Cheney Plans to Continue to Manufacture Intelligence

By now you’ve heard Cheney’s claim that he asked the CIA to declassify all the great intelligence we got from waterboarding and Greg Sargent’s earlier report that Cheney hadn’t asked the CIA directly for those documents.

Greg Sargent has an update that explains how the former Fourth Branch intends to get them, now that he’s a withering vine.

 That whole question of whether Dick Cheney asked the CIA to declassify and release intelligence supposedly proving that the torture worked? Turns out Cheney made the request through the National Archives, a spokesperson for the archives confirms.

That means that we may, in fact, see the documents that Cheney claims will demonstrate that the Bush torture program collected a whole bunch of useful intelligence, though it may take awhile.

National Archives spokesperson Susan Cooper confirms that Cheney did submit a request for unspecified documents on March 31st. Cooper said that the National Archives had asked the relevant agency — she wouldn’t say which one, but there’s little reason to doubt that it’s the CIA — for the relevant documents this morning.

Cooper confirmed that the docs Cheney asked for were in fact classified. Keep in mind we have no way of knowing what Cheney actually asked for or whether they really say what Cheney claims. It’s now up to the CIA to make the determination whether to declassify the docs Cheney wants. So this could get very, very interesting in various ways.

Remember why Cheney and the National Archives have been in the news of late–the report that, contrary to plan, Cheney decided to keep all his materials at the Archives rather than send them to Dallas to put in Bush’s Library. He needs the materials close, you see, so he can access them for his memoirs.

Now, the date of Cheney’s request for CIA documents–March 31, well before it was clear whether the OLC memos would be declassified–suggests Cheney’s request has everything to do with his memoirs and nothing to do with the release of the OLC memos.

So Cheney’s call to declassify these documents has nothing to do with a real debate about the torture. It is Cheney’s attempt to use those documents to continue creating a myth that his torture did anything to keep this country safe.


I wanted to make two points about Spencer’s important story at the Windy, identifying a previously unknown 2007 Bradbury torture memo.

A former senior intelligence official, who would not speak for the record, said that in 2007, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Bradbury, issued a still-secret memorandum authorizing an updated CIA interrogation regimen. The Justice Department issued the document after months of internal Bush administration debate, a Supreme Court decision in 2006 that extended protections from Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to enemy combatants in U.S. custody, a piece of new legislation responding to the Court’s decision and a presidential executive order on interrogations.


The still-unreleased Office of Legal Counsel memo spelled out for the CIA what interrogation practices were considered lawful after President Bush issued an executive order on July 20, 2007 that sought to reconcile the CIA’s interrogation program with the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3, which prohibits inflicting “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” upon wartime detainees.” The Supreme Court, in 2006’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, ruled that Common Article 3 protections applied to enemy combatants in U.S. custody, a determination that the Bush administration had resisted since creating its post-9/11 detention and interrogation policies. Congress in 2006 responded by passing the Military Commissions Act, which reserved for the president the right to define the applicability of Common Article 3 protections for detainees in the war on terrorism. Bush’s order, known as Executive Order 13440, determined that the the CIA’s interrogation program fit within Common Article 3, provided that it met certain criteria, such as the exclusion of practices like “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming.”

But the order did not define which interrogation techniques it now considered legal. Anonymous Bush administration officials told reporters on the day of the order’s release, “it would be very wrong to assume that the program of the past would move into the future unchanged.” As a result, according to the former senior intelligence official, after Bush issued the order, the CIA again asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to review the techniques listed in the revised interrogation program in order to determine their legality, just as the Office of Legal Counsel had done in 2002 and 2005, after previous periods of challenge to the post-9/11 interrogation program. [my emphasis]

Note the timing. Read more

Those CIA Employees Don’t LOOK Pissed that Obama Released the Torture Memos

The Village has been out in force declaring that Obama’s decision to release the torture memos will hurt the morale of CIA’s employees.

But CIA’s employees sure greeted Obama warmly when he spoke at Langley yesterday. See also the beginning of the applause at the end of the Panetta introduction.

