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Neoconservative Michael Ledeen, in an op-ed piece published by the Wall Street Journal, makes numerous charges against the Iranian government, saying it supports terrorism and is on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon. He asserts that the Bush administration must therefore act soon against Iran. He says Iran is the “ultimate litmus test of the seriousness of the Bush administration” and that the administration’s “ability to conduct an effective campaign against the mullahs in Tehran will determine the outcome of the war against the terror masters.” Ledeen asserts that the US does not need to invade Iran to “liberate it,” rather it only needs to support the “enthusiastically pro-American” people, as the US did the “Serbs against Slobodan Milosovic, the Filipinos against the Marcoses, the Poles against Soviet Communism.” (Ledeen 12/19/2003)

Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (see July 1, 2000), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, represented by staffers Thomas Eldridge and Joanne Accolla. Regarding the issue of a visa to alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour, where Steinger initially refused the visa and then granted it (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), Steinger says Hanjour was “typical of many Saudi students” in that he switched between schools in the US. (9/11 Commission 12/30/2003) The Commission is aware that Steinger made incorrect statements about the issue of the visa to Hanjour to a Congressional committee (see August 1, 2002), but apparently it does not ask her about this, although these statements will be mentioned in its Terrorist Travel Monograph. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14, 37-38 pdf file) Steinger also says she remembers “press accounts of the ‘chatter’ surrounding a possible impending attack” before 9/11, but thought it was more likely to be carried out by Egyptians or Yemenis. Before 9/11 she was “never aware of the level of disaffected extremism in Saudi society,” she says. She knew Saudis were al-Qaeda members, but, according to a memo of the interview drafted by the Commission, “she never made the connection between this fact, and the idea that the Saudis applying for visas were possible terrorists.” Despite the fact that Steinger was unaware Saudis could be terrorists, on some occasions she sent Security Advisory Opinion cables warning about a visa application in connection with terrorism. (9/11 Commission 12/30/2003)

The chief of the CIA’s station in Baghdad, Iraq, is removed from his position. (Miller and Drogin 2/20/2004; Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005) At this time the chief, whose name is apparently Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), is not in Iraq, but reporting to superiors in Washington. He is simply told not to return to his station. (Risen 2006, pp. 147) However, the reason for the chief’s removal is unclear and three contradictory accounts will be given. The first account, put about by anonymous officials, is that Meyer does not have the management skills to administer the station, one of the largest the CIA has ever had. (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005; Risen 2006, pp. 128) One unnamed official will comment, “There was just a belief that it was a huge operation and we needed a very senior, very experienced person to run it.” A second version holds that Meyer is fired for drafting two pessimistic “Aardwolf” reports about the US’s prospects in Iraq (see August 30, 2003 and November 10, 2003). (Miller and Drogin 2/20/2004) According to a Harper’s magazine post, White House officials ask for “dirt” on Meyer, including his political affiliation. “He was a good guy,” an anonymous CIA official will comment, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.” (Silverstein 5/18/2006) However, a third version will later emerge. In this account, the firing is due to concern over the deaths of two Iraqis questioned by CIA officials shortly before Meyer’s removal. After senior agency officials learn of the deaths of Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003) and Manadel al-Jamadi (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), in which CIA personnel were involved, they become unhappy with Meyer and have him removed. (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005; Risen 2006, pp. 127-128) This version will apparently be supported by a document released subsequent to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009. The document is a redacted set of May 2004 talking points to be used by a senior CIA official in a briefing of the House Intelligence Committee. The talking points do not say specifically why Meyer was fired, but do say he committed errors in detainee treatment. This will be confirmed by an anonymous former official, who will say that Meyer “wasn’t paying enough attention to the detainee situation,” as well as the issue of “ghost detainees.” (Strobel 8/25/2009) Whatever the reason for his firing, Meyer soon leaves the CIA. (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005; Silverstein 5/18/2006) According to author James Risen, his departure comes after he faces “piercing questions from CIA officials stemming from a series of inflammatory accusations about his personal behavior, all of which he flatly denied.” Risen will add that Meyer leaves the CIA “in disgust.” Whatever the reason, some CIA officials come to believe that Meyer ran into trouble because of the candid report. “When I read that November aardwolf,” a CIA official who knows Meyer will comment, “I thought that he was committing career suicide.” (Risen 2006, pp. 127-128)

9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner.9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner. [Source: Public domain]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who is reading through NSA material related to al-Qaeda on her own initiative (see January 2004), finds material possibly linking Iran and Hezbollah to al-Qaeda. (Shenon 2008, pp. 157, 370-1) The material indicates that between eight and ten of the future hijackers traveled between Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other destinations via Iran. For example, in November 2000, one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alghamdi, took the same flight as a senior Hezbollah official (see November 2000), although the 9/11 Commission report will say this may be a “coincidence.” An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative took the same flight as another three of the hijackers in November 2000, and Hezbollah officials were expecting an undefined group to arrive at the same time. However, the hijackers’ families will say they were in Saudi Arabia at this time (see Mid-November, 2000). Based on information such as this, the commission will conclude that Iran helped al-Qaeda operatives transit Iran by not stamping their passports, but that neither it nor Hezbollah had any knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Under interrogation, detainees Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh say that some of the hijackers did transit Iran, but that they had no assistance from the Iranian authorities. However, such statements were apparently made after they were tortured, bringing their reliability into question (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1) The NSA intelligence reports the information about Iranian and Hezbollah is based on were mostly drafted between October and December 2001, so it is possible that the NSA was monitoring Hezbollah in 2000 and then matched up travel by that organization’s operatives with the 9/11 hijackers’ travel, ascertained from airlines, for example, after 9/11. One of the reports, entitled “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” is dated August 9, 2002. It is unclear who the operative is or how he allegedly came into contact with the alleged 9/11 hijackers. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 529)

In response to a question at a news conference, Secretary of State Colin Powell says, “I have not seen a smoking gun, concrete evidence about the connection [between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda], but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.” (Associated Press 1/8/2004; Whitaker 1/11/2004) Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will later write, “The second justification for war—ties to ‘terrorism with a global reach,’ to use the president’s own words—had now been discredited by one of the most senior officials in his own administration.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 413)

Vice President Dick Cheney tells Rocky Mountain News that a November 2003 article published in the conservative Weekly Standard (see November 14, 2003) represents “the best source of information” on cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The article was based on a leaked intelligence memo that had been written by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in 2002 and was the product of the Office of Special Plans (see August 2002). Cheney also insists that the administration’s decision to invade Iraq was “perfectly justified.” (Sprengelmeyer 1/10/2004; Landay 3/9/2004)

The 9/11 Commission first learns that the US had a program to assassinate Osama bin Laden before 9/11 (see December 24, 1998). The program, which is disclosed to the commission’s staff by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, was a response to the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The commission was not previously aware of the order and when Berger tells them about it they are confused, because the CIA has been telling them there was no such order for months. When the commission tells Berger what the CIA has said, he assures them that there is an explicit document, a memorandum of notification concerning Afghanistan, that gives the CIA the authority to kill bin Laden, not just capture him. It is unclear why CIA managers repeatedly told the commission there was no such order (see Before January 14, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 253-254)

In an interview with Time magazine, former US Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill says he never saw or heard of any real evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. “In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction,” he explains. “There were allegations and assertions by people…. But I’ve been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions. To me there is a difference between real evidence and everything else. And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence.” (Dickerson 1/11/2004)

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez orders a high level administrative investigation into the 800th Military Police Brigade apart from the criminal investigation that was announced three days earlier (see January 16, 2004). He appoints Major General Antonio M. Taguba to conduct the inquiry and limits the scope of the investigation to the conduct of the military police brigade. Taguba’s report will be filed on February 26 (see February 26, 2004). (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004; Sydney Morning Herald 5/4/2004; Jehl 5/10/2004) As preparations for investigation are underway, investigators reportedly give the MPs at Abu Ghraib “a week’s notice before inspecting their possessions.” ( [Sources: Several unnamed soldiers) Whether it is an attempt to sabotage the investigation, or a matter of clumsiness on the part of the military leadership or the CID, the result may well be that evidence of abuse is deliberately destroyed. “That shows you how lax they are about discipline. ‘We are going to look for contraband in here, so hint, hint, get rid of the stuff,’ that’s the way things work in the Guard,” MP Ramone Leal will say. (Reuters 5/6/2004)

George W. Bush gives the third state of the union address of his presidency. He states that the Iraq Survey Group found “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” in Iraq and claims that had his administration “failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction program would continue to this day.” (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) Throughout his address, Bush plays down the WMD issue, which had driven his rhetoric before the invasion (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Now he focuses on the “liberation” of Iraq. He also challenges those who, like Democratic presidential frontrunner John Kerry (D-MA), advocate using law enforcement methodologies over military methods to combat terrorism. “I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all,” he says. “After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that this speech is the opening salvo in the Republicans’ strategy of “characterizing political opponents as less manly than the Top Gun president.” (Rich 2006, pp. 114)

Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011.Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011. [Source: U.S. Defense Department]Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan, and buys up land there that will be used for a hideout for bin Laden. Ahmed, who is using a variety of aliases, moves to the town with his brother Abrar, who is also assisting bin Laden. A Pakistani government official will later say that a plot of land in Abbottabad is bought by a man named Mohammad Arshad on January 22, 2004. A forged national identity card and incorrect address is used. In fact, “Mohammad Arshad” is one of the aliases used by Ahmed. That, along with the related name “Arshad Khan,” is the name Abbottabad neighbors will know him by in future years. (Khan 5/7/2011) Property records obtained by the Associated Press show that “Arshad” buys two more plots of land in November 2004. The seller will later say that he does not meet Arshad in person, but deals with him through a middle man. A doctor sells another plot of land to “Arshad” in 2005. This doctor will later say that he does meet “Arshad” in person during the transaction. The plots are combined so a walled compound can be built that is much larger than other homes in the neighborhood. The doctor will occasionally see “Arshad” after that, and at one point the doctor will be cryptically told by him that the land he sold is now very valuable. (Toosi 5/4/2011) Locals will later say that construction on the compound begins in 2005. By late 2005 or the start of 2006, the construction is done and bin Laden will move into the compound with some of his family (see Late 2005-Early 2006). The courier Ahmed (who uses the named “Arshad”), his brother, and their families will live there too. (Gall 5/3/2011; Toosi 5/4/2011) In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is caught at the Iraq-Iran border. Details are sketchy, both about the arrest and Ghul himself, who has never been publicly mentioned before. Several days later, President Bush will say: “[L]ast week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. [He] reported directly to [9/11 mastermind] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.… He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” (Milbank 1/27/2004) Ghul had been living in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government refused to arrest him, apparently because he was linked to a Pakistani military group supported by Pakistani intelligence (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Pakistan is reportedly furious when it is told he has been arrested in Iraq. (Associated Press 6/15/2011) US officials point to his arrest as proof that al-Qaeda is heavily involved in the resistance in Iraq. One official says that Ghul was “definitely in Iraq to promote an al-Qaeda, Islamic extremist agenda.” (Fox News 1/24/2004) The 9/11 Commission will later claim: “Hassan Ghul was an important al-Qaeda travel facilitator who worked with [al-Qaeda leader] Abu Zubaida assisting Arab fighters traveling to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ghul and Zubaida opened a safe house under the cover of an import/export business in Islamabad [Pakistan]. In addition, at Zubaida’s request, Ghul also successfully raised money in Saudi Arabia.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 64 pdf file) But despite acknowledgment from Bush that Ghul is in US custody, Ghul subsequently completely disappears, becoming a “ghost detainee.” Apparently, he will provide vital intelligence during US interrogation (see Shortly After January 23, 2004). The US will eventually transfer Ghul to Pakistani custody (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan will release him, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).

Pentagon adviser Richard N. Perle speaks at a charity event whose stated purpose is to express “solidarity with Iran” and raise money for Iran earthquake victims. During the event, statements are made in support of “regime change in Iran.” The event is attended by FBI agents because of suspicions that the event has connections to the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group that is included on the state department’s list terrorist organizations. The US Treasury Department will freeze the assets of the event’s prime organizer, the Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia, two days later (see January 26, 2004). Perle tells the Washington Post that he was unaware of possible connections to MEK. (Kessler 1/29/2004)

Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil.Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. [Source: Public domain]The Los Angeles Times reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is living and operating openly in Pakistan. He lives with his family in the city of Rawalpindi and urges his followers to fight the US. Khalil was a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa [religious edict] that encouraged attacks on Americans and Jews anywhere in the world (see February 22, 1998). In late 1998, Khalil said, “We will hit back at [the Americans] everywhere in the world, wherever we find them. We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.” The Pakistani government banned HUM in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002), but the group simply changed its name to Jamiat ul-Ansar and continued to operate. Then it was banned again in November 2003 (see November 2003). The Times reports that HUM is openly defying the most recent ban. HUM publishes a monthly magazine that urges volunteers to fight the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent issue published since the most recent ban, Khalil calls on followers to “sacrifice our life, property and heart” in order to help create one Muslim nation that will control the whole world. The magazine continues to appear on newsstands in Pakistan and gives announcements for upcoming HUM meetings and events, despite the group supposedly being banned.
Government Takes No Action - The Pakistani government claims not to know where Khalil is, even though his magazine publishes his contact information (Times reporters attempting to find him for an interview were detained and roughed up by his supporters.) Government officials also claim that Khalil and HUM are doing nothing illegal, even though HUM’s magazine makes clear fund-raising appeals in each issue, and Pakistani law clearly specifies that banned groups are not allowed to fund-raise. Officials also say that they don’t know where the leaders of other banned militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are, but these leaders make frequent public appearances and documents obtain by the Times show the ISI intelligence agency is closely monitoring them. Militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar has not been arrested even though his group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, was recently implicated in the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003). (Watson and Zaidi 1/25/2004)
Link to California Suspect - In 2005, a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Umer Hayat will be arrested in California on terrorism charges. He will allegedly confess to having toured training camps in Pakistan run by Khalil, who is a family friend. He will only serve a short time for making false statements to the FBI, but his son Hamid Hayat will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on similar charges (see June 3, 2005). (Tempest, Krikorian, and Romney 6/9/2005)

