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According to reporter and author Charlie Savage, the White House staff quickly coalesces into two camps: “Bush People[,] mostly personal friends of the new president who shared his inexperience in Washington,” which includes President Bush’s top legal counsels, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both corporate lawyers in Texas before joining Bush in Washington. The second group is “Cheney People—allies from [Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s earlier stints in the federal government (see May 25, 1975, November 18, 1980, 1981-1992, 1989, and June 1996) who were deeply versed in Washington-level issues, a familiarity that would allow their views to dominate internal meetings. These included [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and other cabinet secretaries, key deputies throughout the administration, and David Addington, Cheney’s longtime aide who would become a chief architect of the administration’s legal strategy in the war on terrorism” (see July 1, 1992 and (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Savage will observe, “Given the stark contrast in experience between Cheney and Bush, it was immediately clear to observers of all political stripes that Cheney would possess far more power than had any prior vice president.”
'Unprecedented' Influence - Cheney will certainly have “unprecedented” influence, according to neoconservative publisher William Kristol, who himself had served as former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “The question to ask about Cheney,” Kristol will write, is “will he be happy to be a very trusted executor of Bush’s policies—a confidant and counselor who suggests personnel and perhaps works on legislative strategy, but who really doesn’t try to change Bush’s mind about anything? Or will he actually, substantively try to shape administration policy in a few areas, in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise be going?”
Expanding the Power of the Presidency - Cheney will quickly answer that question, Savage will write, by attempting to “expand the power of the presidency.” Savage will continue: “He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge a zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action, to undermine limits imposed by international treaties, to nominate judges who favored a stronger presidency, and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government. And Cheney’s vision of expanded executive power was not limited to his and Bush’s own tenure in office. Rather, Cheney wanted to permanently alter the constitutional balance of American government, establishing powers that future presidents would be able to wield as well.” (Savage 2007, pp. 7-9) Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say after leaving the administration: “We used to say about both [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office] and the vice president’s office that they were going to win nine out of 10 battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, because they never, never deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly, foist it on the government—and the rest of the government is all confused.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299)
Signing Statements to Reshape Legislation, Expand Presidential Power - To that end, Cheney ensures that all legislation is routed through his office for review before it reaches Bush’s desk. Addington goes through every bill for any new provisions that conceivably might infringe on the president’s power as Addington interprets it, and drafts signing statements for Bush to sign. In 2006, White House counsel Bradford Berenson will reflect: “Signing statements unite two of Addington’s passions. One is executive power. And the other is the inner alleyways of bureaucratic combat. It’s a way to advance executive power through those inner alleyways.… So he’s a vigorous advocate of signing statements and including important objections in signing statements. Most lawyers in the White House regard the bill review process as a tedious but necessary bureaucratic aspect of the job. Addington regarded it with relish. He would dive into a 200-page bill like it was a four-course meal.” It will not be long before White House and Justice Department lawyers begin vetting legislation themselves, with Addington’s views in mind. “You didn’t want to miss something,” says a then-lawyer in the White House. (Savage 2007, pp. 236)
The Bush administration’s legal team meets for the first time. The head of the group, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, is well known as a staunchly loyal aide to President Bush, and has long ensured that Bush receives the legal opinions he wants. While Bush was governor of Texas, Gonzales routinely prepared briefings for him on death row prisoners appealing for clemency, briefings that usually left out mitigating circumstances that might have led Bush to consider waiving the death penalty. Bush was pleased at Gonzales’s approach, and the White House legal team will quickly come to understand that that same approach will be used in its legal work. One young team member is Bradford Berenson, who made his reputation working with the Bush-Cheney campaign in its fight to win the disputed 2000 presidential election. Berenson is one of eight White House associate counsels. Gonzales tells the gathered counsels and legal staff that most of their work will be in handling the everyday legal tasks generated by the White House, reviewing speeches and letters, making judgments on ethical issues, and the like. But, according to Gonzales, Bush has personally instructed him to give his team two missions as their top priority.
Appoint Conservatives to Judiciary Positions - One is to find as many conservatives as they can to fill the numerous vacancies on the federal courts, vacancies left unfilled because of Senate Republicans’ refusal to schedule hearings for Clinton nominees. Now, Gonzales tells the legal team, they are to find as many conservative “judicial restraint”-minded lawyers as there are judgeships to be filled, and to get them confirmed as quickly as possible. This is an unsurprising mission, as most in the room expect the Republicans to lose control of Congress in 2002—as, historically, most parties who control the executive branch do in midterm elections—and therefore have only a limited time in which to get nominees named, vetted, and confirmed by friendly Congressional Republicans.
Find Ways to Expand Presidential Power - Gonzales’s second mission is more puzzling. The lawyers are to constantly look for ways to expand presidential power, he tells them. Bush has told his senior counsel that under previous administrations, the power of the presidency has eroded dramatically. (Ironically, some of the losses of executive power came due to the Republican-led investigation of former President Clinton’s involvement in Whitewater and his affair with a White House intern, when Secret Service bodyguards and White House attorneys were compelled to testify about their communications with the president, and Congressional Republicans issued subpoenas and demanded information from the White House.) It is time to turn back the tide, Gonzales tells his team, and not only regain lost ground, but expand presidential power whenever the opportunity presents itself. Berenson will later recall Gonzales telling them that they are “to make sure that [Bush] left the presidency in better shape than he found it.” Berenson will later remark: “Well before 9/11, it was a central part of the administration’s overall institutional agenda to strengthen the presidency as a whole. In January 2001, the Clinton scandals and the resulting impeachment were very much in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Nobody at that point was thinking about terrorism or the national security side of the house.” Berenson does not learn until much later that much of the direction they have received has come, not from President Bush, but from Vice President Cheney and his legal staff, particularly his chief counsel, David Addington. (Savage 2007, pp. 70-75)
Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, releases edited transcripts of taped White House conversations between then-President Bill Clinton and Israel’s then-prime minister, Ehud Barak (see Late August, 2001). President Bush’s counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to break with decades of tradition in releasing private conversations between a former president and a head of state, and gave Burton the tapes as part of Burton’s investigation into Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Marc Rich, a commodities trader who had fled the US ahead of tax evasion and fraud charges. Burton and other conservatives have charged that Clinton pardoned Rich at the behest of Rich’s wife Denise, a Clinton presidential library contributor, possibly in return for the contributions, or even sexual favors. However, the tapes indicate that one reason Clinton pardoned Rich was a request made by Barak. On December 11, 2000, Barak said to Clinton, “One last remark. There is an American Jewish businessman living in Switzerland and makes a lot of philanthropic contributions to Israeli institutions and activities and education.” Rich had “violated certain rules of the game in the United States,” Barak said, and wanted Clinton to consider pardoning him. Clinton replied, “I know about that case because I know his ex-wife. If your ex-wife wants to help you, that’s good.” Barak asked Clinton again on January 8, 2001, when Clinton called Rich’s case “bizarre” and said, “It’s best that we not say much about that.” In a third conversation, which took place just days before Clinton left office, Clinton said that such a pardon has “almost no precedent in American history,” and told Barak that he was pondering whether or not to allow Rich to return to the US if pardoned. (Lewis 8/21/2001; Marshall 2/7/2002; Dean 2004, pp. 85-86) Clinton, angered by the selective editing of the transcripts in an apparent effort to mischaracterize the Rich pardon, will request that all of the relevant portions of the transcripts be released; the White House will refuse and classify the rest of the transcripts (see Late August, 2001).
Former president Bill Clinton reacts angrily to edited transcripts of private conversations with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, in which Barak requested that Clinton pardon fugitive American financier Marc Rich (see August 21, 2001 and Early September, 2001). The transcripts were edited and released to the public by House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) as part of his investigation into whether Clinton acted improperly in pardoning Rich. After reading the transcripts, Clinton thinks that Burton has selectively edited them, and giving a false impression of the nature and content of the conversations between himself and Barak. Clinton asks the White House, which had provided Burton with copies of the tapes of the conversations, to release all of the relevant portions of the transcripts, which he says will portray the conversations in a different light. But the White House refuses, saying the remaining portions of the transcripts are now classified. (Dean 2004, pp. 85-86)
'Hating Bill Clinton' - The classification of the documents is quite sudden. Earlier in the month, a White House spokesperson said that the release of the Clinton-Barak transcripts was nothing more than part of their efforts to make more information available to Congress. “The excerpts were not classified,” the spokesperson said. “The decision to make the documents available was entirely consistent with past practice. You don’t just slap Top Secret on a whole document.” However, some observers dispute this. “Given the secrecy that the Bush-Cheney administration has pursued, it’s inconceivable that they would turn this information over if it affected President Bush,” says Phil Schiliro, the Democratic staff director for the House Government Reform Committee, which is trying in vain to secure information from the White House about the Cheney Energy Task Force. Lynne Weil, the press secretary for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls the sudden decision to classify the previously unclassified transcripts “highly unusual.” She adds, “People who have worked for the Foreign Relations Committee for years can’t recall the last time such a thing happened.” The National Security Archives’s Tom Blanton welcomed the original disclosure of the conversations, but says it came not from a sudden desire for transparency from the Bush administration, but from a desire to smear Clinton. The Bush administration passionately believes in secrecy, a belief rooted in its collective ideology, says Blanton. When asked why that same ideological concern didn’t extend to the Clinton-Barak transcripts, Blanton replies that the question ignores “a rather more focused version of that ideology that’s about hating Bill Clinton.”
Violation of Procedure - Typically, the Bush administration turns down requests such as Burton’s for private presidential conversations. However, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to turn them over. At that point, Clinton could have attempted to block the release of the transcripts by invoking executive privilege, a move that may have cast him in a poor light politically. But the events as carried out by Burton and the White House—breaking with precedent to release potentially embarrassing transcripts, edit those transcripts to make their contents appear more damning than they actually are, then retroactively classify the remainder of the transcripts—is highly unusual. (Marshall 2/7/2002; Dean 2004, pp. 85-86)
According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 220-221; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. (Savage 2007, pp. 76-78) As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” (Savage 2007, pp. 84)
A self-styled White House “war council” begins meeting shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to discuss the administration’s response to the attacks and the methods it will use (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The ad hoc group is composed of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes, and the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington. According to Jack Goldsmith, who will become head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 2003 (see October 6, 2003), the four believe that the administration’s biggest obstacle to responding properly to the 9/11 attacks is the body of domestic and international law that arose in the 1970s to constrain the president’s powers after the criminal excesses of Richard Nixon’s White House. Chief among these restraints is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978). Though Addington tends to dominate the meetings with his imposing physical presence and aggressive personality, Yoo is particularly useful to the group; the head of the OLC, Jay Bybee (whom Goldsmith will replace) has little experience with national security issues, and delegates much of the responsibility for that subject to Yoo, even giving him the authority to draft opinions that are binding on the entire executive branch. Yoo agrees wholeheartedly with Addington, Gonzales, and Cheney about the need for vastly broadened presidential powers. According to Goldsmith, Yoo is seen as a “godsend” for the White House because he is eager to draft legal opinions that would protect Bush and his senior officials from any possible war crimes charges. However, Yoo’s direct access to Gonzales angers Attorney General John Ashcroft, who feels that the “war council” is usurping legal and policy decision-making powers that are legally his own. (Rosen 9/9/2007) In 2009, Goldsmith will say, “[I]it was almost as if they [Cheney and Addington] were interested in expanding executive power for its own sake.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” (Golden 10/24/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 135)
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals (see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. (Savage 2007, pp. 138)
In the weeks following 9/11, government lawyers begin to formulate a legal response to the newly perceived threat of terrorism. Four related issues are at hand: forceful prevention, detention, prosecution, and interrogation. What degree of force can the government employ to prevent acts of terrorism or apprehend suspected terrorists? How and where can it best detain terrorists if captured? How can it best bring them to trial? And how can it best obtain information from them on terrorist organizations and plots? These questions are handled in a new atmosphere that is more tolerant towards flexible interpretations of the law. Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel at this time, later recalls: “Legally, the watchword became ‘forward-leaning’ by which everybody meant: ‘We want to be aggressive. We want to take risks.’” (Golden 10/24/2004) This attitude is seemingly in line with the president’s thinking. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall President Bush saying, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We are going to kick some ass” (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 23-24) At the center of legal reconstruction work are Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, his deputy Timothy E. Flanigan, and David S. Addington, legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. (Golden 12/19/2004) They will find a helpful hand in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), most notably its head, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee (Savage and Schmitt 6/10/2004) and his deputies John C. Yoo (Rosen 8/15/2004) and Patrick F. Philbin. Most of the top government lawyers dwell in fairly conservative circles, with many being a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal fraternity. Some have clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose ruling effectively lead to the presidency being awarded to George W. Bush after the 2000 presidential election. (Golden 10/24/2004) Others worked for Judge Lawrence H. Silberman, who set up secret contacts with the Iranian government under President Reagan leading to the Iran-Contra scandal, and who advised on pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton. (Lobe 2/6/2004)
The Justice Department’s John Yoo and Robert Delahunty issue a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales claiming President Bush has sweeping powers in wartime that essentially void large portions of the Constitution. The memo, which says that Bush can order military operations inside the US (see October 23, 2001), also says that Bush can suspend First Amendment freedoms: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009)
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009)
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009) The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. (Savage 2007, pp. 131)
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009; Sanchez 3/2/2009) There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” (Isikoff 3/2/2009) Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. (Eggen and White 4/4/2008)
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” (Greenwald 3/3/2009) If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” (Savage 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline 5/15/2007) Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 131)
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. (Meyer and Barnes 3/3/2009)
Newly appointed US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) begins investigating the murder of Thomas C. Wales, an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the office. Wales, a popular AUSA and a strong advocate of gun control, was murdered three weeks before McKay took office, when someone shot and killed him through his basement window. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis had recused the office from investigating the crime, because, McKay will later state, the Justice Department (DOJ) had no confidence in the prosecutor initially assigned to the case. Moreover, as the case was a likely candidate for a death penalty prosecution, he will tell a reporter that the office is recused because “[y]ou couldn’t have Tom’s friends in the office making those kinds of decisions.”
