David 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 ciasavedlives.com, 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 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.
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.
Partly by design, the debate about torture that has already started in advance of tomorrow’s Torture Report release is focused on efficacy, with efficacy defined as obtaining valuable intelligence. Torture apologists say torture provided intelligence that helped to find Osama bin Laden. Torture critics refute this, noting that any intelligence CIA got from those who were tortured either preceded or long post-dated the torture.
Even setting aside my belief that, even if torture “worked” to elicit valuable intelligence, it still wouldn’t justify it, there’s a big problem with pitching the debate in those terms.
As the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on torture (released over 5 years ago, in far less redacted form than tomorrow’s summary will be) makes clear, the Bush regime embraced torture not for “intelligence” but for “exploitation.” In December 2001, when DOD first started searching for what would become torture, it was explicitly looking for “exploitation.”
As Administration lawyers began to reconsider U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions, the DoD Office of the General Counsel also began seeking information on detention and interrogation. In December 2001, the DoD General Counsel’s office contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for information about detainee “exploitation.
And as a footnote explaining that reference makes clear, “interrogation is only one part of the exploitation process.”
Some other things exploitation is used for — indeed the very things the torture we reverse-engineered for our own torture program was used for — are to help recruit double agents and to produce propaganda.
And we have every reason to believe those were among the things all incarnations of our torture were used for. We tortured in Abu Ghraib because we had no sources in the Iraqi resistance and for some reason we believed sexually humiliating men would shame them into turning narcs for the US.
Sami al-Hajj, the Al-Jazeera journalist held at Gitmo for 6 years, says the US wanted him to spy on ties between that outlet and al Qaeda for them.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, three people, and one translator. And they told me, “Your story is clear. You don’t have anything. But you are now in Guantánamo, and we wait until we get some decisions from Pentagon to release you. Until that time, we want you to be patient and to cooperate with our people.” Later on, someone, he came, and they told me, “You are here to preparing you to cooperate with us in future.” I told him, “What that means?” He said, “You said in Kandahar you are ready to cooperate with us.” I told him, “Yes, I said that. But I said that I mean by ‘cooperate’ to answer question, not to work with you.” He said, “No, we understand you want to be with us, work with us.” And they starting give me some offer to give me a U.S.A. nationality and take care about my family, if I work with them in CIA to continue my job being journalist with Al Jazeera, just send for them some information about the link between Al Jazeera and al-Qaeda and the terrorist people and some people in the Middle East. Of course, I refused to do that. I told them, “I’m journalist, and I will die as a journalist. I will never work as a work, and just only journalist.”
And while I question whether we’ll ever learn the truth about Hassan Ghul, he reportedly agreed to infiltrate al Qaeda for us after we tortured him before he flipped back and got killed in a drone strike.
So one reason the CIA and DOD embraced torture was in hope of recruiting people to become our spies.
The propaganda value of torture, however, will receive far less attention still, because the implications of it are truly horrible. All reports about our torture assume that we “knew” the answers we wanted because we were stupid — we assumed al Qaeda had more plots than they did, or had grander plans than they did.
Or had ties with Iraq.
But when we consider the case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, whose torture-induced claim al Qaeda had ties to Iraq’s WMD programs helped drag us into Iraq,
According to al-Libi, the foreign government service [redacted] “stated that the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq. … This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm.” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, alLibi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”216
(U) Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa’ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that “this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice the 50 square centimeter box and given food.”217
And when you consider that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri claimed his torturers told him he had to claim Osama bin Laden had nukes,
>Number six. Usama bin Laden having a nuclear bomb. [REDACTED]. Then they used to laugh. Then they used to tell me you need to admit to those information. So I used to invent some of the stuff for them to say Usama bin laden had a, had a nuclear bomb. And they use to laugh and they were very happy. They were extremely happy because of the news. Then after that I told them, listen. He has no bomb.
When you consider under torture Abu Zubaydah turned Jose Padilla’s web searches into an active dirty bomb plot.