The lurid tale of Iraq’s readiness to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, a claim used to great effect by both British and American officials to justify the war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and December 7, 2003), is shown to be false (see October 13, 2004)). Both the source, supposed Iraqi military official Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, and Iraqi government official Iyad Allawi, who turned over al-Dabbagh’s raw intelligence to US and British agents, now say they bear no responsibility for the claims. Nick Theros, Allawi’s Washington representative, says the information was raw intelligence from a single source: “We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it.” Middle East expert Juan Cole says that Allawi and al-Dabbagh “passed to British intelligence and to Con Coughlin at the Telegraph a series of patently false reports that bolstered the case for war against Iraq but which were wholly unfounded. (Coughlin is either gullible or disingenuous.)” (Hosenball 1/12/2004; Juan Cole 1/27/2004; Leigh and Norton-Taylor 1/27/2004) Theros now says al-Dabbagh’s information was a “crock of sh_t,” and adds, “Clearly we have not found WMD.” (Hosenball 1/12/2004; Leigh and Norton-Taylor 1/27/2004)

David Kay tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq Survey Group has failed to find any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong,” he says in his opening remarks, before revealing that the inspection teams found no weapons of mass destruction. “I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” he says. (CNN 1/28/2003; Jeffery 1/29/2003; US Congress 1/28/2004 pdf file)
Hussein Deceived Own Generals - Kay says that apparently even Iraq’s own military commanders believed, falsely, that their military possessed chemical or biological weapons that were ready to be deployed. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asks Kay: “I believe at one point you noted that even [Saddam Hussein’s] own military officers believed that they had [WMD]. In other words, they would think—” Kay interjects, ”—that someone else had them.” Sessions asks for an explanation, and Kay says: “Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn’t personally have them and hadn’t seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of, ‘No, I didn’t have them, I haven’t seen them, but look to my right and left.’ That was an intentional ambiguity.” (CNN 1/28/2003; Jeffery 1/29/2003; US Congress 1/28/2004 pdf file; Wilson 2007, pp. 154-155)
Trying to Have It Both Ways - In 2007, current CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After) will write, “In retrospect, it appears that Saddam Hussein wanted it both ways: to convince certain audiences that Iraq had WMD, while simultaneously working to convince others that it had abandoned all its illegal programs.” In May 2006, Foreign Affairs magazine will note that Iraq’s former Defense Minister, Ali Hassan Majeed (also known as “Chemical Ali”), knew Iraq possessed no WMDs before the US invasion, but also knew that many of his colleagues “never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelon of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth.” The Foreign Affairs article notes that during a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council some time before the invasion, Hussein was asked if Iraq indeed possessed such weapons. He said Iraq did not, but refused to countenance any attempt to persuade others outside of the council of the truth. The reason for this deception, Hussein said, was that if Israel believed Iraq had such weapons, it would be less likely to attack Iraq. (Wilson 2007, pp. 154-155) Kay has just resigned as the head of the Iraq Survey Group (see January 23, 2004).

David Kay, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, meets with President Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card. The day before (see January 28, 2004), Kay had told Congress, “We were almost all wrong” about intelligence on Iraq’s presumed arsenal of illegal weapons. Bush wants to know what went wrong, but shows no anger. “The president accepted it,” Kay later recalls. “There was no sign of disappointment from Bush. He was at peace with his decision to go to war. I don’t think he ever lost ten minutes of sleep over the failure to find WMDs.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 349)

Other 9/11 Commission reports are heavily based on detainee interrogations. The red underlines are endnotes based on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida in the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph.Other 9/11 Commission reports are heavily based on detainee interrogations. The red underlines are endnotes based on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida in the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia] (click image to enlarge)Following unsuccessful attempts by the 9/11 Commission to get direct access to high-value detainees on which some sections of its report will be based (see Summer 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the Commission decides to add a disclaimer to its report at the beginning of Chapter 5, the first of two that describe the development of the 9/11 plot. The disclaimer, entitled “Detainee Interrogation Reports,” reads: “Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al-Qaeda members. A number of these ‘detainees’ have firsthand knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses—sworn enemies of the United States—is challenging. Our access to them has been limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications received from the locations where the actual interrogations take place. We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process. We have nonetheless decided to include information from captured 9/11 conspirators and al-Qaeda members in our report. We have evaluated their statements carefully and have attempted to corroborate them with documents and statements of others. In this report, we indicate where such statements provide the foundation for our narrative. We have been authorized to identify by name only ten detainees whose custody has been confirmed officially by the US government.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 146) Most of the endnotes to the report indicate the sources of information contained in the main body of the text. Of the 132 endnotes for Chapter 5, 83 of them cite detainee interrogations as a source of information contained in the report. Of the 192 endnotes for Chapter 7, 89 cite interrogations. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 488-499, 513-533) The interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is mentioned as a source 211 times. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) He was repeatedly waterboarded and tortured (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and it will later be reported that up to 90 percent of the information obtained from his interrogations may be unreliable (see August 6, 2007). Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission sometimes seems to prefer KSM’s testimony over other sources. For instance, in 2003 the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry reported that the CIA learned in 1996 that KSM and bin Laden traveled together to a foreign country in 1995, suggesting close ties between them (see 1996). But the 9/11 Commission will ignore this and instead claim, based on KSM’s interrogation, that KSM and bin Laden had no contact between 1989 and late 1996. (US Congress 7/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 148-148, 489) The interrogations of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are used as a source 74 times, 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh, 68 times, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 14 times, al-Qaeda leader Hambali, 13 times, and and a generic “interrogation[s] of detainee” is used as a source 57 times. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) Most of these detainees are said to be tortured (see May 2002-2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Although the CIA videotaped some of the interrogations, it does not pass the videos to the 9/11 Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Slate magazine will later say that these detainees’ accounts are “woven into the commission’s narrative, and nowhere does the 9/11 report delve into interrogation tactics or make any recommendations about the government’s continuing or future practices. That wasn’t the commission’s mandate. Still, one wonders where video evidence—or the knowledge that such evidence was being withheld—might have led it.” (Bazelon and Lithwick 12/10/2007)

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” (Scheuer 2008, pp. 273) The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
bullet Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
bullet Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
bullet Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.

Former Vice President Al Gore gives a keynote address to a conference at the New School of New York City on the topic, “The Politics of Fear.” (Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences 2/2004) In his address, Gore notes the success that the Bush administration has had in preying on the fears of the American public. “Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree,” he says. “And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation—in the same speech in which he used the forged document (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—he asked the nation to ‘imagine’ how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because the nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where’s your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.’ At one point, President Bush actually said, ‘You can’t distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’ (see September 25, 2002). He actually said that.” Gore says that for a time even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but Bush had abused the trust he and the American people had in him. In 2006, author and former White House counsel John Dean will write in conjunction with Gore’s address: “In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans’ using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble.” (Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences 2/2004; Dean 2006, pp. 178-179)

The 9/11 Commission has a private meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The meeting is held in the White House’s Situation Room, the location apparently chosen by Rice in an attempt to impress the commissioners.
Questioning Is 'Polite but Pointed' - The White House has insisted that the encounter be described as a “meeting” rather than an “interview,” because that would sound too formal and prosecutorial. In addition, there is to be no recording of the interview and Rice is not placed under oath. The time limit on the interview is two hours, but it actually lasts four. Rice’s close associate Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, attends, but is not allowed to say anything because he has been recused from this part of the investigation. The questioning is led by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, and will be described as “polite but pointed” by author Philip Shenon.
Commissioners Privately Critical of Rice - The commissioners are aware of allegations that Rice performed poorly in the run-up to 9/11 (see Before December 18, 2003), but are unwilling to aggressively attack an accomplished black woman. However, they think the allegations are well-founded. Commission Chairman Tom Kean will say, “obviously Rice bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for not understanding how serious this threat [of terrorist attacks] was.” Commissioner John Lehman will say that he has “no doubt” former National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger would have paid more attention to the warnings of a forthcoming attack. Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say that the administration’s failure to act on the urgent warnings was “spectacularly wrong.” Commissioner Jamie Gorelick will comment that Rice “assumed away the hardest part of her job,” and that she should have focused on keeping the president up to date on events, rather than trying to put his intentions into action. Commissioner Bob Kerrey will agree with this and will later recall one of Rice’s comments at this meeting, “I took the president’s thoughts and I helped the president describe what he was thinking.” According to Kerrey, this shows how Rice performed her job incorrectly. She should have been advising the president on what to do, not packaging his thoughts. (Shenon 2008, pp. 230-239)

President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. (CNN 2/9/2004)
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” (NBC News 2/8/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 202-203)
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” (NBC News 2/8/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 202-203)
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” (Knowlton 2/8/2004; NBC News 2/8/2004; CNN 2/9/2004)
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” (Knowlton 2/8/2004; NBC News 2/8/2004; CNN 2/9/2004)
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” (NBC News 2/8/2004; CNN 2/9/2004)

Two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, falsely claim they have no memory of the blocking of a key cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in an interview with the Justice Department’s office of inspector general. Miller drafted the cable, which was to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa, while he and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. However, it was blocked by the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer known only as “Michael” (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Miller and Rossini remember the events, but falsely tell the Justice Department inspector general they cannot recall them.
Pressure Not to Disclose Information - Sources close to the inspector general’s probe will say, “There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened.” Rossini, in particular, is said to feel threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he said what really happened inside Alec Station. They are questioned at the same time, and together with a CIA officer who will be described as “sympathetic,” although it is unclear why. CIA officials are also in the room during the questioning, although it is unclear why this is allowed. When they are shown contemporary documents, according to the Congressional Quarterly, “the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al-Qaeda agents in the US prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The inspector general investigators are suspicious. (Stein 10/1/2008)
'They Asserted that They Recalled Nothing' - Nevertheless, neither Rossini nor Miller are severely criticized by the inspector general’s final report. It simply notes: “When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the [cable] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it. [Miller] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall being aware of the information about Almihdhar, did not recall drafting the [cable], did not recall whether he drafted the [cable] on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the [cable]. [Rossini] said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Eric [a senior FBI agent on loan to Alec Station] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall the [cable].” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 241, 355-357 pdf file)
Later Admit What Really Happened - At some point, Miller and Rossini tell an internal FBI investigation what really happened, including Wilshire’s order to withhold the information from the FBI. However, very little is known about this probe (see After September 11, 2001). (Stein 10/1/2008) Rossini will be interviewed for a 2006 book by Lawrence Wright and will recall some of the circumstances of the blocking of the cable, including that a CIA officer told Miller, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” (Wright 2006, pp. 311, 423) Both Miller and Rossini will later talk to author James Bamford about the incident for a 2008 book. (Stein 10/1/2008) The exact date of this interview of Miller and Rossini is unknown. However, an endnote to the 9/11 Commission Report will say that Miller is interviewed by the inspector general on February 12, 2004, so it may occur on this day. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502)

Paul Butler, chief of staff for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, claims in a briefing that the prisoners being held in Guantanamo are “very dangerous people” who include “senior al-Qaeda operatives and leaders and Taliban leaders.” However, the New York Times will later report that “several senior officials with detailed knowledge of the Guantanamo detainees described Mr. Butler’s portrait of the camp as a work of verbal embroidery, saying none of the detainees at the camp could possibly be called a leader or senior operative of al-Qaeda.” (Golden and van Natal 6/21/2004) Probably the closest to an al-Qaeda leader being held is one of bin Laden’s former bodyguards who nonetheless will be released later in 2004 (see Late November 2001). There were media reports as far back as August 2002 that no al-Qaeda leaders were being held at Guantanamo (see August 18, 2002). Some al-Qaeda leaders will be sent into the prison from secret CIA prisons in September 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006).

The CIA sends a memo to top Bush administration officials informing them that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative being held in custody by the CIA, recanted his claim in January that Iraq provided training in poisons and gases to members of al-Qaeda (see September 2002). (Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Pincus 11/6/2005) The claim had been used in speeches by both President George Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003).

Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), tells the London Telegraph during an interview in Baghdad that he has no regrets that the intelligence he fed to the US turned out to be wrong. Though his group has been accused of intentionally providing misleading information to US intelligence through the Pentagon offices under Douglas Feith, he believes its members should be regarded as “heroes in error.” “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful,” he contends. “That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants.” One of the most significant claims Secretary of State Colin Powell had made to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, had been supplied by a source supplied by the INC. In that case, a defected Iraqi major had claimed that Iraq possessed mobile biological weapons labs. (Fairweather and Guardia 2/19/2004)

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) tells US interrogators that Abdul Hakim Murad, along with KSM a key conspirator in the Bojinka plot, only had a small role in the operation, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will cite four intelligence reports, drafted on February 19 (two), February 24, and April 2, 2004, as the source of this claim. According to KSM, Murad’s only role in the plot was to courier $3,000 from Dubai to Manila. However, other evidence indicates Murad was much more significantly involved in the plot (see Before January 6, 1995 and January 6, 1995). The Commission will comment, “This aspect of KSM’s account is not credible, as it conflicts not just with Murad’s own confession [note: this may be unreliable as Murad was tortured (see After January 6, 1995)] but also with physical evidence tying Murad to the very core of the plot, and with KSM’s own statements elsewhere that Murad was involved in planning and executing the operation.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 489)

Antonio M. Taguba.Antonio M. Taguba. [Source: US Army]Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba files a 53-page classified report which finds that between October and December of 2003, members of the 372nd Military Police Company and US intelligence community engaged in numerous incidents of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” against prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. As evidence, he cites “detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” The photographs—which are later leaked to the press (see Mid-April 2004), causing an enormous international public outcry—are not included in the report. (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004; Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) Taguba also takes issue with the November 5 (see November 5, 2003) Ryder report which concluded that the military police units had not intentionally used inappropriate confinement practices. “Contrary to the findings of MG [Maj. Gen.] Ryder’s report, I find that personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to ‘set the conditions’ for MI interrogations.” Army intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors “actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004; Hersh 5/10/2004) He presents his report to his commander on March 3 (see March 3, 2004).

