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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases three heavily redacted documents detailing the Bush administration’s use of brutal torture methods against detainees in US custody. The documents are turned over to the ACLU by the CIA after a judge orders their release (see May 27, 2008). “These documents supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody,” says ACLU official Jameel Jaffer. “The Justice Department twisted the law, and in some cases ignored it altogether, in order to permit interrogators to use barbaric methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes.” One document is an August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authorizing the CIA to use particular interrogation methods, including waterboarding (see August 1, 2002). The memo states that interrogation methods that cause severe mental pain do not amount to torture under US law unless they cause “harm lasting months or even years after the acts were inflicted upon the prisoners.” The other two documents, from 2003 and 2004, are memos from the CIA related to requests for legal advice from the Justice Department. The 2003 memo shows that the OLC authorized the agency to use what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques”; the memo shows that when those techniques were used, the CIA documented, among other things, “the nature and duration of each such technique employed” and “the identities of those present.” The 2004 memo shows that CIA interrogators were told that the Justice Department had concluded that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation methods” did not constitute torture. The memo also advised CIA interrogators that, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that courts can decide whether foreign citizens could be held at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), they should be aware that their actions might possibly be subject to judicial review. Jaffer says: “While the documents released today do provide more information about the development and implementation of the Bush administration’s torture policies, even a cursory glance at the documents shows that the administration continues to use ‘national security’ as a shield to protect government officials from embarrassment, criticism, and possible criminal prosecution. Far too much information is still being withheld.” (American Civil Liberties Union 7/24/2008)
The US dramatically increases the number of CIA drone attacks on Islamist militant targets in Pakistan, and no longer relies on permission from the Pakistani government before striking. Bush administration officials had been increasingly concerned about al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Pakistan’s tribal region. A 2006 peace deal between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government gave al-Qaeda and other militant groups a chance to recover from earlier pressures (see September 5, 2006). However, the Bush administration had close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who did not want more aggressive US action. But Musharraf resigns on August 18, 2008 (see August 18, 2008), and within days, President Bush signs a secret new policy.
More Drone Strikes - From August 31, 2008, until late March 2009, the CIA carries out at least 38 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. By contrast there were only 10 known drone strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. There were three strikes in 2006, seven strikes in 2007, and 36 in 2008 (all but seven of those took place after Musharraf resigned in August). Drone capabilities and intelligence collection has improved, but the change mainly has to do with politics. A former CIA official who oversaw Predator drone operations in Pakistan will later say: “We had the data all along. Finally we took off the gloves.”
Permission No Longer Needed - Additionally, the US no longer requires the Pakistani government’s permission before ordering a drone strike. US officials had suspected that many of their targets were tipped off by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Now this is no longer a concern. Getting permission from Pakistan could take a day or more. Sometimes this caused the CIA to lose track of its target (see for instance 2006). (Miller 3/22/2009)
A second Algerian woman who was allegedly date-raped by local CIA station chief Andrew Warren (see February 17, 2008) complains about this to the US embassy in Algeria. She makes a statement to the Deputy Chief of Mission, Thomas Daughton, saying that she was date-raped earlier in the year. Daughton then reports the allegations to Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Kevin Whitson. Another DSS agent, Gregory Schossler, will later travel to Spain, where the woman resides. He will interview her there on September 25, 2008, learning details of the alleged rape. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/2008 )
The FBI attempts to prevent two agents who were involved in a key pre-9/11 failure from talking about it in a television interview. The agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11. They were involved in the deliberate blocking of a cable to the FBI saying that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and later, under pressure, falsely claimed not to remember anything about it when interviewed by the Justice Department’s inspector general (see (February 12, 2004)). The FBI allowed Miller and Rossini to be interviewed by author James Bamford for a book and they told him they helped block the cable on the orders of a female CIA officer known only as “Michael” and the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. However, when Bamford wants them to repeat their stories for a PBS documentary he is making, the FBI initially says yes, but then retracts its approval, saying the bureau “doesn’t want to stir up old conflicts with the CIA.” (Stein 10/1/2008) However, Rossini will actually appear in the documentary, although Miller will not. (PBS 2/3/2009)
Andrew Warren, the CIA’s station chief in Algeria, is summoned to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to explain date-rape charges that have been made against him (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008). Warren initially tells his CIA boss that he is “surprised” to learn of the complaints. According to the official, Warren is “at ease,” and he advises Warren to take care of the issue and talk to a security officer. Warren is then interviewed by Diplomatic Security Service agent Scott Banker at CIA headquarters. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/2008, pp. 11 ; Stein 3/23/2010) Warren tells Banker that he did have sex with his two accusers, but it was consensual. He says he has pictures of them on his cell phone and digital camera, which he voluntarily surrenders for forensic analysis. The analysis uncovers multiple photographs of the two women, along with various others. However, he refuses to surrender his personal laptop computer, which he says is in his hotel room, even though he says it probably contains photos of the two alleged victims. Banker sends two agents to monitor the room, fearing Warren will attempt to destroy information on the computer. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/2008, pp. 11 ) When Warren arrives at the hotel room, the agents confront him over the laptop and he pulls it out of his shoulder bag before entering the room. Banker will later tell a court that Warren had lied about the laptop and that it was with him “the entire time,” even during the interview at CIA headquarters. According to a government motion filed for Warren’s trial, “child pornographic images” are later found on the computer. (Stein 3/23/2010)