And when you consider that Dick Cheney wanted to have Iraqi Mukhabarat member Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi waterboarded because he was sure he knew of the tie between Iraq and al Qaeda,
At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.
Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”
Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.
Then it raises the really horrible possibility that Cheney pushed torture because it would produce the stories he wanted told. It would be difficult to distinguish whether Cheney believed this stuff and therefore that’s what the torture produced or whether Cheney wanted these stories told and that’s what the torture produced.
As Steven Kleinman said in an important Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye story on this subject, the torture CIA used was designed to get false confessions, not accurate information.
“This is the guidebook to getting false confessions, a system drawn specifically from the communist interrogation model that was used to generate propaganda rather than intelligence,” Kleinman said in an interview. “If your goal is to obtain useful and reliable information this is not the source book you should be using.”
The people who approved torture had the means of knowing — should have known — it would elicit false confessions. It’s just that no one can prove whether that was the entire point or not.
In this respect, then, the debate we’ll resume tomorrow is similar to the debate about the phone dragnet, where the government has not fully described the purposes it serves (indeed, in both cases, the government is hiding their use of the program to obtain spies).
It’s not just a question of whether torture is “effective” at obtaining intelligence. It’s also whether the entire point of it was to produce spies and propaganda.
But much of this has been clear for even longer, having been exposed in some form in 2009-10.
Yet much of that got lost in CIA’s aggressive attack on Congress — one that anticipated what we’ve seen and will surely continue to see with the release of the Torture Report. At the time, CIA attempted to claim Congress had been fully briefed on torture, and therefore shouldn’t criticize the agency. Yet it gradually became clear how laughable CIA’s claims were. Along the way details of the lies CIA told in briefings came out.
The lies CIA told Congress in its first several years of the torture program include that it,
There are a number of claims CIA made that are almost certainly also false — most notably with regards to what intelligence came from torture — but most of that didn’t get recorded in the CIA’s records. I fully expect we’ll find details of those in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
September 17, 2001: Bush signs “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes capture and detention of top al Qaeda leaders, but leaves CIA to decide the details of that detention
Before I focus on the briefings, some background is in order.
Torture started as a covert operation authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Under the National Security Act, the Intelligence Committees had to be briefed on that Finding and they were. However, the Finding was structured such that it laid out general ideas — in this case, the capture and detention of senior al Qaeda figures — and left the implementation up to CIA. As a result, key members of Congress (notably, Jane Harman, who was Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee for much of the period during which the program operated) apparently had no idea that the Finding they had been briefed on in timely fashion actually served as the Presidential authorization for torture until years later. Also, since that September 17, 2001 Finding authorized both torture and the outsourcing of nasty jobs to foreign intelligence partners, the earliest torture, such as that of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Egyptian custody starting in February 2002 and Binyam Mohamed in Pakistani custody starting in April 2002, should be considered part of the same covert op.
April to July 2002: CIA tortures Abu Zubaydah based solely on Presidential authorization
By now there is no dispute: the CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah well before the August 1, 2002 memo that purportedly prospectively authorized that treatment. CIA even exceeded early verbal guidance on things like sleep deprivation, after which CIA unilaterally authorized what CIA had done retrospectively. The CIA appears to have gotten in real trouble when they moved to conduct mock burial with Abu Zubaydah, to which Ali Soufan objected; his objections appear to be the reason why mock burial (and by extension, mock execution) was the only technique John Yoo ultimately rejected. On July 13, after Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination of prosecution to CIA for things they were ostensibly talking about prospectively but which had in fact already occurred, Yoo wrote a short memo, almost certainly coached by David Addington but not overseen by Yoo’s boss Jay Bybee, that actually served as the authorization CIA’s CTC would rely on for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, not the August 1 memos everyone talks about. As a result, CIA could point to a document that did not include limits on specific techniques and the precise implementation of those techniques as their authorization to torture.
CIA had, in internal documents, once claimed to have briefed the Gang of Four (then Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Shelby, and Bob Graham) in April 2002. But after being challenged, they agreed they did not conduct those briefings. This, then, created a problem, as CIA had not really briefed Congress — not even the Gang of Four — about this “covert op.”
