture started with Condi (there is plenty of reason to believe CIA would like to implicate Condi, however).

Cole goes onto rehearse the three times CIA got White House officials to reauthorize torture, two of which were reported years and years ago (including some limited document releases) but which he seems to have newly discovered. In doing so, he simply takes these documents from the CIA — which has been shown to have manipulated documents about briefings in just about every case — on faith.

Dan Froomkin pointed out some of the problems with the documents — something which Cole has already thrown up his hands in helplessness to adjudicate.

The new documents don’t actually refute any of the Senate report’s conclusions — in fact, they include some whopper-filled slides that CIA officials showed at the White House. 


But the slides also contained precisely the kind of statements that the Senate report showed were inaccurate:

While it doesn’t excuse White House actions, the CIA demonstrably lied about the efficacy of the program. It’s not that the White House was being told they were approving a torture program that had proven counterproductive. They were told, falsely, they were approving a program that was the one thing that could prevent another attack and that it had already saved lives. That is, the people approving the torture were weighing American lives against respecting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s human rights, based on inaccurate information. And note — as the image above shows — the torture managers aren’t revealing what implicit threats they made if Bush’s aides didn’t reapprove torture (though elsewhere they make it clear they said ending torture might cause “extensive” loss of life), which is significant given that the next year they claimed they had to torture to prevent election year plotting that turned out to be based partly on a fabrication.

Those aren’t the only known lies in the documents. Take the record of the July 29, 2003 briefing and accompanying slides. Among the whoppers — even according to CIA’s own documents! — that appear are:

  • The deaths by torture did not include approved torture. They only make that claim by fudging what happened with Gul Rahman. (The silence about Rahman is of particular import for the CIAsavedlives crowd given the reports that Stephen Kappes left the CIA amid allegations he coached field officers to cover up Rahman’s death.)
  • The senior leadership of the Intelligence Committees had been briefed. Jay Rockefeller had not been briefed (one of his staffers was, which the slides admits, though I have new reason to doubt some of CIA’s claims about which staffers have been briefed). In addition, according to CIA documents, no one was briefed on torture in Spring 2002, as CIA would have had to do to comply with the National Security Act. Furthermore, there is now serious question whether the CIA ever did the new briefing after the break, as CIA said it would do in the memo.
  • Safeguards. Many of the safeguards described were imposed in early 2003, after a number of abuses.
  • Islam permits confession under torture. The claim that Abu Zubaydah tied confessing under torture to Islam is apparently something Alfreda Bikowsky got from a walk in.
  • Amount of torture. The summary of the Ammar al-Baluchi torture doesn’t describe his simulated drowning. And the number of waterboards is wrong.

The fact that the CIA misrepresented how many times both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been waterboarded is significant, because that’s also related to the dispute about whether Muller’s account of the meeting was accurate. According to John Ashcroft, Muller misrepresented his comments to mean that CIA could waterboard more than had been approved in the Techniques memo, whereas what he really said is that CIA could use the techniques approved in that memo with other detainees. This does not mean — contrary to Cole’s absurd insinuation — that “Ashcroft is my hero.” It means there is a public dispute on this issue. Cole has gone from refusing to adjudicate disputes to simply taking CIA’s word on faith, in spite of the well-documented problems — even based entirely on CIA’s own documents — with their own accounts of briefings they gave.

Note, too, that whether the Abu Zubaydah memo could be used with other detainees was being discussed in 2003, when even by CIA’s count it had already subjected 13 more detainees to torture, is itself telling.

Finally, the Legal Principles are worth special note. They were, per the CIA IG Report, the OPR Report, and declassified documents, one key tension behind this July 29, 2003 briefing. As the record shows, DOJ permitted CIA’s IG to develop the agency’s own fact set about the violations that had occurred by January 2003 to determine whether doing things like mock execution with Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri and killing Gul Rahman were crimes. So CIA set about writing up its own summary of Legal Principles DOJ had given it — it claimed to John Helgerson — with the help of John Yoo and Jennifer Koester (but not, at least according to Jack Goldsmith, the involvement of Jay Bybee or the review of other OLC lawyers, which would be consistent with other facts we know as well as Bybee’s sworn testimony to Congress). That is, CIA was basically writing its own law on torture via back channel to OLC. The record shows that on several occasions, CIA delivered those documents as a fait accompli, only to have DOJ lawyers object to either some provisions or the documents as a whole. The record also shows that CIA used the memos to expand on authorized techniques (something the DOD torture memo process in 2003 also did) to include some of the ones they had used but hadn’t been formally approved by DOJ. That is, one tension underlying this meeting that Cole doesn’t discuss is that some in DOJ were already trying to limit CIA’s own claims to authorization, which devolved in part to a debate over whether bureaucratic manipulation counts as approval.

