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“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. 

Ahem.

Yes.

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

Piling on PolitiFact

Jamison Foser already beat up PolitiFact for its ridiculous judgment on the he-said-she-said debate over whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed on torture.

The real problem here is PolitiFact’s insistance on declaring Pelosi’s statement "true" or "false," when the painfully obvious reality is that PolitiFact just doesn’t know whether it is true or false.  Other media would be wise to take PolitiFact’s conclusion with a grain of salt.

But I’m going to join in the fun to point out PolitiFact’s real difficulty with verb tenses and pronouns. The point of their post, remember, is to judge whether or not this Pelosi statement is correct.

We were not, I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel — the Office of Legislative Counsel opinions that they could be used, but not that they would.

Pelosi’s statement refers to a briefing occuring on September 4, 2002, after Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. According to her statement, in September 2002, the CIA told Congress it could torture detainees, but did not say they would (in the future) be doing so. Her further comments from the same answer make that even more clear.

My experience was they did not tell us they were using that. Flat out. And any – any contention to the contrary is simply not true.

[snip]

And so, you know – flat out – they never briefed us that this was happening. In fact, they said they would if and when they did?

That is, Pelosi’s entire point was that in September 2002, after the CIA had already torturing Abu Zubaydah for months, the CIA came before Congress and spoke prospectively about using torture, but did not reveal that they had already been and were currently using it. 

So PolitiFact goes to the CIA briefing list, acknowledging Panetta’s comments about its potential inaccuracy, yet nevertheless deciding that it, PolitiFact, should determine whether it is inaccurate or not (it decides not), and looks at this language.

Briefing on EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) including use of EITs on (alleged al-Qaeda operative) Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed.

Now, even assuming one should treat this document as accurate when the Director of CIA is saying it may not be, look carefully at this language. "Use of [torture] on … Abu Zubaydah" Read more

McCain’s Tortured Briefing Memory

I guess it’s "why can’t Glenn Thrush read? day."

In addition to finally getting schooled on facts that have been in the public record for three weeks, Thrush gives John McCain a soapbox from which to scold Nancy Pelosi for not doing more when she learned–in 2003, reportedly via a staffer–that CIA was engaging in torture.

"If she felt it was wrong she should have acted," the former GOP Presidential hopeful said on his way into the Republican Senate lunch on Tuesday.

"Let me just tell you — I was briefed on it — and I vehemently objected to it. We did the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. So we felt, I certainly felt, I could act on it."

He dismissed her claim she was barred from acting on what she learned in the briefings with a shrug.

"I’m sure she has her argument and we’ll see if the American people agree."

Set aside, for the moment, McCain’s completely erroneous premise, that Pelosi should have responded to "what she learned in the briefings." Pelosi’s entire point (not one I’m entirely sympathetic with) is that since she wasn’t briefed that waterboarding was being used, but instead learned that CIA was torturing detainees through a staffer and not the CIA, it would have been inappropriate for her to intervene directly.  

“She felt that the appropriate response was the letter from Harman, because Jane was the one who was briefed,” said the person. Pelosi “never got briefed on it personally, and when Harman got a ‘no response’ from the CIA, there was nothing more that could be done.”

Maybe McCain just doesn’t get Pelosi’s point; or maybe Thrush didn’t understand what he earlier reported on Pelosi and botched his own question. So for the moment set aside McCain’s faulty premise.

But look at what McCain claims about his own actions. McCain suggests that he was briefed on torture and then, because he objected so strenuously to what he learned in the briefing, he passed the Detainee Treatment Act. Briefing, then DTA, McCain tells the tale.

Yet according to the CIA briefing list the Republicans are so intent to use to attack Pelosi, John McCain was briefed on torture in "late October 2005" (in the chronology, McCain’s briefing appears after Thad Cochran and Ted Stevens got their briefing on October 18, 2005). 

The Senate passed its version of the DTA on October 5, 2005.

The chronology, at least according to CIA’s admittedly questionable timeline, went DTA, then briefing.

