Zelikow’s Dissent and Rockefeller’s Question

Dalybean made an important point in EPU-land of the Gestation of Bradbury’s Torture Memos thread. As I pointed out in that thread, the May 30 Bradbury memo was a response–at least in part–to Congress’ demand that the Administration assess whether their torture program complied with the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments as they fulfilled the US obligation under the Convention Against Torture.

Well, that was one of the biggest points Phillip Zelikow made in his dissent to the May 30, 2005 torture memo.

At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that:  The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives. 

Stated in a shorthand way, mainly for the benefit of other specialists who work these issues, my main concerns were:

  • the case law on the "shocks the conscience" standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods;
  • the OLC memo basically ignored standard 8th Amendment "conditions of confinement" analysis (long incorporated into the 5th amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.
  • the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques, but other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under U.S. law — whatever the alleged gain. [my emphasis]

Zelikow, with a background in this area of law, wrote a dissent to the torture memo ripping its legal analysis. Significantly, Zelikow hit on one point that Congress was hitting on too: the importance of the Eighth Amendment in our compliance with the Convention Against Torture. As Zelikow apparently pointed out, the case law surrounding the Eighth Amendment said that even these detainees were entitled to protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

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The Gestation of Bradbury’s Torture Memos

I’m increasingly certain that Jello Jay put together the SSCI narrative as a way to demonstrate that the CIA did not inform Congress it had tortured Abu Zubaydah until well after (six months–and longer for Jello Jay himself) they had done so.

But I suspect one of the other things he tried to document with the narrative is the apparent resistance (or inability) on the part of OLC to write a memo arguing our torture program complied with Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture, which reads:

  1. Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article I, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture of references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  2. The provisions of this Convention are without prejudice to the provisions of any other international instrument or national law which prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or which relates to extradition or expulsion.

Or, to contextualize this even further, Jello Jay wants to document OLC’s difficulties with refuting the conclusions of the CIA IG Report, which we know concluded that the interrogation program did violate Article 16.

The report, by John L. Helgerson, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, did not conclude that the techniques constituted torture, which is also prohibited under American law, the officials said. But Mr. Helgerson did find, the officials said, that the techniques appeared to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under the convention.

Let’s look at how Jello Jay depicted OLC’s attempt to refute this conclusion.

The 10-Month Gestation of the Bradbury Memos

In response to the CIA IG Report, the narrative explains, the CIA asked for an opinion that addressed this problem. As Jello Jay helpfully explained, that means they were asking for an assessment of whether the program violated the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

After the issuance of that review, the CIA requested that OLC prepare an updated legal opinion that incorporated actual CIA experiences and practice in the use of the techniques to date included in the Inspector General review, as well as legal analysis as to whether the interrogation techniques were consistent with the substantive standards contained in the Senate reservation to Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.

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About Democratic Complicity: the Early Briefings on Torture

Leen links to two articles suggesting the Democrats are reluctant to have a truth commission because of their own complicity in torture.

Now, I don’t mean to be an apologist for Democrats on torture–because I do believe the Constitutional Speech and Debate clause must take precedence over national security guidelines that limit briefings to the Gang of Four or Eight. But before we start attacking Democrats, let’s establish what we know about briefings that happened before the waterboarding of detainees. Between the public spat between Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman’s letter to Scott Muller, and the SSCI Narrative, we can establish that the only Democrat who was briefed in time to prevent waterboarding and told it had been and was going to be used–Jane Harman–wrote a letter raising concerns about the techniques.

Fall 2002: The CIA first briefed the Gang of Four (then comprising Richard Shelby, Porter Goss, Bob Graham, and Nancy Pelosi) after the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah had already ended–and possibly after the waterboarding of al-Nashiri had, too. Furthermore, even Porter Goss appears to confirm Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA spoke of enhanced techniques (whether or not they mentioned waterboarding specifically) as a prospective activity. That is, in fall 2002, CIA did not reveal that it had already waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and possibly al-Nashiri).