Now I realize these things are carefully stagecrafted. I realize the members of the clandestine service–the men and women being asked to push the limits in the name of national security–are probably not sitting in front of the camera at an Obama photo op. 

But I’ve been re-reading the books that first exposed our torture program in the last few days, and it’s clear that opposition came not just from the FBI. It came, in some cases, from those at CIA who thought the torture ineffective, too much, dehumanizing to the interrogators. As Scott Horton describes,

CIA interrogators were not wild about the use of these techniques.


But the rebellion included whistleblowers who went to the CIA’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson. He launched a probe which documented what was going on and concluded, correctly, that a number of the techniques then in use were potentially prosecutable as federal crimes. Bybee’s memo and those of his successor Steven G. Bradbury are designed to silence and override the dissenters, most notably the CIA inspector general, and thus put down the rebellion against torture at the CIA.

Now, I will grant you that some in the CIA are still defending the efficacy of the torture. Others are no doubt worried they will be prosecuted.

But some will be grateful that Obama is forcing the CIA out of the torture business. 

McCain on the Torture Memos

When asked about his feelings about the release of the torture memos, McCain recalled his efforts in 2005 to make torture (more) illegal.

As you know it was my legislation, the Detainee Treatment Act, that prohibited torture, that said we had to abide by the Geneva Convention for treatment of enemy combatants and wish that we had done that. But release of these memo helps no one, doesn’t help America’s image, does not help us address the issue, and I think it was a serious mistake.

I wonder what McCain thinks about this footnote from the May 10, 2005 "Techniques" memo? Though it reflects an earlier Congressional effort than McCain’s attempt to make torture (more) illegal passed later that year, the bill Bradbury mentions was part of the effort in 2005 to bring interrogation under the rule of law.

Finally, we note that section 6057(a) of H.R. 1268 (109th Cong. 1st Sess.), if it becomes law, would forbid expending or obligating funds made available by that bill to "subject any person in the custody or under the physical control of the United States to torture," but because the bill would define "torture" to have "the meaning given that term in section 2340(1) of title 18, United States Code, 6057(b)(1), the provision (to the extent it might apply here at all) would merely reaffirm the preexisting prohibitions on torture in sections 2340-2340A.

Maybe McCain doesn’t like having these memos released because they demonstrate the disdain with which the Bush Administration treated Congressional attempts to end the torture program?

Sign the petition telling Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture here

Is There a 2003 Waterboarding Memo We’re Missing?

Michael Hayden said something that confused me today on Fox News. When asked whether he thought waterboarding is torture, he replied simply that DOJ had said it was not.

Question: Are you satisfied that waterboarding is not torture?

HAYDEN: I’m satisfied that the Justice Department, in a series of opinions — ‘02, ‘03, ‘05 — said that it was not. Now…

See, we know that DOJ addressed waterboarding specifically in 2002 and 2005 in the memos released last week. 

But 2003?

Yes, there is one I, at least, have forgotten. The one in which the White House signed off on waterboarding, even after they had waterboarded KSM 183 times in a month. 

White House
Interrogation of prisoners

 Here’s the WaPo’s description of this 2003 memo, from last year when we were all trying to elect Barack Obama President. 

The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public.

The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing.

The memos were the first — and, for years, the only — tangible expressions of the administration’s consent for the CIA’s use of harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders, the sources said.

Gosh, that would be an interesting memo to see, wouldn’t it?

(Updated entirely to make sensible after I discovered I’m a bone-head.)

The CIA IG Report: Is Waterboarding KSM 183 Times Really Effective?

picture-97.thumbnail.pngI think I’ve finally gotten some folks to to pay attention to the OLC Memo revelation that KSM was waterboarded 183 times in a month.

In that post, I suggested that if it took 183 uses of waterboarding to make KSM comply with interrogators wishes, then waterboarding is far less effective than the CIA would like us to believe. It appears the CIA IG was raising the number of times KSM was waterboarded in the same context I am–to question the efficacy of waterboarding someone that many times. 

As I described last night, Steven Bradbury spends four pages of the May 30, 2005 memo trying to prove that enhanced interrogation is effective. He appears to be responding to a six-page passage in the CIA IG Report addressing the efficacy of enhanced interrogation.

