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The Legal Principles Document and OLC’s Leaky SCIF

Sorry to get so deep in the weeds on the missing OLC documents, but I wanted to show why this matters, using the example of the Legal Principles (AKA the Bullet Points) documents. As I’ll show below, one of the most sensitive documents involved in the controversy between CIA and OLC on the Legal Principles is one of the documents over which there are discrepancies between the  Vaughn Indices and the actual document.

I explained the Legal Principles document in detail in this post, but here’s the short version. When CIA started the Inspector General investigation, it had a meeting with DOJ people including Michael Chertoff and then a phone conversation with John Yoo. Both times, DOJ told CIA that it (DOJ) would hold off on any criminal investigations or prosecutions until CIA’s IG first collected information and then presented that along with the legal guidelines CIA had been working under. DOJ basically told CIA, “You tell us if you broke the law.” So CIA got together with John Yoo (though he denies being involved) and Jennifer Koester, who were both apparently free-lancing with no official OLC involvement, and developed a document–alternately called the Legal Principles or the Bullet Points document. The document interpreted the law and previously OLC opinions as the CIA would like them to be to make sure as much of the torture as possible was “legal.”

When Koester and Yoo moved on in May 2003, CIA tried to dump the document as a finished fait accompli back onto OLC. Even though Patrick Philbin, picking up Yoo’s duties, immediately refused to recognize the document as OLC work product, CIA kept insisting it counted as an OLC document. They did so in a high level meeting at the White House in June and then ultimately made it into a slide for a meeting with the NSC Principals on July 29, 2003, at which the Principals bought off on the torture as it had been applied. Then, CIA submitted the document with a late draft of the IG Report in March 2004, which (Jack Goldsmith claims, though the CIA claims differently) was the first time Goldsmith saw the Legal Principles. A bit of a spat broke out which not only prevented CIA and OLC from submitting joint comments on the IG Report (and, presumably, the legality of the acts described therein) as they had intended to do, but also in Goldsmith writing grumpy follow-up letters to CIA on it. And all of this was right before Goldsmith withdrew the Bybee One memo.

As you can see, the Legal Principles document were not only a source of tension between CIA and OLC. But its lies at the core of interpretations of just how illegal the CIA program was.

Which is why I find it relevant that the various iterations of the Legal Principles document are some of the documents that seem to have been affected by OLC’s leaky SCIF.

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Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s and Abu Zubaydah’s Coffins

At Mary’s instigation, I went back to look at Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s description of how he was shoved into a coffin-like box in Egypt. (Thanks to burnt for the searchable copy.)

According to al-Libi, the foreign government service [redacted] “stated that the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq. … This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm.” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, alLibi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”216

(U) Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa’ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that “this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice the 50 square centimeter box and given food.”217

That mock burial–and al-Libi’s subsequent lies about Iraqi ties with al Qaeda–happened sometime before February 22, 2002, when a DIA cable challenged the report.

This is the first report from Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] in which he claims Iraq assisted al-Qa’ida’s CBRN efforts. However, he lacks specific details on the Iraqi’s involvement, the CBRN materials associated with the assistance, and the location where the training occurred. It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest. Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control

Al-Libi was, you’ll recall, the onsite manager of the Khalden training camp, a camp that trained a range of Muslims, a policy that  put it at odds with Osama bin Laden, who wanted training to be limited to al Qaeda operatives.

Just over a month after al-Libi claimed, having been shoved in a coffin for almost a day, there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the US captured al-Libi’s associate, Abu Zubaydah, who handled logistics for Khalden. Rather than send Abu Zubaydah off to the Egyptians, as the US had done with al-Libi, they instead sent Abu Zubaydah to a CIA run black site in Thailand.

And there, less than three months after the Egyptians shoved Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in a coffin overnight, James Mitchell threatened to do the same with Abu Zubaydah. Ali Soufan objected and told Mitchell doing so was torture. Soufan left the black site and alerted DOJ of what Mitchell had intended to do.

And then, some time later (Abu Zubaydah says it was about 3 months after his surgery, so perhaps mid-July) they did shove Abu Zubaydah in that coffin-like box. Read more

Was John Yoo Free-Lancing When He Approved the “Legal Principles”?

Earlier today, I showed that there is a CIA document on the "Legal Principles" on torture that included legal justifications that had not been in any of the August 1, 2002 OLC memos authorizing torture. I showed that the document changed over time, but that when CIA asked Jack Goldsmith to "re-affirm" the Legal Principles in March 2004, he stated that he did not consider the document to be a product of OLC.

I have further inquired into the circumstances surrounding the creation of the bullet points in the spring of 2003. These inquiries have reconfirmed what I have conveyed to you before, namely, that the bullet points did not and do not represent an opinion or a statement of the views of this Office.

It seems–reading Jack Goldsmith and John Ashcroft’s objections to the CIA IG Report–that John Yoo was free-lancing when he worked with CIA on them.

In the DOJ dissent to the IG Report, Goldsmith explained that OLC disagreed with CIA’s representation of OLC’s role in drafting the Legal Principles document.

The disagreement revolves around the status of a document containing a set of bullet points outlining legal principles and entitled "Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Captured al-Qa’ida Personnel." The bullet points were drafted by OLC in consultation with OLC attorneys in the Spring of 2003. There is no dispute that OLC attorneys reviewed and provided comments on several drafts of the bullet points. In OGC’s view, OGC secured formal OLC concurrence in the bullet points and thus believed that the bullet points reflected a formal statement of OLC’s views of the law. OLC’s view, however, is that the bullet points–which, unlike OLC opinions, are not signed or dated–were not and are not an opinion from OLC or formal statement of views.

Goldsmith’s memo makes it clear, twice, that the work on the bullet points was the work of one OLC lawyer–John Yoo–and not the work of the department. Read more