January/February 2003: Three of four leaders in the intelligence committees changed in 2003. Jello Jay replaced Graham (who was running for President), Pat Roberts replaced Shelby (who had been ousted for leaking classified information), and Jane Harman replaced Pelosi (who had become Minority Leader). The SSCI Narrative notes that Roberts–but not Jello Jay–got a briefing in "early 2003" (though Jello Jay’s staffer did attend).

After the change in leadership of the Committee in January of 2003, CIA records indicate that the new Chairman of the Committee was briefed on the CIA’s program in early 2003. Although the new Vice-Chairman did not attend that briefing, it was attended by both the staff director and minority staff director of the Committee.

In addition, Scott Muller refers to briefing Goss and Harman on February 5, 2003.

Thank you for your letter of 10 February following up on the briefing we gave you and Congressman Goss on 5 February concerning the Central Intelligence Agency’s limited use of the handful of specially approved interrogation techniques we described.

Muller’s reference to Goss and Harman–but not Roberts–suggests it’s possible that Roberts received a separate briefing, potentially with different content. Read more

The Latest State Secrets Claim

Yes, I know, I’ve been so preoccupied trying to save my state from JP Morgan Chase that I have not yet commented on the Obama Administration’s latest Cheneyesque invocation of state secrets, in the EFF/Jewel case. Of course, that means some smart lawyers have already beat up the filing on legal grounds. So I thought I’d focus my attention on tactical issues.

Three Interlocking Cases

Before I do that though, let’s review what this suit is and what else is going on. As Glenn pointed out, EFF filed this suit after Jello Jay Rockefeller, the patron saint of the awful FISA Amendment Act last year (and a big Obama backer), claimed during deliberations on that bill that,

…lawsuits against the government can go forward. There is little doubt that the government was operating in, at best, a legal gray area. If administration officials abused their power or improperly violated the privacy of innocent people, they must be held accountable. That is exactly why we rejected the White House’s year-long push for blanket immunity covering government officials.

Now, I don’t believe for a millisecond that Jello Jay actually intended for lawsuits to go forward–he was, instead, trying to dismiss opposition to immunity–but nevertheless, the legislative record on FISA now reflects that the bill’s sponsor thinks citizens should be able to sue those who illegally wiretapped.

Meanwhile, of course, there are two decisions still pending (as far as we know) before the judge in this case, Vaughn Walker. The first is the al-Haramain suit, in which the 9th Circuit already decided the warrantless wiretap program was a properly invoked state secret, but in which al-Haramain’s suit will probably go forward because Walker ruled the charity had proved it was an aggrieved party without the materials over which Bush invoked state secrets. Now (again, as far as we know), Walker is looking at the wiretap log and the other classified briefs submitted in the case, and deciding whether al-Haramain has standing (and therefore, whether the Bush Administration violated FISA). If and when Walker rules that the Bush Administration did violate FISA, there will be a giant fight over whether he, or the Administration, gets to decide which documents in that case will be made public and/or available to al-Haramain’s lawyers. (Contrary to almost all the reporting in the case, Walker has not yet decided whether or not he would require the government to hand over the wiretap logs and other briefs decribing the warrantless wiretap program.)

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Jay Rockefeller Told Us What Russell Tice Just Confirmed, Years Ago

On KO the other night, Russell Tice expanded on the details of the warrantless wiretapping program, revealing that, the government has been data mining both our telecom communications and our credit card transactions.

As far as the wiretap information that made it to NSA, there was also data mining that was involved. At some point information from credit cards and financial transactions was married in with that information. So of the lucky US citizens, tens of thousands of whom, that are now on digital databases at NSA who have no idea of this also have that sort of information that has been included on those digital files that have been warehoused.


This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate. Like I mentioned last night, the one to two minute pizza delivery call, things of that nature, of which an innocent citizen could be easily tied into these things. And once that information gets to the NSA, and they start to put it through the filters there, where they have langauge interpreters and stuff and they start looking for word-recognition, if someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned, you know, something about the Middle East they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says "potential terrorist" and of course this US citizen wouldn’t have a clue.