The FBI orders an internal review of its files to determine whether documents related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case were improperly withheld from investigators or defense lawyers. Bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, already convicted on federal charges related to the case and serving a life sentence (see June 4, 1998), faces 161 counts of first-degree murder in an upcoming trial in McAlester, Oklahoma (see May 13, 2003). Recent press reports have raised new questions as to whether Nichols’s co-conspirator, bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), had more accomplices than just Nichols. An Associated Press report says that documents not introduced at McVeigh’s trial (see June 2, 1997) indicated that FBI agents had destroyed evidence and failed to share other information that indicated McVeigh was part of a larger group of white supremacists who may have helped him carry out the bombing (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). McVeigh had murky ties with a group called the Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and perhaps took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Moreover, ARA members possessed explosive blasting caps similar to those McVeigh used in the bomb; additionally, a driver’s license in the name of an alias used by Roger Moore, a man robbed by Nichols as part of an attempt to finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994), was later found in the possession of ARA member Richard Guthrie. Law enforcement officials continue to insist that no evidence exists of any larger conspiracy involving anyone other than Nichols and McVeigh, and the FBI’s internal review is motivated by nothing more than “an abundance of caution.” A government official says: “If there’s information out there, that needs to be looked at. This will be a document review to ascertain whether there are documents that were relative to the investigation and that should have been reviewed during the investigation or the prosecution.” If additional records are identified, the Justice Department will determine whether records were improperly withheld from defense lawyers in the case, the official says. The FBI had to conduct a similar document review just days before McVeigh’s 2001 execution after the Justice Department disclosed that the bureau had not turned over thousands of pages of interview reports and other material to McVeigh’s lawyers (see May 10-11, 2001). (Lichtblau 2/27/2004; Blumenthal 3/16/2004) Also, former television reporter Jayna Davis says she has unearthed ties between McVeigh, Nichols, and Iraqi soldiers operating undercover in the US; Davis has said the FBI refused to act on her information, and has accused the agency of a cover-up (see March 20, 2001). Retired FBI agent David Cid, who worked on the original case, calls Davis’s allegations absurd. “What possible motive would we have to conceal a Middle Eastern link?” he asks. “That was our immediate first assumption anyway” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). The presiding judge in the case, District Court Judge Steven Taylor, will conduct a hearing after the FBI’s announcement, but Nichols’s trial will not be delayed. (Blumenthal 2/29/2004)

A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. (Levin 4/21/2009)

Lawyers meet with accused al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000 and May 8, 2002) for the first time. (Associated Press 6/2004)

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies under oath before the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see December 30, 2003 and January 2004). According to the indictment that will later be issued against Libby (see October 28, 2005), he commits perjury during his testimony. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file; MSNBC 2/21/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Libby is questioned by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is aided by deputy special counsels Ron Roos, Peter Zeidenberg, and Kathleen Kedian. At the beginning of the questioning, Fitzgerald ensures that Libby understands the circumstances that constitute perjury.
Denies Being Source for Columnist - Fitzgerald asks Libby about his involvement as a source for columnist Robert Novak, who revealed Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status in a column (see July 14, 2003). Libby denies being a source for Novak.
Admits Learning about Plame Wilson's CIA Status from Cheney - He admits that Cheney told him that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer: while discussing Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), Libby says of Cheney: “And in the course of describing this he also said to me in sort of an off-hand manner, as a curiosity, that his wife worked at the CIA, the person who—whoever this person was. There were no names at that stage so I didn’t know Ambassador Wilson’s name at that point, or the wife’s name.” Libby also admits that he knew Plame Wilson worked at the “functional office” of the CIA that handled the Iraq WMD issue.
Libby 'Forgot' He Already Knew about Plame Wilson - Later in the interview, Fitzgerald asks again if it is “fair to say that [Cheney] had told you back in June, June 12 or before… that his wife worked in the functional office of counterproliferation of the CIA (see (June 12, 2003)). Correct?” Libby answers, “Yes, sir.” Fitzgerald then asks: “So when you say, that after we learned that his wife worked at the agency, that became a question. Isn’t it fair to say that you already knew it from June 12 or earlier?” Libby then answers: “I believe by, by this week I no longer remembered that. I had forgotten it. And I believe that because when it was told to me on July 10, a few days after this article, it seemed to me as if I was learning it for the first time. When I heard it, I did not think I knew it when I heard.” Libby is referring to his claim that he originally learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003), a claim that Russert will strongly deny (see February 7-8, 2007). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file)
Claims Not to Have Discussed Plame Wilson until after Novak's Column Published - Fitzgerald asks Libby if he recalls the question of whether the possibility that Plame Wilson sent her “husband on a junket” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After), and whether he discussed it with Cheney. Libby replies: “I don’t recall the conversation until after the Novak piece. I don’t recall it during the week of July 6. I recall it after the Novak… after the Novak article appeared.” Fitzgerald, obviously unconvinced by Libby’s claim, asks, “And are you telling us under oath that from July 6 to July 14 you never discussed with Vice President Cheney whether Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA?” Libby responds: “No, no, I’m not saying that. On July 10 or 11 I learned, I thought anew, that the wife—that the reporters were telling us that the wife worked at the CIA. And I may have had a conversation with the vice president either late on the 11th or on the 12th in which I relayed that reporters were saying that.” Libby is lying by claiming he never discussed Plame Wilson with Cheney or other White House officials between July 6 and July 14 (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file; Waas 1/12/2007)
Denies Learning of State Department Memo until Late September 2003 - Libby also denies learning of the State Department’s interest in the Wilson trip and in Wilson’s wife until after the investigation into Plame Wilson’s identity became public on September 28, 2003, “a couple days after that,” he says. “I don’t have any recollection of an INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the State Department’s intelligence bureau] document prior to that date.” Libby is lying; he learned about the State Department’s inquiry into the Wilson trip, and Plame Wilson’s CIA status, much earlier (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). He also denies asking the State Department’s Marc Grossman for information on Wilson’s Niger trip, which is most likely another lie (see May 29, 2003). And he claims not to remember if he learned from Grossman that Plame Wilson was a CIA official.
Denies Talking to CIA Official - Libby also claims not to remember discussing Plame Wilson with Robert Grenier, the CIA’s Iraq mission manager. “I don’t think I discussed Wilson’s wife’s employment with, with Mr. Grenier,” he testifies. “I think if I discussed something it was what they knew about the request about Mr., about Mr. Wilson. I don’t recall the content of the discussion.” Asked “if there was an urgency to the conversation” with Grenier, Libby replies, “I recall that I was reaching Mr. Grenier—I was trying to reach Mr. McLaughlin [John McLaughlin, then the CIA’s deputy director, who spoke to Cheney the day before about Plame Wilson—see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003) and couldn’t, and spoke instead to Mr. Grenier. And so if I did that instead of just waiting for Mr. McLaughlin, it was probably something that was urgent in the sense that my boss, the vice president, wanted, wanted to find something out. Not, not necessarily in the real world, but he wanted an answer and usually we try and get him the answer when we can.” Libby did indeed meet with Grenier, and quizzed him about Plame Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Denies Leaking Name to Post Reporter - Libby claims not to be sure if he was a source for a June 2003 article by Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus (see June 12, 2003), but says he is sure he did not divulge Plame Wilson’s identity to him. “I have no recollection of having discussed it with Mr. Pincus and I don’t think I did,” Libby testifies. He acknowledges that his own notes, entered into evidence by Fitzgerald, show that he discussed the Pincus article with Cheney before it was published. Libby also denies revealing Plame Wilson’s identity to two New York Times reporters, David Sanger and James Risen.
Challenges Wilson's Characterization of Iraq-Niger Claims - Using language similar to that he and other members of Cheney’s staff have used in press conferences and to individual reporters, Libby says that Joseph Wilson’s questioning of the Iraq-Niger claims were ill-informed, and that Wilson was wrong to speculate that Cheney had deliberately ignored the evidence that those claims were false to insist that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program and therefore constituted a danger to the US (see March 24, 2002, August 2002, March 16, 2003, and July 6-10, 2003). Libby says of Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), “It’s a, it’s a bad article.” He admits to being angry over the article, then changes it to being “concerned because it didn’t seem to me an accurate portrayal of the facts.… Upset’s a fair word, I guess.” He admits to discussing the Wilson op-ed with Cheney shortly after its publication, though he is unsure of the exact date of that discussion (see July 6-10, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby acknowledges that notations on a copy of the Wilson op-ed are in Cheney’s handwriting (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file)

A federal court denies the appeal of suspected al-Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri , who is challenging his classification as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003) and wants his case heard in Illinois, where he attended college. The court rules that al-Marri’s case belongs in South Carolina, where he is being held in strict isolation in the Charleston naval brig. Mark Berman, an attorney for al-Marri, says the ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. (The Court will decline to review the decision (see October 4, 2004).) Al-Marri’s lawyers say that wherever the case is heard, they will seek a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to justify its detention of their client. Government lawyers say they have evidence that al-Marri was in the US helping al-Qaeda plan terrorist attacks, but have refused to provide that evidence. (Associated Press 3/10/2004)

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba submits the final version of his report (see February 26, 2004) on the investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib by MPs. He concludes that military intelligence personnel played a part in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But due to the fact that his investigation was limited to the conduct of MPs (see January 19, 2004), he did not investigate military intelligence conduct. Another investigation (see August 25, 2004), however, is launched that will examine military intelligence’s role in the abuses. It will be conducted by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence. But the scope of this investigation is also limited from the outset, for two reasons. First, as a two-star general, he cannot hold any officer of his own rank or higher accountable. Second, Fay is appointed by Lt. Col. Ricardo S. Sanchez and therfore the scope of investigation is limited to the people under Sanchez’s command. (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004) Additionally, Fay may be less inclined to report negatively on military intelligence personnel, since his superior, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Army Intelligence, has already stated that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was committed by “a group of undisciplined military police” who were acting on their own, and not upon instructions from military intelligence officers. (Weissman 5/14/2004)

Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. (Shapiro 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007)
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007) “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” (Shapiro 5/15/2007) Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007) “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. (PBS 5/16/2007) Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. (US Department of Justice 8/14/2007)
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. (Eggen 6/7/2007) Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, (Roh 7/7/2007; Roh 8/16/2007) though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” (New York Times 7/29/2007) Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” (Thomas and Klaidman 1/9/2006; Shapiro 5/15/2007; Nizza 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007) Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” (Calabresi 5/17/2007)
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” (Kellman 6/7/2007) Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. (Calabresi 5/17/2007)

Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain.Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). (Wright 7/26/2004; Associated Press 3/9/2006) However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. (Giles 4/10/2004; Wright 7/26/2004) There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” (Moniz and Komarow 3/28/2004) It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. (Wolk 3/19/2004; O'Reilly 4/22/2005)

President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. (Savage 2007, pp. 188)

It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. (Risen and Lichtblau 12/16/2005; Meyer 12/21/2005; US President 12/26/2005 pdf file) The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” (Wright 2006, pp. 343-344) In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. (CNN 5/19/2006) However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. (Bamford 2002, pp. 482; Kaplan and Whitelaw 3/15/2004) But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” (Myers 7/21/2004) It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” (Meyer 12/21/2005) The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).

Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson.Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson. [Source: Corbis / TruTV]Michael E. Tigar, the former lead attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see June 4, 1998) who now faces a state trial on 161 counts of first-degree murder (see March 1, 2004), joins Nichols’s current defense team in speculating that the bombing may have been carried out by a larger group of white supremacists, of which Nichols was only a minor member and perhaps little more than a scapegoat. While prosecutors say they have “an avalanche of evidence” showing Nichols’s heavy involvement, defense lawyers led by Brian T. Hermanson say that Nichols and his cohort, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), were part of the purported larger conspiracy. McVeigh, Hermanson argues, “conspired with others whose identities are still unknown” and “orchestrated various events and evidence so as to make it appear that Mr. Nichols was involved and, thereby, direct attention away from others.” Some evidence exists of McVeigh’s involvement with the violent white supremacist group Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and it is possible that McVeigh took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Tigar says, “Is it too bad they killed Tim?” referring to McVeigh’s execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001). “If they really wanted to find out what happened, maybe some of the revelations, now that the cover is blown, maybe he would have talked. Who knows?” Tigar seems to be implying that the government executed McVeigh to ensure his silence, a conclusion prosecutors dispute. Prosecutors say they have given the defense all exculpatory evidence, and that they can indisputably prove Nichols’s guilt. Assistant Oklahoma County District Attorney Sandra H. Elliott says, “Whether or not anybody else is involved, we can prove Mr. Nichols is.” Mark S. Hamm, a criminology professor who has written about the ARA, says: “The preponderance of evidence points to the fact that McVeigh had some sort of ongoing relationship with members of the ARA. [But t]here’s no smoking gun here.” Stephen Jones, who represented McVeigh during his trial (see May 8, 1995), says: “Where the Nichols defense clearly wants to go is to try for an acquittal or hung jury using material the government withheld.” If successful, the Nichols lawyers will try to get Nichols’s federal conviction (see December 23, 1997) reversed. However, “it has to succeed in [these proceedings] first.” (Blumenthal 3/16/2004)

Tahir Yuldashev.Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. (Rashid 2008, pp. 270-271)
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. (CNN 3/18/2004; FOX News 3/18/2004) On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. (Interactive Investor 3/19/2004) In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). (PBS Frontline 10/3/2006; Rashid 2008, pp. 270-271)