I raise all this because it gets at the underlying tension, one which, I suspect, created a kind of momentum that doesn’t excuse those involved but probably explains it. Very early after 9/11, certain people at CIA and in the White House decided to affirmatively torture. Torture started — and the Iraq War was justified — early, long before Cole presents. But at each step, that momentum — that need to, at a minimum, protect not only those who had acted on the President’s orders but also the President himself — kept it going such that by 2004, CIA had an incentive to torture Janat Gul just for the sake of having an excuse to torture again (and having an excuse to get Jay Rockefeller to buy off on torture for what appears to have been the first time).

It’s that very same momentum — the need to protect those who tortured pursuant to a President’s order, as well as the office of the presidency itself — that prevents us from holding anyone accountable for torture now. Because ultimately it all comes down to the mutual embrace of complicity between the President and the CIA. That’s why we can’t move beyond torture and also why we can’t prevent it from happening again.

Cole and I agree that there are no heroes in the main part of the narrative (though there were people who deserve credit for slowing the momentum, and outside this main part of the narrative, there were, indeed, heroes, people who refused to participate in the torture who almost always paid a price). What he is absolutely incorrect about, given the public record he is apparently only now discovering, is that CIA did manipulate some in the White House and DOJ and Congress, to cover their ass. I don’t blame them, They had been ordered to torture by the President, and had good reason not to want to be left holding the bag, and as a result they engaged in serial fraud and by the end, crimes, to cover their collective asses. But the evidence is, contrary to Cole’s newly learned helplessness to investigate these issues, that CIA lied, not only lied but kept torturing to protect their earlier torture.

All that said, Cole’s intervention now is not only laughably credulous to the CIA. But it also is not the best use to which he could put his soapbox if his goal is to stop torture rather than do CIA’s bidding.

First, we actually have no idea what went on at the White House because on President Obama’s request though not formal order, CIA withheld the documents that would tell us that from SSCI. Why not spend his time calling for the release of those documents rather than parroting CIA propaganda credulously? I suspect Obama would take Professor Cole’s calls to release the documents CIA protected at the behest of the White House more seriously than he has taken mine. Let’s see what really happened in discussions between CIA and the White House, in those documents the White House has worked hard to suppress.

Just as importantly, though Cole has not mentioned it in any of his recent interventions here, what appears to have set the momentum on torture rolling (as well as the execution of an American citizen with no due process) is the abuse of covert operation authority. This is something that a prestigious Constitutional law professor might try to solve or at least raise the profile of. Can we, as a democracy, limit the Article II authority of the President to order people to break the law such that we can prevent torture?

Because if not, it doesn’t matter who we blame because we are helpless to prevent it from happening again.

The Advance Declination Letter and the White House Meetings

John Sifton has a piece at JustSecurity on a key new detail in the torture report: a description of a letter the CIA lawyers were sending around discussing getting an advance declination (though unless I’m misreading the report, this email chain is dated July 8, not April).

But perhaps the most important revelation in the report is not about the torture itself but rather about the legal culpability of the CIA. The report contains a key passage on page 33 revealing that senior lawyers at the CIA in mid 2002, at the very beginning of the CIA’s program, drafted a letter to the Attorney General in which it is expressly acknowledged that the interrogation tactics that came to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” violated the US torture statute. The draft letter requested that the Attorney General provide the CIA with “a formal declination of prosecution, in advance”—basically, a promise not to prosecute, or immunity. The document was shared even with CIA interrogators involved in the nascent program. From the beginning, in other words, key CIA officials were well aware that these techniques were clearly unlawful.