The Diplomatic Security Service searches the Algiers home of Andrew Warren, the chief of the local CIA station, who is facing date rape allegations (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008). The search uncovers apple martini mix (Warren gave one of his alleged victims two apple martinis), multiple data storage devices, including multiple computer hard drives, memory cards, the drugs Valium and Xanax, which can be used for date rape purposes, and a handbook on the investigation of sexual assaults. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/2008, pp. 11-12 )
A CIA drone kills al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. The drone strike hits the village of Taparghai, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The CIA claims that Habib, an Egyptian, is the group’s fourth-ranking leader. Four people are said to be killed. It is said Habib became al-Qaeda’s chief of operations for the tribal region after Abu Ubaida al-Masri died from hepatitis around January 2008. (Shah 10/17/2008; Shahzad 10/29/2008) Little had been previously reported on Habib. But in early 2007, a New York Times article listed him as one of a handful of important new al-Qaeda leaders, and the FBI called him “one of the five or six most capable, most experienced terrorists in the world.” (McNamara 3/15/2007; Mazzetti 4/2/2007) A drone strike failed to kill Habib in 2006 (see 2006).
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” (Alexander 11/30/2008)
In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” (Karl 12/15/2008; Karl 12/15/2008) In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to justify his administration’s actions in its war on terror, building on his revelation from days earlier that the White House authorized the waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see December 15, 2008). “[I]it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation,” he says. “In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done.” Asked if he would take the same steps he and his White House colleagues took after the 9/11 attacks, he says: “I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.” Asked if waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods constitute torture, Cheney says they do not. “I don’t believe it was torture,” he says. “We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel. I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it’s directly responsible for the fact that we’ve been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for seven and a half years.” Cheney says that 33 high-value suspects were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques to gain information about al-Qaeda, and three were waterboarded. According to Cheney, those three were alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militsant trsining camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11,” he says. The abuse and torture of prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was, he says, “not policy. [T]he people… that were subjected to abusive practices there, I don’t think had any special intelligence understandings, if you will, or special intelligence information that we needed.” (Ward 12/18/2008)
Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” (Rose 12/16/2008) On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” (Shane 4/22/2008)
The CIA rehires a former officer who previously threatened al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). The officer, a former FBI translator known as “Albert,” is to train other CIA officers at a facility in northern Virginia to handle different scenarios they might face in the field. He continues with the training until 2008 at the latest. However, according to an anonymous US official, he will still be working as an intelligence contractor in 2010. Albert’s rehiring will be revealed by the Associated Press in September 2010. According to the Associated Press, human rights critics say Albert’s return as a contractor raises questions about how the intelligence community deals with those who used unauthorized interrogation methods. “The notion that an individual involved in one of the more notorious episodes of the CIA’s interrogation program is still employed directly or indirectly by the US government is scandalous,” Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, will comment. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
US Special Forces and the CIA come to an agreement that improves cooperation on overseas operations. CIA Director Leon Panetta and Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, sign a secret agreement that sets out rules for joint CIA-Special Forces missions. This deal will be the basis for dozens of joint operations in the next couple of years in Afghanistan. By the time of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the CIA and Special Forces will have a good working relationship. (Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011)
President-elect Barack Obama orders two days of secret briefings with the CIA on interrogation policies and procedures. He sends his chief counsel, Gregory Craig; his nominated National Security Adviser, James Jones; foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough; former senators David Boren (D-OK) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE); and former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith to Langley. They meet with CIA Director Michael Hayden, his deputy Stephen Kappes, and about 20 senior CIA officials, who brief Obama’s team on the agency’s counterterrorism and rendition programs. In the briefings, Hayden and his colleagues argue for the preservation of the agency’s secret prison and torture programs. Hayden acknowledges that the agency stopped using the secret prisons in 2006, and says that agency operatives stopped using waterboarding as an interrogation method in 2003. He wants the CIA to retain its option to use other “harsh methods” as needed. During the briefings, CIA officials acknowledge that some foreign intelligence agencies have begun withholding information about suspected terrorists from the agency for fear that they might become implicated in the eventual torture of those suspects. As Boren and Smith will later recall, the group is not convinced that whatever useful intelligence those methods may have garnered warrants keeping them as an option. “They said that they had produced valuable intelligence,” Smith will recall. “We took them at their word.” However, the group decides that “whatever utility it had at the outset… the secret prisons and enhanced techniques were no longer playing a useful role—the costs outweighed the gains.” Those costs include the palpable damage to America’s identity and values, and the lost credibility and prestige among many of its closest allies. Boren will later call attending the briefings “one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had.… I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it.” He believes that “fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence,” and that the agency did not prove those methods “are particularly effective at getting the truth.” (Smith, Shear, and Pincus 4/24/2009)
