Since the AP story on the Salt Pit death, reporters have focused a lot of attention to a particular footnote in Jay Bybee’s second response to the OPR Report and what it claims about intent (and, to a lesser degree, what it says about Jay Bybee’s fitness to remain on the 9th Circuit). In it, Jay Bybee references a memo CIA’s Counterterrorism Center wrote in response to Gul Rahman’s death at the Salt Pit; the memo argued that the CIA officer in charge should not be prosecuted under the torture statute because he did not have the specific intent to make Rahman suffer severe pain when he doused him with water and left him exposed in freezing temperatures.
Notably, the declination memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section regarding the death of Gul Rahman provides a correct explanation of the specific intent element and did not rely on any motivation to acquire information. Report at 92. If [redacted], as manager of the Saltpit site, did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from low temperatures in his cell, he would lack specific intent under the anti-torture statute. And it is also telling that the declination did not even discuss the possibility that the prosecution was barred by the Commander-in-Chief section of the Bybee memo.
As Scott Horton noted the other day, analysis of the torture statute should not have been the only thing in the declination memo. Prosecutors should have analyzed whether or not Rahman’s killing constituted negligent homicide, among other things.
Note that the declination, issued by politically loyal U.S. attorneys who were subsequently rewarded with high postings at Main Justice, carefully follows the rationalizations that Yoo and Bybee advanced for not prosecuting deaths or serious physical harm resulting from state-sanctioned torture. But the obvious problem, as John Sifton notes at Slate, is that torture and homicide are hardly the only charges that could be brought in such a circumstance. Negligent homicide or milder abuse charges would have obviously been available, and a survey of comparable cases in the setting of state and local prisoners suggests that they are far more common. By looking only at homicide and torture, the prosecutors were paving the way for a decision not to charge.
But the OPR Report and the Legal Principles/Bullet Points documents it describes may explain why this didn’t happen. The Legal Principles/Bullet Points document shows that CIA claimed–possibly, with the tacit approval of the Principals Committee–that the only two criminal statutes that could be applied to its interrogation program were the Torture Statute and the War Crimes Statute.
As a threshold matter, Horton appears to be misstating what the declination memo described in the footnote is and–more importantly–who wrote it. “Politically loyal US Attorneys” did not write the declination described here. Some lawyer at CIA’s CTC wrote it. That’s because, as the OPR Report explains in the section preceding the entirely redacted passage that discusses this letter (the declination letter appears on PDF 98, which appears in the same section as the following quotes from pages PDF 96 and 97), DOJ told CIA to go collect facts about the abuses they reported in January 2003 (which include the Salt Pit killing and threats of death used with Rahim al-Nashiri) themselves.
According to a CIA MFR drafted by John Rizzo on January 24,2003, Scott Muller (then CIA General Counsel), Rizzo and [redacted] met with Michael Chertoff Alice Fisher, John Yoo, and [redacted–probably Jennifer Koester] to discuss the incidents at [redacted]. According to Rizzo, he told Chertoff before the meeting that he needed to discuss “a recent incident where CIA personnel apparently employed unauthorized interrogation techniques on a detainee.”
Chertoff reportedly commented that the CIA was correct to advise them because the use of a weapon to frighten a detainee could have violated the law. He stated that the Department would let CIA OIG develop the facts and that DOJ would determine what action to take when the facts were known. According to Rizzo, “Chertoff expressed no interest or intention to pursue the matter of the [redacted].
On January 28, 2003, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson called Yoo and told him that the CIA OIG was looking into the [redacted] matter. According to Helgerson’s email message to Rizzo, Yoo “specifically said they felt they do not need to be involved until after the OIG report is completed.” Rizzo responded to Helgerson: “Based on what Chertoff told us when we gave him the heads up on this last week, the Criminal Division’s decision on whether or not some criminal law was violated here will be predicated on the facts that you gather and present to them.”
Alerted that, in the course of interrogating detainees, CIA had killed one and threatened to kill another detainee, DOJ’s first response (at least according to two different CIA versions of what happened) was to tell CIA to go collect information on the events themselves. Only after CIA finished investigating and presented the facts of the case would DOJ weigh in on whether a crime had been committed.