Begins Pressuring Justice Department - Shortly after taking office, McKay begins pressuring Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Larry Thompson to replace the prosecutor on the Wales case. McKay will recall having several “tense conversations” with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray concerning this issue. In March 2002, the DOJ assigns a more experienced prosecutor to the case. The DOJ sends no additional manpower to Seattle to help with the case, and initially offers a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, an amount FBI Special Agent Charles Mandigo will later call “insultingly small.” (After McKay’s intervention, the DOJ later raises the reward to $1 million.) McKay later says that while he is not directly involved in the investigation, he pushed hard for the DOJ to commit more resources to the investigation, and felt it was his responsibility to act as a conduit between the Seattle FBI office and the DOJ regarding resources for the case. He will say that while he was assertive, he remained professional and appropriate in his conduct; no one in the DOJ ever complained to him about his actions, he will say. “My mistake was that I assumed ‘recusal’ was ‘recusal’,” he will say. “I had erred in assuming that I was completely recused from even asking questions about the allocation of resources. I assumed it would have the highest priority within the Department of Justice. I once worked at the FBI for a year, and during that time an agent was killed in Las Vegas. They deploy like crazy when an agent is killed. Agents got off the airplane that night from DC to investigate. The director of the FBI flew out. That was not the reaction we were getting from the Department of Justice after Tom Wales was killed. Over 2002, I decided that really it should be my job to advocate for appropriate resources to be devoted to the Wales case.”
Speculation as to Politicization of Investigation - Many involved in the investigation believe that the Wales murder is a low priority for the DOJ because his liberal politics clash with the rightward tilt of the senior officials appointed by the Bush administration.
Aggressive but Appropriate - A 2008 Justice Department investigation of the 2006 US Attorney firings (see September 29, 2008) will find no reason to dispute McKay’s recollection of events. Both Thompson and Wray will describe McKay as being aggressive about making sure the investigation has adequate resources. Thompson will recall no tension between himself and McKay, though he will recall some of his then-staff members complaining about McKay’s pressure and demands for resources. Thompson will admit to becoming irritated with McKay on occasion, but will emphasize that McKay conducted himself in an appropriate manner at all times. It was “not new in the annals of the Department of Justice [that] a DAG got aggravated with a US Attorney,” he will say. He will not recall discussing the matter with Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the architect of the plan to fire the US Attorneys (see November 15, 2006). Wray will recall that some in the DOJ considered McKay to be “high maintenance,” in regard to the Wales investigation and with other issues. While some in the DAG’s office informally discussed McKay’s behavior among themselves, Wray will recall, no formal review of his conduct was ever undertaken. Wray will also not recall any discussions with Sampson, though he will say he kept Gonzales’s office apprised of the events surrounding the Wales investigation. Margolis will recall McKay being somewhat emotional about the Wales case and extremely pushy, he found his conduct entirely justifiable considering the situation. Margolis will say that he doubts Sampson would have listed McKay for removal because of his interactions with Thompson. (Toobin 8/6/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
Remains Unsolved - The Wales murder will remain unsolved. (Toobin 8/6/2007)
The Geneva Conventions are mentioned in a memo issued the day after the publication of the Heritage Foundation paper (see November 5, 2001), but only to suggest that suspected terrorists should not be entitled to the rights enclosed in them. Patrick F. Philbin, a deputy in the OLC, sends a confidential 35-page memo to the White House legal counsel Gonzales, arguing that the president, as Commander-in-Chief, has “inherent authority” to establish military commissions without authorization from the US Congress. The 9/11 attacks are themselves “plainly sufficient” to justify the application of the laws of war. Furthermore, putting terrorists on trial under the laws of war, “does not mean,” according to Philbin, “that terrorists will receive the protections of the Geneva Conventions or the rights that laws of war accord to lawful combatants.” The Philbin memo will serve as a basis for a Presidential order (see November 13, 2001) establishing the option of military commissions, which will be drafted by Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan and David S. Addington, the legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. (Golden 10/24/2004)
President Bush issues a three-page executive order authorizing the creation of military commissions to try non-citizens alleged to be involved in international terrorism (see November 10, 2001). The president will decide which defendants will be tried by military commissions. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict a defendant and impose a sentence, including life imprisonment or death. Only the president or the secretary of defense has the authority to overturn a decision. There is no provision for an appeal to US civil courts, foreign courts, or international tribunals. Nor does the order specify how many judges are to preside on a tribunal or what qualifications they must have. (US Department of Defense 11/13/2001; Lardner and Slevin 11/14/2001; Golden 10/24/2004)
Questionable Rule of Evidence Adopted - The order also adopts a rule of evidence stemming from the 1942 Supreme Court case of United States v. Quirin that says evidence shall be admitted “as would… have probative value to a reasonable person.” This rule, according to Judge Evan J. Wallach, “was repeatedly used [in World War II and in the post-war tribunals] to admit evidence of a quality or obtained in a manner which would make it inadmissible under the rules of evidence in both courts of the United States or courts-martial conducted by the armed forces of the United States.” (Wallach 9/29/2004) Evidence derived from torture, for example, could theoretically be admitted. It should be noted that the order is unprecedented among presidential directives in that it takes away some individuals’ most basic rights, while claiming to have the power of law, with the US Congress not having been so much as consulted.
Specifics Left to Rumsfeld - Bush’s executive order contains few specifics about how the commissions will actually function. Bush will delegate that task to Rumsfeld, although, as with the order itself, White House lawyers will actually make the decision to put Rumsfeld in charge, and Bush will merely sign off on the decision (see March 21, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 138)
Dispute over Trial Procedures - During the next few years, lawyers will battle over the exact proceedings of the trials before military commissions, with many of the military lawyers arguing for more rights for the defendants and with Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and Justice Department and White House lawyers (including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, vice presidential counsel David Addington, and Gonzales’ deputy Timothy Flanigan) taking a more restrictive line. (Golden 10/24/2004)
Out of the Loop - Both National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell were left outside of the circle during the drafting of this directive (see November 6, 2001 and November 9, 2001). Rice is reportedly angry about not being informed. (Golden 10/24/2004)
Serious 'Process Failure' - National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger will later call the authorization a “process failure” with serious long-term consequences (see February 2009).
Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals Patrick Philbin and John Yoo send a memorandum to Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes offering the legal opinion that US courts do not have jurisdiction to review the detention of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Therefore detentions of persons there cannot be challenged in a US court of law. The memo is endorsed by the Department of Defense and White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales. (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) The memo addresses “the question whether a federal district court would properly have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The conclusion of Philbin and Yoo is that it cannot, based primarily on their interpretation of a decision by the US Supreme Court in the 1950 Eisentrager case, in which the Supreme Court determined that no habeas petition should be honored if the prisoners concerned are seized, tried, and held in territory that is outside of the sovereignty of the US and outside the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the US. Both conditions apply to Guantanamo according to Philbin and Yoo. Approvingly, they quote the US Attorney General in 1929, who stated that Guantanamo is “a mere governmental outpost beyond our borders.” A number of cases, quoted by the authors, “demonstrate that the United States has consistently taken the position that [Guantanamo Bay] remains foreign territory, not subject to US sovereignty.” Guantanamo is indeed land leased from the state of Cuba, and therefore in terms of legal possession and formal sovereignty still part of Cuba. But Philbin and Yoo acknowledge a problem with the other condition: namely that the territory is outside the US’s jurisdiction. They claim with certainty that Guantanamo “is also outside the ‘territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.’” However, the Supreme Court should not have made a distinction between jurisdiction and sovereignty here; the wording of the decision is really, Philbin and Yoo believe, an inaccurate reflection of its intent: “an arguable imprecision in the Supreme Court’s language.” For that reason, they call for caution. “A non-frivolous argument might be constructed, however, that [Guantanamo Bay], while not be part of sovereign territory of the United States, is within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court.” (US Department of Justice 12/28/2001 )
Three of the men convicted for the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993)—Mohammed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Nidal Ayyad—are allowed to write about 90 letters from inside the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, encouraging fellow extremists around the world. Some of the letters are sent to Morocco and some to a militant cell in Spain. In one, addressed to cell leader Mohamed Achraf, who will be arrested in late 2004 for attempting to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid (see July-October 18, 2004), Salameh writes, “Oh, God, make us live with happiness. Make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment.” Other recipients have links to the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One of Salameh’s letters, in which he calls Osama bin Laden “the hero of my generation,” is published in a newspaper in July 2002, but this does not result in any new security attempts to stop other letters. The letters urge readers to “terminate the infidels” because “Muslims don’t have any option other than jihad.” Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wonders, “He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists for the jihad from inside an American prison.” Terrorism specialist Hedieth Mirahmadi says the letters would have been especially useful for recruitment because the convicted bombers have “a power that the average person or the average imam in a mosque doesn’t have.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later comment, “I was surprised. Didn’t seem to make any sense to me and I’m sure the average American would have to wonder, ‘How could this happen?’” Staff at the prison noticed the letters were unmonitored and complained in 2003, but it apparently took management several months to impose a tighter regime. (Myers 3/1/2005; Myers 3/9/2005)
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.” (Lewis 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 ; Isikoff 5/21/2004; Lewis 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.” (Isikoff 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. (Isikoff 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 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).
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales issues a letter stating that the administration’s refusal to turn over documents about possible FBI malfeasance to Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy. Gonzales’s assertion will be disputed by the Committee, based on an assessment by law Professor Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore (see December 13, 2001). (Dean 2004, pp. 87)
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents will never be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards the authority of the OLC, the attorney general, the Justice Department, and the State Department in interpreting treaties and international law. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. (Golden 10/24/2004)
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).