A CIA drone strike kills two al-Qaeda leaders, Usama al-Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Al-Kini, a Kenyan also known as Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam, is said to be al-Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan since 2007. Swedan, also a Kenyan, is al-Kini’s long-time deputy. Both men are said to be linked to a recent series of suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a September 16 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 53 people. Both are said to have had central roles in planning the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The FBI had a $5 million bounty for their capture. An anonymous US counterterrorism official says that al-Kini is one of the top 10 highest ranking terrorists the CIA ever killed or captured. The drone strike is said to have hit a building being used for explosives training near the town of Karikot in South Waziristan. (Warrick 1/9/2009)
A Predator drone operated by the CIA kills four unidentified people in Pakistan. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. (Woodward 1/14/2009; Glaberson 1/14/2009) His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. (Glaberson 1/14/2009)
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” (Woodward 1/14/2009)
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” (Woodward 1/14/2009)
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” (Woodward 1/14/2009)
Michael Hayden, in the last days of his position as CIA director, defends the agency’s use of secret prisons and extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists. Hayden claims the techniques and practices helped prevent new terrorist attacks, though he refuses to provide evidence of this claim, and says that they were done “out of duty, not out of enthusiasm.” Hayden says the CIA detainee program should not be subject to a public investigation, because the program was made legal by secret Justice Department memos (see January 28, 2009) and some members of Congress were informed of the program’s existence. In addition, a public investigation could possibly damage the careers of CIA officers and the agency’s espionage operations. “We are asked to do things routinely that no one else is asked to do, that no one else is allowed to do,” Hayden says. “You can’t do this to these people.” Asked if he was concerned that Attorney General-designee Eric Holder unequivocally termed waterboarding as torture, Hayden responds, “It’s an uninteresting question to the Central Intelligence Agency.” He continues: “We don’t do that. We haven’t done it since March 2003, and we don’t intend to do it. What the agency has done in the past, what it is doing now, what it will do in the future is based on the best legal counsel it has at the time.” Hayden says he was “heartened” by President Obama’s recent remarks that the nation must “move beyond” the Bush years. (Landay 1/15/2009)
Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” (DeYoung and Finn 1/25/2009) Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” (United Press International 1/14/2009)
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). (Weiss 1/14/2009)
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” (DeYoung and Finn 1/25/2009)
After taking office as president (see January 20-21, 2009), Barack Obama instructs new CIA Director Leon Panetta to develop options and find new resources for pursuing Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that while “a lot of good” had been done during the Bush administration years, resources for the CIA’s bin Laden hunt “fluctuated over time.” As part of the effort, the CIA increases the number of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011)
Obama: Bin Laden Must Be Killed - In the spring of 2009, Obama tells his top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda can never be truly defeated unless bin Laden is killed, and the US needs the closure his death would provide. Obama allegedly says: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.… I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.” (Tapper 6/9/2011)
New Attitude towards Pakistan - Part of the change is a new attitude towards the government of Pakistan. President Bush had close personal ties to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But Musharraf resigned shortly before Obama became president (see August 18, 2008), making those ties moot. An unnamed former top Bush administration official will later say: “For a long time there was a strong inclination at the highest levels during our time to work with the Pakistanis, treat them as partners, defer to their national sensitivities.… There was some good reason for that.” But, this person says, the Obama administration “do seem more willing to push the envelope.” In 2011, former senior State Department official Vali Nasr will say: “Obama was fundamentally honest that the United States and Pakistan were on different trajectories in Afghanistan. Under Bush, there was this pretense that we were all in this war on terror together.” The Obama administration is increasingly skeptical about Pakistan’s promises to act against militants, and the US is more willing to act on its own to get militants hiding in Pakistan. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011)
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009) “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009) Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” (US News and World Report 1/23/2009)
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. (Collinson 1/22/2009) Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009; Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009)
President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” (Collinson 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009)
Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. (Reuters 1/22/2009)