While the date is off slightly, that appears to be the email chain I pointed to in this post, which was described as — and may be — “an issue that arose.” (Remember that CIA had already exceeded the guidelines they’d been given on sleep deprivation.)

That least to the timeline laid out in this post (though the post was wrong about ongoing torture — Abu Zubaydah was being held in isolation at that point).

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.


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?

That language — about whether a defendant specifically intended to threaten a victim with imminent death — was reportedly what Jonathan Fredman used to exonerate the people who killed Gul Rahman.

One thing is critically important about this: this is precisely the period when Alberto Gonzales and David Addington were closely involved with the torture report. All this pre-exoneration for crimes came from the White House.

Some Torture Facts

At the request of some on Twitter, I’m bringing together a Twitter rant of some facts on torture here.

1) Contrary to popular belief, torture was not authorized primarily by the OLC memos John Yoo wrote. It was first authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification (that is, a Presidential Finding) crafted by Cofer Black. See details on the structure and intent of that Finding here. While the Intelligence Committees were briefed on that Finding, even Gang of Four members were not told that the Finding authorized torture or that the torture had been authorized by that Finding until 2004.

2) That means torture was authorized by the same Finding that authorized drone killing, heavily subsidizing the intelligence services of countries like Jordan and Egypt, cooperating with Syria and Libya, and the training of Afghan special forces (the last detail is part of why David Passaro wanted the Finding for his defense against abuse charges — because he had been directly authorized to kill terror suspects by the President as part of his role in training Afghan special forces).

3) Torture started by proxy (though with Americans present) at least as early as February 2002 and first-hand by April 2002, months before the August 2002 memos. During this period, the torturers were operating with close White House involvement.

4) Something happened — probably Ali Soufan’s concerns about seeing a coffin to be used with Abu Zubaydah — that led CIA to ask for more formal legal protection, which is why they got the OLC memos. CIA asked for, but never got approved, the mock burial that may have elicited their concern.

5) According to the OPR report, when CIA wrote up its own internal guidance, it did not rely on the August 1, 2002 techniques memo, but rather a July 13, 2002 fax that John Yoo had written that was more vague, which also happened to be written on the day Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination on torture prosecutions.

6) Even after CIA got the August 1, 2002 memo, they did not adhere to it. When they got into trouble — such as when they froze Gul Rahman to death after hosing him down — they went to John Yoo and had him freelance another document, the Legal Principles, which pretend-authorized these techniques. Jack Goldsmith would later deem those Principles not an OLC product.

7) During both the August 1, 2002 and May 2005 OLC memo writing processes, CIA lied to DOJ (or provided false documentation) about what they had done and when they had done it. This was done, in part, to authorize the things Yoo had pretend-authorized in the Legal Principles.

8) In late 2002, then SSCI Chair Bob Graham made initial efforts to conduct oversight over torture (asking, for example, to send a staffer to observe interrogations). CIA got Pat Roberts, who became Chair in 2003, to quash these efforts, though even he claims CIA lied about how he did so.

9) CIA also lied, for years, to Congress. Here are some details of the lies told before 2004. Even after CIA briefed Congress in 2006, they kept lying. Here is Michael Hayden lying to Congress in 2007

10) We do know that some people in the White House were not fully briefed (and probably provided misleading information, particularly as to what CIA got from torture). But we also know that CIA withheld and/or stole back documents implicating the White House. So while it is true that CIA lied to the White House, it is also true that SSCI will not present the full extent of White House (read, David Addington’s) personal, sometimes daily, involvement in the torture.

11) The torturers are absolutely right to be pissed that these documents were withheld, basically hanging them out to dry while protecting Bush, Cheney, and Addington (and people like Tim Flanigan).

12) Obama’s role in covering up the Bush White House’s role in torture has received far too little attention. But Obama’s White House actually successfully intervened to reverse Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s attempt to release to ACLU a short phrase making it clear torture was done pursuant to a Presidential Finding. So while Obama was happy to have CIA’s role in torture exposed, he went to great lengths, both with that FOIA, with criminal discovery, and with the Torture Report, to hide how deeply implicated the Office of the President was in torture.