Read more

Graham Corroborates Pelosi

FWIW, Greg Sargent’s account of his interview with Bob Graham seems to suggest Graham may have gotten even less in his briefing on torture than Nancy Pelosi did in September 2002.

“I do not have any recollection of being briefed on waterboarding or other forms of extraordinary interrogation techniques, or Abu Zubaydah being subjected to them,” Graham told me by phone moments ago, in a reference to the terror suspect who had been repeatedly waterboarded the month before.

Graham is the only other Dem aside from Pelosi to get briefed in 2002, so they are both in effect asserting that no Dem was briefed on the use of EITs that year. The date of the next briefing was in February 2003.

Graham claimed he would have remembered if he’d been told about the use of torture. “Something as unexpected and dramatic as that would be the kind of thing that you would normally expect to recall even years later,” he said.

[snip]

Graham denied being told about EITs, and argued that the presence of two staff members at the meeting (as indicated in the records) would have made it “highly unusual” for the briefers to divulge such sensitive info. “I don’t recall having had one of those kinds of briefings with staff present,” he said. “That would defeat the purpose of keeping a tight hold” on the info.

Graham, however, was circumspect on what was actually discussed, saying only that “the general topic had to do with detainee interrogations” but didn’t include any reference to EITs or waterboarding.

Click through to see the account of a US Official (remember–the torture briefing list came via the Director of National Intelligence office from the CIA) saying only that CIA records say Graham was briefed on torture. Right. Yes. We know CIA is not vouching for the accuracy of those documents.

Pelosi has said, a variety of times, that the opinions approving some interrogation techniques were discussed, but that they weren’t told the techniques were going to be used or–much more importantly–had been used.  [Update: here’s the statement her spokesperson Brendan Daly put out last week: "As this document shows, the Speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002.  The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used."] Or to put it very simply for those who still don’t get this, Pelosi has been saying that CIA briefed them on the legality of using torture, but did not admit (and may have specifically denied) that they had used these torture techniques. Pelosi is making a temporal claim as much as anything else.

Read more

Memo to WaPo: Torture Is Not Just Waterboarding

The WaPo has a weird article today–purporting to pinpoint how Nancy Pelosi first learned of waterboarding. It suggests that Michael Sheehy–a Pelosi staffer when she was briefed in September 2002, who then worked for Harman, and subsequently returned to work for Pelosi–told Pelosi about waterboarding after having been briefed on it February 5, 2003.

A top aide to  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended a CIA briefing in early 2003 in which it was made clear that waterboarding and other harsh techniques were being used in the interrogation of an alleged al-Qaeda operative, according to documents the CIA released to Congress on Thursday. 

[snip]

But Michael Sheehy, a top Pelosi aide, was present for a classified briefing that included  Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), then the ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, at which agency officials discussed the use of waterboarding on terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida. 

But the claim–that the documents the CIA released to Congress makes it clear that Sheehy was briefed on waterboarding in February 2003–is totally false. The briefing list, after all, does not specify that the briefing covered waterboarding at all. 

Discussion of detainee interrogation program/techniques.

Existence of AZ tapes briefed and that the tapes to be destroyed as soon as IG completed his report.

It was also discussed that interrogation methods were similar to those taught/used in SERE training.

So if the WaPo is sure the briefing covered waterboarding–as opposed to just torture generally–then it didn’t learn that from the CIA briefing list. To make the claim, the WaPo points to the details of the Roberts/Rockefeller briefing that Rockefeller didn’t attend (though the WaPo doesn’t tell its readers that Rockefeller didn’t attend), claiming with no proof that the briefings were the same.

Five months after the Pelosi-Goss meeting, in briefings for the new leaders of the Senate intelligence committee, the CIA "described in considerable detail . . . how the water board was used," according to the documents released Thursday.

Mind you, I’m not disputing that the Goss/Harman briefing covered waterboarding–I’ve always assumed it did until I saw this list. But the list does not specify that waterboarding was discussed, as it does elsewhere, and the Senate briefing is not dispositive of what went on in the House briefing, so this can’t be where the WaPo got this claim from.