A CIA-controlled Predator drone operating in Pakistan mistakenly attacks the residence of a pro-government tribal leader six miles outside the town of Wana, South Waziristan. Its missiles kill the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children, one of whom is only five. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
A CIA-controlled Predator drone assassinates four Arabs in Pakistan. New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer will later comment that the men are “all likely affiliated with al-Qaeda.” (Mayer 10/26/2009)
White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” (Meyer 1/25/2009)
ABC News breaks the story that Andrew Warren, until recently chief of the CIA station in Algeria, is accused of a pair of date rapes (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008). The story recounts details of the rapes, as found in an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant for Warren’s computer. ABC also mentions that Warren is a convert to Islam. (Ross, McCarthy, and Hill 1/28/2009) After the story is picked up by other media outlets, the Los Angeles Times notes a political aspect of the revelation: “The allegations have the potential to represent a serious setback for the US as the Obama administration is trying to repair relations with the Muslim world.” (Miller 1/29/2009) Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in women’s issues in the Middle East, says, “It has the potential to be quite explosive if it’s not handled well by the United States government.” Former CIA officer Robert Baer comments on the security implications: “My question is how the CIA would not have picked up on this in their own regular reviews of CIA officers overseas. From a national security standpoint [the alleged rapes would be] not only wrong but could open him up to potential blackmail and that’s something the CIA should have picked up on. This is indicative of personnel problems of all sorts that run through the agency.” (Ross, McCarthy, and Hill 1/28/2009)
The US State Department cancels the official diplomatic passport of Sabina De Sousa, a CIA officer who helped prepare the rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) in 2003. De Sousa was working under State Department cover at the time. The move is the result of De Sousa being named as a CIA officer in an Italian trial against her and dozens of others involved in the abduction. Reporter Jeff Stein will say that the cancellation is a “professional death knell” for De Sousa, as she cannot get another position abroad without it, and that it leaves her “even more vulnerable to arrest and extradition by Italian authorities should she travel abroad.” In addition, the State Department tells De Sousa she cannot travel to India to visit her sick mother, and that she will be dismissed if she does. De Sousa quits her job in response. (Stein 5/15/2009)
During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, repudiates former Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the US is less safe under Obama (see February 4, 2009). Panetta says: “I was disappointed by those comments because the implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of the United States wants to abide by the law and the Constitution. I think we’re a stronger nation when we abide by the law and the Constitution.” (Frick 2/5/2009)
President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon Panetta, says that the CIA will not carry out “extraordinary renditions” under his tenure. Sparked by recent claims that the Obama administration intends to continue such extraordinary renditions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Panetta during his Senate confirmation hearings, “Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?” Panetta says, “No we will not.” He adds, “[B]ecause under the executive order signed by the president (see January 22, 2009), that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values—that has been forbidden by the executive order.” Panetta goes on to note the difference between “extraordinary rendition” and law enforcement rendition. (Frick 2/5/2009)
During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, is asked by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) if a president has the authority to order torture. Panetta responds, “No one is above the law.” He continues: “I understand the powers that the president has under Article II [of the US Constitution], and they are broad powers, but nobody is above the law. Nobody is above the law. And I think that even the president of the United States has to abide by the statutes and by the laws passed by the Congress. So yes, he has broad authority under Article II, but I do not think he can violate the laws of this country.” (Frick 2/5/2009)
The CIA should have immediately fired Andrew Warren, an officer accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), says Leon Panetta, the nominee to head the agency. Panetta makes the comments at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Although prosecutors have not yet charged Warren, Panetta says: “The level of behavior involved in this situation, I think is so onerous that the person should have been terminated. And we have the responsibility, as director of the CIA, to implement that kind of termination.” Warren will actually be fired some time in the next few weeks (see Shortly After March 20, 2009). Panettta also says that the current management’s decision not to notify Congress of the case when it came to light last October was incorrect. “I think that was wrong,” says Panetta in answer to a question from committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who first learned of the Warren case from ABC News. When asked by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Panetta also says that the case was a “significant intelligence matter,” which triggers automatic reporting standards to Congress. He adds: “My understanding is that first information about this actually came to our attention some time back in October. And I think that was the time to have briefed Congress.” (Ross 2/6/2009)