Bonus 13) John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004.

Pulling Weeds for Think Tank Employees: My Response to Wittes’ Response

Ben Wittes, an employee of the Brookings think tank, had this to say about my post showing how disingenuous his buddy Jonathan Fredman’s defense of his statements at Gitmo in 2002 is.

Responding to her in detail is difficult, because her account is so weedy;

His entire piece is worth reading, because in key ways it reinforces my argument (though Wittes, the think tank employee, appears not to understand that). His refutation consists of:

  • 189 words effectively saying, “sure I wanted to debate interrogation [sic] history that is a decade old two days ago, but now that you’re presenting facts about my buddy I find it boring.”
  • 444 words admitting that Fredman did not specifically disavow the quote that Wittes claims he did, and shifting the emphasis slightly on what he says Fredman’s memo was disavowing.
  • 1238 words that at times seems to miss the entire headline of my post–which is that Fredman’s actions prove his memo is false–but ultimately seems to accept all the evidence that it is false, though he finds that uninteresting.

Wittes claims Fredman tried to refute his perception comment, not his dead detainee comment

Wittes deems it “bizarre” that I would expect a lawyer to deny a statement explicitly if he were really denying it, especially if he were going to spend 6 pages purportedly denying it. That, in spite of that fact that he admits that Carl Levin and other Senators at the hearing to which Fredman responded referenced a number of other things Fredman allegedly said at the meeting.

Yes, Levin and other senators also quoted a few other alleged Fredman comments from the minutes.

As I noted in my post, several of the things Fredman allegedly said at the Gitmo meeting — claiming the CIA decided which torture techniques to use for most techniques and discussing the use of extreme weather in torture — would have been far more legally troubling in light of Gul Rahman’s subsequent death, by freezing to death after CIA used unapproved water dousing on him, than the “if a detainee dies” comment.

And the “perception … detainee dies” wasn’t even the first quote from Fredman that Levin mentioned at the hearing (which Ben obscures with an ellipsis). First, he raised Fredman’s alleged support for exploiting phobias, including insects which — in 2008 we didn’t know but we now do — appears in the list of techniques approved by DOJ. He also raised Fredman’s description of how waterboarding worked before the “detainee dies” comment.

Claire McCaskill (and Hillary Clinton) focused on Fredman’s alleged comment about hiding detainees from ICRC. McCaskill  also raised Fredman’s alleged comment that videotaping interrogations would be ugly (the latter of which, considering someone in Fredman’s immediate vicinity altered the record of a Congressional briefing just as CIA decided to destroy their tapes, might have been particularly damning given the then ongoing John Durham investigation into that destruction). So in fact, the focus on Fredman at the hearing wasn’t at all exclusively on that detainee dies comment, nor was it the most legally dangerous one for him.

But Ben insists — and he may know this from talking to Fredman personally — that Fredman wrote the memo specifically in response to these comments from Levin, and therefore we shouldn’t expect him to specify that directly:

And Mr. Fredman presented the following disturbing perspective [on] our legal obligations under our anti-torture laws, saying, quote, “It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” How on earth did we get to the point where a senior U.S. Government lawyer would say that whether or not an interrogation technique is torture is, quote, “subject to perception,” and that, if, quote, “the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong”?

Look, however, at how Wittes summarizes Fredman’s response:

In that memo, Fredman described the comments he provided at the Guantanamo meeting. And he described them in specific response to these alleged quotations. Far from saying that torture is “subject to perception,” as he described his remarks, he “emphasized that all interrogation practices and legal guidance must not be based on anyone’s subjective perception; rather, they must be based upon definitive and binding legal analysis from the Department of Justice.” And he then went on to flatly deny the statements attributed to him: “I did not say the obscene things that were falsely attributed to me at the Senate hearing. . . . The so-called minutes misstate the substance, content, and meaning of my remarks.” His denial could hardly be clearer. [my emphasis]

Note, first of all, that Wittes uses the plural, “quotations,” in this passage. That’s interesting, because at least some of the journalists Ben wants to shut up shut up shut up used the “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong” quotation without the “subject to perception” bit. The two sentences appear together in the notes and I agree they can be treated as one, but the truly shocking quote — the one Ben wants everyone to stop using — is the “if the detainee dies” one, which is utterly consistent with everything Fredman says in his disingenuous memo, which says repeatedly that detainee deaths are bad things.