Septmber 4, 2002: CIA provides initial trial balloon briefing to Pelosi and Goss, then starts destroying evidence
On September 4, 2002, 7 months after Egypt started torturing Ibn Sheikh al-Libi at America’s behest, almost 5 months after CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah, and over a month after the OLC memo that purportedly started a month of torture for Abu Zubaydah, Jose Rodriguez, a CTC lawyer, and Office of Congressional Affairs head Stan Moskowitz first briefed Congress on torture techniques.
The record supports a claim that CIA provided some kind of description of torture to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss. It supports a claim that neither objected to the techniques briefed. Both Pelosi and Goss refer to this briefing, however, as a prospective briefing. Goss referred to the torture techniques as “techniques [that] were to actually be employed,” not that had already been employed, and when asked he did not claim they had been briefed on techniques that had been used. Pelosi claimed,
I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.
Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.
Thus, at least as far as Goss and Pelosi are concerned, over a month after they first waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and many more after Egypt had waterboarded al-Libi for us), CIA implied they had not yet done so with any detainee.
As striking as the evidence that CIA only briefed prospectively on torture that had been used for as many as 7 months, however, is what happened next. CIA moved to destroy evidence.
The day after that initial briefing in which CIA told Congress it might torture in the future, it “determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes.” Then, the following day, CTC altered its own notes on the substance of the briefing, taking out a sentence (it’s not clear what that sentence said). CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs never finalized a description for this, and at one time even listed Jane Harman as the attendee rather than Pelosi. In fact, in a list of the briefings on torture compiled in July 2004, it did not treat this briefing as one covering torture at all.
In addition, for some reason a briefing for Bob Graham and Richard Shelby initially scheduled for September 9 got rescheduled for the end of the month, September 27. According to available records, Jose Rodriguez did not attend. According to Bob Graham’s notoriously meticulous notes, the briefing was not conducted in a SCIF, but instead in Hart Office Building, meaning highly classified information could not have been discussed. Graham says it chiefly described the intelligence the CIA claimed to have gotten from their interrogation program. Graham insists waterboarding did not come up, but Shelby, working off memory, disputes that claim.
February 4 and 5, 2002: CIA gets Republican approval to destroy the torture tapes, kills SSCI’s nascent investigation, and refuses to explain torture’s Presidential authorization
By November 2002, Bob Graham had started to hear vague rumors about the torture program. He did not, he says, receive notice that CIA froze Gul Rahman to death after dousing him with water or even hear about it specifically. But because of those rumors, Graham moved to exercise more oversight over the torture program, asking to have another staffer read into the program, and asking that a staffer see a Black Site and observe interrogation. That effort was thwarted in the first full briefing CIA gave Congress on torture on February 4, 2002, when CIA told Pat Roberts (who had assumed Senate Intelligence Chair; newly Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller was not present at this briefing, though a staffer was) they would not meet Graham’s requests. CIA claims — but Roberts disputes — that he said he could think of “ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea” to exercise such oversight.
In addition to getting Roberts to quash that nascent assessment, CIA gave Roberts the following false information:
The Memorandum of Understanding of this briefing appears to be one of only two that got finalized (it actually included a reference that Goss and Harman had been briefed on the torture tape, but not that Harman warned against destroying it).
The February 5, 2003 briefing involving Porter Goss and Jane Harman is just as interesting, though CIA has refused to release their notes from it.
Five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter questioning whether torture had been reviewed from a policy perspective and advising against destroying Abu Zubaydah’s torture tape. In addition, she asked if the President had signed off, revealing that she didn’t know that the Finding she had been briefed on included torture. The CIA and the White House met to decide how to respond. In the end, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s response didn’t really answer any of Harman’s questions, nor note her warning against destroying the torture tape.
Also note: in the month before these briefings, the CIA prepared what appears to be a tear-line document on Abu Zubaydah. While it’s not certain the document was prepared to brief the Gang of Four, it matches what we know to have been said to Roberts, especially as regards to the torture tapes. But it also reveals real discrepancies between the tear-line (Secret) claims and the Top Secret claims it was based on, notably inflating the value of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence below the tear-line.
