Why Did CIA Hide Dick Cheney’s Role in Briefing?

Thanks to the WaPo for confirming something I guessed last month. Back then, I wrote,

I’m going to make a wildarsed guess and suggest that when the CIA lists "not available" in a series of 2005 torture briefings to Republicans in Congress, they really mean "Dick Cheney attended, but we don’t want to tell you that."

Today, the WaPo reports,

Former vice president Richard B. Cheney personally oversaw at least four briefings with senior members of Congress about the controversial interrogation program, part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees.


The CIA made no mention of his role in documents delivered to Capitol Hill last month that listed every lawmaker who had been briefed on "enhanced interrogation techniques" since 2002. For meetings that were overseen by Cheney, the agency told the intelligence committees that information about who oversaw those briefings was "not available."


The CIA declined to comment on why Cheney’s presence in some meetings was left out of the records.


Several members of Congress who took part in the Cheney meetings declined to comment on them, citing secrecy concerns.

In one of my most unsurprisingly correct wildarsed guesses ever, Cheney was working with the CIA to keep his little torture program, and neither the CIA nor the Republicans he was arm-twisting want to talk about it.

But that ought to be worth some closer attention. WTF did the CIA hide Cheney’s role in these briefings (not to mention the date of their briefing with McCain)? It reveals not only a desire to hide the degree to which these "briefings" under Porter Goss became active lobbying in support of torture, but also the degree to which the CIA is working actively, with a former Administration official (Cheney) to hide their collaboration.

The article does provide two more important details that add to the damning story.

Cheney’s briefings on interrogations began in the winter of 2005 as the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees,  Sen. John D. Rockefeller III (W.Va.) and  Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), publicly advocated a full-scale investigation of the tactics used against top al-Qaeda suspects.

On March 8, 2005 — two days after a detailed report in the New York Times about interrogations — Cheney gathered Rockefeller, Harman and the chairmen of the intelligence panels,  Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and  Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Read more

“If You’re Trying to Commit a Crime,” You Wouldn’t Brief Democrats

I’ve been meticulously tracking the erroneous claims made about whether or not Democrats got briefed on torture because:

  • The known briefing schedule makes it clear that CIA broke the law requiring them to inform Congress of their actions
  • Some of the arguments rely on either illiteracy or willful ignorance of the public record in their claims

But in today’s hearing Lindsey Graham makes clear why the Republicans are arguing this point so aggressively.

Now. I don’t know what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it. And I really don’t think she’s a criminal if she was told about waterboarding and did nothing. But I think it is important to understand that members of Congress, allegedly, were briefed by … about these interrogation techniques. And again, it goes back to the idea of what was the Administration trying to do. If you’re trying to commit a crime, it seems to me that’d be the last thing you’d want to do. If you had in your mind and your heart that you’re going to disregard the law, and you’re going to come up with interrogation techniques that you know to be illegal, you would not go around telling people on the other side of the aisle about it. 



That’s the point now, isn’t it?

Because no one in Congress was told that the CIA was going to start torturing in 2002, until it was too late. Pelosi and Goss were told, after CIA had waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times, that CIA might waterboard in the future. Bob Graham was not told of waterboarding at all, according to him. Jello Jay was not at the briefing at which CIA told Pat Roberts "in considerable detail" about waterboarding. The CIA doesn’t even say Jane Harman was told about waterboarding specifically in February 2003 (though I assume she was). 

The first time CIA can say for certain that any Democratic members of Congress at all were briefed on waterboarding was in July 2004, after CIA had waterboarded for what ended up being the last time, and after their own Inspector General determined they were breaking the law.

And then, in 2005, when CIA was trying to sustain their ability to torture against Congressional wishes, CIA had briefings for Ted Stevens and Thad Cochran with no Democrats in attendance. They had a briefing for John McCain with no Democrats in attendance. Read more

Lindsey Graham: Cheney Put People in Gitmo Who Weren’t Military Threat

Lindsey Graham spent much of the torture hearing trying to find a narrow ground from which he could condemn torture, yet prevent anyone from being held accountable for torture. But in an effort to admit past problems at Gitmo, he named names. One name–that of Dick Cheney.

My goal is to have a process, Mr. Zelikow, that would allow us as a nation to hold our head up high and say, "no one is in jail at Guantanamo Bay because Dick Cheney said so. The only people that are in jail at Guantanamo Bay are there because the evidence presented to an independent judiciary by our military passed muster with the judicial system–they’re there because they’re a military threat." And that when we try these people, they’re tried not because we hate them, but because of what they did.