More interesting though is that Wittes lays out very clearly what he says Fredman was refuting: that he said torture is subject to perception. And his response to that — Ben’s evidence the memo should be accepted as refutation of that comment — is Fredman’s claim that all torture must be based on definitive and binding legal analysis from DOJ.

Wittes seems to accept that Fredman did not base torture on definitive and binding legal analysis from DOJ

Here’s where Ben’s professed difficulty with weeds seems to have utterly sunk his efforts to defend his buddy. Because if it can be proved that Fredman did not, in his actions, ensure that torture be limited by definitive and binding legal analysis from DOJ, then it is clear that his memo is false, a lie, issued to refute some very damning evidence made worse by subsequent events, but not in any way an honest reflection of what Fredman believed or how he acted.

For any think tank employees or others who have difficulty with weeds, here’s what the evidence I laid out showed:

  • The torturers started using sleep deprivation, with the approval of Fredman’s office, months before DOJ got involved.
  • When the torturers exceeded Fredman’s office’s original limits on sleep deprivation, his office just retroactively authorized what they had already done, apparently without any input from DOJ.
  • When Fredman translated DOJ’s guidance for the Abu Zubaydah torturers, he used not the definitive and binding legal analysis from DOJ, but instead a fax John Yoo had sent, one he purportedly wrote without the input or approval of Jay Bybee.
  • After a detainee died after being subjected to a torture technique that had not been approved by DOJ, CIA’s lawyers — including Fredman’s office — tried to snooker OLC into accepting that another document crafted with Yoo outside official channels constituted “definitive and binding legal analysis.” That effort failed.

There are at least four pieces of evidence in the public record that Fredman authorized torture in ways outside of DOJ’s definitive and binding legal analysis. Now, Ben doesn’t refute a single one of these points. Indeed, he actually uses the Yoo fax in his response (he doesn’t, however, mention the retroactive effort to snooker OLC, perhaps because his blogmate was involved in refusing to be snookered).

From which I take it that Ben accepts that Fredman’s office, and Fredman personally, repeatedly found ways around relying on the definitive and binding legal analysis DOJ developed. Read more

Ben Wittes Relies on Obviously False Document to Claim Other Document False

For those coming from Wittes’ so-called response to my post, here’s my response to that response, which shows that Wittes effectively cedes the point that Fredman’s memo is dishonest. 

In a post subtitled “Just Shut Up About Jonathan Fredman” (really!) Ben Wittes argues we should not hold former CIA Counterterrorism Center lawyer Jonathan Fredman responsible for paraphrases attributed to him in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture because Fredman wrote a memo claiming he didn’t say those things and because he’s a career official, not a political appointee.

Fredman is a personal friend of mine, but this is getting ridiculous. It’s one thing to hold political appointees responsible for the things they did, said, and wrote. It’s quite another thing to hold career officials accountable for things they didn’t say, do, or write.

Now, in point of fact, Fredman’s memo does not deny saying “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” He says,

Those notes, which were misleadingly labeled by their author as “minutes,” to the best of my knowledge were never circulated for comment and contain several serious misstatements of fact. Those misstatements were then compounded by the false allegation at the hearing that the so-called minutes contained quotations from me; the first page of those so-called minutes themselves expressly states that “all questions and comments have been paraphrased” — and, I might add, paraphrased sloppily and poorly.


I expressly warned that should a detainee die as a result of a violation, the responsible parties could be sentenced to capital punishment.


I noted that if a detainee dies in custody, there will and should be a full investigation of the facts and circumstances leading to the death.


I again emphasized that all interrogation practices and legal guidance must not be based upon anyone’s subjective perception; rather, they must be based upon definitive and binding legal analysis from the Department of Justice;

And, after specifically asserting the paraphrase about the Istanbul conference is inaccurate, Fredman concludes,

I did not say the obscene things that were falsely attributed to me at the Senate hearing, nor did I make the absurd comment about Turkey that the author similarly misrepresented. The so-called minutes misstate the substance, content, and meaning of my remarks; I am pleased to address the actions that I did undertake, and the statements that I did make.