Which is one reason I find it notable that the WaPo interviewed Jane Harman for this interview–and it suggests that Harman said she was told the torture videos depicted waterboarding.

Harman was surprised at what she learned, particularly that intelligence officials had video of the waterboarding of Abu Zubaida and were planning on destroying it.

Harman said in an interview that she "did not recall" discussing the issue with Pelosi.

Read more

Republicans Appropriating Torture

As I reported some weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi suggested one way the Bush Administration worked around the intelligence committees on torture and wiretapping was via the Appropriations Committees.

Q: Does this call into question the value of the briefing then, if they are not telling you fully…

Speaker Pelosi. I have questioned the values of the briefings over and over and over again. We only know what they choose to tell us and the manner and time in which they tell us. And that is why when people are talking about – whether they are talking about torture, or whether they are talking about wiretapping, or whatever you are talking about, we really have to have a change now in how Congress can do its oversight, because we expect and demand the truth.

And that’s why I, when I became Speaker, established this joint committee between the Appropriations Committee and the Intelligence Committee, because the fact is they really were not fully briefing the Intelligence Committee. And they have to answer to the Appropriations Committee because that’s where their funding comes from.

It is a long story, it’s an evolution. It used to be the Intelligence Committee – you couldn’t appropriate unless the Intelligence Committee authorized. It was almost effectively an appropriation. Over time the Intelligence in the Bush years became part of supplementals so there was absolutely no sharing of information. They would just stick the request in the supplementals. We said, "Okay, if they are going right to appropriations, we will have members of the Intelligence Committee serve in this hybrid committee, part Intelligence, part Appropriations." [my emphasis]

Now, the Appropriations briefing for torture actually came much later than it did for wiretapping (three years after the start of the program, rather than immediately after). But look at what CIA’s amazingly self-serving list of briefings describes having happened:

October 18, 2005: Interrogation techniques briefed. Ted Stevens, Thad Cochran

September 19, 2006: Briefing on full detainee program, including the 13 EITs. Bill Young, John Murtha (John Murtha did not stay for EIT portion of briefing)

October 11, 2007: The Director discussed the number of detainees subjected to EITs and discussed EITs. John Murtha

First, note the timing of these. The first Appropriations briefing took place during the debate on the Detainee Treatment Act, at a time when there were a significant number of Republican-only briefings: two for Fristie, one for McCain, one for Duncan Hunter, one for Crazy Pete Hoekstra, and the briefing for "Appropriations." 

Read more

CIA Lying to ABC about Torture. Again. ABC Reporting It Uncritically. Again.

As bmaz has reported, the CIA has sent a list of torture briefings to Crazy Pete Hoekstra on when and whom in Congress got briefed that the CIA was in the torture business. And ABC news, just off having to admit the CIA lied to them about torture in the past, has taken what the CIA gave them and treated it totally uncritically. Again.

Based on the list (which I’ve also obtained), they’re out with a post claiming they’ve caught Pelosi in a contradiction.

The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics. 

Setting aside the fact that the list doesn’t mention waterboarding specifically in its description of that briefing (it does in quite a few others), there are huge problems with using the list as a basis to claim anything.

First, there’s this paragraph the CIA included in the letter they sent with the briefing list to Crazy Pete (which ABC didn’t think important enough to include when they first posted this story):

This letter presents the most thorough information we have on dates, locations, and names of all Members of Congress who were briefed by the CIA on enhanced interrogation techniques. This information, however, is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals. In the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened. We can make the MFRs available at CIA for staff review. [my emphasis]

CIA: "Here’s a list, but we won’t vouch for its accuracy."

ABC: "We’ve proven that Nancy was wrong!!"

ABC, after having been burned in the past, took documents that the CIA itself said might not be accurate, and treated them as accurate.

But it gets worse. ABC printed the following description, as if it were an accurate representation of the next set of torture briefings, which took place in February 2003.

On Feb. 4, 2003, a briefing on “enhanced interrogation techniques” for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., revealed that interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri were taped.

ABC doesn’t tell you, but there’s an asterisk by Jello Jay’s name, saying, "later individual briefing to Rockefeller," Read more

Exclusive!! Pro-Torture Spooks Continue to Play Journalists for Chumps!!

