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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

Pelosi: Of Hidden Memos and Covert Ops Hidden in Supplementals

I wanted to point out two more details from the Pelosi press conference the other day when she made her comments about briefings on torture (the complete transcript of this section is below).

First, Pelosi points out that one thing BushCo did was put intelligence-related appropriations through without telling the intelligence committee what they were putting through.

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]

We know that BushCo briefed Toobz Stevens and Daniel Inouye on the warrantless wiretap program in December 2001. (Yeah, I know. There’s a twosome I want guarding my civil liberties.) I wonder if they got more substantive briefings than the Gang of Four?

And of course, we know the entire Iraq War was paid for on supplementals. So there were billions and billions of dollars to sneak illegal programs through.

And finally, a point klynn and Sara have been making–the guys who did this torture were contractors, not CIA officers. Which means they only had to get Uncle Toobz and his buddy Inouye to approve a contract in an emergency supplemental. And voila! We’ve got state-sanctioned torture!

Pelosi also referenced memos they had previously not known of:

When you are there, you only have the benefit of the information that they give you. You don’t even know if there are other opinions, and that’s what we wanted to find out, and now we are finding out that there were.

I don’t know if she’s referring to just the 2007 memo Spencer scooped, the 2003 memo described by the WaPo last year, or whether there are others. My guess, of course, is that there are more memos–and I’m betting that 2003 one includes reference to use of drugs in interrogation.

But one thing is clear: even Pelosi is still learning new details of the torture program. There’s a lot more to come yet.


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The Bush Administration Did Not Give Legally-Required Prior Notification to Congress

We know, because Michael Hayden confirmed it the other day, that the torture program started as a covert operation (at 1:45).

By law, covert operations must be supported by a Presidential Finding (or Memorandum of Notification, which is reportedly what was used here) and require prior notification to Congress.

Congressional Notification

  •  The Requirement to Notify Congress

Consistent with section 501 of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended (50 U.S.C. 413), and unless the President otherwise directs in writing pursuant to his constitutional authorities and duties, Congress shall be notified on the President’s behalf of all special activities in accordance with this Directive.

  •  Contents of Notification

In all cases, notification to Congress as provided herein shall include a copy of the Finding or associated MON, if any, as signed by the President, and the statement described in section II.A.3 hereof.

  •  Prior Notification

Consistent with the expectation of prior notification to Congress, in all but extraordinary circumstances as specified herein, the DCI, or head of such other Executive department aqency, or entity authorized to conduct a special activity, shall notify Congress, on the President’s behalf, through the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives (hereinafter collectively referred to as the "Intelligence Committees"), prior to initiation of each special activity authorized by a Finding and associated MON, if any. In extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States, the DCI, or head of such other Executive department, agency, or entity authorized to conduct a special activity, shall notify Congress, on the President’s behalf, through the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, and the Chaiman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Chairman and Ranking minority Member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, prior to initiation of a special activity authorized by a Finding and associated MON, if any.

  •  Extraordinary Circumstances

If the President determines that it is necessary, in order to meet rare, extraordinary circumstances, to delay notification until after the initiation of a special activity, the DCI, or head of such other Executive department, agency, or entity authorized to conduct a special activity, shall delay notification consistent with section 501(b) at the direction of the President. Read more

Porter Goss Escalates Attacks on Pelosi and Harman–But Admits CIA Broke the Law

Porter Goss–who was DCI when the CIA destroyed videotapes depicting illegal torture and had been warned not to destroy the tapes, and who may have been the "senior CIA official" who allegedly lied to Congress about the torture CIA had done in February and June of 2005–just escalated the Republican attack on Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman. In an op-ed in the WaPo, he describes the briefing Congress’ intelligence leaders received in fall 2002:

Let me be clear. It is my recollection that:

The chairs and the ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, known as the Gang of Four, were briefed that the CIA was holding and interrogating high-value terrorists.

  • We understood what the CIA was doing.
  • We gave the CIA our bipartisan support.
  • We gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.
  • On a bipartisan basis, we asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission against al-Qaeda.

But look carefully at Goss’ language describing what they were briefed on.

In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s "High Value Terrorist Program," including the development of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and what those techniques were. 

[snip]

Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as "waterboarding" were never mentioned.