A Justice Department official says that the Obama administration will continue to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) in a lawsuit filed by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see February 8, 2009). In the case Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc, Mohamed and four former detainees are suing a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for cooperating with the CIA in subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition,” flying them to foreign countries and secret overseas CIA prisons where, they say, they were tortured. The case was thrown out a year ago, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has appealed it. According to a source inside the Ninth US District Court, a Justice Department lawyer tells the presiding judge that its position has not changed, that the new administration stands behind arguments that the previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The lawyer says the entire subject matter remains a state secret. According to Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, “It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Reynolds that the privilege not ‘be lightly invoked.’” Miller adds that Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting a review of all state secret privilege matters. “The Attorney General has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the State Secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” Miller says. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. The Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know. This administration will be transparent and open, consistent with our national security obligations.” The ACLU’s Anthony Romero says that the Obama administration is doing little besides offering “more of the same.” He continues: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition, and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for Mohamed and the other plaintiffs, adds: “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.” (Tapper and de Vogue 2/9/2009)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). (Segura 2/13/2009) “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” (Center for Constitutional Rights 2/12/2009)
More than 30 people are killed in a CIA drone attack in Pakistan. According to reporter Jane Mayer, 25 of them are “apparently members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, though none [are] identified as major leaders.” (Mayer 10/26/2009)
Leon Panetta is sworn in as the latest director of the CIA. He was nominated by President Obama shortly after Obama became president, and he replaces Michael Hayden. Unlike many previous CIA directors, he did not rise up through the CIA. He is best known for being chief of staff during the Clinton administration. (Carnevale 2/19/2009)
Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. (Townsend 2/22/2009; Booth and Norton-Taylor 2/24/2009)
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. (Townsend 2/22/2009)
Former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), a British citizen who suffered extensive abuse during his detention (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004 and February 8, 2009) and is just now released (see February 22-24, 2009), says in a written statement that British officials from MI5 played an integral part in his abduction and torture at the hands of the CIA and Moroccan officials. Senior MPs say they intend to investigate his claims. Just after his arrival in London, Mohamed tells reporters: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence.… I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers.” Days later, the Daily Mail will obtain documents from Mohamed’s American court proceedings that show MI5 agents twice gave CIA agents lists of questions they wanted to have asked, as well as dossiers of photographs. (Norton-Taylor 2/24/2009; Rose 3/8/2009)
Gives Primary Blame to CIA - Mohamed places the bulk of the blame on his rendition and torture on the CIA, and says, “It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways—all orchestrated by the United States government.” (Johnson 2/24/2009)
'They Sold Me Out' - Mohamed will later say that he reached his “lowest ebb” when he realized British agents were involved in his interrogation and torture. “They started bringing British files to the interrogations,” he will recall, “not one, but several of them, thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people who were torturing me, I felt completely naked.… They sold me out.” The documents indicate that MI5 did not know where Mohamed was being held, but that its agents knew he was in a third nation’s custody through the auspices of the CIA. MI5 agents met with their CIA counterparts in September 2002, well after Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, to discuss the case. (Rose 3/8/2009)
False Confession - He suffered tortures in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002), Morocco, and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), including being mutilated with scalpels, a mock execution, sleep deprivation for days, being fed contaminated food, and being beaten for hours while hanging by his wrists from shackles in the ceiling. He says that the closest he came to losing his mind entirely was when, in US custody in Afghanistan, he was locked in a cell and forced to listen to a CD of rap music played at ear-shattering volume 24 hours a day for a month. It was these tortures that drove him to confess to being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb” (see November 4, 2005), a confession he now says was untrue and given merely to avoid further torment. He also confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and getting a passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: “None of it was true.” (Rose 3/8/2009)
'Zero Doubt' of British Complicity - His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says Mohamed is being cared for under the auspices of his legal team, and is “incredibly skinny and very emaciated.” Stafford Smith says he has “zero doubt” Britain was complicit in his client’s ill-treatment. “Britain knew he was being abused and left him,” he says. Stafford Smith also says Mohamed was subjected to “very serious abuse” in Guantanamo. Mike Gapes, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says he intends to question Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown over “outstanding issues,” which include “rendition, what happened to people in Guantanamo Bay, and black sites,” a reference to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Two British judges say they are suppressing “powerful evidence” of Mohamed’s torture at the insistence of Miliband and US authorities (see February 4, 2009). (Norton-Taylor 2/24/2009) Miliband says Mohamed’s release was effected due to “intensive negotiations with the US government,” in which he played a key part. Edward Davey of the Liberal Democrats has little use for Miliband’s claims, saying, “It is telling that David Miliband is unable to give a straightforward yes or no as to whether British agents and officials have been complicit in torture,” and adds that “Mohamed’s case may just be the tip of the iceberg.” (Johnson 2/24/2009)
Evidence that MI5 Lied - The new revelations about MI5’s involvement contradict the testimony of MI5 officials, who in 2007 told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the agency had no idea that Mohamed had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” to Morocco or anywhere else. The Daily Mail will note, “The revelations will put Foreign Secretary David Miliband under even greater pressure to come clean about British involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of Muslim terror suspects.” (Rose 3/8/2009)