September 4, 2003: An innocuous briefing left off some of the tracking
We don’t really know what happened in the September 4, 2003 briefings of both Goss and Harman and Roberts and Rockfeller, which is a shame because it would have covered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment (and that of Ammar al-Baluchi, whom we now know may have been treated even worse than his uncle). In fact, it was left off lists of “sensitive” briefings at different times.
July 2004: CIA has to tell Congress even CIA(‘s IG) thinks they lied
On May 7, 2004, CIA’s IG John Helgerson completed his report finding that the torture had exceeded guidelines and questioning the value of the intelligence obtained using it. On June 23, the Roberts and Rockefeller got copies (it’s not clear whether Goss and Harman got advance copies). On July 13, 2004, CIA briefed Goss and Harman again.
The briefing did include some details from CIA IG John Helgerson’s report on the program — that it violated the Convention Against Torture and did not comply with the OLC memos. He also explained that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding was problematic, the first in execution and the second in number.
As part of that briefing (or by reading the IG Report), Harman learned that the Finding authorized this torture; in the briefing she pointed out the Finding had only authorized detention and capture, not interrogation.
But CIA persisted in a narrow dodge and two false claims:
There are few details on the briefing CIA gave Roberts and Rockefeller on July 15.
These are just the details of the lies CIA itself has documented and released CIA telling Congress. There are other allegations of CIA lies in briefings, though those records were not released under FOIA. And things started getting really funky in 2005, as Dick Cheney started participating in CIA briefings to try to defeat the Detainee Treatment Act. In addition, CIA briefed Pete Hoekstra (who had become the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee) on the morning they destroyed the torture tapes; the content of that briefing has never been revealed.
None of this excuses Congress, of course: the knew enough to know this was problematic.
But it is clear that CIA lied to them both to boost the value of the torture they were doing and to diminish the problems and abuses.
[Tenet] called for initiating intelligence contact with some rogue states such as Libya and Syria that he said might be helpful in trying to destroy al Qaeda. For the CIA to obtain helpful information against the terrorists, they might have to get their hands dirty. — Bob Woodward, Bush at War
On September 15, 2001, George Tenet presented Cofer Black’s plan to respond to 9/11 to George Bush. It included rendering suspects to allied torturers including Egypt, partnering with rogue regimes including Bashar al-Assad’s, and ultimately capturing and torturing suspects ourselves.
On September 17, 2001, George Bush implemented that plan by signing a Memorandum of Notification reflecting vague outlines of it.
George Bush’s signature on that document led directly the torture of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Omar Suleiman’s hands and Binyam Mohammed’s torture in Pakistani custody, both before DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel gave its sanction to torture. In addition, it led to Maher Arar’s torture in Assad’s hands outside the terms permissible in our rendition program.
Yet as these details of George Bush’s personal implication in torture became clear, President Obama hid it, both with repeated state secrets invocations and by hiding official confirmation of the existence of that document with Bush’s signature on it. The Administration succeeded in hiding that official confirmation by arguing — just last year! — that it was still relying on that document that also endorsed partnering with Assad. (There’s reason to believe that that document which authorized partnering with Assad also served to authorize some of our drone assassinations, including at least the first attempt against Anwar al-Awlaki.)
Meanwhile, the most independent assessment of the August 21 chemical weapons strike — from Human Rights Watch — still has the same gap as every other case does: while it concludes the CW were launched by Assad’s regime, it provides no evidence that it was launched on his orders.
The evidence examined by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that the August 21 chemical weapon attacks on Eastern and Western Ghouta were carried out by government forces. Our basis for this finding is:
- The large-scale nature of the attacks, involving at least a dozen surface-to-surface rockets affecting two different neighborhoods in Damascus countryside situated 16 kilometers apart, and surrounded by major Syrian government military positions.