I have a guess where it was developed. I think it was probably developed out of the Department of Defense; this is probably the remnants of the Total Information Awareness that came out of DARPA. That’s my guess.

Again, this should surprise no one who has followed our detailed discussions over the last four years about the kind of data mining they were probably doing.

In fact, we learned as much from someone briefed on the program in the days following the first revelations about the program in December 2005. That’s when Jello Jay Rockefeller released the letter he had sent to Cheney about the program. That letter described the program in precisely those terms–the old TIA program that Iran-Contra retread John Poindexter had developed.

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, Read more

The WSJ's Curious Picture of Congress and Torture

I was overly optimistic about the head cold fog I’m in today. But a couple of details from the WSJ editorial Christy linked to yesterday are stuck in my craw.

The editorial is an attempt to warn Congressional Democrats against pushing for a (as the WSJ calls it) "Truth Commission" to investigate the Bush Administration’s torture policies.

In particular, at [Panetta’s and Bair’s] nomination hearings they’re likely to be asked to support a "truth commission" on the Bush Administration’s terrorist interrogation policies. We hope they have the good sense to resist. And if they need any reason to push back, they could start by noting the Members of Congress who would be on the witness list to raise their right hands.

It then lists the Democrats it believes would serve as witnesses in such an investigation: it names Pelosi specifically, it deals with Jane Harman’s public objections to torture, and also invokes Intelligence Committee leadership and–after 2006–membership more generally.

Now, I’ll come back to this individualized focus in a second. But here’s the paragraph that has really got me thinking.

The real — the only — point of this "truth" exercise is to smear Bush Administration officials and coax foreign prosecutors into indicting them if Mr. Obama’s Justice Department refuses. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees already possess the relevant facts, and Senator Carl Levin and his staff have spent two-and-a-half years looking at mountains of documents — with nothing to show for it.

Carl Levin, the editorial claims, spent two-and-a-half years looking at documents, with nothing to show for it.

What a remarkable claim, given that the Executive Summary of that not-quite-two-year investigation (since Levin took over as SASC Chair in 2007–the WSJ can’t even get its dates right) lists this as its first conclusion:

On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

And this as unlucky conclusion 13:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Read more

FISA Liveblog: Kit “I think red ties look great with pink shirts” Bond

CSPAN’s stream is being a bit cranky, but I’ve got Kit Bond on the old style teevee, and boy I’m not a fashion maven, but I wouldn’t wear a red tie with a pink shirt.

Boy, Kit Bond must be really tired of having to manage a debate against the very much smarter Russ Feingold. He just tried to refute Feingold’s point that 70 people shouldn’t vote for immunity when they don’t know what they’re voting immunity for. He said, "that’s okay, that’s why SSCI is there." Ah, but Mr. Red Tie, if SSCI can’t award immunity on their own (as if Congress can, but nevermind), then I guess it’s not enough, huh?

Bond just said Judge Walker’s opinion doesn’t stand up.

Shorter Kit "Mr. Red Tie": I realize a judge has said Cheney’s whole notion of inherent authority is bunk. But I disagree. And while I’m happy to let Article II boss me around, I’ll be damned if I let Article III boss me around.

Kit Bond: IGs will not determine whether the illegal program was legal or not.

House and Senate Intelligence Committees are all the oversight you need, little boys and girls. Never mind the Courts!

Specter: A member’s constitutional duty cannot be delegated to another member. The full body has to act. The question for the Senator with the red tie is, how can 70 members of the US Senate expect to grant retroactive immunity in light of the clear cut rule that we cannot delegate our Constitutional responsibilities.

[Is this the day Haggis returns to US law?!?!?!?!]

Bond: well, SSCI predates me.

Specter: Uh, yeah, I know. I used to chair it, remember?