White House lawyers Alberto Gonzales and David Addington visit Guantanamo Bay. On the flight back, Gonzales agrees with Addington that all Guantanamo detainees should be designated eligible for trial by military commission under the president’s November 13 Military Order (see January 20, 2002). (Golden 10/24/2004)
Two weeks after Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write a memo saying that the US should not be bound by international laws covering warfare and torture (see January 9, 2002), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concurs (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) But others inside and outside the administration strongly disagree. Many will later point to Yoo and Delahunty’s memo as providing the “spark” for the torture and prisoner abuses 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). Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth will call the memo a “maliciously ideological or deceptive” document that ignores US obligations under multiple international agreements. “You can’t pick or choose what laws you’re going to follow,” Roth will observe. “These political lawyers set the nation on a course that permitted the abusive interrogation techniques” disclosed in later months. Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, agrees. When you read the memo, Horton says, “the first thing that comes to mind is that this is not a lofty statement of policy on behalf of the United States. You get the impression very quickly that it is some very clever criminal defense lawyers trying to figure out how to weave and bob around the law and avoid its applications.” Two days later, the State Department, whose lawyers are “horrified” by the Yoo memo, vehemently disagrees with its position (see January 11, 2002). Three weeks later, State again criticizes the memo (see February 2, 2002). State senior counsel William Howard Taft IV points out that the US depends itself on the even observations of international law, and that following Yoo’s recommendations may undermine attempts to prosecute detainees under that same body of law. Secretary of State Colin Powell “hit[s] the roof” when he reads Gonzales’s response to the Yoo memo, warning that adopting such a legal practice “will reverse over a century of US policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction” (see January 26, 2002). The Bush administration will give in a bit to Powell’s position, announcing that it will allow Geneva to apply to the Afghan war—but not to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. State Department lawyers call it a “hollow” victory for Powell, leaving the administration’s position essentially unchanged. (Isikoff 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” (Golden 10/24/2004; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. (Alberto R. Gonzales 1/25/2002 ; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales completes a draft memorandum to the president advising him not to reconsider his decision (see January 18-25, 2002) declaring Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status as Colin Powell has apparently recommended. (US Department of Justice 1/25/2004 ; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) The memo recommends that President Bush accept a recent Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo saying that the president has the authority to set aside the Geneva Conventions as the basis of his policy (see January 9, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 146)
Geneva No Longer Applies, Says Gonzales - Gonzales writes to Bush that Powell “has asked that you conclude that GPW [Third Geneva Convention] does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I understand, however, that he would agree that al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters could be determined not to be prisoners of war (POWs) but only on a case-by-case basis following individual hearings before a military board.” Powell believes that US troops will be put at risk if the US renounces the Geneva Conventions in relation to the Taliban. Rumsfeld and his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, allegedly agree with Powell’s argument. (Golden 10/24/2004) But Gonzales says that he agrees with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which has determined that the president had the authority to make this declaration on the premise that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war].” Gonzales thus states, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) Gonzales also says that by declaring the war in Afghanistan exempt from the Geneva Conventions, the president would “[s]ubstantially [reduce] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act [of 1996]” (see August 21, 1996). The president and other officials in the administration would then be protected from any future “prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges.” (Lewis 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
Memo Actually Written by Cheney's Lawyer - Though the memo is released under Gonzales’s signature, many inside the White House do not believe the memo was written by him; it has an unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that does not go with Gonzales’s usual style. A White House lawyer with direct knowledge of the memo later says it was written by Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington. Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, who signed it as “my judgment” and sent it to Bush. Addington’s memo quotes Bush’s own words: “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Powell 'Hits the Roof' over Memo - When Powell reads the memo (see January 26, 2002), he reportedly “hit[s] the roof” and immediately arranges for a meeting with the president (see January 25, 2002). (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
US Secretary of State Colin Powell responds to Alberto Gonzales’ January 25 draft memo to the president (see January 25, 2002). He argues that it does not provide the president with a balanced view on the issue of whether or not to apply the Geneva Conventions to the conflict in Afghanistan. Powell lists several problems that could potentially result from exempting the conflict from the Conventions as Gonzales recommends. For example, he notes that it would “reverse over a century of US policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.” The decision will furthermore have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction.” It will “undermine public support among critical allies, making military cooperation more difficult to sustain,” and other states would “likely have legal problems with extradition or other forms of cooperation in law enforcement, including in bringing terrorists to justice.” But perhaps most ominously, Powell charges that the proposed decision “may provoke some individual foreign prosecutors to investigate and prosecute our officials and troops” and “make us more vulnerable to domestic and legal challenge.” The end of the memo consists of several rebuttals to points that Gonzales made in his memo. (US Department of State 1/26/2004 ; Lewis 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
In a reply to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (see January 25, 2002), the State Department’s Legal Director, William Howard Taft IV, tries again (see January 11, 2002) to put his view forward supporting obeying the Geneva Conventions. He writes: “The president should know that a decision that the Conventions do apply is consistent with the plain language of the Conventions and the unvaried practice of the United States in introducing its forces into conflict over fifty years.” (US Attorney General 2/1/2002)
In a memo concurrent with the presidential declaration that the Geneva Convention does not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters (see February 7, 2002), Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, sends a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Bybee concludes that President Bush has the legal authority to conclude that Taliban fighters have no rights to prisoner of war status as defined under the Geneva Conventions, because the Taliban lack an organized command structure, do not wear uniforms, and do not consider themselves bound by Geneva. It also concludes that there is no need for the US to convene Article 5 tribunals under Geneva to determine the status of the Taliban, as Bush’s presidential determination of their status eliminates any doubt under domestic law. (US Department of Justice 2/7/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
A memo titled “The President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations” summarizes the legal authority under which renditions and other forcible transfers may be conducted. Officials interviewed by the Washington Post say White House counsel Alberto Gonzales was instrumental in the drafting of this memo. (Priest and Eggen 1/6/2005)
Attorneys from the CIA’s Office of Legal Counsel meet with a legal adviser from the National Security Council (NSC) and with members of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The meeting concerns the CIA’s proposed interrogation plan for newly captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002, March 28-August 1, 2002, and April - June 2002). The lawyers mull over the legal restrictions surrounding the proposed interrogations. CIA records will show that the NSC’s legal counsel will brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Michael Chertoff, on the discussion. (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 )
After the capture of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), the US government is forced to review procedures on how Zubaida and future detainees should be treated. One CIA source will later say, “Abu Zubaida’s capture triggered everything.” The legal basis for harsh interrogations is murky at best, and the Justice Department will not give any legal guidelines to the CIA until August 2002, after Zubaida has already been tortured (see March 28-August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002).
Bush Kept out of Discussions - New York Times reporter James Risen will later claim in a 2006 book that after showing some initial interest in Zubaida’s treatment (see Late March 2002), President Bush is mysteriously absent from any internal debates about the treatment of detainees. The CIA’s Office of Inspector General later investigates evidence of the CIA’s involvement in detainee abuse, and concludes in a secret report that Bush is never officially briefed on the interrogation tactics used. Earlier meetings are chaired by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and attended by, among others, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer David Addington, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, and Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes. Later, CIA Director George Tenet gives briefings on the tactics to a small group of top officials, including Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and future Attorney General Gonzales, but not Bush.
CIA: 'No Presidential Approval' Needed for Torture - Risen will note that “Normally, such high-stakes—and very secret—CIA activities would be carefully vetted by the White House and legally authorized in writing by the president under what are known as presidential findings. Such directives are required by Congress when the CIA engages in covert action.” But through a legal sleight-of-hand, the CIA determines the interrogations should be considered a normal part of “intelligence collection” and not a covert action, so no specific presidential approval is needed. Risen concludes: “Certainly, Cheney and senior White House officials knew that Bush was purposely not being briefed and that the CIA was not being given written presidential authorization for its tactics. It appears that there was a secret agreement among very senior administration officials to insulate Bush and to give him deniability, even as his vice president and senior lieutenants were meeting to discuss the harsh new interrogation methods. President Bush was following a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on the treatment of prisoners.” Later, Flanigan will say of the meetings, “My overwheming impression is that everyone was focused on trying to avoid torture, staying within the line, while doing everything possible to save American lives.” (Risen 2006, pp. 23-27; Savage 2007, pp. 154)
The CIA believes that recently captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is withholding “imminent threat information” from his US interrogators. To that end, the CIA sends attorneys from its Office of General Counsel to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other senior White House aides to discuss what the Senate Intelligence Committee will later term “the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the US military and intelligence community” (see April 2002). The CIA proposes several “alternative” methods that equate to torture, including waterboarding, for Zubaida. After the meeting, the CIA asks the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to prepare an opinion about the legality of the proposed interrogation methods. The CIA provides the OLC with, in the committee’s words, “written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques.” The CIA also provides the OLC with information about the medical and psychological effects of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which trains soldiers how to counter and resist torture and harsh interrogation techniques (see December 2001). (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ; BBC 4/23/2009) Meanwhile, the CIA will send Zubaida to Thailand for torture (see March 2002 and April - June 2002).
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tells reporters that “the framers of the Constitution, I think, intended there to be a strong presidency in order to carry out certain functions, and [President Bush] feels an obligation to leave the office in better shape than when he came in.” Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will sharply disagree with Gonzales in 2004. Dean will write, “In fact, the framers intended the exact opposite, and the president did not even have a staff until 1857, and what has become the modern presidency (beyond anything contemplated by the founders) occurred during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, with the creation of the Executive Office of the President.” (Dean 2004, pp. 179)
The General Accounting Office (GAO) concludes its own investigation of the so-called Clinton “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), and finds that some minor destruction of property did take place within the White House during the final days of the Clinton administration. (Pear 6/12/2002)
Keyboards Damaged, Glue on Desks, Graffiti in Restroom, Stolen Plaque - The GAO finds that about $13,000 to $14,000 of damage actually took place; initial reports from Bush administration sources placed the damages at closer to $250,000. Much of that money was spent on replacing computer keyboards, some of which had the “W” key either pried off or defaced. Other damage included glue smeared on desk drawers, derogatory graffiti written on a stall in a White House men’s bathroom, disparaging messages left on telephone answering machines, and signs with satirical or disparaging messages affixed to White House office doors. A file cabinet had a sticker reading “Jail to the Thief” stuck inside one drawer, obviously referring to allegations that President Bush had stolen the 2000 presidential election. And a foot-wide presidential seal went missing from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The GAO report notes that similar pranks and property damage were reported during earlier transitions, including the 1993 transition between the first Bush administration and the incoming Clinton administration. “We were unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones,” the report says. “Any intentional damage at the White House complex, which is a national treasure, is both inappropriate and a serious matter. The theft of or willful damage to government property would constitute a criminal act.” Representative Bob Barr (R-GA), a Clinton critic who requested the GAO investigation as well as an earlier investigation conducted by the General Services Administration (see May 18, 2001), says of the GAO report, “The Clinton administration treated the White House worse than college freshmen checking out of their dorm rooms.” (Pear 6/12/2002; Munn 6/12/2002)
Most Allegations Never Confirmed - Salon correspondent Kerry Lauerman notes that the GAO report is “a far cry from what was promised by Republicans like… Barr.” He asks: “Whatever happened to the looting and trashing Barr said would be documented? The expensive paintings that were supposedly stolen from the White House? The ‘cut wires’ that White House press secretary Ari Fleischer had publicly referred to (see January 25, 2001)? The never-explained ‘porn bombs’ that anonymous GOP sources had complained about? The presidential seals that were stolen, or the historical doorknobs that had been yanked off for souvenirs?” Some of the allegations of missing items, such as the missing seal and antique doorknobs, cannot be demonstrated as the result of theft, but are merely listed as “missing.” And many of the items, such as the antique doorknobs, were not on original inventory lists, but, as Lauerman writes, “suddenly showed up on a White House list compiled in June 2001—based on the months-old ‘recollections’ of staffers—which does not exactly scream reliability” (see June 2-3, 2001). (Lauerman 6/13/2002)
Bush White House Demands Further Investigations - Bush officials are reported to be “deeply disappointed” with the report, with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales demanding more details, including the full text of the graffiti and other messages that Gonzales describes as “especially offensive or vulgar.” Gonzales is disappointed that the report did not include, for example, “portions of a sign of a mock Time magazine cover” that was among the prank signs left in the White House, and that apparently contained a profanity. “It is vital to include the substance of specific graffiti, messages and signs observed” in order to fully document the acts of vandalism, Gonzales argues. “The content of a message can—and often does—indicate who wrote the message, and when” and “often provides an insight into the mindset or intention of the person who wrote it.” The GAO responds that such details are “unnecessary and inappropriate.” A Bush administration official accuses the GAO of “undertak[ing] a concerted effort to downplay the damage found in the White House complex.” Lauerman writes: “[I]t’s safe to say that a close reading of the GAO report doesn’t validate the charges of wanton, widespread destruction by the Clinton team. What it does show is the lengths to which the Bush administration went to try to make the scandal charges stick.” (Pear 6/12/2002; Lauerman 6/13/2002)
Degrees of Cooperation - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri says: “The real scandal here is how much time and money the Republicans have wasted in a vendetta against the Clinton administration. It’s troubling that the White House cooperated so enthusiastically with this investigation, but refused to provide the GAO with records of the energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney” (see May 16, 2001). Bush spokeswoman Anne Womack responds: “The GAO confirmed that damage was done at the White House. We have considered this matter closed for more than a year. Our focus is on moving forward.” (Pear 6/12/2002)
Tremendous Cost of Investigation - Lauerman concludes: “The White House made 78 staffers available for interviews with the GAO, and clearly spent an enormous amount of energy just to try to stick another scandal to the Clintons. (Gonzales’ time alone, billed by the hour, might cost more than the $9,000-plus the GAO blamed on the Clintons.) After 11 months, and an investigation that Democrats told the Washington Post cost $200,000, one somehow expected more. Now that all the facts are in, it seems pretty clear which administration should get the blame for the White House vandal scandal.” (Lauerman 6/13/2002)
Military lawyers for a detainee believed to be Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) lodge numerous complaints with unidentified White House officials over the torture of their client. Zubaida has been subjected to waterboarding and other abuses by CIA interrogators (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004, March 28-August 1, 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Mid-May 2002 and After). The complaints trigger a hastily arranged meeting between Vice President Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and a number of officials from the Defense and State Departments. The discussion centers on the production of a legal memo specifically for the CIA that would provide retroactive legal immunity for the use of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation methods. According to a subsequent investigation by the Justice Department (see February 22, 2009), the participants in the discussion believe that the methods used against Zubaida are legal because on February 7, 2002, President Bush signed an executive order stating that terrorists were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). Nevertheless, the participants agree that methods such as waterboarding probably violate international and domestic laws against torture, and therefore the CIA and the Bush administration would both benefit from a legal opinion stating what techniques are legal, and why they do not fit the legal definition of torture. The meeting results in the production of the so-called “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002). (Leopold 2/22/2009)
CIA attorneys meet with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, the Justice Department’s head of its criminal division, Michael Chertoff, and aides and lawyers from the National Security Council, Justice Department, and FBI. The meeting provides participants with an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for captured Islamist militant Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May, 2002). (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ) The CIA has already begun torturing Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, Mid-May 2002 and After, and June 2002).