In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). (Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al 3/2/2009 ) The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. (Roth 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union 3/6/2009) The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. (Johnson and Warrick 3/3/2009)
Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. (Leopold 3/6/2009)
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the CIA turns over unredacted pages of a classified internal agency report that concluded the techniques used on two prisoners “appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994). The CIA also turns over evidence showing that videotapes of the two prisoners being tortured were destroyed (see March 6, 2009). The pages are from a 2004 report compiled by then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson. The document reads in part: “In January 2003, OIG [Office of Inspector General] initiated a special review of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. This review was intended to evaluate CIA detention and interrogation activities, and was not initiated in response to an allegation of wrongdoing. During the course of the special review, OIG was notified of the existence of videotapes of the interrogations of detainees. OIG arranged with the NCS [National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the CIA] to review the videotapes at the overseas location where they were stored. OIG reviewed the videotapes at an overseas covert NCS facility in May 2003. After reviewing the videotapes, OIG did not take custody of the videotapes and they remained in the custody of NCS. Nor did OIG make or retain a copy of the videotapes for its files. At the conclusion of the special review in May 2004, OIG notified [the Justice Department] and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.” The report has never been made public, but information concerning it was revealed by the New York Times in 2005 (see May 7, 2004). (Leopold 3/6/2009)
In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. (Black 3/11/2009) (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) (Blitzer 3/30/2009) Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” (Black 3/11/2009) CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” (Black 3/12/2009)
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. (Hederman 3/15/2009 ; Danner 3/15/2009) Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” (Danner 3/15/2009)
Andrew Warren, a CIA officer accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), is fired by the agency. The exact timing of the firing is unclear, but Warren is apparently notified of his impending dismissal by March 20, 2009. (Warrick and Smith 3/20/2009) According to a media report, Warren will have been fired by late June, when his indictment by a federal grand jury is announced (see June 18, 2009). (Ryan 6/29/2009)
The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” (Finn and Warrick 3/29/2009)
The CIA fires two contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from their lucrative consulting contracts. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA’s torture program (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), and earned $1,000 a day in doing so (see April 30, 2009). The CIA now believes that the two fundamentally misrepresented their knowledge of the safety and efficacy of particular torture techniques, particularly waterboarding. The firings are part of a larger “purge” by CIA Director Leon Panetta of all contractors involved in the Bush-era torture program. Panetta tells CIA employees that all contractors involved in the interrogation program and secret prisons are being “promptly terminated.” (Cole 6/16/2009)
The CIA says it intends to close down the network of secret overseas prisons it used to torture suspected terrorists during the Bush administration. CIA Director Leon Panetta says that agency officers who worked in the program “should not be investigated, let alone punished” because the Justice Department under President Bush had declared their actions legal. Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009) and investigations by the International Committee of the Red Cross (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) have shown that torture was used on several prisoners in these so-called “black sites.” Panetta says the secret detention facilities have not been used since 2006, but are still costing taxpayers money to keep open. Terminating security contracts at the sites would save “at least $4 million,” he says. The CIA has never revealed the location of the sites, but independent investigations and news reports place at least some of them in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania, and Jordan. Agency officials have claimed that fewer than 100 prisoners were ever held in the sites, and around 30 of them were tortured. The last 14 prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006), but then-President Bush ordered the sites to remain open for future use. Since then, two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are known to have been kept in the sites. Panetta also says that the CIA will no longer use private contractors to conduct interrogations. (Shane 4/10/2009)
As the Obama administration releases four new and controversial Bush-era torture memos (see April 16, 2009), both the White House and the CIA reassure agency personnel that they will not be prosecuted for carrying out the policies of the Bush administration. The White House statement is carefully worded to give no such reassurances to former Bush administration officials who helped codify and implement such policies. “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” says Attorney General Eric Holder. White House officials say that any CIA agency employee subjected to international tribunals or Congressional inquiries would receive legal representation at no cost to themselves, and the government would indemnify agency workers against any financial judgments. In the weeks before the memos’ release, top CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta, argued that the memos should not be released because the graphic detail in them could lead to a demand for investigations and prosecutions of CIA interrogators and other personnel. Panetta tells CIA employees that since the torture policies were approved at the highest level of the Bush administration, they would not be prosecuted as long as they followed the legal guidelines laid down by the Justice Department. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” Panetta says. Some civil rights organizations respond with a call for prosecutions. A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights says, “Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high level officials who conceived, justified, and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted.” (Johnson and Tate 4/17/2009) The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for criminal investigations (see April 16, 2009).