I guess the presidential determination that someone is an enemy combatant is another of those presidential-level decisions that Dick Cheney made in lieu of the actual President. 

Senate Judiciary Hearing on Torture

 Here’s the committee stream.

Whitehouse: [link] Winston Churchill, truth always attended by bodyguard of lies. Sordid truth of torture accompanies by bodyguard of lies. Lies are legion. Bush told us America does not torture. Cheney agreed that waterboarding a dunk in the water. Former CIA said waterboarding once. Waterboarding determined to be legal, but not told how badly law ignored and bastardized, how furiously lawyers rejected OLC opinions. Couldn’t second-guess CIA officers, now told led by contractors with a profit motive. [Enters Hayden statement on experience of torturers into record] I believe Judge Mukasey and General Hayden owe experienced interrogators an apology. Example of Zubaydah is false, as information given before torture. No accounting of wild goose chases. Legislators can’t declassify. Though many of us in Congress knew lies were false, we could not reply. You criminalize conduct by making it illegal. Prosecution does not criminalize conduct, it vindicates it. First of series of hearings. I hope we’ll soon be provided the OPR report, and hold more thorough hearings. How sad it is that there should be an OPR investigation into OLC. Thank Leahy for holding this hearing. Thank Feinstein, leading detailed investigation into Bush’s interrogation program. Ali Soufan. Interviewed al Qaeda terrorists, threats have been documented, avoid photographing his face.

Graham: Nobility of the law or political stunt. I guess if we’re going to talk about evil, we’re going to have to talk about more than just the last Administrations efforts to fight evil. Would we have this hearing if we were attacked this afternoon? Or would we focus on repairing damage and staying ahead of enemy. We need to find out who was told and when. I’m calling for any memos that show information gathered from EIT be made available to the Committee so we can see what worked. Many years after 9/11. The people we’re judging woke up one morning and said, "oh my god, what’s coming next." I’ve been a prosecutor most of my life, I know the difference between political disagreement and a crime. The idea that you’d consult your political opponents with a crime.  As to Army Field Manual, to say that is the only way to interrogate is just not right. Let’s bring CIA director into this hearing, he has already testify he would ask for techniques not in army field manual. Read more

Senate Armed Services Torture Hearing

Joby Warrick maps out what we can expect from today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, now showing on CSPAN3.

A Senate investigation has concluded that top Pentagon officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos from field commanders to suggest that the proposals originated far down the chain of command, according to congressional sources briefed on the findings.

The sources said that memos and other evidence obtained during the inquiry show that officials in the office of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld started to research the use of waterboarding, stress positions, sensory deprivation and other practices in July 2002, months before memos from commanders at the detention facility in Cuba requested permission to use those measures on suspected terrorists.

The reported evidence — some of which is expected to be made public at a Senate hearing today — also shows that military lawyers raised strong concerns about the legality of the practices as early as November 2002, a month before Rumsfeld approved them. The findings contradict previous accounts by top Bush administration appointees, setting the stage for new clashes between the White House and Congress over the origins of interrogation methods that many lawmakers regard as torture and possibly illegal.

This is a well-constructed hearing–and I say that not just because my Senator, Carl Levin, put it together. It has three panels. The first features the people who turned SERE techniques into torture techniques:

Mr. Richard L. Shiffrin
Former Deputy General Counsel for Intelligence
Department of Defense

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel J. Baumgartner, Jr., USAF (Ret.)
Former Chief of Staff
Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Dr. Jerald F. Ogrisseg
Former Chief, Psychology Services
336th Training Group
United States Air Force Survival School

The second panel will expose the debate among military lawyers about whether or not to use torture:

Mr. Alberto J. Mora
Former General Counsel
United States Navy

Rear Admiral Jane G. Dalton, USN (Ret.)
Former Legal Advisor to the Chairman
Joint Chiefs of Staff

Lieutenant Colonel Diane E. Beaver, USA (Ret.)
Former Staff Judge Advocate
Joint Task Force 170/JTF Guantanamo Bay

And the third features Jim "Chevron" Haynes, who is under some pressure for his changing testimony, potentially amounting to perjury:

Mr. William J. Haynes II
Former General Counsel
Department of Defense

Here are the documents that will be discussed during the hearing (courtesy of WO and Marty Lederman).

Read more