John Yoo, a lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo’s contents will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that the memo regards the 1984 Convention Against Torture. According to the memo, the first fifteen articles of the Convention, ratified by the United States almost a decade before, “are non-self executing and place no affirmative obligations on the executive branch.” Furthermore, international law in general “lacks domestic legal effect, and in any event can be overridden by the president,” the memo states. In essence, Yoo concludes that the Convention can be ignored by the president. Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 12/10/1984; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Nguyen and Weaver 4/16/2009)
While the Bush White House publicly denies any desire for war with Iraq, and says it is committed to working with the United Nations to find a diplomatic course of action, behind the scenes the administration’s lawyers are working on a legal justification for war. White House counsel Timothy Flanigan develops a legal position that argues the president needs no Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Flanigan’s superior, chief White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, presents Flanigan’s legal rationale to President Bush. Flanigan’s chief argument is that the president’s “inherent power as commander in chief” (see 1901-1909 and June 2, 1952) gives him the right to unilaterally take the country to war. Flanigan’s backup position is invoking the 1991 Congressional authorization for the Persian Gulf War (see January 9-13, 1991), and the UN Security Council’s resolutions from that time period (see November 29, 1990). Nevertheless, the White House will demand an authorization for war from Congress (see October 11, 2002)—an authorization White House officials say Bush has no intention of using except as a means of bringing diplomatic pressure against Iraq. (Savage 2007, pp. 156)
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” (US Department of Justice 8/1/2002 ) This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008)
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” (Schmidt 6/8/2004) International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. (Cannon 6/21/2004) Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. (Priest 6/27/2004)
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” (Savage 2007, pp. 155-156)
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Priest 6/27/2004)
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. (Lewis 6/8/2004; Bloomberg 6/8/2004; Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), writes a secret memo to John Rizzo, the acting general counsel of the CIA. The memo is entitled: “Memorandum for John Rizzo, Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency: Interrogation of al-Qaeda Operative.” It will be released seven years later, after prolonged litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU—see April 16, 2009). It parallels another secret memo written by OLC lawyer John Yoo for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (see August 1, 2002). The memo, written at the request of CIA officials, finds that the use of the interrogation techniques proposed for use on captured Islamist extremist Abu Zubaida are consistent with federal law (see Mid-May, 2002 and July 17, 2002). The OLC has determined that the only federal law governing the interrogation of a non-citizen detained outside the US is the federal anti-torture statute, Section 2340A of Title 18 of the US Code. Bybee’s memo goes into detail about 10 torture techniques, and explains why they are all legal to use on Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), currently being held in a secret CIA “black site” in Thailand (see April - June 2002). Bybee writes that Zubaida will enter a new, “increased pressure phase” of interrogation, and will be dealt with by a “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (‘SERE’) training psychologist, who has been involved with the interrogations since they began.” (Office of Legal Counsel 8/1/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 )
Lack of Intent Equates Legality - As long as there is no intent to cause “severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes, none of these techniques violate US law. “To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes. “Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” (Office of Legal Counsel 8/1/2002 ; CNN 4/17/2009)
Ten Techniques of Authorized Torture - Bybee explains the 10 techniques that can be used on Zubaida:
Attention grasp: “The attention grasp consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn toward the interrogator.”
Walling: “For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall. You have orally informed us that the false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock or surprise in the individual. In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.”
Facial hold: “The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual’s face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes.”
Facial slap (insult slap): “With the facial slap or insult slap, the interrogator slaps the individual’s face with fingers slightly spread. The hand makes contact with the area directly between the tip of the individual’s chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe. The interrogator invades the individual’s personal space. The goal of the facial slap is not to inflict physical pain that is severe or lasting. Instead, the purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise, and/or humiliation.”
Cramped confinement: “Cramped confmement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individual’s movement. The confined space is usually dark. The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container. For the larger confined space, the individual can stand up or sit down; the smaller space is large enough for the subject to sit down. Confinement in the larger space can last up to 18 hours; for the smaller space, confinement lasts for no more than two hours.”
Wall standing: “Wall standing is used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall with his feet spread approximately to shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. His fingers support all of his body weight. The individual is not permitted to move or reposition his hands or feet.”
Stress positions: “A variety of stress positions may be used. You have informed us that these positions are not designed to produce the pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body. Rather, somewhat like walling, they are designed to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue. Two particular stress positions are likely to be used on [Zubaida]: (1) sitting on the floor with legs extended straight out in front of him with his arms raised above his head; and (2) kneeling on the floor while leaning back at a 45 degree angle. You have also orally informed us that through observing Zubaydah in captivity, you have noted that he appears to be quite flexible despite his wound.”
Sleep deprivation: “You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual’s ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive [Zubaida] of sleep for more than 11 days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted.”
Insect confinement: “You would like to place [Zubaida] in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us he has a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a caterpillar in the box. [REDACTED]”
Waterboarding: “Finally, you would like to use a technique called the “water-board.” In this procedure, the individual is bound securely on an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air now is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual’s blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e.,the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a beight of 12 to 24 inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout. You have orally informed us that this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is in fact not drowning. You have also orally infomed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than 20 minutes in any one application.… You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm.… The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view, inflict ‘severe pain and suffering.’”
Techniques Can Be Used in Conjunction with One Another - Bybee writes: “You have informed us that the use of these techniques would be on an as-needed basis and that not all of these techniques will necessarily be used. The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince [Zubaida] that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation. You have, however, informed us that you expect these techniques to be used in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique. Moreover, you have also orally informed us that although some of these teclmiques may be used with more than once, that repetition wllI not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.” (Office of Legal Counsel 8/1/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 )
Factual Background for Analysis - The opinion also gives the factual background for the legal analysis, including CIA research findings on the proposed techniques and their possible effect on Zubaida’s mental health. Much of those findings uses as a touchstone the results gleaned from the military’s SERE training, which uses stressful interrogation techniques, including a form of waterboarding, against US soldiers as part of their counterterrorism training. As the Senate Intelligence Committee will later write, Bybee’s “opinion discussed inquiries and statistics relating to possible adverse psychological reactions to SERE training.” The law clearly prohibits an interrogation method “specifically intended” to inflict “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”
No Technique Constitutes Torture, Bybee Concludes - Bybee’s opinion considers whether each of the proposed interrogation techniques, individually or in combination, might inflict “severe physical pain or suffering” or “severe mental pain or suffering” on Zubaida or other detainees. The opinion also considers whether interrogators using the technique would have the mental state necessary to violate the statute. Bybee concludes that none of the techniques used individually would inflict “severe physical pain or suffering.” Waterboarding would not inflict such harm, Bybee writes, because it inflicts neither physical damage or physical pain. Nor would it inflict extensive “physical suffering,” because the “suffering” would not extend for the period of time required by the legal definition of the term. None of the techniques, including waterboarding, would inflict “severe mental pain or suffering” as defined in the federal statute, Bybee writes. He bases this conclusion on reports from SERE training, where US soldiers are subjected to brief, strictly supervised sessions of waterboarding as part of their anti-torture training. And, Bybee writes, since the techniques individually do not constitute physical suffering, neither will they constitute such suffering in conbination, because they will not be combined in such a way as to reach that threshold. Bybee writes that the OLC lacks the information necessary to conclude whether combinations of those techniques would inflict severe mental suffering; however, because no evidence exists to suggest that a combination of the techniques would inflict an excessive level of mental harm, using the techniques in combination is not precluded. Bybee also concludes that any interrogator using these techniques would not have a specific intent to inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering, because the circumstances surrounding the use of the techniques would preclude such intent. Therefore, Bybee concludes, none of these techniques violate the federal anti-torture statute. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 )
After Senator Chuck Hagel learns that the White House counsel has told President Bush that he has the constitutional authority to use preemptive force without congressional approval (see September 25, 2001), he calls White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and asks, “Andy, I don’t think you have a shred of ground to stand on, but more to the point, why would a president seriously consider taking a nation to war without Congress being with him?” Some time later, Hagel, along with senators Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar, are invited to the White House to discuss the matter. (Gentlemen's Quarterly 1/2007)
As Bush administration lawyers warn that Vice President Cheney and his Pentagon allies are setting the government up for defeat in the courts with their hardline advice on interrogation techniques (see Late 2001-Early 2002, January 25, 2002, April 2002 and After, and August 1, 2002) and indefinite detentions (see After September 11, 2001 and December 2001-January 2002), one of the uneasiest of Justice Department lawyers is Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Cheney and Olson have similar views on the expansion of presidential powers, but his job in the administration is to win court cases. Olson is not sure that Cheney’s legal arguments are tenable. Olson is particularly worried about two pending cases, those of US citizens Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001 and August 16, 2002). Both have been declared enemy combatants and denied access to lawyers. Olson warns that federal courts will not go along with that provision, but he finds himself opposed by CIA and Pentagon officials. When Olson and other lawyers propose that Padilla and Hamdi be granted lawyers, Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, beats back their proposal because, says deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, “that was the position of his client, the vice president.” The issue comes to a head in the West Wing office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House’s chief legal counsel. Four officials with direct knowledge of the meeting later recall the chain of events. Olson has the support of associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Berenson says that Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, will never accept absolute presidential authority to declare a US citizen an enemy and lock him away without benefit of counsel. Another former Kennedy law clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier. Addington, representing Cheney in the meeting, accuses Berenson of surrendering presidential authority on what he calls a fool’s prophecy about the Court; Berenson retorts by accusing Addington of “know-nothingness.” Gonzales listens quietly as the Justice Department and his own staff line up against Addington. He finally makes a decision: in favor of Cheney and Addington. (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
Several high-level Bush administration lawyers arrive in Guantanamo. The group includes White House counsel Alberto Gonzales; Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, who had helped the Justice Department craft its “torture memo” (see August 1, 2002); CIA legal counsel John Rizzo, who had asked the Justice Department for details about how interrogation methods could be implemented (see June 22, 2004); and the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes. They are at Guantanamo to discuss the case of suspected “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003).
Pressure from Washington - The commander of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Michael Dunlavey, will recall: “They wanted to know what we were doing to get to this guy, and Addington was interested in how we were managing it… They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in DC. They came down to observe and talk.” Dunlavey will say that he was pressured by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself to expedite the interrogation and use extraordinary means to squeeze information from the suspect. “I’ve got a short fuse on this to get it up the chain,” Dunlavey recalls. “I was on a timeline. This guy may have been the key to the survival of the US.” Asked how high up the pressure was from, Dunlavey will say, “It must have been all the way to the White House.” Rumsfeld is “directly and regularly involved” in all the discussions of interrogations.
