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Context of 'September or October 2002: CIA and NSA Officials Warn Rice and Rumsfeld War Crimes Are Being Committed at Guantanamo; No Action Taken'

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The US Senate ratifies the international Convention Against Torture, originally proposed by the United Nations in 1985. The treaty bans any officials from signatory nations from inflicting “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” on prisoners in order to gain information. It also establishes the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT). The ban is absolute and cannot be waived: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Savage, 2007, pp. 155] The treaty also forbids signatory nations from sending detainees to other countries if there is a reasonable expectation that they may be tortured. [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Human Rights Web, 1/25/1997]

Entity Tags: United Nations Committee against Torture, Convention Against Torture, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorizes the creation of a “special-access program,” or SAP, with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets in the Bush administration’s war on terror.” The operation, known as “Copper Green,” is approved by Condoleezza Rice and known to President Bush. A SAP is an ultra secret project, the contents of which are known by very few officials. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” a former senior intelligence official tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. The SAP is brought up occasionally within the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the president and members of which are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Powell. The former intelligence official tells Hersh, “There was a periodic briefing to the National Security Council giving updates on results, but not on the methods.” He also says he believes NSC members know about the process by which these results are acquired. This official claims that fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were “completely read into the program.” Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone is generally in charge of running such operations. Motive for the SAP comes from an initial freeze in the results obtained by US agents from their hunt for al-Qaeda. Friendly foreign intelligence services on the other hand, from countries in the Middle East and South-East Asia, which employ more aggressive tactics on prisoners, are giving up much better information by the end of 2001. By authorizing the SAP, Rumsfeld, according to Hersh, desires to adopt these tactics and thus increase intelligence results. “Rumsfeld’s goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target—a stand-up group to hit quickly,” the former intelligence official tells Hersh. The program’s operatives were recruited from among Delta Force, Navy Seals, and CIA’s paramilitary experts. They are permitted to carry out “instant interrogations—using force if necessary—at secret CIA detention centers scattered around the world.” Information obtained through the program is sent to the Pentagon in real-time. The former intelligence official tells Hersh: “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” The operation, according to Seymour Hersh, “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation.” [New Yorker, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 9/13/2004] Both the Defense Department and CIA deny the existence of Copper Green. One Pentagon spokesman says of Hersh’s article about it, “This is the most hysterical piece of journalist malpractice I have ever observed.” [CNN, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, Richard B. Myers, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Operation Copper Green