Philip Zelikow.Philip Zelikow. [Source: Miller Center]The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. (Shenon 3/20/2004; Waterman 3/23/2004) 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” (NBC 4/4/2004) Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 263) However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. (Conason 4/6/2004)

A media firestorm follows the previous day’s appearance by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke on CBS’s 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004). In that interview and in his upcoming book, Against All Enemies, Clarke is frank about the administration’s stubborn insistence on tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and using those attacks to justify a war it had already begun planning (see Between March 2001 and May 2001). Clarke also gives incendiary information about the repeated warnings Bush and other officials had received about the imminent attacks, warnings which were roundly ignored (see Between August 6 and September 11, 2001 and September 4, 2001). White House communications director Dan Bartlett calls Clarke’s charges “baseless,” and “politically motivated,” without giving any evidence of any such political loyalties or motivations Clarke may have. Clarke refuses to retreat, and reiterates his claims on today’s morning talk shows (see March 22, 2004); the White House sends National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice onto the same shows to refute Clarke. (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)

One of the slides in President Bush’s presentation during the evening’s entertainment.One of the slides in President Bush’s presentation during the evening’s entertainment. [Source: Nicholas Roberts / Getty Images]President Bush, the guest of honor at the annual Radio and Television News Correspondents Association black-tie dinner, shows a slide show for his portion of the evening’s entertainment. As is the tradition of the dinner, powerful lawmakers and media figures poke fun at themselves and the issues of the day, usually with little political fallout. But many are offended by Bush’s humor in the slide show. One picture shows Bush looking under a piece of furniture in the Oval Office, with his accompanying remark, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.” A second slide shows him looking in the corner of a room, and the voiceover says, “No, no weapons over there.” A third picture has him leaning over and saying, “Maybe under here?” While most participants at the dinner laugh appreciatively, many others are offended, seeing Bush as making light of the rationale for a war that has led to the death of almost 600 American soldiers by this time. (BBC 3/26/2004; Associated Press 3/26/2004) Bush’s humor draws an onslaught of criticism from Democrats, soldiers, and the families of US soldiers slain in Iraq (see March 25, 2004 and March 25, 2004).

The White House discloses to Fox News that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke was the anonymous official who gave a background briefing to reporters in August 2002 praising the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002). This move, which violates a longstanding confidentiality policy, is made hours before Clarke is to testify to the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004). Clarke recently went public with criticism of the administration (see March 21, 2004) and is being attacked by it (see March 22, 2004 and Shortly After). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “In agreeing to allow Fox News to reveal that Clarke had given the 2002 briefing, the White House was attempting to paint him as a liar—a one-time Bush defender who had become a Bush critic in order to sell a book.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says to the media: “There are two very different stories here. These stories can’t be reconciled.” (Fox News 3/24/2004; Milbank 3/25/2004; Allen 3/26/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 280-281)
Opposing Spin? - Shenon will add that in the briefing Clarke was “spin[ning] the facts” in order to try to knock down an article unfavorable to the administration published by Time magazine, although “the spin took him perilously close to dishonesty, albeit the sort of dishonesty practiced every day in official Washington.” Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director and a long-term opponent of Clarke (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003), is delighted by the story and tells a Commission staffer that it might be enough to end the Clarke “circus,” adding, “Does it get any better than this?” (Shenon 2008, pp. 280-281) Later trying a similar line of attack, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist will ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002, and also ask if Clarke is attempting to promote his book. According to media critic Frank Rich, Frist’s credibility is undermined by his use of his Senate status to promote his own book, a virtually worthless primer entitled When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate’s Only Doctor. Frist’s accusation that Clarke revealed classified information in his book falls flat when Clarke notes that the White House vetted his book for possible security transgressions before publication. (Babington and Pincus 3/27/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)
No Evidence of Contradiction - A review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. (Pincus and Milbank 4/4/2004)

Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: CBC]Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Due to publicity generated by the publication of his book and a controversial appearance on 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004), it is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, a “true Washington spectacle” and “one of those moments in the capital when anyone of importance in the city [is] in front of a television set.” Shenon will add, “It was being compared by reporters to the sort of drama that John Dean’s testimony provided in Watergate or Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s testimony offered in the Iran-Contra affair.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 281-282)
Clarke Offers Apology - Clarke’s opening statement consists of little more than an apology to the relatives of the 9/11 victims. He says: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask… for your understanding and forgiveness.” This leads to a moment of silence, then gasps and sobs. Shenon will point out, “It was the first apology that the 9/11 families had heard from anybody of importance in the Bush administration,” adding that it “was the moment of catharsis that many of the wives and husbands and children of the victims had been waiting for.”
Praises Clinton, Criticizes Bush - Under questioning, Clarke praises the Clinton administration, saying, “My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al-Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration—certainly no higher priority.” But he is very critical of the Bush administration, stating, “By invading Iraq… the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.” He says that under Bush before 9/11, terrorism was “an important issue, but not an urgent issue.… [CIA Director] George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al-Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. But although I continue to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way.” He points out that he made proposals to fight al-Qaeda in late January 2001. While the gist of them was implemented after 9/11, he complains, “I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February [2001].” He says that with a more robust intelligence and covert action program, “we might have been able to nip [the plot] in the bud.”
Republican Commissioners Ask Tough Questions - However, Clarke faces tough questioning from some of the Republican commissioners. Jim Thompson, who had been in contact with the White House before the hearing (see Morning, March 24, 2004), challenges Clarke over a briefing he gave in 2002 (see August 22, 2002 and March 24, 2004), which, according to Thompson, contradicts what Clarke is saying now. In addition, fellow Republican John Lehman confronts Clarke over what he sees as discrepancies between Clarke’s book and his private interviews with the Commission. Clarke replies that the differences arose because the Commission did not ask him about all the issues he covered in his book, such as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He adds that he will not accept any position in any administration formed by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Clarke Approved Saudi Flights - Clarke also clears up a mystery about the departure of Saudi Arabian nationals after the attacks, which has caused some controversy (see September 14-19, 2001), saying that he was the White House official that approved them. He did this after clearing it with the FBI, although he does not know “what degree of review the FBI did over those names.” (Branigin, Barbash, and Pincus 3/24/2004; Bumiller and Miller 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 282-289)
Testimony 'Arresting' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later call Clarke’s testimony “arresting.” Rich will write that Clarke’s forceful, confident demeanor—“sonorous voice, secret-agent aura, and vaguely intimidating body language”—serves to brush back antagonistic Republicans such as Lehman and Thompson. Rich will write that the juxtaposition of Clarke’s damning testimony with President Bush’s bizarre comedy routine that same evening (pretending to hunt for Iraqi WMD under the Oval Office furniture—see March 24, 2004) is jarring. (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)

At a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, President Bush refers to the 9/11 attacks, saying, “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people.” He also suggests that his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, was more to blame for the attacks than he was, as the 9/11 Commission is looking at “eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration.” This speech comes one day after his former counterterrorism “tsar,” Richard Clarke, had given damaging high-profile testimony to the Commission (see March 24, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will comment that Bush “was apparently hoping that his audience would forget that the August 6 [Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001)] had warned specifically that planes might be hijacked by al-Qaeda within the United States.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 289)

The Sunday Times publishes details of interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is being held by the CIA. The article, written by Christina Lamb, indicates the information is from “transcripts” of his interrogations. It also quotes KSM as making various statements, such as “The original plan [for 9/11] was for a two-pronged attack with five targets on the East Coast of America and five on the West Coast.” The report makes the following claims:
bullet KSM introduced Osama bin Laden to Hambali, leader of the Southeast Asian militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah, who KSM first met during the Soviet-Afghan War in Peshawar, Pakistan. KSM was “impressed” with “Hambali’s connections with the Malaysian government,” and bin Laden and Hambali forged an alliance in 1996.
bullet After 1996, KSM became a “key planner in almost every attack, including the simultaneous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.”
bullet He was the “chief planner” for 9/11 and planning started very early, before his associate Ramzi Yousef was captured (see February 7, 1995), when they hit upon the idea of using planes to attack the US. The plan for 9/11 initially had two parts, one on the US East Coast and the other on the west, but bin Laden canceled the second half. This part was then spun off into a second, separate plot, to be carried out independently, and one of the operatives to be involved was Zacarias Moussaoui. The first two operatives selected for 9/11 were Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, followed by Mohamed Atta and his associates from Hamburg.
bullet Al-Qaeda was very surprised by the US response to the 9/11 attacks. “Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run,” KSM is quoted as saying. He added that the US campaign seriously disrupted operations.
bullet Britain was the next target after 9/11, because, “Osama declared [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair our principal enemy and London a target.” However, a plot to attack Heathrow Airport never got beyond the planning stage.
bullet KSM also described Hambali’s departure from Afghanistan in November 2001, and said the two kept in touch through Hambali’s brother.
The article points out that “the interrogation transcripts are prefaced with the warning that ‘the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead,’” and also mentions some allegations made against US interrogators, including sleep deprivation, extremes of heat and cold, truth drugs, and the use of Arab interrogators so that detainees thought they were in an Arab camp. (Lamb 3/28/2004) When it becomes clear what techniques have been used to obtain information from KSM, doubts will be expressed about the reliability of his information (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). However, most of this information will appear in the relevant sections of the 9/11 Commission report, which are based on reports produced by CIA interrogators. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) Despite this, some of the information contained in the report seems to be incorrect. For example, Abu Zubaida is described as a member of al-Qaeda’s inner shura council, although it appears he was not that close to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). In addition, KSM is described as the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee, although he will later deny this (see March 10, 2007).

The Bush administration bows to growing pressure in the wake of former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see March 21, 2004) and agrees to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the Commission in public and under oath. It also agrees that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney can be interviewed in private by the whole Commission. However, according to the New York Times, “In exchange for her appearance, the [9/11 Commission] agreed not to seek testimony from other White House aides at public hearings, although it can continue to question them in private.” (Shenon and Bumiller 3/31/2004) There was some debate in the administration over whether Rice would testify or not. As she is national security adviser and there are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing, there are good grounds for Rice refusing to testify under the doctrine of executive privilege, and this argument is made in particular by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s counsel. However, Rice insists that she wants to testify. According to author Philip Shenon, she is “uncharacteristically frantic” over the issue. White House chief of staff Andy Card will say, “Condi desperately wanted to do it.” Shenon will write of the decision, which is made by President Bush: “The political pressure on the White House was too great, and Rice’s persuasive powers with the president were more than a match for Alberto Gonzales’s. Rice was as strong-willed as any member of the White house staff. Gonzales was strong-willed until the president told him otherwise.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 289-292) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The dirty little secret about the uproar over Clarke’s revelations were that many of them had been previously revealed by others, well before he published his book. But as the Bush administration knew better than anyone, perception was all, and perception began with images on television. Clarke had given the charges a human face.” The administration is sending Rice to testify publicly before the Commission, Rich will write, in part because she is the most telegenic of Bush’s top advisers, and has the best chance of “rebranding” the story with her face and testimony. (Rich 2006, pp. 119)

Attorney General John Ashcroft recertifies the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program as being within the law, three weeks after he and his deputy, James Comey, refused to certify it. The program had come under question in early 2004, when Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote to Ashcroft and Comey expressing his doubts about the program’s legality (see September 9, 2007). For those three weeks, the program operated without Justice Department approval; President Bush personally recertified it himself, though it was suspended and subjected to an internal review (see March 12-Mid-2004). Ashcroft had previously refused to recertify the program while recuperating from surgery, despite pressure from White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and other Justice Department officials had even threatened to resign en masse if Bush recertified the program without their department’s support; Bush promised to revamp the program to address Ashcroft and Comey’s objections to the program, though what those changes are remains unclear. (Savage 5/16/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007)

An attempted raid is made on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe in a 2006 memoir. Pakistani forces have arrested one of al-Libbi’s couriers, and found out from him that al-Libbi has just rented a house in Abbottabad. Pakistani forces raid the house, but al-Libbi is not there. They will later determine he was using three houses in Abbottabad and they raided the wrong one. (Musharraf 2006, pp. 210-211) Al-Libbi will be captured in Pakistan a year later (see May 2, 2005). Osama bin Laden begins living in Abbottabad around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). His trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed already lives there in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005). (Note that US forces also attempt to catch al-Libbi in Abbottabad in 2004, but it is unclear if that raid is this one or a different one (see 2004).)