'Do Whatever Needed to Be Done' - Staff judge advocate Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver will recall that Addington is “definitely the guy in charge,” taking control of the discussions. Gonzales is quiet. Haynes, a close friend and colleague of Addington’s, seems most interested in how the military commissions would function to try and convict detainees. The lawyers meet with intelligence officials and themselves witness several interrogations. Beaver will recall that the message from Addington and his group is “Do whatever needed to be done.” In essence, the Guantanamo interrogators and commanders are given a green light from the administration’s top lawyers, representing President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the CIA. (Sands 5/2008)
Shortly after the October 11, 2002, request by Guantanamo commander Major General Michael Dunlavey for approval of new, harsh interrogation techniques, and after Guantanamo legal counsel Diane Beaver submitted her analysis justifying the use of those techniques (see October 11, 2002), General James T. “Tom” Hill forwards everything to General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hill includes a letter that contains the sentence, “Our respective staffs, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Joint Task Force 170 [the Army unit in charge of interrogating Guantanamo detainees] have been trying to identify counter-resistant techniques that we can lawfully employ.” In the letter, Hill is clearly ambivalent about the use of severe interrogation methods. He wants the opinion of senior Pentagon lawyers, and requests that “Department of Justice lawyers review the third category [the most severe] of techniques.” But none of this happens. The Joint Chiefs should have subjected the request to a detailed legal review, including scrutiny by Myers’s own counsel, Jane Dalton, but instead, Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes short-circuits the approval process. Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora recalls Dalton telling him: “Jim pulled this away. We never had a chance to complete the assessment.” Myers later recalls being troubled that the normal procedures had been circumvented. Looking at the “Haynes Memo,” Myers will point out, “You don’t see my initials on this.” He notes that he “discussed it,” but never signed off on it. “This was not the way this should have come about.” Myers will come to believe that there was “intrigue” going on “that I wasn’t aware of, and Jane wasn’t aware of, that was probably occurring between [William J.] Haynes, White House general counsel [Alberto Gonzales], and Justice.” Instead of going through the proper channels, the memo goes straight to Haynes, who merely signs off with a note that says, “Good to go.” (Sands 5/2008)
President Bush terminates an investigation into controversial Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff by firing the US Attorney supervising the investigation. A US grand jury in Guam has been investigating a secret arrangement between Abramoff and Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill pending in Congress since February 2001 that would give the newly formed Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. The bill passed. Abramoff—a $750-an-hour lobbyist and former member of the Bush-Cheney transition team—was paid by a series of $9,000 checks, totaling $324,000, funneled through Laguna Beach, California, lawyer Howard Hills. The arrangement was designed to hide Abramoff’s role in working for the Guam court. On November 18, Acting US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Frederick A. Black issued a subpoena demanding that a Superior Court official turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. (Black had already launched an investigation into the former governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, for diverting government funds for personal gain; Black apparently intended to tie the two investigations together.) However, today Black is abruptly demoted, with the White House issuing a statement announcing that it will name a replacement for him. Although Black is considered an “acting” US Attorney, he has held the post for over 10 years. Now he is demoted to an Assistant US Attorney and barred from continuing his investigations. Those investigations are now in limbo. In May 2003, Black will be replaced by Leonardo Rapadas without any Senate debate. Rapadas will be chosen for the job by Guam Republicans; lobbyist Fred Radewagen, who worked for the Gutierrez administration, will carry the recommendation to White House political chief Karl Rove in early 2003. (Radewagen has access to the top levels of the White House, including Rove.) Rapadas will quickly recuse himself from the Gutierrez investigation and the Abramoff grand jury will be dismissed. (Roche 8/8/2005; Berman 2/2/2006) Later investigation will show that Gutierrez hired Abramoff in the spring of 2002 to help him force Black out of office. “I don’t care if they appoint [B]ozo the [C]lown, we need to get rid of Fred Black,” Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002. Black began investigating Abramoff for the $324,000 contract Abramoff had received, and in return Abramoff asked for help from the Justice Department (DOJ). In turn, the DOJ forwarded the information to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. And, White House political director Ken Mehlman told White House official Leonard Rodriguez, a protege of Rove, to “reach out to make Jack [Abramoff] aware” of all Guam-related information, including people being considered to replace Black. “Abramoff claimed he had a top political guy at DOJ he could go to, to get rid of Black,” a source will tell reporter Ari Berman. In May 2002, Abramoff had a risk-assessment report of Guam and the neighboring Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) killed; the report, requested by Black, called for the federalizing of immigration laws on the islands, a rule change that would have slowed the influx of cheap labor to CNMI, as well as jeopardizing Abramoff’s $1.6 million contract with the local government. (In CNMI, workers are paid $3.05 an hour to make clothing branded “Made in the USA.”) Abramoff learned of the report from David Ayres, then the chief of staff for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Abramoff hosted at a Washington Redskins football game. Not only was the report quashed, its author, regional security specialist Robert Meissner, was demoted. Meissner later told people that he thought his boss at the time, Paul McNulty, the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia, “had everything to do with” suppressing the report. McNulty later became deputy attorney general. A colleague of Meissner’s will later say: “McNulty was kind of the fireman at Justice. He was the guy trying to run around and put a lid on things that could become political, especially with Abramoff.” Another element of the effort to rid Guam of Black was to paint him as a supporter of President Clinton, although he was appointed by the first President Bush, and Gutierrez himself was a Democrat. In November 2002, Black asked the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) for help in investigating Abramoff’s lobbying activities. McNulty was forwarded the request, as was Gonzales. The DOJ offers no help to Black. Days later, after Black convenes a grand jury to look into Abramoff’s activities, Black is removed as US Attorney. “Fred was removed because he asked to indict Abramoff,” one of Black’s colleagues at Justice will later tell Berman. “I don’t believe it was a coincidence.” In June 2006, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will determine that nothing untoward occurred in the Black firing. However, the report will be based largely on information provided by the administration, including apparently misleading testimony from Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Gonzales, who had by that time become attorney general. Rapadas was only chosen to replace Black after Black had launched his probe into Abramoff’s doings. David Sablan, who headed the Guam Republican Party at the time, will say in 2007, “I just wonder whether they wanted to prevent Fred Black from staying on.” The OIG report will indicate that Sampson discussed the US Attorney candidate for Guam and other posts with President Bush, a statement Bush will later disavow. (Berman 2/2/2006; Berman 4/16/2007)
The CIA meets three White House officials to discuss what to do with videotapes it has made of detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). The CIA wants to destroy the tapes, so it briefs the officials on them and asks their advice. The officials are:
Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel until early 2005, when he will become attorney general;
David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney;
John Bellinger, senior lawyer at the National Security Council;
There are conflicting accounts of the advice the lawyers give the CIA. One source will say there was “vigorous sentiment” among some unnamed top White House officials to destroy the tapes. They apparently want to destroy the tapes in 2005 because they could be damaging in the light of the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004). Other sources will say nobody at the White House advocates destroying the tapes. However, it seems none of the lawyers gives a direct order to preserve the tapes or says their destruction would be illegal. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) A source familiar with Bellinger’s account will say, “The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes… The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed.” (Hess 12/20/2007) When CIA Director Michael Hayden informs legislators of these discussions in late 2007, he will say that upon being informed high-ranking CIA officials are demanding the tapes be destroyed, the lawyers “consistently counseled caution.” The Washington Post will comment: “The ambiguity in the phrasing of Hayden’s account left unresolved key questions about the White House’s role. While his account suggests an ambivalent White House view toward the tapes, other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed. Also unexplained is why the issue was discussed at the White House without apparent resolution for more than a year.” (Abramowitz and Warrick 12/20/2007) Another White House official, Harriet Miers, is also consulted around this time and is said to advise against the tapes’ destruction (see Between 2003-Late 2005). (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) When it is revealed that these officials were consulted, Law professor Jonathan Turley will comment: “[T]his is a very significant development, because it shows that this was not just some rogue operator at the CIA that destroyed evidence being sought by Congress and the courts. It shows that this was a planned destruction, that there were meetings and those meetings extended all the way to the White House, and included Alberto Gonzalez, who would soon become attorney general and Harriet Miers, who would become White House counsel. That’s a hair’s breath away from the president himself.” (CNN 12/19/2007)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales denies a request made by the 9/11 Commission for access to a number of White House documents pertaining to 9/11, citing executive privilege. The documents date from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The request is made by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who believes the Commission must see the documents if it is to do its job properly, and that the White House has already indicated the Commission will get what it wants. The documents include highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs), the “crown jewels” of US intelligence reporting. Only a very few such PDBs have ever been made available, from the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Zelikow says the Commission needs to see the PDBs so it can determine what warnings Clinton and Bush received about al-Qaeda. However, the PDBs had not been provided to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and Gonzales says they will not be given to the 9/11 Commission either. Zelikow tells Gonzales that this would be bad for the Commission and the US, recalling the uproar that ensued when it was discovered the CIA had withheld documents from the Warren Commission that investigated the murder of President Kennedy. Zelikow also pressures Gonzales by threatening to resign from the Commission if it is not given the documents, knowing this will generate extremely bad publicity for the White House.
Refusal to Meet with Zelikow - However, Gonzales refuses to cave in and, a few days later, makes what author Philip Shenon calls a “blunt and undiplomatic” phone call to Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman. He tells Kean that he does not want to see Zelikow ever again, which means that in the future he will only discuss access to the documents with Kean and Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Alleged Involvement of Rove - The battle over access to documents and witnesses will go on for some time (see June 2003), and commissioner John Lehman will say that White House political adviser Karl Rove is “very much involved” in it. According to Lehman, “Gonzales cleared everything with Rove,” and friends tell him that “Rove was the quarterback for dealing with the Commission,” although the White House will deny this. (Shenon 2008, pp. 73-76, 176)
Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is stepping down to become a federal judge (see February 5, 2003). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington, want OLC lawyer John Yoo to take Bybee’s place. But Attorney General John Ashcroft, miffed at Yoo’s bureaucratic maneuvers to give the White House a direct connection into the department and cut Ashcroft out of the loop, refuses. Yoo resigns in the summer of 2003 and resumes his position as a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Instead, Ashcroft and the White House will choose Jack Goldsmith to head the OLC (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith seems a perfect replacement for Yoo—the two had coauthored one Wall Street Journal op-ed that claimed treaties were not binding on the US, and another Journal op-ed claiming that President Bush had the right to unilaterally withdraw the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972). Goldsmith was also a supporter of the administration’s military commissions program, noting that the need for “swift justice” was transcendant. (Savage 2007, pp. 182)
In a series of meetings with 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales continues to deny the commission access to White House documents and personnel (see Late January 2003). The commission wants access to classified White House documents, as well as interviews with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Claim of Executive Privilege - Gonzales says that the access the commission wants is protected by executive privilege, which means that if advice given to the president by his staff is to have any value, it must remain secret. He thinks that, as the commission was created by Congress, if he gives the commission the access it wants, this will set a precedent, meaning the White House will have to turn over other documents to Congress.
Not a "Viable Position" - Kean thinks that this is not a “viable position” for Gonzales and that he must give them something. He asks himself if Gonzales understands the political damage he is doing to President Bush, and also if Bush knows what Gonzales is doing in his name. Kean is also aware that the commission could subpoena documents, but never makes this threat explicitly to Gonzales. Issuing subpoenas would lead to a constitutional argument that would do a lot of political damage to the White House. Kean believes that Gonzales will have to compromise in the end—9/11 was such a unique event that providing some access will not set a precedent. 9/11 Commissioner and former White House Counsel Fred Fielding is also extremely surprised by what Gonzales is doing. He knows it is only a matter of time before Gonzales retreats, and the longer it takes him to do so, the more damage he will do to Bush. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126) Fielding will return as White House counsel in January 2007. In a scandal over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, he will behave in much the same way as Gonzales does in this case. (Marcus 4/11/2007)
Gonzales Refuses to Meet Commission Lawyer - Gonzales insists on meeting only Kean and Hamilton and, following an earlier frosty meeting with executive director Philip Zelikow (see Late January 2003), refuses to see anyone else from the commission, including its counsel Daniel Marcus. When Kean and Hamilton return from the meetings with Gonzales at the White House, Marcus has to debrief them and work out a counter-strategy to what Gonzales’ position seems to be. “It was very messy,” Marcus will recall. Marcus also knows Gonzales is getting Bush in trouble: “Gonzales didn’t have good political judgment and staked out positions that got the White House in trouble—these kinds of wooden separation of powers arguments.”
Some Speculate Addington Behind Gonzales - Some commissioners and staff think that what Gonzales is doing is so damaging to President Bush that he may not even be expressing Bush’s views. According to this line of thinking, Gonzales is being directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and his counsel David Addington, both of whom are known to have extreme views on executive privilege (see June 26, 2007 and June 27, 2007). Kean will later say the commission “never knew” who was really behind the arguments. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126)
The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other methods. According to a 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the officials “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.” (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ; Smith and Finn 4/22/2009) In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s Jameel Jaffer will say: “This was not an abstract discussion. These were very detailed and specific conversations. And it’s further evidence of the role that senior administration officials had.” (Smith and Finn 4/22/2009)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). (McClellan 2008, pp. 177-178)
The 9/11 Commission files a request to see some Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items it believes it may need for its investigation.
Filed with CIA - The Commission had conducted preliminary discussions about the PDBs with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, but they have not borne fruit (see Late January 2003 and June 2003) and the Commission understands it may have to fight to get the documents. Therefore, it submits the request to the CIA, which writes and keeps the PDBs, as the Commission’s lawyers think it will be easier to enforce a subpoena against the CIA than the White House.
Credibility - Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are aware the Commission must get the PDBs, or at least be seen to try hard, to maintain its credibility. This is particularly because, according to author Philip Shenon, “the PDBs were becoming the ‘holy grail’ for the 9/11 families and for the press corps.” Hamilton will say if the Commission’s investigation ended without it seeing them, “that would be the only thing the press would be interested in.” Shenon will add, “It seemed as if no other evidence unearthed by the Commission mattered; if the Commission did not see the PDBs, it would be seen in history as having failed.”
Scope of Request - The request is not for the full library of PDBs from the Clinton and Bush administrations. The Commission requests items from 1998 on that mention al-Qaeda, domestic terrorist threats, terrorist plots involving airlines used as weapons, and intelligence involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and Germany.
White House Says No - Although the request was addressed to the CIA, Gonzales replies for the White House in September, saying the Commission cannot see the PDBs, or even brief extracts. (Shenon 2008, pp. 214-215)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan obtains a third confirmation from White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove (see September 27, 2003) that he had “neither leaked nor condoned leaking [CIA agent Valerie] Plame [Wilson]‘s identity,” as McClellan will write in 2008. McClellan will add, “That day would be the last time I would talk to or hear from Karl about anything specifically related to the leak.” When McClellan asks President Bush about it, as he will later write: “‘Karl didn’t do it,’ the president reflexively said.… The ‘it’ clearly meant disclosing Plame’s identity to reporters.… ‘He told me he didn’t do it,’ the president continued.… Rove had already denied to me that he’d leaked Plame’s name, and now I was learning that he had also told the president that he was not involved.” Both Bush and McClellan catch sight of White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, in McClellan’s recollection, “had raised his hands above his waist and was now gesturing down with both to indicate to the president that he should keep quiet and stop talking about what was fast becoming a sensitive subject.” Bush says, “with a slight hint of irritation in his voice: ‘What? That’s what Karl told me.’” Card responds: “I know. But you shouldn’t be talking about it with anyone, not even me.” McClellan believes Card is referring to the strictures imposed on the White House staff by the Justice Department investigation (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). In McClellan’s recollection, Bush has little interest in observing Card’s warning. McClellan tells Bush that though he has already told the press that Rove was not involved in the leak, he will undoubtedly be asked again. Then he asks Card, “Do we know anything more about the investigation?” Card says he knows of nothing new. McClellan will later write, “The discussion in the Oval [Office] that morning—the day we would learn that an investigation was indeed under way—was a moment Andy would later recollect for prosecutors, and that I would be asked to confirm under oath to a federal grand jury.” McClellan confirms the line to take during the morning “press gaggle” (see September 29, 2003): the leak “of classified information is a serious matter,” it should be “pursued to the fullest possible extent,” and “the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into it.” Bush agrees, and adds, “And I hope they find who did it.” McClellan then asks Card, “I am still good to say that nothing has been brought to our attention to suggest White House involvement, beyond what we have read in the papers, right?” Card agrees, and adds, “[L]ast I heard from Al [White House counsel Alberto Gonzales], he did not either.” As McClellan will later write, “We were all on the same page.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 182-185) Shortly after the FBI launched its investigation (see September 26, 2003), Rove had personally assured Bush that he had not disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to anyone in the press (see After September 26, 2003).