Goss explains that the Gang of Four was briefed on "the development" of the torture program and "what those techniques were." He implies strongly–but does not say it directly–that "waterboarding" was mentioned specifically. And he complains that the attendees should have understood that "the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed."

Note what Pelosi has said:

"In that or any other briefing…we were not, and I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used," said Pelosi. "What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel…opinions that they could be used, but not that they would."

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Spanking Spak and Spec

Arlen "Scottish Haggis" Specter–whose political obituary was written yesterday in the form of a dismal poll result and a renewed threat from Pat Toomeysays we don’t need a truth commission because all the details on Bush era crimes are contained in some file cabinets that we need only waltz up to and empty out.

And in case you were wondering, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Presumably because he believes we need only waltz up to those file cabinets and take out the Cheney indictment, the sole contribution Scottish Haggis made in today’s Truth Commission Hearing was to enter this Hans von Spakovsky column into the record. Given that Hans von Spak accused Leahy of pitching a House Un-American Activities Commission, I can only interpret Haggis’ action as a profoundly cowardly attempt to get back in the good graces of the Club for Growth. 

The column itself shows the depths to which the Heritage Foundation has stooped in these, the declining years of the Conservative Movement. Even setting aside the horrible optics of having someone under investigation for abridging minority civil rights for political gain squawking about "political prosecutions," the column is just of pathetically bad quality.

Hans von Spak begins by exactly repeating (the Heritage Foundation, defender of private property, apparently doesn’t even require original work anymore) an error the WSJ made in January, claiming that nothing resulted from Carl Levin’s 18 month investigation into torture in DOD.

Moreover, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) held hearings, under oath, over a 2½- year period looking into many of the same issues. His report, though predictably partisan, found no criminal violations.

Aside from this apparent inability to even count (18? 30? no difference to today’s conservative), Hans von Spak apparently believes that the Committee’s findings–that Bush’s dismissal of Article Three and Rummy’s approval of aggressive technique were the "direct cause of detainee abuse" in Gitmo–doesn’t amount to a criminal violation.

And of course, Hans von Spak, like the WSJ, basically endorsed Levin’s approach while ignoring his call for "an outside commission appointed to take this out of politics, that … would have the clear subpoena authority to get to the parts of this which are not yet clear, and that is the role of the CIA." Hans von Spak and WSJ try to fight the idea of a Truth Commission by pointing to the good work of someone effectively supporting a Truth Commission.

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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

The Giant Pissing Contest over the Auto Bridge

mackinaw-bridge-cc.jpg

(Mackinaw Bridge photo from Three if by Bike

Ian and Jane described the solution Dems are crafting on the auto bailout: Roughly $15 billion from the DOE funds (originally intended to help automakers retool to make more efficient cars) would be repurposed into providing bridge loans for Chrysler and GM. After President Obama and the new Congress come in, that money will be replaced with TARP money, and a longer term plan will be developed to see the companies through this crisis.

Keep in mind though: this is just one battle in a giant pissing contest that is far from resolved. There have been three original positions in this pissing contest:

  • Pelosi, Dodd, and Frank (and, presumably, Obama): Give the aid from TARP; save the environment and the domestic auto industry
  • Bush, Paulson, and McConnell: Give the aid from the DOE funds after asking for the first born of every union worker
  • Shelby and Corker: Bust the union and to hell with Toyota’s domestic competition and the Democratic voters it employs

A couple of events set the background to hearings in the last two days. Hank Paulson has begun calling for the second half of the TARP funds, as he has blown through most of the first $350 billion. Yet Democrats want to force Paulson to start bailing out homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure, rather than just bailing out Paulson’s friends on Wall Street.  And since Paulson wanted to avoid spending any TARP funds on the auto industry, he wanted to avoid discussing TARP before the auto crisis was resolved.

In fact, in a stunning bit of arrogance that no one besides Jane really reported, Dodd had asked Paulson and Bernanke to attend Thursday’s Senate hearing on the auto crisis–and they refused! These assholes, who are preparing to ask Dodd for another $350 billion of our money, refused to show up before Congress, presumably because they simply didn’t want to talk about using TARP funds for bridge loans to the auto industry (note: at the hearing GAO agreed with Dodd that the auto loan request would qualify under TARP guidelines). I suppose because they simply believe the auto industry doesn’t fall under their mandate to keep the economy healthy?!?!

