Dan Levin’s September Memo

I have said before that Dan Levin’s September 2004 Memo is one of the most interesting documents in Monday’s entire document dump. DOJ describes the document as "OLC’s view on the previous and current guidance it provided to CIA and DOD." As the date implies, it was written some time in September, though given the underscore in place of a date, it’s not clear whether this is more than a draft or even whether it was sent. It was addressed to John Ashcroft and Jim Comey by title.

The document is important and interesting for several reasons. I suspect it reflects ongoing difficulties on the part of DOJ to recover from John Yoo’s free-lancing and generally crappy lawyering. It provides an important marker of the discussions transpiring in fall 2004 on interrogation. And it provides critical insight to the Bradbury memos from spring 2005.

Since the document is heavily redacted, I’ll recreate the entire text of the document, along with my comments below. The original text is in blockquotes with my comments interspersed.

You have asked for an update on the status of interrogation advice.


1. Previously Given

a. The primary prior general advice was an unclassified August 1, 2002 memorandum from Jay Bybee to Judge Gonzales interpreting the torture statute. It contains discussion of a variety of matters that are not necessary to resolving any issues to date.

This refers to the Bybee One memo–the memo invoking organ failure that Jack Goldsmith had withdrawn on June 22, 2004.

Levin states that this discusses "a variety of matters that are no necessary to resolving any issues to date," which suggests that thus far, the Bybee Two memo was adequate to authorize the interrogations that Levin knew of.

2. Current/Pending

a. [one description redacted]

This redacted pending memo must describe the Levin memo to Comey completed on December 30, 2004. I find it particularly interesting that this is redacted, since the memo itself has been unclassified and available for years. This suggests that Levin, Ashcroft, and Comey may have had a shared understanding about what that memo had to do to replace the Bybee One memo–an understanding that we’re not allowed to know about. As a reminder, the December 2004 Levin memo is the one with the footnote backing off of full renunciation of the Bybee One memo.


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“We Will Provide, at a Later Date, an Opinion That Explains the Basis for this Conclusion”

There’s an interesting line in the August 6, 2004 letter from Daniel Levin to John Rizzo approving the use of waterboarding with (we know from the later 2005 memos and from the short name included here) Hassan Ghul. Levin promises to send an opinion that explains the basis for his conclusion that waterboarding would be legal (albeit a close call).

We will provide, at a later date, an opinion that explains the basis for this conclusion.

That promise doesn’t appear on the July 7, 2004 letter from Jack Goldsmith approving the use of all the techniques but waterboarding (I’m not certain the letter pertains to Ghul). It doesn’t appear on the July 22, 2004 letter from John Ashcroft to John McLaughlin (then Acting DCI), approving everything but waterboarding. It doesn’t appear on the September 20, 2004 letter approving a bunch of other techniques, including water dousing.

It appears to show up only on the letter approving waterboarding. Waterboarding, and only waterboarding.

That’s mighty interesting because, in 2005, when OLC was just getting around to writing that promised opinion, CIA provided last minute information to make sure that waterboarding would be included in the March 10 Combined memo. They had to do so because CIA’s December 30 memo on combined techniques did not include waterboarding. So, with the last minute information, the Combined Memo came to argue that it was okay to waterboard someone who had been deprived of sleep. And, as Jim Comey revealed in his emails, that Combined memo was really intended to authorize treatment retroactively.

Now this doesn’t prove that the CIA waterboarded Ghul. (They claim to have decided not to because he was too obese for the technique.) Perhaps it wasn’t Ghul they waterboarded; perhaps it was someone they tortured later. We can’t ask Ghul because he remains disappeared, last seen in a Pakistani jail.

All of this is inconclusive. But Levin’s promise of a follow-up memo, combined with the urgency surrounding the memo in April 2005, suggests they really did waterboard someone. 

If so, they have been lying about it to Congress and the American people ever since.

Update: I’m still working through these–and I see that the August 26, 2004 letter from Levin to Rizzo has the same line, as well as a September 6, 2004 one that appears to relate to a different detainee. That letter discusses four new techniques that had not been used before, which showed Read more

Ibn Sheikh al-Libi IDs Others

Andy Worthington has some new information on the pre-"suicide" fate of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, based on second-hand information via former Gitmo prisoner Omar Deghayes. It appears that al-Libi’s path took him to these places (click through for Andy’s comparison of this information with information already in the public record).

USS Bataan
Afghanistan (three prisons)

Andy reports that among other things, those locations tie to al-Libi’s past travels as an Islamic extremist–and he may have been brought to some of them to personal ID other supsects.

What makes this scenario even more compelling, however, is the Libyan source’s comment — never previously reported — that, in each prison, other “terror suspects” were brought before al-Libi, and he was required to identify those that he knew — or, under torture, those that he didn’t know.