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales waits 12 hours after receiving formal notification of the FBI’s investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003) to formally notify the White House staff of the investigation, including notifying the staff of the Justice Department’s orders not to destroy documents related to the investigation (see September 30, 2003). Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats are angered by the delay. “Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence,” Schumer says. (Stevenson and Lichtblau 9/30/2003)
DOJ Says Permissible to Wait - According to a later narrative by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, Gonzales asks the Justice Department if he should inform the White House about the investigation with a formal letter that same evening, or if it would be acceptable to wait until the next morning. The next morning would be fine, the Justice Department says. Gonzales informs the senior staff of the investigation at 7:30 a.m., during the morning meeting. He tells the officials to tell their respective staffs to preserve “all materials that may be related” to the leak, and adds, “The president has directed that we fully cooperate with this investigation.” Gonzales says he will e-mail all White House staff at 8:30 a.m. with specific instructions. (McClellan 2008, pp. 213-214)
Text of E-Mail - Gonzales sends the following e-mail above his signature: “PLEASE READ: Important Message From Counsel’s Office. We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee. The department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you. In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department’s investigation. Any questions concerning this request should be directed to Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the Counsel to the President’s office. The president has directed full cooperation with this investigation.” (Alberto R. Gonzales 9/30/2003)
The FBI publicly acknowledges that it has opened an investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). The White House directs its staff to fully cooperate with the investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). President Bush tells the press: “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, he will be taken care of.” (Stevenson and Lichtblau 9/30/2003; New York Times 2006) (In White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s later recollection, “he’d made clear that if anyone in his administration had been responsible for the leak, he or she would have to leave.”) (McClellan 2008, pp. 216) Bush says there are “just too many leaks” from both the White House and Congress. The Justice Department instructs the White House, through White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to preserve all records relating to the case, including any involving contacts with columnist Robert Novak (who first publicly outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003), and two Newsday reporters, Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce (see September 30, 2003). Phelps and Royce wrote a July 2003 article claiming that “intelligence officials” had confirmed and expanded on Novak’s identification of Plame Wilson, and stated that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA in “an undercover capacity” (see July 21, 2003). Bush tells reporters that he is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” of investigating the case, indicating that he will not support calls for an outside special counsel to take over the probe. The Justice Department has not ruled out asking for a special counsel, though Attorney General John Ashcroft says his department is more than capable of handling the investigation itself. Democrats say that Ashcroft’s Justice Department should not conduct any such investigation because of Ashcroft’s close connections to White House personnel who may be involved in the leak, such as White House political adviser Karl Rove. At a fundraising luncheon, Bush indirectly dismisses the controversy over the Plame Wilson outing as part of the “needless partisan bickering that dominates the Washington, DC, landscape.” A Republican source close to the White House tells the New York Times that the investigation will blow over within a matter of days. “The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it’s mainly the Democrats pushing it and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,” the source says. (Stevenson and Lichtblau 9/30/2003; New York Times 2006) Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassdor Joseph Wilson, will later call this an “absurdly broad net, as there were only a very small number of people in the administration whose responsibilities overlap the national security and the political arenas, the best pool of possible suspects in which to start looking.” Wilson will note, “If the president really wanted to ‘come to the bottom of this,’ as he claimed to reporters on October 7 (see October 7, 2003), he could have acted like the strong chief executive he claims to be and brought his senior people into a room and demanded that they produce the leaker.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 399)
Shortly after sending an e-mail to White House employees informing them of the FBI’s Plame Wilson investigation (see September 29-30, 2003), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sends a second, more specific e-mail with instructions on saving any documents or materials that might be pertinent to that investigation. Gonzales writes: “This communication is a follow-up to the directive I sent you this morning regarding the preservation of certain materials in the possession of the White House, its staff, or its employees. Pursuant to a request from the Department of Justice, I am instructing you to preserve and maintain the following: [F]or the time period February 1, 2002 to the present, all documents, including without limitation all electronic records, telephone records of any kind (including but not limited to any records that memorialize telephone calls having been made), correspondence, computer records, storage devices, notes, memoranda, and diary and calendar entries, that relate in any way to:
“1. Former US Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, and/or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency;
“2. Contacts with any member or representative of the news media about Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, and/or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
“3. Contacts with reporters Knut Royce, Timothy M. Phelps, or Robert D. Novak, or any individual(s) acting directly or indirectly, on behalf of these reporters.
“You must preserve all documents relating, in any way, directly or indirectly, to these subjects, even if there would be a question whether the document would be a presidential or federal record or even if its destruction might otherwise be permitted. If you have any questions regarding any of the foregoing, please contact associate counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the counsel to the president’s office.” (Alberto R. Gonzales 9/30/2003)
Three days after sending e-mails to White House employees specifying how they should cooperate in the FBI’s investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29-30, 2003) and September 30, 2003), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets deadlines for those employees to turn over information pursuant to that investigation. Gonzales sends an e-mail saying in part: “On September 30, 2003, you received two memoranda from me directing you to preserve and maintain certain documents. In a letter received yesterday evening, the Department of Justice has requested that we provide those documents to prosecutors and FBI agents assigned to this investigation. To ensure compliance with the time deadlines imposed by the Department of Justice, you are directed to provide to the Counsel’s Office, by no later than 5 p.m. on October 7, 2003, copies of the following documents, created during the time period February 1, 2002, through September 30, 2003, inclusive:
“1. All documents that relate in any way to former US Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
“2. All documents that relate in any way to a contact with any member or representative of the news media about Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
“3. All documents that relate in any way to a contact with any or all of the following: reporters Knut Royce, Timothy M. Phelps, or Robert D. Novak, or any individual(s) acting directly or indirectly on behalf of them.
“For purposes of this memorandum, the term ‘documents’ includes ‘without limitation all electronic records, telephone records of any kind (including but not limited to any documents that memorialize telephone calls having been made), correspondence, computer records, storage devices, notes, memoranda, and diary and calendar entries’ in the possession of the Executive Office of the President, its staff, or its employees, wherever located, including any documents that may have been archived in Records Management. However, at this time, you do not need to provide to Counsel’s Office copies of the following, provided that they have not been marked upon in any way and are not accompanied by any notes or other commentary: (a) press clips or articles, whether in hard copy or e-mail or electronic form, or (b) either of the two memoranda I sent on September 30, 2003, regarding document preservation.” Gonzales attaches a compliance certification that must be completed and returned by 5 p.m. October 7, 2003. The compliance certification includes the following paragraph: “I further understand that this certification is for purposes of a federal criminal investigation and that intentional false statements may result in criminal penalties or other sanctions.” (Alberto R. Gonzales 10/3/2003) In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld e-mails from the FBI that may have proven criminal complicity on the parts of senior White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney (see February 15, 2006).
Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). (Rosen 9/9/2007)
White House officials scramble to meet the 5 p.m. deadline for submitting all documents, e-mails, and other materials that might be relevant to the FBI’s investigation of the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see October 3, 2003). The White House counsel’s office, headed by Alberto Gonzales, says it will review all submitted materials before turning them over to the Justice Department, and may withhold those it deems irrelevant, perhaps asserting executive privilige or national security concerns. Democrats such as Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) say this arrangement is unacceptable, and gives Gonzales undue control over potential evidence in such an important case. “I am very troubled by the fact that the White House counsel seems to be a gatekeeper, and I want to know what precautions Justice is taking to ensure that it gets all relevant information from the administration,” Schumer says. Government officials say the White House will begin turning over the most immediately relevant documents very soon, but the Justice Department will not get all the records for a week or more. The White House is operating under a schedule mutually agreed upon by both White House and Justice Department officials. (Stevenson and Lichtblau 10/8/2003)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan prepares for his upcoming questioning by FBI agents by talking to White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales and the vice president’s chief legal adviser, David Addington. “This is not like being the White House spokesman,” Addington reminds McClellan, and advises him to “answer questions completely and openly, as opposed to only the limited information you might share as a spokesman.” McClellan will call Addington’s advice “no surprise,” but still “helpful.” He readily agrees to both Gonzales’s and Addington’s suggestions to have “someone from their office to sit in on any conversations I might have with the FBI,” even though he realizes “this would also be a convenient way for them to keep tabs on the investigation and any possible fallout for the president.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 221-222)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales spurns advice from Democratic senators on how to ensure White House cooperation in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. In a letter, Gonzales writes, “We believe it is inconsistent with the constitution’s separation-of-powers principles for members of Congress to direct the president’s management of White House employees, as it would be for the president to suggest specific ways in which senators should handle their own staffs.” The senators had suggested, among other possible actions, firing any White House staffer who refused to cooperate with the Justice Department probe or tampered with records. (Reuters 10/15/2003)
Following nine months of haggling over access to Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items related to the 9/11 Commission’s work (see Late January 2003, June 2003, and Late Summer 2003), White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees to provide the Commission with a briefing about them.
No Details Provided - Gonzales says the briefing will be about the “contents” of the PDBs, although the Commission is unsure what this means and thinks it may include verbal information about what is written in items relevant to its investigation. However, at the briefing, lawyers simply tell the Commission about how the documents are prepared. They also say that there are approximately 300 PDB items relevant to the Commission’s work, but they will not provide any details of what the items actually say.
Briefing Is 'Ridiculous' - The commissioners are very frustrated, and Republican Commissioner Jim Thompson, for example, complains, “This is ridiculous.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commissioners were seething. If the briefing was meant to placate them, it had done the opposite; it was one more bit of proof of Gonzales’s ham-handed strategy in dealing with the investigation. If anything, the commissioners were now more anxious to see the actual PDBs.” Thompson will add, “We were not going to take no for an answer.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 215-216)
After the 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the information it is getting from detainees in US custody who may know something about the 9/11 plot (see Summer 2003), it asks CIA Director George Tenet to let it either talk to the detainees itself, or at least view interrogations through a one-way mirror. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-126)
Reasoning - Dieter Snell, the head of the Commission’s plot team and a former prosecutor, is extremely keen that the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, be interviewed. According to author Philip Shenon, he is aware that “testimony from key witnesses like the al-Qaeda detainees would have value only if they were questioned in person, with investigators given the chance to test their credibility with follow-up questions. The face-to-face interrogations would be especially important in situations in which the al-Qaeda members were giving conflicting testimony.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 182)
Request Denied - However, Tenet denies the request because he does not want the Commission to know where the detainees are, and he claims questioning by a Commission staffer could apparently damage the “relationship” between interrogator and detainee and “upset the flow of questioning.” In addition, Tenet is worried that if the Commission has access to the detainees, Zacarias Moussaoui might also be able to compel them to testify in court, so he rejects compromise proposals.
Pushback - The Commission decides “to push the issue” and drafts a letter outlining why they should have direct access. Although the draft is seen by Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is never officially sent. At a White House meeting attended by Rumsfeld and commissioners Lee Hamilton and Fred Fielding, Tenet and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeat the arguments Tenet made previously, but Tenet says the Commission can submit written questions, and a CIA “project manager” will try to get them answered. After the administration “plead[s]” with the Commission not to use public pressure to get access to detainees, the Commission decides to drop the matter.
Relatives and Media Blamed - Hamilton and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean will later partially blame the victims’ relatives and media for this failure: “Interestingly, there was no pressure from some of the usual sources for us to push for access. For instance, the 9/11 families never pressed us to seek access to detainees, and the media was never engaged on this issue.” Kean and Hamilton will later say that the “project manager” arrangement works “to a degree.”
Report Includes Disclaimer - However, a disclaimer will be inserted into the 9/11 Commission Report in the first of two chapters that draw heavily on detainees’ alleged statements (see After January 2004). It will say that the Commission could not fully judge the credibility of detainee information, so, according to Kean and Hamilton, “it [is] left to the reader to consider the credibility of the source—we had no opportunity to do so.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-126)
Criticism from Staffer - Commission staffer Ernest May will later criticize the Commission’s “reluctance ever to challenge the CIA’s walling off al-Qaeda detainees.” May will also say: “We never had full confidence in the interrogation reports as historical sources. Often we found more reliable the testimony that had been given in open court by those prosecuted for the East African embassy bombings and other crimes.” (May 5/23/2005) CIA videotapes and transcripts of interrogations are not provided to the Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004).
The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 218-219)
The new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, begins an internal review of the legality of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). The program is kept so secret that only four Justice officials even have access to information about its inner workings, a pattern of poor consultation he will call “the biggest legal mess I have ever encountered” when he testifies to the Senate about the program four years later (see October 2, 2007). Neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor Justice’s top legal counsel know much about the program. When Goldsmith begins his legal review, the White House initially refuses to brief Deputy Attorney General James Comey about it. Goldsmith later testifies that he cannot find “a legal basis for some aspects of the program.” Upon completing the review, Goldsmith declares the program illegal, with the support of Ashcroft and Comey. However, White House officials are irate at Goldsmith’s findings. (Eggen 10/20/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. (Rosen 9/9/2007)
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. (Savage 2007, pp. 184; Goldsmith 9/11/2007)
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” (Goldsmith 9/11/2007)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales contacts John Carlin, archivist of the United States, and asks him to step down, but does not provide reasons for the request. “The administration would like to appoint a new archivist,” Gonzales reportedly says. No reason is given, even after Carlin asks why he should leave. Some critics will suggest that Carlin’s removal is connected to President Bush’s Executive Order 13233 limiting access to presidential records. The records of former President George H. W. Bush, the father of the current president, were due to be released in January 2005. Incoming archivist Allen Weinstein will later note that he met with the director of presidential personnel, Dina Powell, on September 23, 2003, and was asked to submit investigative forms to the White House and the FBI in November and December. Weinstein will also note that although he professed distaste for President Bush’s executive order, he “would feel obliged to defend the order against a lawsuit by the American Historical Association seeking to overturn it.” (Lardner 6/26/2004)
The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (Shane and Johnston 7/29/2007)
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 222-224) The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; Brune 3/5/2004; Allen 3/6/2004)
Last-minute action by the 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow averts the filing of a subpoena on the White House over access by the Commission to information from Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). The Commission has already hired an outside counsel to deal with the subpoena and drafted its text (see January 2004).