- One of the types of rockets used in the attack, the 330mm rocket system – likely Syrian produced, which appear to be have been used in a number of alleged chemical weapon attacks, has been filmed in at least two instances in the hands of government forces. The second type of rocket, the Soviet-produced 140mm rocket, which can carry Sarin, is listed as a weapon known to be in Syrian government weapon stocks. Both rockets have never been reported to be in the possession of the opposition. Nor is there any footage or other evidence that the armed opposition has the vehicle-mounted launchers needed to fire these rockets.
- The August 21 attacks were a sophisticated military attack, requiring large amounts of nerve agent (each 330mm warhead is estimated to contain between 50 and 60 liters of agent), specialized procedures to load the warheads with the nerve agent, and specialized launchers to launch the rockets
Obviously Assad has not yet publicly named — much less condemned — anyone within his regime for doing this (but then, only about 14 Americans have ever paid a price the systematic torture authorized by that Bush signature). If this deal with the Russians actually happens, naming and prosecuting the persons responsible for the August 21 attack should be part of the agreement.
But there is a fundamental problem with America launching a war against Assad for the August CW attack based on chain of command arguments (or “common sense,” as its most recent incarnation has it). That’s because, with all the legal problems surrounding any intervention on our part (especially without UN sanction, which may change under the Russian deal), there are such clear and ongoing instances where, even with clear evidence of human rights violations done under nothing but Presidential authorization, the US doesn’t hold its own responsible.
There was a time when US violations of human rights norms weren’t so clearly documented (though the definitely existed). But now that they are, to claim we have the moral authority to hold Bashar al-Assad responsible based on a chain of command argument when we won’t even hold our own responsible for partnering with him in human rights crimes is particularly problematic.
As human rights hypocrites ourselves, that makes us not even global policemen, but rather simple enforcers when it serves our geopolitical interests.
A bit of a row has started between Jay Rosen and Will Saletan for the latter’s attempt to “see how [the torturers] saw what they did” in this post. Frankly, I think Rosen mischaracterizes the problem with Saletan’s post. It’s not so much that Saletan parrots the euphemisms of the torturers. It’s that he accepts what John Rizzo, Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, and Marc Thiessen said — in a presentation with multiple internal contradictions even before you get to the outright demonstrable lies — as the truth.
I’m particularly troubled by the way Saletan takes this assertion (which is based on the pseudo science behind the torture):
EITs were used to break the will to resist, not to extract information directly. Hayden acknowledged that prisoners might say anything to stop their suffering. (Like the other panelists, he insisted EITs weren’t torture.) That’s why “we never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to, while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques.
And concludes this, which I take to be Saletan’s belief, not the torturers’:
Fourth, the right question to ask about the EIT program isn’t whether people lie under torture but whether using torture to train human beings in obedience is wrong despite the payoffs.
In an effort to take the torturers’ comments — and very notable silences, which Saletan doesn’t discuss — in good faith, Saletan presumes we might treat obedience among detainees being exploited as one of its “payoffs.”
Doing so ignores how the Bush Administration used torture to get detainees to tell useful lies, the most important of those being that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, which is one of the key pieces of “intelligence” that was used to get us into the Iraq War. That lie from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi — extracted through the use of mock burial and waterboarding, the two main forms of torture discussed in the panel — contributed directly to the unnecessary deaths of 4,000 Americans, to say nothing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Hayden’s claim we always knew the answer to questions we asked under torture
Here’s the full exchange from which Saletan takes as truthful the assertion that torture is about “learned helplessness” (no one here uses Mitchell and Jessen’s term, but that’s what we know they called it).
MR. THIESSEN: Mike, one of the – one of the scenes, you have the interrogator throws the – whoever the detainee is down and starts pouring water over his face and starts shouting, when’s the last time you saw bin Laden? And I think that gets to a deep misunderstanding of how interrogation actually worked. And one of the things you explained to me when I was working on my book and on the president’s speech was that there’s a difference between interrogation and debriefing, and the purpose of interrogation was not – we actually didn’t ask questions that we didn’t know the answers to. It was to ascertain whether they were being truthful or not. (So if you ?) walk through that?