This partly ties in with the report of his death in the Oea newspaper, which noted that “he had left Libya in 1986 to travel to Morocco, Mauritania and then to Saudi Arabia where he was recruited in 1990 to join Islamist militants in Afghanistan” (in other words, that he spent time in two countries where he was later rendered by the CIA), and also indicates that he was, essentially, taken on a torture tour of prisons in Africa and the Middle East to identify those who had trained at Khaldan — or, again, those who hadn’t, but who were implicated through the use of torture.


Moreover, the story becomes even more chilling with the realization that prisoners were also repeatedly shown photographs of other “terror suspects” to identify. No reports confirm that this also happened to al-Libi, but it is inconceivable that it did not take place, and on a regular basis, because it happened to every other prisoner regarded as having intelligence value. Read more

Hassan Ghul and Goldsmith’s Exception to the Geneva Convention’s Protected Person Rule

According to the May 30, 2005 CAT memo, the CIA wrote Jack Goldsmith with what appears to be a description of Hassan Ghul on March 12, 2004.

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).

On March 18, 2004, Goldsmith finalized a memo finding that non-Iraqi members of al Qaeda need not be afforded protected status under the Geneva Convention.

We conclude that the following persons, if captured in occupied Iraq, are not “protected persons” within the meaning of GC article 4: U.S. nationals, nationals of a State not bound by the Convention, nationals of a co-belligerent State, and operatives of the al Qaeda terrorist organization who are not Iraqi nationals or permanent residents of Iraq.

The following day, Goldsmith drafted–but did not finalize–a memo finding that in some cases the US–as the occupying power–could transfer "protected persons" out of Iraq (but probably shouldn’t).

We conclude, accordingly, that article 49(1)’s prohibition on "forcible transfers," like its prohibition on "deportations," does not extend to the removal, pursuant to local immigration law, of "protected persons" who are illegal alients.


…we conclude that it is permissible to relocate "protected persons" who have not been accused of an offense from Iraq to another country, for a brief but not indefinite period, for purposes of interrogation.14


14. While we conclude that GC does not prohibit temporary relocations of "protected persons" from occupied territory for a brief but not indefinite period, neither technical usage nor the Convention provides clear or precise guidance regarding exactly how long a "protected person" may be held outside occupied territory without running afoul of Article 49. Furthermore, violations of Article 49 may constitute "[g]rave breaches" of the Convention, art. 147, and thus "war crimes" under federal criminal law.

Now, we cannot be sure of the connection–nor can we be completely certain that the reference in the CAT memo pertains to Ghul (though it accords with the known details about him), but it appears these memos were at least partly an exercise in figuring out a way remove Ghul from Iraq to what ended up being one of CIA’s black sites. 

The detail is important for two reasons. Read more

Hassan Ghul, Mystery Detainee 2, and the Three Bradbury Memos

Update, March 12, 2015: We know from the Senate Torture Report that the Techniques memo was about Janat Gul, not Hassan Ghul. 

Since the Comey emails have come out, I’ve been trying to puzzle through why the Bush Administration issued three memos in May 2005–Techniques, Combined, and CAT–rather than just one or two. I guess I sort of understand doing a separate memo on whether the torture program complies with the Convention Against Torture, since that was largely written to placate Congress and ought to have (but did not) involve a more sensitive analysis. But since all the techniques are used in combination, why not join the analysis of Techniques and Combined?

This is to an extent a wildarsed guess. But I think they did three memos to hide the analysis and authorization of a particular detainee’s treatment. And I think that detainee was waterboarded.

Two Detainees

It has long been established that Hassan Ghul is discussed in these memos. Dafna Linzer reported on it the day the memos came out (and someone here MadDog also noted it about the same time–gold star to MadDog!!).

But the May 30 CAT memo actually mentions two detainees.

We understand that two individuals, [redacted across two pages] are representative of the high value detainees on whom enhanced techniques have been, or might be, used.

I’ll come back to this passage, but for the moment, understand that by the end of May 2005, Bradbury was ready to at least name two detainees in his memo.

The “Techniques” Memo Is about Ghul

I’m not 100% certain, but I believe that the May 10 Techniques memo is–at least ostensibly–exclusively about Ghul. The title of the memo uses the singular–Detainee. And the memo describes the detainee by name (the name is redacted, but it appears to be an appropriate length to spell “Hassan Gul”–CIA spelled “Ghul” without an “h”).

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] and information about al Qaeda’s plans to launch an attack within the United Staes. 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 [redacted] were completed by a CIA physician and psychologist, and that based on this examination, the physician concluded “[redacted] medical stable and has not medical contraindications to interrogation, including the use of interrogation techniques” addressed in this memorandum.

So by all appearances, the Techniques memo uses the interrogation of Ghul to reapprove all the techniques used by the CIA, thereby replacing Bybee Two.

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All the News NYT Does Not See Fit to Print


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

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

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

Pressure on Pat Philbin

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

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

Alberto Gonzales’ Cowardice

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

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