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Context of 'November 3, 2005: Wilkerson Says Cheney’s Office Directly Linked to Torture of US Detainees'

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1984: Reagan Announces End to Aid for Contras

US President Ronald Reagan publicly claims to end aid to the contras in accordance with a congressional ban. However his administration continues the support, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal. [BBC, 6/5/2004; Columbia Encyclopedia. Sixth edition, 2005]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US-Nicaragua (1979-), Iran-Contra Affair

John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of torture by US officials (see November 21, 2005), continues to press an amendment to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill that prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners held in US captivity (see July 24, 2005 and After). The bill also posits the US Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogations by any Defense Department personnel. The Field Manual is being revised, and Pentagon sources have claimed the revisions will include a section on the importance of following the Geneva Conventions. The amendment is facing stiff opposition from the White House, which asserts that it would encroach on the power of the president as the commander in chief, and would threaten national security by reducing the ability of military interrogators to obtain critical intelligence from prisoners. On the floor of the Senate, McCain reads a letter from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had opposed Vice President Cheney on the issue of torture. Powell writes: “Our troops need to hear from Congress. The world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers.” McCain himself calls the White House’s legal theories on torture “strange,” and warns that enemies could use America’s justifications of torture as justifications for the torture of US captives. “We are Americans and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be,” he says. Terrorists “don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.” The White House continues to oppose the amendment. President Bush threatens to veto the entire bill, and Cheney circulates pro-torture talking points to friendly Congressional Republicans. Cheney, with CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, asks McCain to exempt CIA officials from the anti-torture amendment at the discretion of the president; McCain refuses. McCain is bolstered by a letter signed by over two dozen retired generals urging Congress to pass the amendment, including Powell and former Joint Chiefs chairman General John Shalikashvili. The amendment passes the Senate 90 to nine. However, the House leadership, steered by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), refuses to allow the amendment into the House version by refusing to let the House vote on it at all. It will take a House-Senate conference committee to decide the fate of the amendment. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 195; Savage, 2007, pp. 221]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, Dennis Hastert, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John McCain, Porter J. Goss, John M. Shalikashvili

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Porter J. Goss, John McCain, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

David Addington.David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). [National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005] Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). [Washington Post, 10/11/2004; National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005; US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, US Department of State, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Ronald Reagan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Bruce Fein, Bradford Berenson, 9/11 Commission, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, John Bellinger, Jack Goldsmith, Lawrence Wilkerson, John C. Yoo, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Cheney appears at the weekly Republican senatorial luncheon in the Capitol and speaks against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005 and October 20, 2005). He argues that CIA interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda prisoners have produced valuable information, and the president needs the power and flexibility to use torture against prisoners in order to fight terrorism and protect the nation. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, counters Cheney’s arguments during the same luncheon, arguing that the idea of the US torturing prisoners damages its standing with its international allies. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220] The next day, the Washington Post will publish an expose of the CIA’s secret prison network (see November 2-18, 2005), causing a firestorm of criticism and sparking a former Bush administration official to say that the “philosophical guidance” behind the torture of prisoners comes directly from Cheney’s office (see November 3, 2005).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John McCain

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Following a request that the CIA be exempted from a US ban on torture, claims about alleged CIA mistreatment of prisoners begin to appear in the media, apparently fueled by CIA employees unhappy with the practices the CIA is employing. On November 2, the Washington Post reveals information about the CIA’s network of secret prisons, including facilities in Europe, which is kept secret from “nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.” The rationale for the policy is that the CIA apparently needs to hold people without the restrictions imposed by the US legal system, in order to keep the country safe. Detainees are said to be tortured, and this is not only questionable under US law, but, in some cases, against the law of the host country. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005] On November 9, the New York Times reveals that in 2004, the CIA’s Inspector General secretly concluded that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques in use up until that time were likely in violation of a 1994 international treaty against torture signed by the US (see May 7, 2004). [New York Times, 11/9/2005] After the network is revealed, there is much interest in what actually goes on in it and more important details are uncovered by ABC News on November 18. Apparently, the CIA’s interrogation techniques have led to the death of one detainee and include sleep deprivation, physical violence, waterboarding, and leaving prisoners in cold cells (see Mid-March 2002). The intelligence generated by these techniques is said to be questionable, and one source says: “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] Some videotapes of CIA interrogations of detainees are destroyed this same month, although what date this happens exactly is unclear (see November 2005). The CIA is also so alarmed by these revelations that it immediately closes its secret prisons in Eastern Europe and opens a new one in a remote section of the Sahara desert (see November 2005).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, says that he has seen documents that show a “visible audit trail” that links the practice of abuse and torture of prisoners by US soldiers directly back to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. “There’s no question in my mind,” he says, “where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to [torture prisoners] originated—in the vice president of the United States’ office.” Wilkerson, while in Powell’s office, had access to a raft of documents concerning the allegations of prisoner abuse. He says that Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a quiet push to deny prisoners Geneva Convention protections. According to Wilkerson, Cheney’s then-chief counsel, David Addington (now Cheney’s chief of staff—see October 28, 2005), helped begin the process. Addington “was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions.” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, and others “began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we’ve seen,” Wilkerson says. The Pentagon’s contentions that such prisoner abuses, particularly at Abu Ghraib, were limited to a few soldiers of low rank are false, he says: “I’m privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of state asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms—I’ll give you that—that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We’re not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here’s some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war. You just—if you’re a military man, you know that you just don’t do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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