Specter: SSCI hasn’t even all been briefed on the stuff they’re supposed to be briefed on. Judge Walker with his 56 page opinion that bears on the telephone case. Have the telecoms had problems with their reputation? Perhaps. They can recover from that.

Specter: Does the Senator from Missora know of any case involving constitutional rights where Congress has stepped in and taken it away from the Courts where there’s no other way of getting a judgment on the constitutionality of it?

Mr. Red Tie: What Specter fails to understand, it’s not a question of carriers being held liable, what they would do is disclose the most secretive methods used by our intelligence community. Read more

But What about Congressional Oversight?

In addition to showing how the Iran hawks have evaded oversight over their Special Forces war plan against Iran, Sy Hersh seems intent on generating pressure on Democrats to withhold funding now being used to start a covert war with Iran.

Hersh notes that the Gang of Eight has been briefed on the CIA–but not the Special Forces, assassination of high value targets–part of the plan.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

I love how Hersh feels the need to remind Democrats they are in the majority.

Then, after recalling all the opposition to Administration plans from within the military, Hersh returns to Democrats’ failure to prevent policies they oppose.

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Now, the problems with oversight seem to focus on two things. First, the Democrats once again got punked by Administration lies when, three years ago, David Obey backed off an attempt to withhold funding for such operations.

On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. Read more

Jane Harman v. Jello Jay: Compare and Contrast

Jane Harman explained her response to the warrantless wiretap program over at TPMCafe. I’m interested in it not so much to determine whether Eric Licthblau or she is right about whether she "switched her view" on the program (I think Harman is actually too sensitive to the charge; as she tells it, she did drastically change her view, but not because of the publicity of Lichtblau’s reporting, but because of the new information she learned from it; though after writing this post, I’m a little sympathetic to Lichtblau’s claim). Rather, I’m interested in the contrast Harman’s narrative presents with what we know of Jello Jay’s evolving views toward the illgeal wiretapping program. After all, Harman and Jello Jay apparently learned of the program in the same briefing (Harman had just replaced Pelosi as Ranking Member on HPSCI; Jello Jay had replaced Graham as the top Democrat on SSCI). But the two have apparently taken dramatically different trajectories in their positions on the program, and the comparison offers an instructive view on oversight.

The First Harman/Jello Jay Briefing: January 29, 2003

Harman provides this description of the January 29, 2003 she and Jello Jay received (along with Pat Roberts, then SSCI Chair, and Porter Goss, then HPSCI Chair):

When I became Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, I was included for the first time in highly classified briefings on the operational details of an NSA effort to track al Qaeda communications using unique access points inside the US telecommunications infrastructure. The so-called “Gang of Eight” (selected on the basis of our committee or leadership positions) was told that if the terrorists found out about our capability, they would stop using those communications channels and valuable intelligence would dry up (which had happened before).

This program was so highly classified that I could discuss it with no one, not even my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee or the committee’s professional staff. (See p. 169 of the Lichtblau book.) And I was assured that it complied with the law and that the senior-most officials in the Justice Department conducted a full legal review every 45-60 days.

At that point, then, she and Jello Jay appear to have learned that:

  • The US was tracking Al Qaeda communication via US-based access points
  • The program was legal and was reviewed regularly by top Justice Department officials

If Harman’s description is accurate, it suggests the Administration gave a very distorted view of the program. Read more

Republican No Shows on FISA Negotiation

Let’s hope getting stood up teaches Jello Jay about Republican priorities:

In what should have been a bipartisan, bicameral meeting, staff members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees met today to work in good faith to reach a compromise on FISA reform. As we have said, we are using this week to work on a compromise that strengthens our national security and protects Americans’ privacy. Unfortunately, we understand our Republican counterparts instructed their staffs not to attend this working meeting, therefore not allowing progress to be made in a bipartisan, bicameral way. While we are disappointed that today’s meeting could not reflect a bipartisan effort, we will continue to work and hope Republicans will join us to put our nation’s security first.

I guess immunity and all that isn’t so important after all…