MR. HAYDEN: I’m almost willing to make an absolute statement that we never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were not designed to elicit truth in the moment – which is what was, you know, tell me this or I’ll hurt you more, I’m not your friend – for about a third of our detainees. By the way, for two thirds of our detainees, this wasn’t necessary. Now, I’m willing to admit that the existence of the option may have influenced the two-thirds who said, well, let’s talk, all right? I mean – I mean, let’s be candid with one another. But for about a third, techniques were used not to elicit, again, information in the moment, but to take someone who had come into our custody absolutely defiant and move them into a state or a zone of cooperation, whereby – and then you recall the scene in the movie after the detainee is cleaned up and they’re having this lengthy conversation – for the rest of the detention, and in some cases it’s years – it’s a conversation. It’s a debriefing. It’s going back and forth with the kind of dialogue that you saw in that scene about a – about a third of the way through the movie.
You know a lot of people kind of reflexively say – they’ll say anything to make you stop, which may actually be true. That’s why we didn’t ask them questions while this was going on. Again, as John said, I mean, you know – these things weren’t gentle or kind, but the impact – and I think Jose’s written very thoughtfully about this – the impact was psychological. The impact is you are no longer in control of your destiny, all right? You are in our hands, and therefore, that movement into the zone of cooperation as opposed to the zone of defiance. But Jose’s got more of the fine print on that. [my emphasis]
As I mentioned the other day, I still haven’t seen the movie, so I’m not sure. But Thiessen’s effort to dismiss the claim that we asked detainees where Osama bin Laden was while being waterboarding may be an effort to rebut Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s assertion that he lied about OBL’s location to get them to stop waterboarding him — all while hiding the importance of the courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who would eventually lead to OBL.
Now, Hayden’s claim is so obviously false as to be almost pathetic.
The ticking timebomb that blows up Hayden’s claim
It’s a claim that Rodriguez — in the very same appearance — undermines, when he describes turning to torture out of sheer ignorance.
MR. THIESSEN: Follow-up, Jose. I mean, take us back to – since we’re pulling the broader picture – take us back to September 11 th , 2001. You know, we’ve just been hit – there’s smoke in the ground in New York, buildings have fallen, the Pentagon is broken. And what do we know about al-Qaida? I mean, did we know that KSM was the operational commander of al Qaida or that he had this – or that members of his network – or all this information that we take for granted that we know now?
MR. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we didn’t know that much. Continue reading
Three years ago, I rather sheepishly gave Dianne Feinstein kudos for the seriousness of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into torture. I said then–and I maintain now–that reports of the investigation make it sound like a far more substantive investigation than I had at first worried it would be.
But I will say that the apparent timing of its release seems unfortunate. Because it is likely to come out in the wake of the Jose Rodriguez propaganda, the SSCI report is being portrayed as the other side of a two-sided debate rather than the result of the sustained, exhaustive inquiry it is.
A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs.
President Barack Obama and his aides have largely sought to avoid revisiting Bush administration controversies. But the debate over the effectiveness of enhanced interrogations, which human rights advocates condemn as torture, is resurfacing, in part thanks to a new book by a former top CIA official.
In the book, “Hard Measures,” due to be published on Monday, April 30, the former chief of CIA clandestine operations Jose Rodriguez defends the use of interrogation practices including water-boarding, which involves pouring water on a subject’s face, which is covered with a cloth, to simulate drowning.
Whether the timing–coming out just as Mitt Romney and his torturer-advisors face off against Obama in the General Election–was planned or not, the effect will be to turn torture into a campaign issue with two sides treated as legitimate by a spineless press, rather than one side with self-preservation in mind and the other with exhaustive study.
And sadly, that will probably mean the most interesting (and politically explosive) result of the investigation gets lost, relegated to paragraph 26 of 27.
Critics also say that still-classified records are likely to demonstrate that harsh interrogation techniques produced far more information that proved false than true.