Now perhaps Fredman includes “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong,” in his reference to “obscene things,” but he doesn’t specifically say so.

Funny, isn’t it? That a lawyer would write a 6-page memo purportedly denying he said something really outrageous, but never get around to actually denying the statement in question, even while specifically denying another one?

Yet Wittes tells us to shut up shut up shut up about his friend, based on that non-denial denial.

Now, in a twitter exchange about Fredman, Wittes assured me he read both the SASC report and the OPR report on torture. So either he’s a very poor reader, or he doesn’t want to talk about how disingenuous it has since become clear Fredman’s memo was.

The rest of the memo is, by itself, proof that Fredman misrepresents his own actions relating to torture.

Read more

Immunizing Crimes: Blankfein, Zirbel, and Arpaio, but Whither Corzine?

DOJ has been doing a lot of immunizing of late. There’s Lloyd Blankfein, who not only ripped off his clients with “one shitty deal,” he then lied to Congress about it. There’s Matt Zirbel,* the CIA officer who had Gul Rahman doused with water and left to freeze to death in the Salt Pit. And there’s Joe Arpaio, who used the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office to investigate his political enemies.

DOJ immunized all these men in the last month, in spite of a vast amount of publicly available evidence clearly showing their crimes. And while DOJ had the courage to announce their decision about Blankfein and Goldman Sachs on a typical news day, not so their announcements about Zirbel and Arpaio–DOJ slipped those announcements into the journalistic distraction of Paul Ryan’s dishonest speech and Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, and the more generalized distraction of an imminent holiday weekend.

But with these grants of immunity, DOJ cleared the board of most of the politically contentious cases of immunized criminals just in time for election season. The Goldman banksters could donate with no worries, the NatSec types wouldn’t pull an October surprise, and Republicans couldn’t claim Arpaio was caught in a witch hunt because of the witch hunts he himself conducted.

DOJ cleared most, though not all, of the politically contentious cases they plan to clear though. The exception may prove the rule.

Read more

After Making Bank Fraud Legal, Eric Holder’s DOJ Makes Torture Legal

DOJ has announced that the two ongoing investigations it had into torture have been closed for lack of admissible evidence.

The Attorney General announced today the closure of the criminal investigations into the death of two individuals while in United States custody at overseas locations.

Eric Holder tried to put a good spin on this event.

AUSA John Durham has now completed his investigations, and the Department has decided not to initiate criminal charges in these matters. In reaching this determination, Mr. Durham considered all potentially applicable substantive criminal statutes as well as the statutes of limitations and jurisdictional provisions that govern prosecutions under those statutes. Mr. Durham and his team reviewed a tremendous volume of information pertaining to the detainees. That review included both information and matters that were not examined during the Department’s prior reviews. Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.


Mr. Durham and his team of agents and prosecutors have worked tirelessly to conduct extraordinarily thorough and complete preliminary reviews and investigations. I am grateful to his team and to him for their commitment to ensuring that the preliminary review and the subsequent investigations fully examined a broad universe of allegations from multiple sources. I continue to believe that our Nation will be better for it.

I also appreciate and respect the work of and sacrifices made by the men and women in our intelligence community on behalf of this country. They perform an incredibly important service to our nation, and they often do so under difficult and dangerous circumstances. They deserve our respect and gratitude for the work they do. I asked Mr. Durham to conduct this review based on existing information as well as new information and matters presented to me that I believed warranted a thorough examination of the detainee treatment issue.

I am confident that Mr. Durham’s thorough reviews and determination that the filing of criminal charges would not be appropriate have satisfied that need. Our inquiry was limited to a determination of whether prosecutable offenses were committed and was not intended to, and does not resolve, broader questions regarding the propriety of the examined conduct. [my emphasis]

But when it comes down to it, it means our government either refuses or is completely incapable of holding the powerful to account.

John Kiriakou is being prosecuted for speaking about waterboarding. But the guys who water doused someone to death? They enjoy the same impunity as the banksters.