Effort by Zelikow - However, Zelikow works practically nonstop for 48 hours to draft a 17-page, 7,000-word summary of what is in the documents. He knows that a lot of the information in the highly classified PDBs is also available in less classified documents, to which the White House cannot object the Commission having and referencing. Therefore, he summarises the contents of the PDBs, but sources what he writes to the less classified material.
Agreement - Exhausted by the arguments over the PDBs with the White House, commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who has also read all the PDBs that need to be summarised, agrees that Zelikow’s summary can serve as the basis for a compromise with the White House. White House chief of staff Andrew Card pressures White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to accept it as well.
Victims' Families Angry - However, relatives of the attacks’ victims are angry. Author Philip Shenon will write, “Many of the 9/11 family groups were outraged by this new compromise; it was even clearer now that only Gorelick and their nemesis Zelikow would ever see the full library of PDBs; the other commissioners would see only an edited version of what Gorelick and Zelikow chose to show them.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 224-225)
In an apparent act of political retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney blocks the promotion of a Justice Department official who raised concerns about the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department counsel, provided much of the research used by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in Comey’s own refusal to approve the wiretapping program (see March 9, 2004 and March 10-12, 2004). Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had replaced Ashcroft as attorney general when Philbin’s name came up for promotion. After Cheney warns Gonzales that he will oppose Philbin’s promotion, Gonzales decides not to promote Philbin to the position of deputy solicitor general. In May 2007, Comey will testify before Congress, “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter. The attorney general chose not to pursue it.…It was my understanding that the vice president’s office blocked that appointment” (see May 15, 2007). Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) says in 2007 of Cheney’s opposition to Philbin’s promotion, and Cheney’s attempts to pressure Justice Department officials to back the wiretapping program, “…White House hands guided Justice Department business. The vice president’s fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program.” (Kellman 6/7/2007) Comey will resign in 2005 and give a farewell speech in which he will say that some Justice Department officials paid a price for their commitment to doing what’s right. When asked in his 2007 testimony what he referred to, Comey will answer, “I had in mind one particular senior staffer of mine who had been in the hospital room with me and had been blocked from promotion, I believed as a result of this particular matter.” Comey is speaking of Philbin, who would have likely been promoted to solicitor general in Bush’s second term. Instead, Philbin resigns from the Justice Department and enters private practice. (Shapiro 5/15/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney challenges objections to the White House’s secret, warrantless surveillance program (see Early 2002) by Justice Department officials. Cheney makes his objections during a meeting attended by high-level White House and Justice Department officials, but this does not come to light until a 2007 testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see May 15, 2007). (Eggen 6/7/2007) (Comey will step down from his post in mid-2005.) (Chorney 4/21/2005) The White House meetings take place one day before White House officials journey to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to try to force Ashcroft to give his approval for the NSA-managed surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft will refuse to give his approval. Cheney’s key role in leading what the Washington Post calls “a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program” is not known until Comey’s 2007 testimony. The White House meeting, held to discuss Justice Department objections to the NSA program, is attended by Cheney, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, and others. Comey will testify that at the time, eight Justice Department officials are prepared to resign if the White House doesn’t back down on forcing the department to sign off on the program. Those officials include FBI director Robert Mueller, US attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the northern Virginia district, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith. (Eggen 6/7/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney gives the Congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—their first briefing on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). The Democratic leaders at the meeting are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Daschle (D-SD) later recalls the meeting as superficial. Cheney “talked like it was something routine,” Daschle will say. “We really had no idea what it was about.” Unbeknownst to many of the Congressional leaders, White House and Justice Department leaders are locked in a sharp dispute over whether or not the program is legal and should be continued; Cheney is preparing to send White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to persuade the gravely ill, heavily sedated Ashcroft to overrule acting Attorney General James Comey and reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). The briefing is designed to give the appearance of Congressional approval for the program. While most Republicans in the briefing give at least tacit approval of the program, some Democrats, as Daschle will recall, expressed “a lot of concerns” over the program’s apparent violation of fundamental Congressional rights. Pelosi later recalls that she “made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” But administration officials such as Gonzales will later say (see July 24, 2007) that the eight Congressional leaders are in “consensus” in supporting the program, a characterization that is patently false (see July 25, 2007). Gonzales will also later testify that today’s briefing does not cover the NSA wiretapping program, later dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), another apparent falsehood contradicted by Democratic senators such as Rockefeller and Russ Feingold, as well as testimony and notes on the hospital room visit made by FBI Director Robert Mueller and a memo from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Many feel that Gonzales is using the moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” not in use until December 2005, to play what reporter Michael Isikoff calls “verbal parsing” and “a semantic game”—since the NSA wiretapping program is not known by this name at the time of the Congressional briefing, Gonzales will imply that the briefing wasn’t about that program. (Isikoff 8/6/2007; Klein 2009, pp. 88)
Cheney, Gonzales: Democrats on Board with Illegal Program - In Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, a 2008 book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Gonzales will claim there is a “consensus in the room” among Democrats and Republicans alike, and according to Gellman’s reporting on Gonzales, “four Democrats and four Republicans, duly informed that the Justice Department had ruled something unlawful, said the White House should do it anyway.” Cheney will confirm this allegation during a December 2008 appearance on Fox News. (Klein 2009, pp. 88)
Domestic Surveillance Began before 9/11? - Cheney fails to inform the lawmakers that the wiretapping program may have begun well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
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)
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it clarifies the OLC’s advice on classified foreign intelligence activities. Goldsmith sends another classified memo on the same topic to Deputy Attorney General James Comey the next day, a followup memo to Comey three days later, and a followup to Gonzales the day after that. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
After senior Justice Department officials object to the possible illegality of the National Security Agency’s secret domestic surveillance program, and refuse to sign off on its continued use, the program is suspended for several months while Justice Department officials conduct a secret audit of the program. Attorney General John Ashcroft will recertify the program at the end of the month (see Late March, 2004). The suspension is prompted by acting Attorney General James Comey’s refusal to approve the program when it comes up for its regular 45-day review, and a subsequent late-night hospital visit by White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft, where they unsuccessfully attempt to pressure Ashcroft, recuperating from surgery, to overrule Comey and approve the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Bush himself has personally reauthorized the program over 30 times since its inception after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002), and reauthorizes it himself after Comey and Ashcroft refuse to give it their approval. This reauthorization prompts a threat of mass resignations by Justice Department officials unless the program is brought under increased oversight. Bush will allow the Justice Department to recommend changes to the program, though those changes have never been made public. The Justice Department audits a selection of cases to see how the NSA is running the program, scrutinizing how NSA officials determine that they have probable cause to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mail accounts. The results of that audit have not been made public. When the program was first authorized by Bush’s executive order in early 2002, it was so secret that then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who was active in most of the government’s most highly classified counterterrorism operations, was not given access to the program. That decision, among other elements of the program, led many Justice Department officials to worry that the program was operating outside of the Constitution and without proper oversight. Comey, Thompson’s successor, was eventually given authorization to take part in the program and to review intelligence data produced by it. Justice Department officials say that Comey takes part in overseeing the reforms that are put into place during the current audit. However, those reforms do not restrict the NSA’s authority to independently choose its eavesdropping targets, and NSA shift supervisors have the authority to decide for themselves whether there is enough evidence against a US citizen to warrant a secret wiretap. No one at the Justice Department or in the White House needs to be consulted before a wiretap is put into place. (Lichtblau and Risen 12/31/2005)
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, advises White House counsel Alberto Gonzales in a classified memo that several “classes” of people are not given “protected” status if captured as hostiles in Iraq. Those people include: US citizens, citizens of a state not bound by the Geneva Conventions, citizens of a “belligerent State,” and members of al-Qaeda who are not Iraqi citizens or permanent Iraqi residents. The memo will be made public on January 9, 2009. (US Department of Justice 3/18/2004 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. (US Department of Justice 3/19/2004 ; Cross 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales works on questions that are to be put later in the day by the 9/11 Commission to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004). Clarke has recently gone public with criticisms of the Bush administration and is being attacked by it (see March 21, 2004, March 22, 2004 and Shortly After, and March 24, 2004). The questions are supplied to two Republican commissioners, Fred Fielding and Jim Thompson, who author Philip Shenon will say “were seen as the administration’s most reliable supporters on the Commission.” Some of these questions may actually be asked at the hearing, and Shenon will add, “During Clarke’s testimony, Fielding and Thompson could be seen standing up from the dais periodically and disappearing to a back room to take phone calls, apparently from the White House.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 280) When the communications between the White House and the commissioners come to light after the hearing, critics will call it unethical interference in the hearings. (Milbank and Eggen 4/1/2004) For example, Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey complains, “To call commissioners and coach them on what they ought to say is a terrible mistake.” (Meek 4/2/2004) In addition to the questions for the commissioners, according to Shenon, Gonzales is in contact with the office of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, and Frist is “prepared to rush to the Senate floor to denounce Clarke and question his truthfulness as soon as the hearing was over.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 280) Frist will soon ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002. (Babington and Pincus 3/27/2004)
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)
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)
On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” (Arena 5/25/2004) The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” (CNN 5/26/2004) The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. (CBS News 6/14/2004) It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” (MSNBC 6/15/2004) Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. (Isikoff 5/19/2004)
White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales stresses in an interview that President Bush had urged interrogation and detention policy to be legally sound. Gonzales says, “Anytime a discussion came up about interrogations with the president,… the directive was, ‘Make sure it is lawful. Make sure it meets all of our obligations under the Constitution, US federal statutes and applicable treaties.’” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of the two-year-old Justice Department torture memo (see August 1, 2002) from the Washington Post article revealing its existence (see June 8, 2004). Both confront White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. According to a senior White House official, Rice “very angrily said there would be no more secret opinions on international and national security law,” and threatens to go to President Bush if Gonzales keeps them out of the loop on anything else. Powell admiringly comments, as they are leaving Gonzales’s office, that Rice was “in full Nurse Ratched mode,” a reference to the head nurse of the mental hospital in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Neither of them take their objections to Vice President Cheney, says the official: that would be a much more dangerous course. (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
White House senior counsel Alberto Gonzales is questioned by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. (New York Times 2006) White House press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to discuss what Gonzales may have told the grand jury, saying only, “The judge was pleased to do his part to cooperate” with the investigation. (Schmidt 6/19/2004) A year later, Gonzales will tell Fox News interviewer Brit Hume that he “had no information regarding Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her role at the CIA.… I believe I first learned about it, Brit, at the same time that most Americans did, and that’s when the stories began running about her role.” Hume will ask, “So, basically, you read about it in the paper?” and Gonzales will reply, “That’s correct.” (Fox News 7/24/2005) In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld crucial White House e-mails from the investigation (see February 15, 2006).