Marcy Wheeler, an author and progressive blogger whose research is used by mainstream media to flesh out its coverage of the torture controversy (see April 18, 2009), discovers a footnote in a recently released Justice Department memo (see May 10, 2005 and April 16, 2009) that proves US interrogators sometimes exceeded the restrictions laid down on waterboarding by this and other Justice Department legal opinions. (Marcy Wheeler 4/17/2009) The memo was dated May 10, 2005 and was issued by Steven Bradbury, then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 ) Wheeler writes: “In other words, the interrogators were dumping water on [Abu Zubaida]‘s and KSM’s [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s] faces and repeating that treatment over and over and over. Without any legal authorization to do so, no matter how bogus.… And note, this is precisely why the torture tapes were destroyed (see March 2, 2009 and March 6, 2009). CIA has admitted that the guys waterboarding Abu Zubaida broke the law. That tape was the irrefutable evidence of who did what.” (Marcy Wheeler 4/17/2009) She adds: “There’s been a lot of discussion about whether those who did what the OLC memos authorized should be prosecuted. But in the case of those who waterboarded [KSM and Abu Zubaida], that’s irrelevant, because they did things the OLC memos didn’t authorize.” (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009)
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2009; Shane 4/19/2009; BBC 4/23/2009) Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” (CNN 4/17/2009) House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” (Powers 4/16/2009) Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” (United Press International 4/16/2009)
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” (US Department of Justice 4/16/2009) President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” (Shane 4/19/2009) The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2009)
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2009; Shane 4/19/2009; BBC 4/23/2009)
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009)
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. (Linzer 4/16/2009) Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009; Shane 4/19/2009) Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009) Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. (Abrams 4/28/2009)
Psychologists and medical ethicists react with horror to recent reports that a psychologist and various medical professionals took part in torturing prisoners—information that was revealed by recently released Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009). A psychologist, whose name was redacted from the memos but is apparently James Mitchell (see January 2002 and After), provided, as the Washington Post reports, “ideas, practical advice, and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break [detainee] Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear—all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so.” The names of other psychologists and medical practicioners were also redacted from the memos. They monitored torture victims, helped keep them alive during sometimes-brutal interrogation sessions, and sometimes, the Post writes, “actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture.” The detainees were not the only ones being monitored. Psychologists were dispatched to each secret CIA prison, or “black site,” to make sure the medical professionals involved in the daily torture “could stand up, psychologically handle it,” says a former CIA official. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA.
Debate over Ethics of Participating in Torture - Frank Donaghue of the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights says: “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology. All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” George Annas, a professor of health law and bioethics, says, “I don’t think we had any idea doctors were involved to this extent, and it will shock most physicians.” The use of doctors to monitor torture victims is “totally unethical.… In terms of ethics, it’s not even a close call.” The American Medical Association’s policy guidelines state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened,” and doctors can treat detainees only “if doing so is in their best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” Author and professor of medicine Steven Miles says the actions described in the memos are the “kind of stuff that doctors have been tried, convicted, and imprisoned for in other countries—and that’s what should happen here.” But Michael Gross, an Israeli author and professor, says if medical professionals believe particular interrogation tactics do not constitute torture, then there is no reason for them not to participate. “Physicians are faced with a hard dilemma,” he says. “They have professional obligations to do no harm, but they also have a duty as a citizen to provide expertise to their government when the national security is at stake. In a national security crisis, I believe our duties as citizens take precedence.” The American Psychological Association (APA) has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization have noted that the APA has failed to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a 2006 report, “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.”