I dealt with that section in some detail last night.  But by reconstructing that section best as we can from the fragments Bradbury gives us (see my work below), we see the IG Report was tying the number of times KSM and Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded with its judgment of waterboarding’s (in)efficacy.

Bradbury doesn’t reveal how the IG Report begins the discussion of the efficacy of the enhanced interrogation program. But shortly after the beginning, the IG Report seems to refute claims that individual, high value detainees are the key to collecting information on al Qaeda. It points out that CTC relies on the information from lower-level detainees–presumably collected without enhanced methods since CIA claims it only uses enhanced methods on high value detainees–to round out its understanding of information collected from high value detainees.

CTC frequently uses the information from one detainee, as well as other sources, to vet the information from another detainee. Although lower-level detainees provide less information than the high value detainees, information from these detainees has, on many occasions, supplied the information needed to probe the high value detainees further. … [T]he triangulation of intelligence provides a fuller knowledge of Al-Qa’ida activities than would be possible from a single detainee.

Bradbury leaves out the next part of the IG Report’s discussion. But from there, the IG Report says we can’t conclusively determine whether enhanced interrogations have provided information that has prevented specific attacks (note, the wording of this discussion is very vague, perhaps intentionally so; it could mean any number of things, including that we have zero evidence that torture has prevented attacks, or that we just don’t have evidence one way or another). Then, the IG Report appears to elaborate on this difficulty, noting that, "there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness." Again, this quotation is unclear, but it appears to refer to the effectiveness of one enhanced interrogation method over another. That is, the IG Report appears to be saying it has no way of assessing whether waterboarding is more effective than sleep deprivation than persuasion. Finally, the IG Report admits that enhanced interrogation–or perhaps just waterboarding–is tied to an increase in the number of reports (though it appears to have already dismissed any possibility of assessing the quality of these reports). And it is in that context in which the IG Report discusses the sheer number of times that Abu Zubaydah and KSM were waterboarded. 

In other words, at the tail end of an extended discussion explaining all the reasons we can’t say enhanced interrogation prevented any specific attacks and why it may be a mistake to focus exclusively on individual high value detainees, the IG Report connects the sheer number of reports CIA has gotten when using waterboarding with the sheer number of times it was used on Abu Zubaydah and KSM.

And significantly, 12 pages later the IG Report notes that CIA was using waterboarding more than it had said it had been using it.

Now all of this is obviously very fragmentary, and Bradbury seems to have deliberately obscured the IG Report’s language in key passages. As it happens, though, both the White House and SSCI are in the middle of attempts to assess the efficacy of waterboarding. 

In response to those efforts, the CIA has begun assembling thousands of classified cables that contain daily reports from the agency’s secret prisons, tracking the interrogation methods used on high-value detainees and how much information was obtained as a result.

Let’s hope this inquiry–unlike the memos sent to Steven Bradbury tailored to allow him to claim that torture was effective–do more than track the number of reports gathered under torture. And heck, while they’re at it, perhaps the White House and the SSCI could release this part of the IG Report, which seems to conclude–after having watched thousands of hours of torture videos–that it was not effective.

Sign the petition telling Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture here.

As Bradbury notes on page 10 of is memo, the IG Report discusses the efficacy of enhanced interrogation from page 85 though 91. Here are the topics that discussion covers, in order, with the Bradbury description of the reference:

Page 85: No direct reference

Page 86: A description of an increase in intelligence reports attributable to enhanced methods and a discussion arguing that you can’t measure the efficacy of interrogation by pointing to just the reports from one detainee..

See IG Report at 86, 90-91 (describing increase in intelligence reports attributable to use of enhanced techniques). 

According to the CIA Inspector General:

CTC frequently uses the information from one detainee, as well as other sources, to vet the information from another detainee. Although lower-level detainees provide less information than the high value detainees, information from these detainees has, on many occasions, supplied the information needed to probe the high value detainees further. … [T]he triangulation of intelligence provides a fuller knowledge of Al-Qa’ida activities than would be possible from a single detainee.

IG Report at 86.