Black Holes and Mock Burial

The other day, I posted on black holes in Bagram and Somalia. This important story, describes the plight of Tanzanian fisherman Suleiman Abdallah, who was kidnapped and sold for bounty in Mogadishu then rendered to three different American prisons, ultimately to Bagram, before he was freed five years later.

In addition to the portraying yet another innocent disappeared into our prison system, the story provides a few important details.

In fact, Suleiman was thousands of kilometers from his familiar Indian Ocean reefs, in an underground prison in central Afghanistan.

“It was pitch black, with constant noise and not enough food,” he recalled. His American interrogators would pour freezing cold water on him and beat him, saying, “We know you are a sea man, but here we have more water than out there in the sea. It never stops raining here.” Suleiman also describes being hung from the ceiling in the “strappado position,” slung in chains so that his toes just touched the floor. He also says American interrogators would take the ablution jug (used by Muslims for ritual cleansing before prayer), and stick its long spout up his rectum.


The litany of abuses described by Suleiman included severe beatings, prolonged solitary confinement, forced nakedness and humiliation, sexual assault, being locked naked in a coffin and forced to lie on a wet mat, naked and handcuffed, and then rolled up like a corpse. It was extremely tough. There were times when both of us clinicians, and the patient, broke down in tears.” [my emphasis]

While Clare Gutteridge doesn’t say it, the underground prison in Afghanistan sounds like the Salt Pit (Cage Prisoners says it was a different prison, but that he was then transferred to the Salt Pit). He was transferred to the relatively better Bagram in mid-2003.

In any case, that means the prisons in Afghanistan were using dousing after it may have contributed to Gul Rahman’s death the previous year, and after the CIA IG investigation into torture started.

Then there’s the mock burial–the only treatment John Yoo ever deemed torture. While Abdallah’s torturers might call the coffin “small box confinement,” between that and the funeral shroud, the intent of the treatment seems fairly clear.

And remember: top Bush officials had reason to know this treatment would elicit false confessions. It sounds like CIA and FBI interrogators learned fairly early on Abdallah was not who they had thought he was (they originally believed he had a role in the 1998 Embassy bombings).

Were we using the methods that even John Yoo found to be illegal to invent some justification for kidnapping Abdallah?

George Tenet’s Bureaucratic CYA

Let me divert from my obsession on the CIA’s efforts to hide references to what I believe is the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorizing torture and a whole lot else to talk about what a neat bureaucratic trick George Tenet pulled. As I’ve confirmed, what the CIA is going to some length to hide is the second half of the title of the document George Tenet drew up to try to impose some kind of controls on the CIA’s torture program in January 2003. The title reads, “Guidelines on Interrogations Conducted Pursuant to the” with the authorities that authorize such interrogations redacted.

But let’s take a step back and put that document–with its now highly sensitive invocation of the authorities on which the torture program rested–in context.

As far as I’m aware, unlike Michael Hayden and John Rizzo, Tenet has not publicly confirmed a Presidential Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program. In his memoir, he describes a briefing he conducted on September 15, 2001, two days before Bush signed the MON. He describes asking for authority to detain al Qaeda figures.

We raised the importance of being able to detain unilaterally al-Qa’ida operatives around the world.

He also pitched using drones to kill al Qaeda operatives.

We suggested using armed Predator UAVs to kill Bin Laden’s key lieutenants, and using our contacts around the world to pursue al-Qa’ida’s sources of funding, through identifying non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals who funded terrorist operations.

And he describes a whole bunch of other asks, like partnering with the Uzbekistan and–as part of another ask–with Syria and Libya. In short, Tenet describes asking for authorization to do the things we know are included in that MON.

Then, he describes watching Bush kick off the war on September 20, reflecting,

By then, as I remember, the president had already granted us the broad operational authority I had asked for.

Well, sucks to be Tenet, because as it happens, Bush authorized those activities broadly, but never put in writing that the authorization to detain al Qaeda figures included the authorization to torture

A few days after the attacks, President Bush signed a top-secret directive to CIA authorizing an unprecedented array of covert actions against Al Qaeda and its leadership. Read more