Dana Priest reveals that, when Jose Rodriguez tried to persuade her not to publish news of the black sites in 2005, he tried to argue torture “was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.” We’re about to get validation that the example of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was not unique (though his treatment was included in the scope of the SSCI study). If torture “was producing real results” those results were false confessions, not real intelligence.
If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.
Last week, Nick Baumann told the story of Yonas Fikre. While visiting family in Sudan, men purporting to be FBI (remember that CIA has repeatedly lied and said they were FBI since 9/11) pushed him to become an informant. When he refused, the Agents told him he had been put on the no-fly list. He then traveled to UAE, where he was detained (reportedly at the behest of the US, torture, and interrogated–in an effort, Fikre says, to elicit a false confession.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph tells of the process depicted by more of the documents liberated in Libya (I’m still wondering when the documents explaining how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was suicided). In violation of laws prohibiting it, MI5 not only provided information to Libyans about Libyan refugees in the country, but set up meetings to try to coerce them to become informants. If offering them citizenship didn’t work, the story describes, then they would prosecute them for meeting with the Libyan agents whose meeting they had set up.
The minutes suggest that MI5 preferred to use the carrot, rather than the stick, in inducing the target to start giving up information about his associates: ‘We might allow him to visit his family in Libya, then return to Britain. We could offer to help clear his name with Libyan authorities. We could offer to help with citizenship or residency. This could open the door to his co-operation. We could enter his office frequently, do business with him and open the door to further conversations.’
But if that didn’t work, then they could resort to coercion: ‘Libyan operatives could ask him [the target asylum seeker] about problems at home in Libya or in Britain.
‘They offer to help in return for giving information we want
about other targets. If he refuses, British police will arrest him and accuse him of associating with Libyan secret agents. He will be told that as a non-resident of Britain he could be deported if found guilty.’
At some point this isn’t about collecting intelligence anymore (particularly in the case of Fikre’s mosque, the Imam from which the FBI has probably sent 10 informants against without ever being able to make a case against him). It’s about instilling turning Muslim men into the puppets of the governments claiming to wage counter-terrorism campaigns.
After earlier stating he would not run in the upcoming Egyptian Presidential race, Omar Suleiman announced on Friday he would file to run for President (with the Army’s help gathering the 30,000 signatures he would need to collect in just one day).
Omar Suleiman, one of the most powerful figures of Mubarak’s regime, had said earlier this week that he would not run. But he said he changed his mind after hundreds of people rallied in Cairo to support a bid.
Hundreds rallied Friday in Cairo to call for him to run for president.
Suleiman said that helped change his mind.
“I can only meet the call and run in the presidential race, despite the constraints and difficulties I made clear in my former statement,” he said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency on Friday. He said he faces administrative obstacles, but did not elaborate.
The AJE piece above describes how the Presidential race has devolved into all sides responding to Islamists–who had a big win in Parliamentary elections–deciding to run. Suleiman’s decision seems to be just another step in that process.
Mr. Suleiman’s decision raises the possibility that, one year after an uprising that was spurred in part by the Mubarak regime’s brutality, torture, and oppression, one of the architects of that repression could become Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president.
Some see his candidacy as a response by Egypt’s military rulers to the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent decision to field a presidential candidate – a decision that broke a year-long promise to stay out of the race. Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, says Suleiman’s candidacy raises the possibility that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is currently ruling Egypt, may rig the elections to favor the former intelligence chief.
Some observers suggest Suleiman’s move is just be an effort to make Amr Moussa look credible by comparison.
But as Jeff Stein reviews, in many ways he’d be the most palatable candidate to the West, largely because of our long history of cooperating with him on things like torturing Ibn Shaikh al-Libi to generate propaganda with which to start the Iraq War. People predicted Suleiman might succeed Hosni Mubarak long before the Arab Uprising.
“An open question is whether he can count on help from his longtime friends in the CIA,” I wrote back in January 2011.
“Ask who they posit as a possible successor,” a State Department expert on the region told me then. “Bet you a beer, the name Omar Suleiman comes up more often than most.”