Page 87: No direct reference

Page 88: A statement that it is difficult to determine whether interrogations have stopped specific attacks.

As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. See id. at 88.

Page 89: A statement noting that there is limited data on whether enhanced methods are effective (note–Bradbury pitches this as an observation that the Read more

Debunking the Torture Apologists’ “Half the Intelligence” Claim

In another thread, Bob Schacht wrote,

BTW, according to CNN, Haynes and Mukasey are claiming that “half” of what we “know” about Al Qaeda came from torture sessions. Did they really write that, and if so, I’m wondering if its puffery or true.

Using the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, I think I can show where it comes from–and show why it’s a totally useless claim.

Bradbury Needed to Appeal to Efficacy to Claim These Techniques Didn’t Violate the Convention Against Torture

In the May 30, 2005 Memo, Steven Bradbury spends four pages recording the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation. He does this, at least partially, to make sure he can claim that the techniques at issue don’t "shock the conscience" and therefore don’t violate the Fifth Amendment (and therefore don’t violate CAT, which is the whole point of this memo) . In particular, Bradbury resorts to efficacy when trying to distinguish between torture condemned by the State Department and that practiced by the US. Speaking of torture practiced by other countries, Bradbury claims it simply doesn’t serve the same purpose as our torture.

There is no indication that techniques are used only as necessary to protect against grave terrorist threats or for any similarly vital government interests.

And when Bradbury is trying to distinguish enhanced interrogation from SERE, he again appeals to efficacy and necessity.

… the interrogation program we consider here furthers the paramount interest of the United States in the security of the Nation more immediately and directly than SERE training.


It follows that use of these techniques will not shock the conscience in at least some circumstances. We believe that such circumstances exist here, where the techniques are used against unlawful combatants who deliberately and secretly attack civlians in an untraditional armed conflict in which intelligence is difficult or impossible to collect by other means and is essential to the protection of the United States and its interests, where the techniques are used only when necessary and only in the interrogations of key terrorist leaders reasonably thought to have acionable intelligence, and where every effort is made to minimize unnecessary suffering and to avoid inflicting significant or lasting harm.

It bears noting that this rant goes far beyond what Bradbury elsewhere carefully laid out as the premise of his memo. But both this claim and the one dismissing State Department concerns about torture rely on his argument that the program was necessary to protect the US. 

So to accomplish his apparent task–which was to find a way to declare the CIA interrogation program did not violate CAT (after CIA’s own IG had already concluded it did), Bradbury needed to be able to say it was effective.

Read more

The Torture Memos and the FBI-CIA Dispute

I wanted to revisit this David Johnston article from September 10, 2006, written shortly after Bush brought the High Value Detainees to Gitmo (the second time, for some of them). At the time, the article served to challenge Bush’s portrayal of a fine-tuned interrogation system and pretty obviously aired the two sides of the FBI-CIA dispute over torture.

But rather than the smooth process depicted by Mr. Bush, interviews with nearly a dozen current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials briefed on the process show, the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah was fraught with sharp disputes, debates about the legality and utility of harsh interrogation methods, and a rupture between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the C.I.A. that has yet to heal.

Read now, the article provides a lot of background to details that have been confirmed since the release of the memos–and as such it helps elucidate the information coming from the memos. And, by reading it in conjunction with the torture memos, it shows why the dispute between FBI and CIA has remained so intractable. 

Background Details for the Memos

For example, the article appears to report on something Michael Hayden blurted out the other day (and which Steven Aftergood picked up); the interrogation program started as a covert operation.

For the C.I.A., Mr. Zubaydah was a test case for an evolving new role, conceived after Sept. 11, in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator for terrorism suspects.

According to accounts by three former intelligence officials, the C.I.A. understood that the legal foundation for its role had been spelled out in a sweeping classified directive signed by Mr. Bush on Sept. 17, 2001. The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, authorized the C.I.A. for the first time to capture, detain and interrogate terrorism suspects, providing the foundation for what became its secret prison system.

That 2001 directive did not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations, however, and senior C.I.A. officials began in late 2001 and early 2002 to draw up a list of aggressive interrogation procedures that might be used against terrorism suspects. They consulted agency psychiatrists and foreign governments to identify effective techniques beyond standard interview practices.