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In the days following the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), a group of top White House officials, the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, begins a series of meetings that result in the authorization of specific torture methods against Zubaida and other detainees. The top secret talks and meetings eventually approve such methods to be used by CIA agents against high-value terrorism suspects. The US media will not learn of this until six years later (see April 9, 2008). The Principals Committee meetings are chaired by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and attendees include Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, will also participate in the meetings. Sometimes deputies attend in place of their superiors. Rice’s group not only discusses and approves specific “harsh” methods of interrogation, but also approves the use of “combined” interrogation techniques on suspects who prove recalcitrant. The approved techniques include slapping and shoving prisoners, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, a technique banned for decades by the US military. Some of the discussions of the interrogation sessions are so detailed that the Principals Committee virtually choreographs the sessions down to the number of times CIA agents can use specific tactics. [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] The Principals Committee also ensures that President Bush is not involved in the meetings, thereby granting him “deniability” over the decisions, though Bush will eventually admit to being aware of the decisions (see April 11, 2008). The Principals Committee, particularly Cheney, is described by a senior intelligence official as “deeply immersed” in the specifics of the decisions, often viewing demonstrations of how specific tactics work. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Imminent Threat Calls for Extreme Measures - The move towards using harsh and likely illegal interrogation tactics begins shortly after the capture of Zubaida in late March 2002 (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and March 28, 2002). Zubaida is seen as a potentially critical source of information about potential attacks similar to 9/11. He is kept in a secret CIA prison where he recovers from the wounds suffered during his capture, and where he is repeatedly questioned. However, he is allegedly uncooperative with his inquisitors, and CIA officials want to use more physical and aggressive techniques to force him to talk (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004 and April - June 2002). The CIA briefs the Principals Committee, chaired by Rice, and the committee signs off on the agency’s plan to use more extreme interrogation methods on Zubaida. After Zubaida is waterboarded (see April - June 2002), CIA officials tell the White House that he provided information leading to the capture of two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Late 2002 and May 2002-2003). The committee approves of waterboarding as well as a number of “combined” interrogation methods, basically a combination of harsh techniques to use against recalcitrant prisoners.
The 'Golden Shield' - The committee asks the Justice Department to determine whether using such methods would violate domestic or international laws. “No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” a second senior intelligence official will recall in 2008. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.” In August 2002, Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel will write a memo that gives formal legal authority to government interrogators to use harsh, abusive methods on detainees (see August 1, 2002). The memo is called the “Golden Shield” for CIA agents who worry that they could be held criminally liable if the harsh, perhaps tortuous interrogations ever become public knowledge. CIA veterans remember how everything from the Vietnam-era “Phoenix Program” of assassinations to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were portrayed as actions of a “rogue,” “out-of-control” CIA; this time, they intend to ensure that the White House and not the agency is given ultimate responsibility for authorizing extreme techniques against terror suspects. Tenet demands White House approval for the use of the methods, even after the Justice Department issues its so-called “Golden Shield” memo explicitly authorizing government interrogators to torture suspected terrorists (see August 1, 2002). Press sources will reveal that Tenet, and later Goss, convey requests for specific techniques to be used against detainees to the committee (see Summer 2003). One high-ranking official will recall: “It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time. They’d say: ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.’” The committee approves every request. One source will say of the discussions: “These discussions weren’t adding value. Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] In April 2008, law professor Jonathan Turley will say: “[H]ere you have the CIA, which is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.’ So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008] A former senior intelligence official will say, “If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation.” Those who attended the dozens of meetings decided “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on detainees. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Ashcroft Uneasy at White House Involvement - Ashcroft in particular is uncomfortable with the discussions of harsh interrogation methods that sometimes cross the line into torture, though his objections seem more focused on White House involvement than on any moral, ethical, or legal problems. After one meeting, Ashcroft reportedly asks: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” However, others in the discussions, particularly Rice, continue to support the torture program. Even after Jack Goldsmith, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), withdraws the “Golden Shield” memo and after Powell begins arguing that the torture program is harming the image of the US abroad, when CIA officials ask to continue using particular torture techniques, Rice responds: “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Reaction after Press Learns of Meetings - After the press learns of the meetings (see April 9, 2008), the only person involved who will comment will be Powell, who will say through an assistant that there were “hundreds of [Principals Committee] meetings” on a wide variety of topics and that he is “not at liberty to discuss private meetings.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Principals Committee, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Jack Goldsmith, John Ashcroft, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Jonathan Turley, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The CIA believes that recently captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is withholding “imminent threat information” from his US interrogators. To that end, the CIA sends attorneys from its Office of General Counsel to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other senior White House aides to discuss what the Senate Intelligence Committee will later term “the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the US military and intelligence community” (see April 2002). The CIA proposes several “alternative” methods that equate to torture, including waterboarding, for Zubaida. After the meeting, the CIA asks the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to prepare an opinion about the legality of the proposed interrogation methods. The CIA provides the OLC with, in the committee’s words, “written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques.” The CIA also provides the OLC with information about the medical and psychological effects of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which trains soldiers how to counter and resist torture and harsh interrogation techniques (see December 2001). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file; BBC, 4/23/2009] Meanwhile, the CIA will send Zubaida to Thailand for torture (see March 2002 and April - June 2002).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, Stephen J. Hadley, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director George Tenet meets with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Rice tells Tenet that the CIA can begin its proposed interrogation plan for captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002 and July 13, 2002), advising him “that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation” of Zubaida. Rice’s authorization is subject to a determination of legality by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file; BBC, 4/23/2009] The CIA has already begun torturing Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, Mid-May 2002 and After, and June 2002).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A CIA analyst visits Guantanamo and returns convinced that war crimes are being committed there. According to a former White House official, the analyst concludes that “if we captured some people who weren’t terrorists when we got them, they are now.” The CIA agent estimates at least more than half of the prisoners at Guantanamo do not belong there. [Guardian, 9/13/2004] John A. Gordon, Deputy National Security Adviser for combating terrorism, a former deputy director of the CIA and a retired four-star general, reads the highly critical report on Guantanamo by the CIA analyst in the early autumn of 2002. The analyst’s account of US activities at Guantanamo, he says, is “totally out of character with the American value system.” He says he also believes “that if the actions at Guantanamo ever became public, it’d be damaging to the president.” He is convinced the report is important material. “We got it up to Condi [National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice],” he recalls. Gordon is most concerned about whether many of the prisoners at Guantanamo are not in fact innocent. “It was about how many more people are being held there that shouldn’t be,” a former White House official tells Seymour Hersh. “Have we really got the right people?” The briefing for Rice does not center on the treatment of the prisoners, but on questions of practicality: “Are we getting any intelligence? What is the process for sorting these people?” The concerns are serious enough for Rice to call a meeting at the White House with Gordon and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Rice allegedly says, “Let’s get the story right.” Rumsfeld seems to be agreeing and looks willing to deal with the problem. However, according to the disappointed White House official, “The Pentagon went into a full-court stall.” He says, “I was naive enough to believe that when a cabinet member says he’s going to take action, he will.” [Guardian, 9/13/2004]

Entity Tags: John A. Gordon, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008] The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, John Ashcroft, Hambali, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Human Rights Watch sends a letter to US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice informing her that the ill treatment and torture of prisoners by the US military in Iraq is not limited to isolated incidents. The organization emphasizes that it is a systemic and widespread problem and urges the US to take immediate action to ensure that imprisonment and interrogation practices comply with international law. [Roth and Malinowski, 5/3/2004; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Human Rights Watch

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The press reports that, beginning in the spring of 2002, top Bush administration officials approved specific details about how terrorism suspects would be interrogated by the CIA. The officials issued their approval as part of their duties as the National Security Council’s Principals Committee (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008] The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson says: “With each new revelation, it is beginning to look like the torture operation was managed and directed out of the White House. This is what we suspected all along.” [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Principals Committee, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute [Stanford University News, 1/28/2009] , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009] In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Ali Frick, Al-Qaeda, Convention Against Torture, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy in regards to the Bush administration’s torture policies. Rice recently told students at Stanford University that she did not authorize any torture policies, she merely forwarded the authorization for them from higher up (see April 28, 2009). Dean tells MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann that she may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy. Dean calls Rice’s comments “surprising,” and says she has mired herself in the possibility of legal proceedings. “She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean says. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.… These kinds of statements are going to come back and be interesting to any investigator.” Dean says that President Obama will stand in violation of the Geneva Conventions if he refuses to prosecute those found responsible for the torture policies. “He is indeed in violation if the United States does not undertake investigation of this, or ultimately prosecution, if that’s necessary,” Dean says. “It’s not only the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) also requires this. There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like ‘torture light.’ The world community I think is going to hold the United States responsible, and if we don’t proceed, somebody is going to proceed.” [Raw Story, 5/1/2009; MSNBC, 5/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Condoleezza Rice, Keith Olbermann, Convention Against Torture

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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