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed watchlisting of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and May 15, 2001) and the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. He tells them that nobody in the US intelligence community looked at the bigger picture and no analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud [i.e. increased reporting that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent] to the ground [i.e. the cases that turned out to be connected to 9/11 such as the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Phoenix memo]. The 9/11 Commission will agree with this and write in its final report: “Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become national priorities.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 277) However, Wilshire was receiving such threat reporting. For example, he received a report that al-Qaeda was planning an Hiroshima-like attack (see Summer 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 340) Wilshire also repeatedly suggested that Khalid Almihdhar may well be involved in the next big attack by al-Qaeda (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). For example, on July 23, 2001 he wrote: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden] hardcore cadre, [al-Qaeda commander] Khallad [bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

Spc. Casey Sheehan.Spc. Casey Sheehan. [Source: Associated Press]Specialist Casey Sheehan, an Eagle Scout, church group leader, and honor student who enlisted in the Army in 2000, dies during an ambush in Sadr City, Baghdad. Sheehan had been in Iraq for only two weeks. His death will drive his mother, Cindy Sheehan, to become a noted peace activist (see August 6, 2005 and After). Specialist Sheehan and six other American soldiers die during a rescue mission in Sadr City. Sheehan and his compatriots are left to fend for themselves by their Iraqi cohorts, newly trained militiamen who flee when fighters for Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army attack their position. Sheehan’s death will become a powerful counterargument against claims by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials that “over 200,000 Iraqis… have been trained and equipped” and are “out on the front line taking the brunt of the violence.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will write that given the wildly inflated claims by Rumsfeld and others about the size and effectiveness of the Iraqi soldiers, and the increasing power wielded by al-Sadr, “[i]t is hard to see what Cindy Sheehan’s young son had died for.” (US Department of Defense 4/7/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 193-194) Mrs. Sheehan, as part of a group of bereaved family members who suffered their own losses in Iraq, will meet with President Bush soon after her son’s death, and come away dissatisfied and angry. Recalling the meeting, she will say: “We wanted [the president] to look at pictures of Casey, we wanted him to hear stories about Casey, and he wouldn’t. He changed the subject every time we tried. He wouldn’t say Casey’s name, called him, ‘your loved one.’” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005)

A 27-year-old Iraqi male dies during his interrogation by US Navy SEALs in Mosul. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later find (see October 24, 2005) that during his confinement, “he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived, and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood.” The cause of death is officially “undetermined,” though the autopsy speculates that the prisoner may have died from hypothermia and/or related conditions. Notes from his interrogators say that he “struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.” (American Civil Liberties Union 10/24/2005)

Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Larry Downing/ Reuters]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission under oath and with the threat of perjury. The Bush administration originally opposed her appearance, but relented after great public demand (see March 30, 2004). (Buncombe 4/3/2004) The testimony is a huge media event and major television networks interrupt their programming to carry it live. First, the Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reads a statement trying to establish a tone of non-confrontation and saying that the Commission’s purpose is “not to put any witness on the spot,” but “to understand and to inform.”
Rice Reads Lengthy Statement - Knowing that she has a deal to appear only once and for a limited time, Rice begins by reading a statement much longer than those read by other witnesses testifying before the Commission, a move specifically approved by Hamilton and the Commission’s chairman Tom Kean. (Shenon 2008, pp. 293, 295) In the statement she repeats her claim that “almost all of the reports [before 9/11] focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States.… The information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorists operation overseas.” Moreover, she stresses that the “kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.” But she concedes: “In fact there were some reports done in ‘98 and ‘99. I think I was—I was certainly not aware of them.” (Washington Post 4/8/2004)
Heated Questioning from Democrats - The exchanges with the Republican commissioners are polite, but Rice’s interactions with the Democrats on the Commission become heated. According to author Philip Shenon, her strategy is to “try to run out the clock—talk and talk and talk, giving them no chance to ask follow-up questions before the 10 minutes that each of the commissioners had been allotted had run out.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 295) During questioning several subjects are discussed:
bullet Why didn’t counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before September 11? Clarke says he had wished to do so, but Rice states, “Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
bullet What was the content of the briefing President Bush received on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001)? While Rice repeatedly underlines that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting,” commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Tim Roemer ask her why it cannot therefore be declassified. (Washington Post 4/8/2004) Asked what the PDB item’s still-secret title is, Rice gives it as “Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States,” leading to an audible gasp from the audience. (Shenon 2008, pp. 298) Two days later, the White House will finally publish it, and it will be shown to contain more than just historical information.
bullet Did Rice tell Bush of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the US before August 6, 2001? Rice says that she does not remember whether she “discussed it with the president.”
bullet Were warnings properly passed on? Rice points out: “The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” But commissioner Jamie Gorelick remarks: “We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings.” (Washington Post 4/8/2004)
bullet Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, she admits that she worked with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, during the Bush administration transition, and that they discussed terrorism issues.
bullet She claims that a plan Clarke presented to her to roll back al-Qaeda in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001) was not actually a plan, but merely “a set of ideas and a paper” that had not been implemented. (Shenon 2008, pp. 299-300)
Central Issues Unresolved - Rice does not apologize to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, as Clarke did weeks earlier. The Associated Press comments, “The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice’s testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did, and should have done before the September 11 terrorist attacks.” (Woodward 4/8/2004)
Testimony an 'Ambitious Feat of Jujitsu' - The Washington Post calls her testimony “an ambitious feat of jujitsu: On one hand, she made a case that ‘for more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient.’ At the same time, she argued that there was nothing in particular the Bush administration itself could have done differently that would have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001—that there was no absence of vigor in the White House’s response to al-Qaeda during its first 233 days in office. The first thesis is undeniably true; the second both contradictory and implausible.” (unknown 4/9/2004)
'Cherry-Picking' Rice's Testimony - In 2009, Lawrence Wilkerson, who is chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, will recall: “John [Bellinger, the legal adviser to the National Security Council] and I had to work on the 9/11 Commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been. They didn’t give a sh_t about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)

President Bush talks about the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) he was given on August 6, 2001, entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” He claims, “There was nothing in this report to me that said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ve got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America.‘… There was nothing in there that said, you know, ‘There is an imminent attack.’ That wasn’t what the report said. The report was kind of a history of Osama’s intentions.” (Associated Press 4/12/2004) He adds, “[T]he PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat. There was not a time and place of an attack. It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to.… I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into. But that PDB said nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America—well, we knew that.… Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack.” (US President 4/19/2004) The complete text of the PDB was released the day before Bush’s comments and in fact the PDB does very clearly discuss an imminent attack on the US. For instance, it says that FBI information “indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” And it discusses a call to a US “embassy in the UAE in May [2001] saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives” (see August 6, 2001).

Attorney General John Ashcroft before the 9/11 Commission.Attorney General John Ashcroft before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies publicly before the 9/11 Commission. Due to information leaked to the public about Ashcroft’s apparently poor performance and lack of interest in terrorism before the attacks (see Spring 2001, July 12, 2001, and September 10, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, “Everybody expect[s] it to be a difficult day for Ashcroft—maybe the day that mark[s] the end of his tenure as George Bush’s attorney general.” Executing a strategy designed in advance by the Justice Department’s leadership, instead of defending his record, Ashcroft goes on the offensive against the Commission. First, Ashcroft withholds from the Commission a copy of his written statement, although all other witnesses provide this. Then, when his testimony starts, he blames the problems dealing with terrorist threats on information-sharing regulations set up by former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, now a 9/11 commissioner. (Shenon 2008, pp. 325-327)
Ashcroft Exaggerates Effect of Gorelick Memo - He comments: “The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the ‘wall’ that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this ‘wall.’ Government buttressed this ‘wall.’ And before September 11, government was blinded by this ‘wall.’” The wall was a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors to ensure that information obtained using warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would not be thrown out from criminal cases (see July 19, 1995). Ashcroft says that the wall impeded the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui and that a “warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the ‘wall.’” (Note: two applications to search Moussaoui’s belongings were prepared. The first was not submitted because it was thought to be “shaky” (see August 21, 2001). The second warrant application was prepared as a part of an intelligence investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so it was not affected by the “wall” (see August 28, 2001)). According to Ashcroft, the wall also impeded the search for hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi because criminal investigators were not allowed to join in. However, the 9/11 Commission will find that they could legally have helped, but were prevented from doing so by FBI headquarters (see August 29, 2001). Ashcroft asserts that 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick was responsible for the wall. He cites a document he just declassified that had been written by Gorelick to deal with the two 1993 World Trade Center bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). That document becomes known as the “wall memo.” However, this memo only governed the two WTC cases; all other cases were governed by a different, but similar memo written by Attorney General Janet Reno a few months later (see July 19, 1995). (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
Commission's Response - 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that the “attorney general’s claim was overstated,” and that the two 1995 memos only codified a set of procedures that already existed (see Early 1980s). During questioning, Republican 9/11 commissioner Slade Gorton points out that Ashcroft’s deputy reaffirmed the procedures in an August 2001 memo that stated, “The 1995 procedures remain in effect today” (see August 6, 2001). (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 194-6) Ashcroft’s accusation against Gorelick produces an immediate public response. Commissioner Bob Kerrey (D-NE) will say: “Ashcroft was still speaking, and the e-mails were already coming in. The e-mails said things like, ‘You traitor, you should be ashamed of yourself for having somebody like Gorelick on the 9/11 Commission.’ I could see that this was a setup.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 329)
Falsely Claims No Clinton Program to Kill Bin Laden - Ashcroft also claims there was no program to kill Osama bin Laden before 9/11, saying, “Let me be clear: my thorough review revealed no covert action program to kill bin Laden.” However, the 9/11 Commission has already found a memorandum of notification signed by President Clinton in 1998 after the African embassy bombings that allowed CIA assets to kill bin Laden, and two commissioners, Fred Fielding and Richard Ben-Veniste, point this out to Ashcroft. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485)
Attack Brings Commission Together - Paradoxically, the effect of Ashcroft’s attack is to bring the Commission—made up of five Democrats and five Republicans—together. Shenon will comment, “The Republicans were just as angry as the Democrats over what Ashcroft had done, maybe angrier.” Commissioner Slade Gorton (R-WA) will add, “There was universal outrage on the part of all 10 people.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 332)

In a public interview with the 9/11 Commission, CIA Director George Tenet falsely claims that he had no communication with President Bush during August 2001, a period when the CIA was aware of increasing signs al-Qaeda would attack the US. Tenet actually met Bush at least twice during this period (see August 17 and 31, 2001). The claim is made in a question and answer session with Commissioner Tim Roemer, who asks Tenet about it because of its links to the mid-August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and Tenet’s knowledge of this (see August 17 and 31, 2001, August 23, 2001, and September 1-8, 2001).
"I Don't Believe I Do" - When Roemer asks Tenet “when do you see him [Bush] in August?” Tenet replies, “I don’t believe I do.” Roemer asks again and Tenet, who spent days reading documents to be ready for his discussions with the 9/11 Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), says: “He’s in Texas, and I’m either here or on leave for some of that time. So I’m not there.” When asked about whether he spoke to Bush on the phone in August, he says, “we talked to him directly through the spring and early summer almost every day,” but he himself did not speak to Bush in August.
Bombshell - Roemer thinks the admission CIA Director Tenet did not talk to the president for a month during a period of increased threat is a “bombshell,” and is aware that others on the commission believe that Tenet has repeatedly lied to them (see January 22, 2004 and July 2, 2004). However, as Tenet denies there were any such meetings or conversations and Roemer does not know otherwise yet, he cannot pursue the topic and moves on to the question.
Furious - However, Tenet’s statement is quickly discovered to be untrue, and later that day the CIA’s press office calls round Washington informing reporters that Tenet “momentarily forgot” about the two briefings. Roemer is then “furious” with Tenet. He had wanted to withhold judgment on Tenet despite the criticism from the Commission’s staff, but now decides that he can “assume the worst about Tenet’s veracity—and the worst about what had happened in August between him and the president.”
'Hotter than Hades - Roemer is especially skeptical of Tenet’s claim he does not recall that he flew to Texas in the middle of August: “It’s probably 110 degrees down there, hotter than Hades… You make one trip down there the whole month and you can’t remember what motivates you to go down there to talk to the president?” Roemer’s suspicion that Tenet and Bush talked about domestic terrorism will later be supported by a section in a 2007 book by Tenet, which says, “a few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB [entitled “Bin laden Determined to Strike in US”] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.” In the book, Tenet will recall not only flying to Texas, but also being driven around the ranch by Bush and discussing the plants and animals on it with him. (Priest 4/15/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 361-362)

A deranged Abu Ghraib detainee wanders the halls covered in human feces on December 12, 2003. MP Ivan Frederick stands behind him with a stick.A deranged Abu Ghraib detainee wanders the halls covered in human feces on December 12, 2003. MP Ivan Frederick stands behind him with a stick. [Source: Public domain]The Abu Ghraib prison photos are leaked to CBS. The network informs the Pentagon that it will broadcast a story on the prison abuses and include the photos. But the network delays broadcasting the story at the request of Gen. Richard Myers. (Hann 4/30/2004; CBS News 5/6/2004; Scheer 5/6/2004; CNS News 5/7/2004)

At a speech in Hershey, Pennsylvania, supporting the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush tells listeners that all US surveillance efforts are done with warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court: “For years, law enforcement used so-called roving wire taps to investigate organized crime. You see, what that meant is if you got a wire tap by court order—and, by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example.… See, with court approval, we have long used roving wire taps to lock up monsters—mobsters. Now [with the Patriot Act in effect] we have a chance to lock up monsters, terrorist monsters.” (White House 4/19/2004) The next day, Bush makes a similar claim during another pro-Patriot Act speech in Buffalo. He tells listeners: “[T]here are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. But a roving wiretap means—it was primarily used for drug lords. A guy, a pretty intelligence drug lord would have a phone, and in old days they could just get a tap on that phone. So guess what he’d do? He’d get him another phone, particularly with the advent of the cell phones. And so he’d start changing cell phones, which made it hard for our DEA types to listen, to run down these guys polluting our streets. And that changed, the law changed on—roving wiretaps were available for chasing down drug lords. They weren’t available for chasing down terrorists, see? And that didn’t make any sense in the post-9/11 era. If we couldn’t use a tool that we’re using against mobsters on terrorists, something needed to happen. The Patriot Act changed that. So with court order, law enforcement officials can now use what’s called roving wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones in order to get a message out to one of his buddies.” (White House 4/20/2004) Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. (Klein 2009, pp. 47-48) Klein will call Bush’s description of the surveillance program “disingenuous,” and continue: “They present it as about phone calls. They’re just watching a few bad people who make phone calls to al-Qaeda and the Middle East, and you notice they don’t talk about the Internet hardly at all. That part of it hasn’t been revealed, because if they did, Americans would realize it’s not just a few people; it’s everybody, because the data they’re handing over is not selected out. When you run fiber optics through a splitter and you send all that data to a secret room, there’s no selecting going on there at all.… They have no way of sifting it out unless they look through it later. Now they can claim, ‘Oh, we are right as rain; we’re only doing the legal thing and selecting out a few people that we’re legally entitled to,’ but that’s only after they get all the data. The analogy I use: If the government claims: ‘Well, when you do your taxes, why don’t you just write me a blank check and we’ll fill in the amount? Don’t worry. We’ll do it legal. We’ll fill in the right amount,’ would you do that? Nobody would trust the government by writing a blank check to them. It’s the same thing with the data we’re giving them.… [T]he Fourth Amendment specifically bans general warrants. It calls for specific warrants in which the things to be seized and the persons to be seized are specifically named. There’s a reason for that. It’s to protect against arbitrary government power. And what they’ve done is to trample over the Fourth Amendment by basically instituting a general warrant on the Internet.” (PBS Frontline 5/15/2007)

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 151)

CIA Director George Tenet orders a suspension of waterboarding and some other aggressive interrogation techniques. Intelligence officials will later claim that the Abu Ghraib scandal publicized in April 2004 (see April 28, 2004), is a major factor in the decision. Additionally, the CIA’s Inspector General finishes a secret report around the same time the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks, an it suggests that many aggressive techniques may violate an international treaty against torture that the US has signed (see May 7, 2004). NBC News will later claim that the biggest reason is the worry: “Could CIA officials, including both the interrogators and their superiors, ultimately be prosecuted?” (Windrem 9/13/2007) The CIA approved a list of about 10 aggressive techniques, including waterboarding, in March 2002 (see Mid-March 2002), and used them on many high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees until this time (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). But the CIA suspends their use until the Justice Department can conduct a legal review. One former senior CIA official will say in June 2004, “Everything’s on hold. The whole thing has been stopped until we sort out whether we are sure we’re on legal ground.” (Priest 6/27/2004) In December 2004, the Justice Department will publicly issue a new and public memo allowing the use of some aggressive techniques (see December 30, 2004). Then, in February 2005, it will secretly issue another memo that goes further, and will even allow the CIA to use waterboarding again. The New York Times will later call it “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency” (see February 2005). The CIA presumably then resumes using most of these techniques but it does not resume waterboarding, as it had already stopped doing that in 2003 (see May 2002-2003).