This chump journalist thing seems to be more virulent than swine flu.

The Moonie Times has an !!!EXCLUSIVE!!! reporting that Silvestre Reyes (who of course joined the Gang of Four after the torture program and the illegal wiretap program became public) thinks Congress is partly responsible for the "interrogation controversy."

In a rare gesture, House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes sent a letter this week to all CIA employees suggesting that Congress shared some blame for the CIA interrogation controversy and should play a more robust role in the intelligence policymaking process.

The letter, which was sent Wednesday and made available to The Washington Times on Thursday, appeared to undercut remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that there was little Congress could do about harsh interrogations, including waterboarding. [my emphasis]

Only, that’s not what the letter says.

One important lesson to me from the CIA’s interrogation operations involves congressional oversight. I’m going to examine closely ways in which we can change the law to make our own oversight of CIA more meaningful;  I want to move from mere notification to real discussion. Good oversight can lead to a partnership, and that’s what I am looking to bring about. 

The tip-off to Moonie’s chumps should be "mere notification," which (as Pelosi has said) is not the same as approval.

But don’t take my word on basic English–check out what Reyes said to the Hill about his letter.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes said he agrees with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that members of Congress have been too limited in how they can respond to briefings about intelligence policies they oppose.

"The system we have now is a one-way discussion," Reyes (D-Texas) said in an interview with The Hill on Friday. "In the final analysis, they’re going to do what they’re going to do."

[snip]

The Washington Times reported the letter exclusively Friday, and said the letter "appeared to undercut remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that there was little Congress could do about harsh interrogations, including waterboarding."

Reyes said that was not the case.

"It’s pure and simple conservative spin," Reyes said. "And it’s a disservice to our intelligence personnel all over the world."

Misreading Reyes’ letter is not the only thing the chumps from the Moonie Times did. They exhibited either willful blindness to the public record or plain old ignorance. Read more

Breaking News! CIA’s Spooks Lie and Deceive!

I shouldn’t be snarky, because this NYT article describing how John Kiriakou managed to frame the entire debate on torture with his false claims about waterboarding on ABC is quite good.

His ABC interview came at an especially delicate juncture in the debate over the use of torture. Weeks earlier, the nomination of Michael Mukasey as attorney general was nearly derailed by his refusal to comment on the legality of waterboarding, and one day later, the C.I.A. director testified about the destruction of interrogation videotapes. Mr. Kiriakou told MSNBC that he was willing to talk in part because he thought the C.I.A. had “gotten a bum rap on waterboarding.”

At the time, Mr. Kiriakou appeared to lend credibility to the prior press reports that quoted anonymous former government employees who had implied that waterboarding was used sparingly. In late 2007, Mr. Ross began pursuing Mr. Kiriakou for an interview, “leaning on him pretty hard,” he recounted.

On Dec. 10, in the subsequent interview, Mr. Kiriakou told Mr. Ross that he believed the waterboarding was necessary in the months after the 9/11 attacks. “At the time I was so angry,” he told Mr. Ross. “I wanted so much to help disrupt future attacks on the United States that I felt it was the only thing we could do.”

My favorite part is the quotes from Brian Ross, admitting he didn’t ask the most obvious follow-ups.

Mr. Kiriakou was the only on-the-record source cited by ABC. In the televised portion of the interview, Mr. Ross did not ask Mr. Kiriakou specifically about what kind of reports he was privy to or how long he had access to the information. “It didn’t even occur to me that they’d keep doing” the waterboarding, Mr. Ross said last week. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

He added, “I didn’t give enough credit to the fiendishness of the C.I.A.”

Golly gee! Brian Ross seems to say, whodathunk that those professional liars at the CIA would lie to me?

And, in a throwback to the Pulitzer-prize winning story on the Rent-a-General program that no one wants to talk about, Stelter goes onto note that ABC hired this guy who lied his ass off* provided false information to them. (More recently, John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee has hired this trained liar.)

But here’s the thing. Read more

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