As we’ve all been reading tea leaves about whether and when Israel will attack Iran, I’ve come to suspect we’re ignoring an equally important story. That is, to what degree is our post-Arab Spring policy in the Middle East serving Saudi Arabia’s purposes of aiming to obliterate the Shia–Iranian–pole of influence and not just our typical responsiveness to Israeli demands? And to what degree is that a catastrophic mistake of a magnitude equal to our mistake in invading Iraq (and to what degree is the plan an effort to recover from our loss in Iraq)?
I hope to raise this question more fully in a series of posts, but first some caveats and hypotheses. First, the caveats. I’m obviously not an expert in this field. I speak none of the languages in question. I think current events in the Middle East are more obscure than even they normally are. And I’m not sure my hypotheses are right. For all those reasons, I readily welcome being told I’m an idiot on this front by those with more expertise.
My hypotheses? Dick Cheney invaded Iraq as a middle term strategy to sustain US hegemony as the world transitions into peak oil. The strategy failed, miserably. On top of that failure, we’re faced with the crumbling of our old strategy in the wake of the Arab Spring. As a result, we’re pursuing (either deliberately or through lack of reflection) a strategy of making the Sunni pole–Saudi Arabia–even more powerful. And yet we’re doing this, bizarrely, at the same time we claim to be fighting a war against mostly Sunni terrorism. As such, the strategy seems as stupid as–and in many ways a repeat of–withdrawing troops from Afghanistan to fight in Iraq.
My thoughts on this have really solidified as I read two Bruce Riedel pieces–this recent column and one from last August. The recent one is so breathtakingly logically faulty as to merit mapping out Riedel’s argument–that Iran and Al Qaeda are likely to ally for an attack this summer–closely (note that Riedel’s argument is a response to Israeli spin in European papers about the Iranian threat).
So despite their animosity, al Qaeda, Iran, and Hizbullah can probably also find new places to quietly cooperate, if only passively.
How stupid was Moammar Qaddafi, who reportedly hired the same mercenary firm that tried to take out Equatorial Guinea’s dictator in 2004?
A total of 50 private soldiers, including 19 South Africans, are reported to have travelled to Libya on instructions to smuggle the former dictator from his birthplace of Sirte over the border to Niger.
Among them were said to be members of the team led by former SAS officer Simon Mann on the “Wonga coup” to unseat Equatorial Guinea’s dictator.
In addition to Simon Mann, after all, those plotters also had ties to Mark Thatcher, Maggie’s kid. And in addition to Sir Mark’s involvement with that coup attempt, Thatcher was involved in the BAE kick-back scheme with Saudi Arabia. And that scheme reportedly funded covert operations … presumably things like the Wonga coup. Led by the same Saudi family the head of which Qaddafi allegedly tried to assassinate.
Perhaps, after Qaddafi’s “secret” deal with Britain on the Lockerbie bomber, he thought he could trust the same mercenaries tied to a very British coup. Or perhaps he was just in a pinch and couldn’t get any more reliable mercenaries to help him escape Libya.
But it appears Qaddafi shouldn’t have trusted these particular mercs.
It has been alleged that one of the security firms who provided mercenaries for the mission may have acted as a “double agent”, helping Nato to pinpoint Gaddafi’s convoy for attack, and that the dictator’s escape was “meant to fail”.
A source in the private security sector said it was “highly likely” that one of those involved deliberately recruited mercenaries who were ill-equipped to handle the mission.
“These guys did not have the experience to be successful,” he said. “The formation of the convoy, the way they tried to leave Sirte, it’s clear they were meant to fail.
“Someone got paid to protect him and at the same time to deliver him.”
Which makes it all the more interesting that Hillary was hanging out in Libya they day before Qaddafi was assassinated. I have noted how convenient it is that Qaddafi didn’t survive to testify at the ICC about how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was suicided so conveniently; the same is true of his Lockerbie deal. I guess if you own the mercs “protecting” someone, it becomes a lot easier to arrange such convenient assassinations?
I guess dictators today can’t find mercenaries like they used to.