And then, of course, yesterday’s jobs report came in, with the news that our economy is hemorrhaging jobs. Which is reportedly when Pelosi blinked, and agreed to use the DOE funds.

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The Waxman Challenge to Dingell

Two of my favorite Congressmen–my own representative, John Dingell, and the current Chair of the Oversight Committee, Henry Waxman–are in a fight over the Chair of the powerful Commerce Committee, which John Dingell currently chairs. Here are some thoughts:

Two Good Chairmen

Understand, this is ideological and political, not functional.  That is, this is a fight between two of the most effective Chairmen in the House.

Several Washington sources said they were puzzled by Waxman’s challenge because the committee had run smoothly in recent years, steadily producing complex bills. Committee chairmanships usually go to the member who has served the longest, although junior members have pulled upsets in cases where a chairman was clearly ineffective.

Dingell has been recovering from knee replacement surgery last month after spending much of the past year on crutches, sometimes moving slowly and in visible pain around the Capitol. But Dingell, first elected in 1955, has shown few other signs of age.

"He’s sharper than most members on his bad days," Stupak said.

Yeah, Stupak is an incredibly close Dingell ally, but as someone who speaks with Dingell regularly, I can attest that he’s very sharp. There are committees out there–some pretty important ones–that would benefit mightily from having more competent Democratic leadership, but Commerce is not one of them.

So frankly, I’m more concerned about the absence of a strong leader on Oversight than I am whether Commerce will have an effective leader. Darrell Issa is set to take over Oversight for the Republicans and he can be a consummate pain in the ass; we need to have someone to counter Issa. And frankly, I want real oversight of the Obama administration, particularly of the proceedings of the Treasury bailout. If Waxman were to leave, the next most senior leader of any note (IMO) is Elijah Cummings or Dennis Kucinich. While Kucinich might actually be good at keeping the obnoxious Issa in line and the bailout money doing what it’s supposed to, I doubt that leadership wants to give him a gavel.

Energy Issues and Climate Change

Waxman’s challenge is, above all, an attempt to force more progressive legislation through Commerce on climate change and energy issues. As the chief ally of the American auto industry in Congress, Dingell has long fought any legislation that would make life more difficult on the auto industry, notably increased CAFE standards and air quality regulations.

But on this issue–even as a Michigander–I side with Waxman. Climate change and energy security are just too important to be subjugated to the short-sightedness of the incredibly short-sighted auto industry. Besides, faced with proactive climate regulation, auto companies are going to have to get more limber, which they’re going to have to do anyway, if they want to survive. Read more

Why the House Is Waiting to Hold Rove in Contempt

I wanted to elaborate on what I said in yesterday’s post–to talk about where I think Rove’s contempt vote is going.

As I said yesterday, HJC expects that John Bates to rule on their suit pertaining to Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten sometime in August. It could be the beginning of August, it could be the end of August, but sometime in August. I know some on HJC are cautiously optimistic that Bates will give them a reasonable ruling. But, for all the reasons Kagro X lays out, I’m not.

The House Judiciary Committee subsequently filed suit in federal court, seeking an order compelling the US Attorney to proceed with the prosecution, and somehow — magically! — the case was assigned to former Whitewater Deputy Independent Counsel John D. Bates, the federal judge who dismissed the Plame lawsuit, dismissed the Cheney Energy Task Force lawsuit, upheld the validity of Bush’s signature on an a bill not properly passed in the same form by both houses of Congress, and dismissed the DNC’s lawsuit seeking to force the FEC to rule on John McCain’s attempt to withdraw from his presidential campaign’s public financing commitments.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really feeling the fear with respect to the statutory contempt thing.

Bates specializes in rulings that say (as his Plame ruling did), "I can see why you’re concerned about the issue in chief, but I’m not going to rule in favor of you because of this technicality."

Now, no matter how Bates rules, that case will continue in the courts. Either the White House will appeal an adverse ruling, or Congress will, or the technicality Bates relies on will just postpone a court judgment. Nancy Pelosi said in a conference call earlier this year that she would continue to pursue this ruling in the courts even after Bush is chased out of office, because the principle is that important. So that ruling will continue.

Meanwhile, one of the most likely technicalities for Bates to fall back on in the Miers and Bolten ruling is centrally important to Rove’s future. At the hearing on the suit in June, Bates asked the House Counsel specifically why he wasn’t pursuing inherent contempt.

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