Update, March 13, 2015: The Torture Report clarify this. First, CIA had not yet rendered the detainee, who was indeed Janat Gul. At the meeting, CIA did ask for a memo, as well as permission to torture Gul because (we now know) a fabricator had claimed he was involved in an election season plot. We’ve also learned that regardless of what Comey and Goldsmith approved, the CIA used its torture of Gul, after Goldsmith left, to expand the prior authorizations CIA had obtained to incorporate what they had actually used.
Jay Bybee thinks it’s really damning that Jim Comey attended a July 2, 2004 Principals meeting at which the torture of one particular detainee (he says it was Janat Gul, though there are reasons to doubt it) was discussed.
Comey joined Ashcroft at a NSC Principals Meeting on July 2, 2004 to discuss the possible interrogation of CIA detainee Janat Gul. Report at 123. Ashcroft and Comey conferred with Goldsmith after the meeting, leading to Goldsmith’s letter to Muller approving all of the techniques described in the Classified Bybee Memo except for the waterboard. Id (PDF 26-27)
I’m not so sure. In fact, it appears that the key approvals happened after Comey had left that meeting–and Goldsmith’s “approval” appears to have been an attempt to put some limits on the CIA after the White House had approved the techniques.
Let’s review everything that led up to that meeting.
In April, per the OPR Report, Jack Goldsmith and Steven Bradbury began work on a memo to replace the March 2003 Yoo memo. Meanwhile, in response to the CIA Inspector General Report’s description of torture as it was being administered, Goldsmith advised CIA General Counsel Scott Muller on May 27 not to use waterboarding (and to strictly follow the descriptions of the other nine authorized techniques carefully). On June 7 and 8 news of the torture memos appeared in the WSJ and WaPo. After learning in a phone call with John Yoo about some of the back-channel advice CIA and DOD had gotten, Goldsmith told Muller on June 10 that CIA was going to have to put things in writing if it wanted further OLC opinions on torture (Goldsmith appears to have kept the proof that he faxed it to CIA). On June 16, Goldsmith told Ashcroft he would withdraw the Bybee One memo and then resign. On June 22, in an off the record briefing, Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin renounced the Bybee One memo. And on June 28, the Supreme Court ruled against the Administration in the Hamdi case.
The entire torture program, the torture architects surely believed, was at risk. In his book, Jack Goldsmith reports that the CIA and White House accused him of “buckl[ing]” in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. And Addington sniped that Goldsmith should give him a list of any OLC opinions Goldsmith still stood by.
In this context on July 2–ten days after Goldsmith publicly withdrew the Bybee One memo and four days after the Hamdi decision–the CIA asked to torture again.