A memorandum of notification is closely related to a finding. Which, as Aftergood pointed out, should mean that Congress’ intelligence committees were informed.

That timing is important for another reason. As Valtin first pointed out, the Administration was researching how to torture at least as early as December 2001. This article suggests the "research" went back even further, to just days after 9/11. Read more

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Was Waterboarded 183 Times in One Month

I’ve put this detail in a series of posts, but it really deserves a full post. According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

On page 37 of the OLC memo, in a passage discussing the differences between SERE techniques and the torture used with detainees, the memo explains:

The CIA used the waterboard "at least 83 times during August 2002" in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91.

Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. So this is presumably a number that was once backed up by video evidence.

The same OLC memo passage explains how the CIA might manage to waterboard these men so many times in one month each (though even with these chilling numbers, the CIA’s math doesn’t add up).

…where authorized, it may be used for two "sessions" per day of up to two hours. During a session, water may be applied up to six times for ten seconds or longer (but never more than 40 seconds). In a 24-hour period, a detainee may be subjected to up to twelve minutes of water appliaction. See id. at 42.  Additionally, the waterboard may be used on as many as five days during a 30-day approval period.

So: two two-hour sessions a day, with six applications of the waterboard each = 12 applications in a day. Though to get up to the permitted 12 minutes of waterboarding in a day (with each use of the waterboard limited to 40 seconds), you’d need 18 applications in a day.  Assuming you use the larger 18 applications in one 24-hour period, and do 18 applications on five days within a month, you’ve waterboarded 90 times–still just half of what they did to KSM.

The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. 

That doesn’t sound very effective to me. 

Sign the petition telling Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture here.

Update: Here’s one reason to demand Read more

The CIA IG Report and the Bradbury Memos

In May 2004, CIA’s Inspector General, John Helgerson, completed a report that found that the CIA’s interrogation program violated the Convention Against Torture. By understanding the role of that report in the May 2005 Bradbury memos, we see just how weak Bradbury’s memos are. 

As Jane Mayer described, the report strongly influenced Jack Goldsmith shortly before he withdrew the August 1, 2002 Bybee memo in June 2004.

The 2004 Inspector General’s report, known as a "special review," was tens of thousands of pages long and as thick as two Manhattan phone books. It contained information, according to one source, that was simply "sickening." The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized. The source said, "You couldn’t read the documents without wondering, "Why didn’t someone say, ‘Stop!’"

Goldsmith was required to review the report in order to settle a sharp dispute that its findings had provoked between the Inspector General, Helgerson, who was not a lawyer, and the CIA’s General Counsel, Scott Muller, who was. After spending months investigating the Agency’s interrogation practices, the special review had concluded that the CIA’s techniques constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, in violation of the international Convention Against Torture. But Muller insisted that every single action taken by the CIA toward its detainees had been declared legal by John Yoo. With Yoo gone, it fell to Goldsmith to figure out exactly what the OLC had given the CIA a green light to do and what, in fact, the CIA had done.

As Goldsmith absorbed the details, the report transformed the antiseptic list of authorized interrogation techniques, which he had previously seen, into a Technicolor horror show. Goldsmith declined to be interviewed about the classified report for legal reasons, but according to those who dealt with him, the report caused him to question the whole program. The CIA interrogations seemed very different when described by participants than they had when approved on a simple menu of options. Goldsmith had been comfortable with the military’s approach, but he wasn’t at all sure whether the CIA’s tactics were legal. Waterboarding, in particular, sounded quick and relatively harmless in theory. But according to someone familiar with the report, the way it had been actually used was "horrible."

After Goldsmith withdrew the Bybee memoranda, Dan Levin wrote a new more restrictive memo in December 2004. But by spring 2005, the CIA wanted to use torture with some more high value detainees (including Hassan Ghul). So they had Steven Bradbury (in what was basically an audition to head OLC) write new torture memos–not only to reauthorize waterboarding (though it was not used on Ghul, according to reports), but also to dismiss all the concerns about the CAT raised by CIA’s IG.

Read more