There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony.There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony. [Source: New York Times]President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear for three hours of private questioning before the 9/11 Commission. (Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore met privately and separately with the Commission earlier in the month.) (Shenon and Sanger 4/30/2004; Eggen and Milbank 4/30/2004)
Testifying Together, without Oaths or Recordings - The Commission permits Bush and Cheney, accompanied by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to appear together, in private, and not under oath. Author Philip Shenon will comment that most of the commissioners think this is an “obvious effort… to ensure that the accounts of Bush and Cheney did not differ on the events of 9/11.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 342-343) Their testimony is not recorded. Commissioners can take notes, but these are censored by the White House. (Hutcheson 3/31/2004; Clift 4/2/2004; New York Times 4/3/2004)
Questions Similar to Those Asked of Clinton - The Commission draws its questions from a previously-assembled list of questions for Bush and Cheney that Commission members have agreed to ask. According to commissioner Bob Kerrey: “It’s essentially the same set of questions that we asked President Clinton with one exception, which is just what happened on the day of September 11th. What was your strategy before, what was your strategy on September 11, and what allowed the FAA to be so surprised by a hijacking?” (Eggen and Pincus 4/29/2004)
'Three Hours of Softballs' - After Bush starts the meeting with an apology for an attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on commissioner Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004), the Democratic commissioners are disarmed. Commissioner Slade Gorton will comment: “They knew exactly how to do this. They had us in the Oval Office, and they really pulled the talons and the teeth out of many of the Democratic questions. Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when we went in that day.” Author Philip Shenon will call it “three hours of softballs.” Some of the toughest questions are asked by Republican John Lehman, who focuses on money allegedly passed by an acquaintance of the Saudi ambassador’s wife to two of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999). Lehman will say that Bush “dodged the questions.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 343-345)
Cheney Says Little - Although the Commission’s Democrats are expecting Bush to defer to the vice president in his responses, reportedly Bush “thoroughly dominate[s] the interview.” Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, will later recall that Cheney only “spoke five percent of the time.” (Draper 2007, pp. 292) According to four unnamed individuals that are in the room during the meeting, Cheney “barely spoke at all.” (Gellman 2008, pp. 344) Gorelick will say: “There was no puppeteering by the vice president. He barely said anything.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 344)
Early Departure - Two commissioners, Lee Hamilton and Bob Kerrey, leave the session early for other engagements. They will later say they had not expected the interview to last more than the previously agreed upon two-hour length. (Yen 5/1/2004)
'Unalloyed Victory' for Bush - The press’ reaction is so positive that Shenon will call the meeting an “unalloyed victory” for Bush. (Shenon 2008, pp. 345)

Seymour Hersh.Seymour Hersh. [Source: Daily Californian / Skyler Reid]The New Yorker magazine publishes an in-depth article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on the Abu Ghraib abuses, as well as excerpts of the Taguba report (see February 26, 2004). The article includes some of the graphic photos of the abuses that were turned in by Spc. Joseph Darby (see January 13, 2004) in January. (Hersh 5/10/2004) Soon thereafter, subordinates of Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith send out an “urgent” e-mail around the Pentagon warning officials not to read the Taguba report and not to mention the report to anybody including family members, even though major parts of it are now part of the public record. Newsweek later quotes a military lawyer as saying, that Feith has turned his office into a “ministry of fear.” (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004)

A US intelligence analyst at Abu Ghraib tells military investigators that, as per a directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), it is “common that the detainees on [military intelligence] hold in [a facility known as the] hard site were initially kept naked and given clothing as an incentive to cooperate with us.” An interrogator tells the investigators that it is “common to see detainees in cells without clothes or naked,” and says it is “one of our approaches.” Enforced nudity is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. (Levin 4/21/2009)

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)

Major General Geoffrey Miller says during a Coalition Provisional Authority briefing that while physical contact between the interrogator and detainees is prohibited, “sleep deprivation and stress positions and all that could be used—but they must be authorized.” (see April 16, 2003) But as Amnesty International later notes in a letter to George Bush, “The United Nations Committee against Torture, the expert body established by the Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) has expressly held that restraining detainees in very painful positions, hooding, threats, and prolonged sleep deprivation are methods of interrogation which violate the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” (Amnesty International 5/7/2004)

Speaking about the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004), President Bush promises a “full investigation.” In an interview with Al Arabiya, he says: “It’s important for people to understand that in a democracy, there will be a full investigation. In other words, we want to know the truth. In our country, when there’s an allegation of abuse… there will be a full investigation, and justice will be delivered.… It’s very important for people and your listeners to understand that in our country, when an issue is brought to our attention on this magnitude, we act. And we act in a way in which leaders are willing to discuss it with the media.… In other words, people want to know the truth. That stands in contrast to dictatorships. A dictator wouldn’t be answering questions about this. A dictator wouldn’t be saying that the system will be investigated and the world will see the results of the investigation.” (White House 5/5/2004) In April 2009, after significant revelations of Bush torture policies have hit the press (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan will write: “Bush personally authorized every technique revealed at Abu Ghraib. He refused to act upon the International Committee of the Red Cross’s report that found that he had personally authorized the torture of prisoners, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention on Torture and domestic law against cruel and inhuman treatment. A refusal to investigate and prosecute Red Cross allegations of torture is itself a violation of the Geneva Accords.” (Sullivan 4/27/2009)

An Army officer writes that, in light of the recently released photos from Abu Ghraib, abusive interrogation techniques such as the application of cold or ice, loud music, sleep deprivation, and confining detainees to a metal box, will “continue to cause us problems, as some interrogation techniques aren’t real defensible given the Abu Ghraib fallout.” The memorandum will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). (American Civil Liberties Union 1/12/2006)

The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, releases a highly classified report from his office that examines allegations of torture from the time period between September 2001 (after the 9/11 attacks, when the CIA first began detaining suspected terrorists and informants) and October 2003. In the report, Helgerson warns that some aggressive interrogation techniques approved for use by the CIA since early 2002 (see Mid-March 2002) might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The report doubts the Bush administration position that the techniques do not violate the treaty because the interrogations take place overseas on non-US citizens. It will be released, in heavily redacted form, to the public in August 2009 (see August 24, 2009). From what becomes known of the report’s contents, the CIA engaged in a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics on the part of its interrogators. Some of these tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials. The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” The report does not conclude that the techniques reviewed constitute torture, but it does find that they appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Jehl 11/9/2005; Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009)
Physical Abuse - The report defines torture as an act “intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering.” It then begins detailing such acts. Incidents of physical abuse include:
bullet One incident caused the death of an Afghani detainee. According to the report: “An agency independent contractor who was a paramilitary officer is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions. The detainee died in custody.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009) In a 2009 statement, Helgerson will write: “In one extreme case, improvisation took a disastrous turn when an agency contractor in rural Afghanistan—acting wholly outside the approved program and with no authorization or training—took it upon himself to interrogate a detainee. This officer beat the detainee and caused his death. Following an investigation of the incident, this contract employee was convicted of assault and is now in prison.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Heron 8/24/2009)
bullet Waterboarding was routinely used, in a manner far exceeding previously issued guidelines. Interrogators “continuously applied large volumes of water,” and later explained that they needed to make the experience “more poignant and convincing.” The CIA interrogators’ waterboarding technique was far more aggressive than anything used in military survival training such as the SERE program (see December 2001). Eventually, the agency’s Office of Medical Services criticized the waterboarding technique, saying that the “frequency and intensity” with which it was used could not be certified as “efficacious or medically safe.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) The report refers in particular to the treatment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who was reportedly waterboarded more than once (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Waterboarding is considered torture and is illegal in the US. The report also raises concern that the use of these techniques could eventually cause legal troubles for the CIA officers who used them. (Jehl 11/9/2005)
Helgerson will write: “We found that waterboarding had been utilized in a manner that was inconsistent with the understanding between CIA and the Department of Justice. The department had provided the agency a written legal opinion based on an agency assurance that although some techniques would be used more than once, repetition would ‘not be substantial.’ My view was that, whatever methodology was used to count applications of the waterboard, the very large number of applications to which some detainees were subjected led to the inescapable conclusion that the agency was abusing this technique.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Heron 8/24/2009)
bullet In July 2002, a CIA officer used a “pressure point” technique “with both of his hands on the detainee’s neck, the officer manipulated his finger to restrict the detainee’s carotid artery.” The carotid artery supplies the brain with oxygenated blood; such “manipulat[ion]” could lead to unconsciousness or even death. A second officer “reportedly watched his eyes to the point that the detainee would nod and start to pass out. Then the officer shook the detainee to wake him. This process was repeated for a total of three applications on the detainee.”
bullet A technique routinely used by CIA interrogators was the “hard takedown,” which involves an interrogator grabbing a detainee and slamming him to the floor before having the detainee moved to a sleep-deprivation cell. One detainee was hauled off his feet by his arms while they were bound behind his back with a belt, causing him severe pain.
bullet Another routinely used technique is “water dousing,” apparently a variant of waterboarding, in which a detainee is laid on a plastic sheet and subjected to having water sluiced over him for 10 to 15 minutes. The report says that at least one interrogator believed the technique to be useful, and sent a cable back to CIA headquarters requesting guidelines. A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet, may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”
- - Detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), was repeatedly “bathed” with hard-bristled scrub brushes in order to inflict pain. The brushes caused abrasions and bleeding. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Helgerson will write: “Agency officers who were authorized to detain and interrogate terrorists sometimes failed in their responsibilities. In a few cases, agency officers used unauthorized, threatening interrogation techniques. The primary, common problem was that management controls and operational procedures were not in place to avoid the serious problems that arose, jeopardizing agency employees and detainees alike.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Heron 8/24/2009)
Mental Abuse - Numerous instances of mental and emotional abuse were also documented.
bullet In 2002, interrogators staged a mock execution to intimidate a detainee. CIA officers began screaming outside the room where the detainee was being interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.” The report says that after witnessing this performance, the detainee “sang like a bird.”
bullet Handguns and power drills were used to threaten detainees with severe bodily harm or death. One such instance involved al-Nashiri. An American, whose name is not released but who is identified as not being a trained interrogator and lacking authorization to use “enhanced methods,” used a gun and a power drill to frighten him. The American pointed the gun at al-Nashiri’s head and “racked” a round in the chamber. The American also held a power drill near al-Nashiri and revved it, while al-Nashiri stood naked and hooded. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
In 2009, reporter David Ignatius will say he finds the “image of a CIA interrogator standing with a power drill next to somebody he’s interrogating… particularly horrific, because that’s a technique that’s been used in torturing people in Iraq.” (PBS 8/24/2009)
bullet A CIA interrogator told al-Nashiri that if he did not cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring your family in here.” The report says that the interrogator wanted al-Nashiri to infer for “psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused. The interrogator has denied actually threatening to sexually abuse al-Nashiri’s mother or other relatives.
bullet An interrogator threatened the lives of one detainee’s children. According to the report, an “interrogator said to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that if anything else happens in the United States, quote, ‘we’re going to kill your children.’” According to the report, the debriefer was trying to exploit a belief in the Middle East that interrogation techniques included sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainees. It was during these same interrogation sessions that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Fear of Recriminations - According to the report, there was concern throughout the agency over the potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” according to the report. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009) According to the report, CIA personnel “are concerned that public revelation” of the program will “seriously damage” personal reputations as well as “the reputation and effectiveness of the agency itself.” One officer is quoted as saying he could imagine CIA agents ending up before the World Court on war crimes charges. “Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this,” another officer said. But “it has to be done.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) Helgerson will write: “This review of the agency’s early detention and interrogation activities was undertaken in part because of expressions of concern by agency employees that the actions in which they were involved, or of which they were aware, would be determined by judicial authorities in the US or abroad to be illegal. Many expressed to me personally their feelings that what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with long established US government policy and with American values, and was based on strained legal reasoning. We reported these concerns.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Heron 8/24/2009)
Recommendations - The report lists 10 recommendations for changes in the treatment of detainees, but it will not be reported what these are. Eight of the recommendations are apparently later adopted. Former CIA assistant general counsel John Radsan will later comment, “The ambiguity in the law must cause nightmares for intelligence officers who are engaged in aggressive interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects and other terrorism suspects.” (Jehl 11/9/2005)
Approval, Contradictory Statements by Attorney General - The report says that Attorney General John Ashcroft approved all of these actions: “According to the CIA general counsel, the attorney general acknowledged he is fully aware of the repetitive use of the waterboard and that CIA is well within the scope of the DOJ opinion that the authority given to CIA by that opinion. The attorney general was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual.” In 2009, reporter Michael Isikoff will say that the contents of the report “conflict… with the public statements that have been made over the years by Bush administration officials and CIA directors.” In 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Council on Foreign Relations that the agency’s detention and interrogation program was “very carefully controlled and lawfully conducted—has been carefully controlled and lawfully conducted.” Isikoff will say, “It’s kind of hard to square that with… what was in the CIA inspector general report that had been presented five years ago in 2004.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Questions of Effectiveness - The report does document that some interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots, and finds that some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment (see August 24, 2009). It finds that “there is no doubt” that the detention and interrogation program itself prevented further terrorist activity, provided information that led to the apprehension of other terrorists, warned authorities of future plots, and helped analysts complete an intelligence picture for senior policymakers and military leaders. But whether the harsh techniques were effective in this regard “is a more subjective process and not without some concern,” the report continues. It specifically addresses waterboarding as an illegal tactic that is not shown to have provided useful information. “This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report reads, and notes that in many instances, the frequency and volume of water poured over prisoners’ mouths and noses may have exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization. In the instance of detainee Abu Zubaida, the report finds, “It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu [Zubaida]‘s increased production [of intelligence information], or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst.” In 2009, Isikoff will note that the effectiveness of torture is not clarified by the report. “As you know, Vice President [Dick] Cheney and others who had defended this program have insisted time and again that valuable intelligence was gotten out of this program. You could read passages of this report and conclude that that is the case, that they did get—some passages say important intelligence was gotten. But then others are far more nuanced and measured, saying we don’t really know the full story, whether alternative techniques could have been used.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 pdf file; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Cheney Blocked Report's Completion - Reporter Jane Mayer later learns that Cheney intervened to block Helgerson from completing his investigation. Mayer will write that as early as 2004, “the vice president’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [interrogation] program.” Helgerson met repeatedly and privately with Cheney before, in Mayer’s words, the investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” She will call the meetings “highly unusual.” In October 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden will order an investigation of Helgerson’s office, alleging that Helgerson was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” (Leopold 3/6/2009)

Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 pdf file; Johnston 6/5/2004)
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 pdf file; Yost 11/2/2009) Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 pdf file; Leopold 2/15/2006)
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 pdf file; Yost 11/2/2009) Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 pdf file; Leopold 2/15/2006) In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” (Leopold 7/7/2009)

A Pentagon report determines that conditions at the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Charleston, South Carolina used to house “enemy combatants” are problematic at best. The facilities house three designated enemy combatants: Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002), Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001), and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). The report, entitled “Brief to the Secretary of Defense on Treatment of Enemy Combatants Detained at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston,” is written by the Navy’s Vice Admiral A.T. Church III and by Marine Brigadier General D.D. Thiessen. The focus of the report is to “[e]nsure Department of Defense orders concerning proper treatment of enemy combatants.” The report documents extensive problems at both locations. It cites the following as some of the problems:
bullet “One detainee has Koran removed from cell as part of JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] interrogation plan. Muslim chaplain not available.”
bullet “One detainee in Charleston has mattress removed as part of JFCOM-approved interrogation plan.”
bullet “One detainee in each location currently not authorized ICRC [Red Cross] visits due to interrogation plans in progress.”
bullet “One detainee in Charleston has Koran, mattress, and pillow removed and is fed cold MREs as part of interrogation plan.” This citation has a footnote that reads, “After completion of current interrogation,” removal of the Koran as an incentive to answer questions “will no longer be used at Charleston.”
bullet “Limited number and unique status of detainees in Charleston precludes interaction with other detainees. Argument could be made that this constitutes isolation.”
bullet At the Charleston brig, “Christian chaplain used to provide socialization, but could be perceived as forced proselytization.”
Nonetheless, the report concludes, “No evidence of noncompliance with DoD orders at either facility.” The authors assume that “treatment provided for in presidential and SECDEF orders constitutes ‘humane treatment.’” (Thompson 3/2007) When Church presents his report to journalists (see May 12, 2004), he says he only found eight “minor infractions.”

Albert T. Church III.Albert T. Church III. [Source: US Navy]Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III reports to journalists the results of his review of prison operations at Guantanamo conducted the week before (see May 6-7, 2004). He finds: “There is a very, we have a very professional organization in place. With very detailed and understood roles and responsibilities. Strong leadership, strong chain of command, and a very positive command climate. The directions to the secretary of defense with respect to humane treatment of detainees and the interrogation techniques were being carried out as best we could determine.” Over a period going back to 2002, he only finds eight cases of mistreatment, which he repeatedly refers to as “minor infractions.” Four of the eight cases involved guards; three involved interrogators; and one involved a barber who gave a prisoner an “unauthorized” Mohawk-style haircut. Punishments, Church says, “ranged from admonishment to reduction in rate, and some cases maybe more.” One person, he says, was court-martialed. But, he says, “We found no evidence of current abuse….” Church says he is “very impressed” with the small amount of infractions by prison guards and interrogators, when taking into account the stressful conditions they were working under, “particularly when you look at the other side, the 14 incidents against the guards weekly.” He says he was told that each week on average prison personnel are the victim of about 14 acts of abuse by prisoners against guards: “verbal harassment, throwing of excrement, that type of thing.” (US Department of Defense 5/12/2004) Church did not interview a single detainee during the course of his investigation. (Human Rights Watch 6/2004)

The New York Times learns that FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered FBI interrogators to stay out of CIA-led interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda members. Mueller, and many FBI officials, believe the CIA’s interrogation tactics are too brutal and violate domestic and international laws. Mueller and other FBI officials have objected to the use of techniques such as waterboarding, as well as forced starvation, forced drugging, and beatings. FBI officials told Mueller that the techniques would be prohibited in criminal cases. Some CIA officers are worried that public outrage over the recent revelations of prisoner abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison might lead to a closer examination of the agency’s treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. “Some people involved in this have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable,” one says. “Now that’s happening faster than anybody expected.” (BBC 5/13/2004) In 2008, a Justice Department investigation (see May 20, 2008) will reveal that sometime in mid-2002, the FBI’s then-assistant director for counterterrorism, Pasquale D’Amuro, ordered FBI agents at Guantanamo to stop participating in interrogations and leave the facility. D’Amuro brought the issue to Mueller’s attention; according to the Justice Department report, D’Amuro “stated that his exact words to Mueller were ‘we don’t do that’ and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity.” D’Amuro was concerned that the use of such aggressive interrogation techniques “failed to take into account an ‘end game.’” The report will continue: “D’Amuro stated that even a military tribunal would require some standard for admissibility of evidence. Obtaining information by way of ‘aggressive’ techniques would not only jeopardize the government’s ability to use the information against the detainees, but also might have a negative impact on the agents’ ability to testify in future proceedings.” Mueller agreed with D’Amuro and issued what became a “bright line rule” barring FBI agents from participating in CIA and military interrogations involving such methods. (Isikoff and Hosenball 5/20/2008)

A newspaper article reveals that Ptech, the Boston-based computer company with ties to Yassin al-Qadi and other suspected terrorist financiers (see 1994), is still continuing its business under a different name. The article states, “Although no one associated with the company has been charged, the US attorney’s office has never issued a statement exonerating the company or ending the investigation.” Ptech is now called GoAgile. The company lost many customers in the wake of the widely-publicized raid on its offices in 2002 (see December 5, 2002). However, CEO Oussama Ziade states, “We still have government agencies as customers, including the White House.” (Adams 5/14/2004; Ehrenfeld 6/17/2005)

The 9/11 Commission’s staff team that is investigating the emergency response on 9/11 comes to the conclusion that New York City was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “shockingly ill-prepared for the attacks.” It is clear to the investigators that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was largely responsible for what went wrong.
Two Major Problems - One problem was that New York’s emergency command center, based on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center 7, was knocked out early in the attacks, leaving the emergency response without a focal point, and the police and fire departments set up separate command posts (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). The command center, sometimes referred to as “Rudy’s bunker,” was criticized when it was built precisely because this problem was foreseen (see June 8, 1999). In addition, the radios used by firefighters in the World Trade Center failed to work on 9/11. The same problem was encountered during the response to the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), but the solution that was implemented—a repeater to boost the radios’ signal—did not work on the day of the attacks. This problem was especially grave, as many firefighters were instructed to flee the about-to-collapse towers, but did not hear the instruction due to the poor radio system and died as a result (see (Between 9:59 a.m. and 10:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Tempering Criticism - However, the team, led by former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer, is aware that Giuliani’s image as a global hero after the attacks could complicate matters. Shenon will describe their thinking: “But would the Commission be willing to take on the most popular political figure in the country—the president-in-waiting, it seemed?… [Giuliani] was a hero, the embodiment of everything Americans wanted to believe about themselves about 9/11.” Therefore, “Farmer and his team always qualif[y] their criticism of the former mayor.” Nevertheless, the Commission’s two staff statements issued during the hearings about this topic in New York will be extremely critical of Giuliani. (Shenon 2008, pp. 347-350)

The 9/11 commissioners meet with John Farmer, head of the Commission’s team investigating the emergency response on 9/11, to discuss their strategy for hearings in New York on the next two days, when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s performance before the attacks will be discussed. Farmer and his team have worked up a list of pages and pages of questions (see Before May 17, 2004) about why Guiliani built his emergency response center next to a top terrorist target, about city radios that failed to work on 9/11, miscommunication between the police and the fire departments, and 911 telephone operators who told people trapped in the Word Trade Center to remain where they were, instead of trying to escape. However, Farmer is aware that tough questioning could be fraught with danger, given Giuliani’s hero status after the attacks. According to author Philip Shenon, he tells the commissioners that “they need[…] to be careful; they need[…] to remember where they [are],” because “[New York]‘s not Washington. It’s different here.” Shenon will add: “Farmer told the commissioner[s] that they should ask tough questions, but they should be careful not to give a platform to Giuliani and his loyalists to counterattack; John Ashcroft’s campaign against [commissioner] Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004) would look like a ‘garden party’ by comparison. The city’s take-no-prisoners tabloid newspapers were Giuliani’s defenders, and they could be expected to weigh in to defend him if the Commission’s questioning of the former mayor became too fierce.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 350-351)

Rene Lerner, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Justice Department lawyer Adrien Silas send a memo to Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. The memo will remain classified, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it pertains to the so-called “McCain Amendment,” later known as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005). President Bush will sign the bill into law, but will include a signing statement that states the administration will not follow the law because it impinges on the president’s constitutional authority to conduct military operations (see December 30, 2005). It is unclear whether Bush’s signing statement is influenced by the memo. (Nguyen and Weaver 4/16/2009)

The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” (Goldstein 5/20/2004; Kemper 5/20/2004)

Newsweek reveals the existence of the January 9, 2002 draft memo written by Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty (see January 9, 2002). (Isikoff 5/21/2004)

In an e-mail, an “On Scene Commander” of the FBI in Baghdad refers to an executive order by President Bush allowing aggressive interrogation techniques to be used at any rate in Iraq by Task Force 6-26, which is the new name for JTF-121. These techniques include sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud music, yelling, stripping, dogs, and hooding. The executive order is still in use even though the use of hooding, stress positions, dogs, and stripping at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan were prohibited on January 15, 2003 (see January 15, 2003). Since the FBI agent has been ordered to report instances of abuse (see May 19, 2004), he notes a dilemma: would the techniques authorized by the executive order constitute abuse or not? He writes: “This instruction begs the question of what constitutes ‘abuse.’ We assume this does not include lawful interrogation techniques authorized by executive order.” A week before, apparently as a result of the unfolding of the Abu Ghraib scandal, some techniques described in the executive order could only be used with special approval from top levels in the hierarchy. Thus, the FBI agent says in his e-mail: “[W]e will still not report the use of these techniques as ‘abuse’ since we will not be in a position to know whether, or not, the authorization for these tactics was received from the aforementioned high-level officials. We will consider as abuse any physical beatings, sexual humiliation or touching, and other conduct clearly constituting abuse. Yet, there may be a problem if OGC [FBI Office of General Counsel] does not clearly define ‘abuse’ and if OGC does not draw a clear line between conduct that is clearly abusive and conduct that, while seemingly harsh, is permissible under applicable Executive Orders and other laws. In other words, we know what’s permissible for FBI agents but are less sure what is permissible for military interrogators.” (FBI 5/14/2004)

When the Taguba report (see March 9, 2004), which together with all its 106 annexes includes 6,000 pages, is delivered by the Pentagon to the Senate Armed Services Committee, some 2,000 pages are missing, withheld by the Defense Department. Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita calls this an “oversight.” (Associated Press 5/24/2004) Nevertheless, the missing pages contain key documents, internal Army memos and e-mails, sworn statements by soldiers, officers, contractors, and prisoners. It also includes the final section of Taguba’s interview with Col. Thomas M. Pappas. (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004) The missing annexes of the Taguba report hold evidence that the abuse was not conducted solely by a few MPs acting on their own, but instead at the instigation and with the involvement of military intelligence personnel.