Aides to President Bush, including Alberto Gonzales, publicly renounce the internal memo of August 1, 2002 (see August 1, 2002) that outlined a legal opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). They say it created the false impression that the US government was claiming the right to authorize interrogation techniques in violation of international law. Gonzales agrees that some of its conclusions were “controversial” and “subject to misinterpretation.” (Allen and Schmidt 6/23/2004) The White House announces that all legal advice rendered by the OLC on interrogations will be reviewed and that sections of the August memo will be rewritten. Gonzales says the section in the memo arguing that the president, as Commander-in-Chief, is not bound by anti-torture laws is “unnecessary.” Justice Department officials also say the section will be scrapped. (Priest 6/27/2004) In his introductory statement, however, Gonzales describes the circumstances under which the memo had come about: “We face an enemy that lies in the shadows, an enemy that doesn’t sign treaties, they don’t wear uniforms, an enemy that owes no allegiance to any country, they do not cherish life. An enemy that doesn’t fight, attack, or plan according to accepted laws of war, in particular Geneva Conventions.” (Washington File 6/23/2004) Gonzales claims that giving these people a protected status under the Geneva Conventions would be tantamount to rewarding the terrorists’ lawlessness. “[T]o protect terrorists when they ignore the law is to give incentive to continued ignoring that law,” he says. (Washington File 6/23/2004) Gonzales says he thinks that Bush never actually saw the August 2002 memo: “I don’t believe the president had access to any legal opinions from the Department of Justice.” (Liptak 6/24/2004)
To demonstrate that President Bush has never authorized torture against prisoners, the White House declassifies and releases a large number of internal documents, including the February 7, 2002 memo (see February 7, 2002) signed by Bush, and documents, inter alia from Gen. James T. Hill, showing that the US military interrogators were seeking more aggressive interrogation techniques. The disclosures are made, according to Alberto R. Gonzales, because the government “felt that it was harmful to this country, in terms of the notion that perhaps we may be engaging in torture.” (Allen and Schmidt 6/23/2004)
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)
Deputy Attorney General James Comey calls US Attorney Carol Lam over her office’s “underperformance” with regards to firearms prosecutions under the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative (see March 10, 2004). Comey tells Lam that PSN is a high priority for the Justice Department, and “something incredibly important to the attorney general and me, and to the president.” He tells her that he wants her “to really focus on this and make sure you are not missing something.” He acknowledges that different districts handle gun prosecutions differently, depending on the individual state’s gun laws, and notes that he is not calling “just for the sake of getting your [PSN] numbers up.” When asked (see September 29, 2008) if he thought she understood that she needed to get her PSN numbers higher, Comey will say, “I was keen not to convey that directly.” He understands that California has quite restrictive state gun laws, and state prosecutors handle many cases that federal law enforcement officials such as US Attorneys would handle in other states. However, Comey does expect her numbers to increase because he called her about the issue. He does not tell her that a failure to improve her PSN numbers would warrant her termination. Spencer Pryor, a counsel in Comey’s office and a participant in the telephone conversation between Comey and Lam, sends a memo to Kyle Sampson, a lawyer on the staff of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, summarizing the results of the calls to Lam and other “underperforming” US Attorneys. Pryor notes that Lam acknowledged Comey’s concerns, but stated that her office had received no PSN resources. Pryor notes that Lam is incorrect, that she has received another prosecutor for PSN cases. Lam also says during the call that her district’s PSN case screening process is “broken” and a new system would help boost prosecution numbers. Pryor also notes that state prosecutors handle many firearms cases because of California’s strict gun laws. Pryor concludes that Lam needs more resources to adequately prosecute PSN cases. Lam sends an email to her staff detailing the conversation with Comey, tells them that their district ranks 93rd out of 94 US Attorneys in gun prosecutions (only 20 in the previous year), and that she told Comey that while their numbers will increase in the coming months, he should not expect a “meteoric rise.” She cites California’s gun laws and the “immense” caseload of her office as reasons why their numbers are so low. She tells her staff that she knows Comey wants the PSN numbers to rise. She later says she works with local law enforcement agencies to have them refer any firearms cases to her office where the federal sentence would exceed the state sentence by 24 months. Moreover, she will say, in 2005 and 2006 her office will make concerted efforts to prosecute more firearms cases. However, she will say, those measures are “a solution in search of a problem,” and her office will get few referrals. (US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are re-elected to the US presidency for a second term. In the coming months, some important cabinet officials are replaced. Secretary of State Colin Powell resigns. Condoleezza Rice moves from National Security Adviser to Secretary of State. Her Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley becomes the new National Security Adviser. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigns and is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez. Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge resigns and is replaced by Michael Chertoff. (Kuhn 11/30/2004)
President Bush names White House counsel and close personal friend Alberto Gonzales to succeed John Ashcroft as the new attorney general. Ashcroft submitted a letter of resignation on November 2. (Bloomberg 11/10/2004)
Referring to the recent appointment of former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as US Attorney General (see November 10, 2004), retired chief judge of the Army Court of Appeals Brigadier General James Cullen says, “When you encounter a person who is willing to twist the law… even though for perhaps good reasons, you have to say you’re really undermining the law itself.” (Hentoff 11/29/2004)
Daniel Levin, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), goes to a military base near Washington and has himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to judge for himself whether or not the interrogation tactic is torture. Levin then tells White House officials that he found the experience terrifying, and he is sure it simulates drowning. Levin concludes that waterboarding clearly qualifies as torture and should not be used by US personnel except in a highly limited and closely supervised fashion. Levin, who like his predecessor Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004) is deeply troubled by the White House’s advocacy of torture as a method of securing information from terror suspects, and by its refusal to issue clear guidelines as to what is and what is not torture, decides to prepare a memo—legally binding—to replace the August 2002 Justice Department memo that established torture as an acceptable method of interrogation. Goldsmith had already withdrawn the memo after finding it deeply flawed (see December 2003-June 2004). In December 2004, Levin issues his new memo, which flatly states that “[t]orture is abhorrent” (see December 30, 2004), but he notes that the Justice Department is not declaring any previous positions by the administration illegal. Levin is planning a second memo that will impose tighter restrictions on specific interrogation techniques, but he never gets the chance to complete it. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales forces him out of the department instead, and replaces him with a much more compliant OLC chief, Steven Bradbury (see June 23, 2005). Most experts believe that waterboarding is indeed torture, and that torture is a poor way of extracting accurate information. Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson will say, “There is no question this is torture—this is a technique by which an individual is strapped to a board, elevated by his feet and either dunked into water or water poured over his face over a towel or a blanket.” (Greenburg and de Vogue 11/2/2007; Think Progress 11/3/2007; Safty 11/5/2007) Gonzales is widely believed to have been selected as the new attorney general in part to ease the way for the Bush administration to continue its support for torture as a valid method of interrogation. Shortly after taking the office, Gonzales pressured Levin to add the footnote exculpating the administration from any legal responsibility for its previous positions, and shortly thereafter, Gonzales has Levin removed from the department. In November 2007, the Washington Post’s editorial board will decry Gonzales’s ouster of Levin, and the administration’s support for torture, as a blatant “disregard for principle.” (Washington Post 11/6/2007) MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, will later call Levin “an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.” He will fire a broadside directly at the president: “Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now. Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.” (Olbermann 11/5/2007)
The Justice Department issues a 17-page memo which officially replaces the August 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002), which asserted that the president’s wartime powers supersede international anti-torture treaties and defined torture very narrowly, describing it as a tactic that produces pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The new memo, authored by acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, is ostensibly meant to deflect criticisms that the Bush administration condones torture. In fact, the very first sentence reads, “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” But the White House insists that the new memo does not represent a change in policy because the administration has always respected international laws prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. The primary concern of the new memo is to broaden the narrow definition of torture that had been used in the August memo. Levin adopts the definition of torture used in Congressional anti-torture laws, which says that torture is the infliction of physical suffering, “even if it does not involve severe physical pain.” But the pain must still be more than “mild and transitory,” the memo says. Like the original memo, Levin says that torture may include mental suffering. But to be considered so it would not have to last for months or years, as OLC lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had asserted two years earlier. The most contested conclusions of the August 2002 memo—concerning the president’s wartime powers and potential legal defense for US personnel charged with war crimes—are not addressed in the Levin memo. “Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture,” the memo says. (US Department of Justice 12/30/2004 ; Guggenheim 12/31/2004)
National Security Not a Justification for Torture - The memo also attempts to quell concerns that the administration believes national security may be used as justification for tactics that could be considered as torture. It states, “[A] defendant’s motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute.” (US Department of Justice 12/30/2004 )
Memo Divided White House Officials - Many in the White House opposed the issuance of the memo, but were rebuffed when other administration officials said the memo was necessary to ease the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Torture Opponents Disappointed - Civil libertarians and opponents of torture within the Justice Department are sharply disappointed in the memo. While it gives a marginally less restrictive definition of the pain required to qualify as torture, and gives no legal defenses to anyone who might be charged with war crimes, it takes no position on the president’s authority to override interrogation laws and treaties, and finds that all the practices previously employed by the CIA and military interrogators were and are legal. Yoo will later write that “the differences in the opinions were for appearances’ sake. In the real world of interrogation policy, nothing had changed. The new opinion just reread the statute to deliberately blur the interpretation of torture as a short-term political maneuver in response to public criticism.” (Savage 2007, pp. 196-197)
Secret Memo Will Allow Waterboarding; Dissidents Purged - A secret memo is completed a short time later that allows such torture techniques as waterboarding to be used again (see February 2005). The Levin memo triggers a department-wide “purge” of dissidents and torture opponents; some will resign voluntarily, while others will resign after being denied expected promotions. (Savage 2007, pp. 197)
White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales discusses firing some or all of the 93 US Attorneys with Kyle Sampson, a Justice Department counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft (see 2001-2003). White House emails do not definitively show that White House political chief Karl Rove is behind the push to fire the Attorneys, though they do indicate Rove has some involvement. According to a January 2005 email from Sampson (see January 9, 2005), Sampson discusses the matter with Gonzales in late December, and, the email states, “As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—underperforming ones.” It is clear that Sampson is referring to himself and Gonzales as “we.” (Gonzales will later deny any recollection of any such discussion with Sampson.) The White House will later say that the idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys originated with White House counsel Harriet Miers and not Rove (see November 2004). White House spokesperson Dana Perino will say: “Karl Rove has a recollection of hearing it from Harriet and thinking it was a bad idea. There is nothing in this email that changes that.… [It] does not contradict nor is it inconsistent with what we have said.” Miers will not begin her stint as White House counsel until February 2005, calling Perino’s version of events into question, even though Perino will later say that Miers was involved in issues surrounding the job for several months before officially assuming the post. (Ragavan 3/16/2007; Kiel 3/16/2007; Thomas 2011) In March 2007, the Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs Tasia Scolinos will issue a statement claiming that Gonzales “has no recollection of any plan or discussion” to replace the US Attorneys when he was still White House counsel. Scolinos will note that the December 2004 discussion took place while Gonzales was preparing to transition to the Justice Department as attorney general, and will add that such discussions would have been “appropriate and normal” because the White House was “considering different personnel changes administration-wide.” (Ragavan 3/16/2007)
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), warns the Justice Department that if it does not stop using evidence collected with warrantless wiretaps to obtain warrants to continue surveillance, her court will be more reluctant to grant warrants for surveillance. Kollar-Kotelly has complained about this before (see 2004). Though both Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, express concerns to senior officials that Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program is inherently unconstitutional, neither judge feels that they have the authority to rule on the president’s power to order such surveillance. Instead, they work to preserve the integrity of the FISA process. Eventually, the judges reach a compromise with government lawyers: any case using evidence from warrantless wiretaps that is to be presented to the judges for FISA warrants to continue monitoring the same suspects will be “tagged,” and that evidence will not be used to obtain warrants. Those cases, numbering less than ten a year, are to be presented only to the presiding judge. Lambeth and Kollar-Kotelly both feel that the process will work primarily because of the trust they have developed in James Baker, the Justice Department’s liaison to FISC. Part of the problem stems from contradictory statements and claims from the administration; after the wiretapping program began (see After September 11, 2001, NSA chief Michael Hayden and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made it clear in private meetings with the judges that President Bush wanted to gain all possible information on any potential terrorist attacks, and that such information-gathering must by necessity go beyond the FISA court’s probable-cause requirement. But more recent assertions by Hayden and Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales (see December 19, 2005, claiming that NSA analysts do not listen to domestic calls unless they already have some evidence that one of the parties to the call has links to terrorism, contradict earlier administration claims to the judges. Kollar-Kotelly suspects that the entire truth of the matter is not being presented to her and the FISC. Her suspicions are validated when her court is, in spite of administration reassurances, again presented with warrant applications based on illegally obtained evidence (see Late 2005). (Leonnig 2/9/2006)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005) Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” (CNN 1/7/2005) When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005)
Attorney general nominee Alberto R. Gonzales, currently serving as chief White House counsel, tells the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that there had been some discussion within the administration about trying to rewrite the Geneva Conventions. While he is committed to “ensuring that the United States government complies with all of its legal obligations as it fights the war on terror, whether those obligations arise from domestic or international law,” he says, “these obligations include, of course, honoring the Geneva Conventions wherever they apply.” However, he adds: “We are fighting a new type of enemy and a new type of war. Geneva was ratified in 1949… and I think it is appropriate to revisit whether or not Geneva should be revisited. Now I’m not suggesting that the principles of Geneva regarding basic treatment—basic decent treatment of human beings—should be revisited.… That should always be the basis on which we look at this. But I am aware there’s been some very preliminary discussion as to whether or not—is this something that we ought to look at.” (Wallsten 1/7/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 209)
Questioned about Involvement in Torture - During the hearing, Gonzales is grilled on his involvement in the administration’s decision to allow aggressive interrogations of terrorism detainees. Critics believe the interrogation policy developed by Gonzales and his colleagues created the conditions that allowed abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, to occur. Senator Edward Kennedy tells Gonzales, “It appears that legal positions that you have supported have been used by the administration, the military, and the CIA to justify torture and Geneva Convention violations by military and civilian personnel.” (Sherman 1/6/2006) Retired Admiral John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general (JAG) who testifies as a witness at the hearing, says, “I believe that the prisoners’ abuses that we’ve seen… found their genesis in the decision to get cute with the Geneva convention.” (Ferraro and Charles 1/7/2005)
Lack of Understanding of International Law - At certain points during the hearing, Gonzales demonstrates an apparent lack of understanding about US and international law. When he is asked if he thinks other world leaders can legitimately torture US citizens, he answers, “I don’t know what laws other world leaders would be bound by.” On another occasion he is asked whether “US personnel [can] legally engage in torture under any circumstances,” to which he answers, “I don’t believe so, but I’d want to get back to you on that.” He is also asked whether he agrees with John Ashcroft’s judgment that torture should not be used because it produces nothing of value. Gonzales responds, “I don’t have a way of reaching a conclusion on that.” (Washington Post 1/7/2005)
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