A heavily redacted e-mail shows that either a military officer or government official is told that three reports of detainee abuse from Iraq are “probably true/valid.” One detainee was “in such poor physical shape from obvious beatings that [name redacted] asked the MPs to note his condition before he proceeded with interrogation.” Another detainee was “in such bad shape… that he was laying down in his own feces.” These cases seem to have occurred in Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper. The e-mail will be released in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). (American Civil Liberties Union 5/2/2006)

At the end of May, more than a week after the German’s visit (see Mid-May 2004), (Meek 1/14/2005) Khalid el-Masri is cuffed, blindfolded, and put on a small jet. After a bus ride of six or seven hours, he is left on the side of the road. He follows the instruction of a man who tells him to walk in a certain direction and arrives at a border crossing, which he discovers is in northern Albania close to the Macedonian border. Three Albanian border officers await him. When El-Masri tells them of his five months in captivity, one of them starts to laugh. He says, according to El-Masri, “Don’t tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh.” El-Masri is then handed back the belongings that were taken from him on the first day of his captivity in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), including his passport and money. His passport is then stamped with the date of May 29, 2004. He returns to Germany on June 3. (van Natta and Mekhennet 1/9/2005)

Alfred Frances Bikowsky (see September 21, 2011), the CIA officer responsible for the wrongful rendition and torture of the innocent German Khalid el-Masri (see Before January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004), is promoted at some point after el-Masri is released from prison (see May 29, 2004). Writing in 2008, author Jane Mayer will say Bikowsky is appointed to “a top post handling sensitive matters in the Middle East.” (Mayer 8/14/2008) A February 2011 Associated Press article will state that at that time Bikowsky is head of the agency’s Global Jihad Unit, so presumably the promotion is to the position of head of this unit. (Goldman and Apuzzo 2/9/2011)

David Ottaway.David Ottaway. [Source: AAAS.org]According to the Oregon branch of the Islamic charitable organization the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Washington Post reporter David Ottaway receives a classified document that is evidence of illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency. The document shows that the NSA illegally intercepted telephone conversations and e-mails between Al Haramain officials in Oregon and Washington, DC. The document, dated May 24, 2004 and marked “Top Secret,” is accidentally provided to Al Haramain by Treasury Department officials that same month; Al Haramain quickly turns the document over to Ottoway, who is researching Islamic groups and individuals labeled as terrorists by the US government and are attempting to prove their innocence. Instead of reporting on the document, Ottaway will return it to the FBI when that organization demands it back in November 2004. In February 2006, Al Haramain will sue the Bush administration for illegally spying on it (see February 28, 2006) as part of its warrantless wiretapping program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005). The Treasury Department has been investigating the charitable organization for possible ties to terrorism, and designated the group as a terrorist organization. The FBI will approach the organization and then Ottaway himself, demanding that all copies of the document be returned and threatening them with prosecution if the contents are revealed. Ottaway will consult with Post editors and lawyers, who will conclude, according to Ottaway, “that it was not relevant to what I was working on at the time.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., will defend the decision, saying, “At the time we had this document, it was before we had any knowledge of the eavesdropping program. Without that knowledge, the document provided no useful information. At the time, all we knew was that this document was not relevant to David’s reporting.” (Leonnig 3/3/2006)

After many SERE techniques have been authorized for use in interrogations (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002), and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency considers sending SERE trainers to interrogation facilities in Afghanistan, a SERE psychologist warns: “[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct.… Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you ‘learn’ there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators.” (Levin 4/21/2009)

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and four other independent organizations file a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act demanding the release of information about detainees held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas. “The government’s ongoing refusal to release these records is absolutely unacceptable, particularly in light of the severity of the abuses we know to have occurred,” says Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff lawyer. More than seven months have passed since the initial request (see October 7, 2003) was made to the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the CIA for these documents. (American Civil Liberties Union 6/2/2004)

The Washington Post reveals the existence of a secret August 2002 memo from the Justice Department. This memo advised the White House that torturing al-Qaeda terrorists in captivity “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the US war on terrorism (see August 1, 2002). The legal reasoning was later used in a March 2003 report by Pentagon lawyers assessing interrogation rules governing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay (see March 6, 2003). Bush officials say that despite the memo, it has abided by the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties proscribing torture (see February 7, 2002). The incidents at Abu Ghraib, where numerous Iraqi prisoners were tortured, maimed, and sometimes murdered, were not policy, officials say. Human rights organizations and civil libertarians are appalled at the memo. “It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I’ve seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke,” says Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.” A senior Pentagon official says that the Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) were quick to challenge the Justice Department opinion when it was promoted by the Pentagon. “Every flag JAG lodged complaints,” the official says. A senior military attorney says of the memo: “It’s really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we’ve taught the Geneva Convention one way. Once you start telling people it’s okay to break the law, there’s no telling where they might stop.” (Priest and Smith 6/8/2004) Attorney General John Ashcroft tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will not discuss the contents of the August 2002 memo, nor turn it over to the committee. “I believe it is essential to the operation of the executive branch that the president has the opportunity to get information from the attorney general that is confidential,” he says. (Schmidt 6/8/2004)

Al-Qaeda operative Musaad Aruchi is arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, by Pakistani paramilitary forces and the CIA. Aruchi is said to be a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a cousin of 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef. (Another of his nephews, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, was captured in Karachi the year before (see April 29, 2003). CIA telephone and Internet intercepts led investigators to the apartment building where Aruchi lived. Aruchi is in frequent contact with Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who is in touch with al-Qaeda operatives all over the world. Aruchi is flown out of the country in an unmarked CIA plane; there have been no reports on his whereabouts since and he will not be transferred to Guantanamo Bay with other high-ranking prisoners in 2006. Noor Khan is followed and then arrested a month later (see July 13, 2004). (Khan 8/3/2004; Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004)

During a speech before the James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida, Vice President Dick Cheney states that Saddam Hussein “had long-established ties with al-Qaeda.” (Schneider 6/14/2004)

President Bush repeats the US government claim that al-Qaeda had links to the Saddam Hussein government of Iraq, suggesting that militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the link between the two. “Al-Zarqawi’s the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda. He’s the person who’s still killing.” (CNN 6/15/2004)

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. (Shenon and Marquis 6/17/2004) For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” (McDermott 6/23/2004) The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. (New York Times 6/17/2004) In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

Jack Goldsmith, once considered a rising star in the Bush administration (see October 6, 2003), resigns under fire from his position as chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In his nine-month tenure, Goldsmith fought against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its advocacy of torture, and its policy of extrajudicial detention and trial for terror suspects. Goldsmith will not discuss his objections to the administration’s policy initiatives until September 2007, when he will give interviews to a variety of media sources in anticipation of the publication of his book, The Terror Presidency. Goldsmith led a small, in-house revolt of administration lawyers against what they considered to be the constitutional excesses of the legal policies advocated by the administration in its war on terrorism. “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted,” he will recall. Goldsmith chooses to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence will be widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even feel that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos (see January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004) that he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith will recall. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) Goldsmith will not leave until the end of July, and will take a position with the Harvard University Law School. Unlike many other Justice Department officials, he will not be offered a federal judgeship, having crossed swords with White House lawyers too many times. (Savage 2007, pp. 191)

After a search of Iraqi paramilitary records indicates a man named Hikmat Shakir Ahmad was a lieutenant colonel in Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen, there is speculation that he is the same person as Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an alleged Iraqi al-Qaeda operative who met one of the 9/11 hijackers during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), and was captured and inexplicably released after 9/11 (see September 17, 2001). The claim that the two men are the same person is used to bolster the theory that Saddam Hussein was in some way connected to 9/11, but turns out not to be true, as the two of them are found to be in different places at one time, in September 2001. (Landay 6/12/2004; Pincus and Eggen 6/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502)

Vice President Cheney has called the prisoners being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “the worst of a very bad lot” (see January 27, 2002) and other US officials have suggested that information from them has exposed terrorist cells and foiled attacks. But a lengthy New York Times investigation finds that US “government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.… In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of al-Qaeda. They said only a relative handful—some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen—were sworn al-Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization’s inner workings.” While some information from the prisoners has been useful to investigators, none of it has stopped any imminent attacks. Information from Guantanamo is considered “only a trickle” compared to what is being learned from prisoners held by the CIA in secret prisons elsewhere. Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, in charge of the task force running the prison, says, “The expectations, I think, may have been too high at the outset. There are those who expected a flow of intelligence that would help us break the most sophisticated terror organization in a matter of months. But that hasn’t happened.” Ironically, although few prisoners have been released, it appears about five have rejoined the Taliban and resumed attacks against US forces. Abdullah Laghmani, the chief of the National Security Directorate in Kandahar, Afghanistan, says, “There are lots of people who were innocent, and they are capturing them, just on anyone’s information. And then they are releasing guilty people.” (Golden and van Natal 6/21/2004) Abdurahman Khadr, a CIA informant posing as a Guantanamo inmate for much of 2003 (see November 10, 2001-Early 2003 and Spring 2003), will later say about the prison: “There’s only, like, a 10 percent of the people that are really dangerous, that should be there. And the rest are people that, you know, don’t have anything to do with it, don’t even- you know, don’t even understand what they’re doing here.” (PBS Frontline 4/22/2004) The Los Angeles Times reported back in August 2002 that no al-Qaeda leaders are being held at Guantanamo (see August 18, 2002). Some al-Qaeda leaders will be transferred into the prison from secret CIA prisons in September 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006).

Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” (White House 7/22/2004; Sands 5/2008)

Yaser Esam Hamdi.Yaser Esam Hamdi. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” (Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al. 6/28/2004) Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” (Dean 2007, pp. 105)
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” (Savage 2007, pp. 193-194)

In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it had formally asked for a report by the Justice Department (which oversees the FBI) to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. An identical request was made to the CIA (see June-November 2004). (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The Justice Department report, titled “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” is completed this month. (Eggen 4/30/2005) It centers on three FBI failures before 9/11: the failure to follow up on the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), the failure to follow up on FBI agent Ken Williams’ memo (see July 10, 2001) warning about Islamic militants training in US flight schools, and the FBI’s failure to follow up on many leads to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The report provides some new details about miscommunications, inaction, and other problems. (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The report remains classified. Senior Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) call for its release. The senators state, “While the needs of national security must be weighed seriously, we fear the designation of information as classified, in some cases, serves to protect the executive branch against embarrassing revelations and full accountability. We hope that is not the case here.” (Seper 7/12/2004; Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) One problem complicating the issuing of even a declassified version is the possibility that the material would taint the criminal proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui. In early 2005, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will ask the judge presiding over Moussaoui’s case for permission to release a declassified version of the report. But the judge will turn down the request in April 2005, even after Moussaoui pleads guilty (see April 30, 2005). The report will finally be released in June 2005 without the section on Moussaoui (see June 9, 2005). (FBI 2/13/2005)

The 9/11 Commission arranges for a final interview of CIA Director George Tenet. The Commission’s staff thinks of the interview as a “final test of Tenet’s credibility,” because they believe that both he and other CIA managers have not been telling them the full truth (see Before January 14, 2004 and January 22, 2004). In particular they want to ask him about a memorandum of notification that enabled the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden, but was not acted on (see December 24, 1998).
What Memo? - When the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow says he wants to talk about the memo, Tenet, who spent a long time revising for his sessions with the Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), replies, “What are you referring to?” Zelikow explains about the memo, but Tenet says, “I’m not sure what we’re talking about.” He then says he remembers an early draft of the memo, which did not authorize the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow explains that the draft Tenet is referring to is an early version of the memo, and that a later version, apparently requested by Tenet himself, allowed the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow has not been able to bring the memo with him, because it is so highly classified, and Tenet still does not remember, saying, “Well, as I say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Disbelief - Author Philip Shenon will write: “Zelikow and [Commission staffer Alexis] Albion looked at each other across the table in disbelief. It was the last straw with Tenet, the final bit of proof they needed to demonstrate that Tenet simply could not tell the truth to the Commission.” Zelikow will later say that he concluded Tenet’s memory lapses were not genuine, but that “George had decided not to share information on any topic unless we already had documentary proof, and then he would add as little as possible to the record.”
False Denial - However, Tenet will deny this was the case, and say he could not remember the authorization to kill bin Laden because he had been on holiday when it was signed and transmitted to Afghanistan. (Shenon 2008, pp. 359-360) However, the 9/11 Commission will state that this memo was “given to Tenet.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report calls the message in which the instructions were communicated to the assets in Afghanistan that were to kill bin Laden “CIA cable, message from the DCI.” DCI stands for director of central intelligence, Tenet’s official job title. Therefore, Tenet very probably did know about it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485)

Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora writes a secret, but unclassified, memo to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Mora writes the memo in an attempt to stop what he sees as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruel and inhuman treatment of terror suspects. The memo details in chronological fashion Mora’s earlier attempts to speak out against the Bush administration’s decision to circumvent the Geneva Conventions (see January 9, 2002 and January 11, 2002).
Specific Problems - Mora, a veteran of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and a strong supporter of the “war on terror,” argues that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward US-held terrorist suspects is an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also writes that the Bush administration’s legal arguments that justify an expansion of executive power in everything from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping are “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” legal theories. Not only are they wrong in granting President Bush the right to authorize torture, he warns that they may leave US personnel open to criminal prosecution. While the administration has argued that it holds to humane, legal standards in interrogation practices (see January 12, 2006), Mora’s memo shows that from the outset of the administration’s “war on terror,” the White House, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department intentionally skirted and at times ignored domestic and international laws surrounding interrogation and detention of prisoners.
Cruelty and Torture - Mora will later recall the mood in the Pentagon: “The mentality was that we lost three thousand Americans [on 9/11], and we could lose a lot more unless something was done. It was believed that some of the Guantanamo detainees had knowledge of other 9/11-like operations that were under way, or would be executed in the future. The gloves had to come off. The US had to get tougher.” But, Mora will say, the authorization of cruel treatment of detainees is as pernicious as any defined torture techniques that have been used. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he says. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.… The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.” (Mora 7/7/2004 pdf file; Mayer 2/27/2006)

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