Memos Say US Doctors' Participation Morally Distinct from Instances in Other Countries - The memos acknowledged that the participation of medical professionals in torturing prisoners posed an ethical dilemma, but contended that the CIA’s use of doctors in such interrogations is morally distinct from the practices of other countries that practice torture. One such distinction was that doctors observing interrogations could stop them “if in their professional judgment the detainee may suffer severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” In one instance, the CIA chose not to subject a detainee to waterboarding due to a “medical contraindication,” according to a May 10, 2005, memo. (Warrick and Finn 4/18/2009)
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” (Stein 4/19/2009) Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” (Newmyer 4/21/2009)
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” (Stein 4/19/2009)
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” (Newmyer 4/21/2009)
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden refuses to confirm information from a recently released CIA memo that shows alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). Even though the memo has been released to the public, Hayden says he believes that information is still classified. Hayden says he opposed the release of the memo and three others recently released by the White House. Even though President Obama has said that the US will never use waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation techniques” again, Hayden says: “At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information. Now, it doesn’t mean we would always go to the outer limits, but it describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond. To me, that’s very useful for our enemies, even if as a policy matter, this president at this time had decided not to use one, any, or all of those techniques. It reveals the outer limits. That’s very important.” Hayden also disputes reports that suspected terrorist Abu Zubaida revealed nothing new after being tortured; he says that after Zubaida was subjected to waterboarding and other unspecified “techniques,” he revealed information leading to the capture of suspected terrorist Ramzi bin al-Shibh. (Shane 4/19/2009; Terkel 4/19/2009) Days later, former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan will reveal information that disputes Hayden’s claims (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” (Fox News 4/20/2009) The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 ; Knowlton 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 ; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009) The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. (Landay 4/21/2009)
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 ; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009) According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 )
European scientists whose work was used by the CIA and Justice Department to help justify the legality of torture methods denounce the Bush administration for misusing their scientific findings. Bernd Kundermann, a sleep specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Marburg, says, “It is total nonsense to cite our study in this context.” Paris sleep specialist S. Hakki Onen says of his sleep research: “I’m disappointed, upset, consternated, and even hurt at seeing this. To see [the research] used in this manner is upsetting because [the CIA’s] goals run counter to the therapeutic intent of our effort.… In publishing clinical findings like this, you’re aware you lose control of them, because they can be read and even abused by people who may have other objectives in mind.” Studies by Kundermann and Onen were used by the CIA in its determination of sleep deprivation tactics to be used against prisoners. British sleep researcher James Horne calls the use of his work by the CIA to justify torture “nonsense.” A 2004 study by Kundermann, which demonstrated that people deprived of sleep for a night have an increased sensitivity to pain, was cited in two 2005 Justice Department memos (see May 10, 2005 and May 10, 2005) that concluded sleep deprivation up to 180 hours (seven and one-half days) would cause increased pain but not meet the legal standard of “severe physical pain,” even when used in conjunction with other techniques such as physical beatings and waterboarding. Kundermann says his work does not justify the Justice Department’s conclusion. “We were working with healthy volunteers and didn’t deprive them of sleep for more than one day without allowing them to recover,” he says. “Even under these circumstances, certain changes can occur, such as hallucinations, depending on the individual’s condition.” The methods employed by CIA interrogators could have much more severe effects, including induced psychosis. Onen says the CIA sleep deprivation techniques far exceeded “the maximum we set for ethical purposes.” Horne writes that the CIA’s use of his study to conclude that “even very extended sleep deprivation does not cause physical pain” is seriously flawed. “Prolonged stress with sleep deprivation will lead to a physiological exhaustion of the body’s defense mechanisms, physical collapse, and with the potential for various ensuing illnesses,” he notes. “We don’t know at what point this latter phase would be reached with ‘coercive techniques,’ but to claim that 180 hours is safe in these respects is nonsense.” (Scherer 4/21/2009)
A newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee chronology discloses that the small group of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing the torture of enemy detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 9, 2008) did not operate on their own, but were authorized by top White House officials such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see April 2002 and After). Other top officials, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, were apparently left out of the decision-making process. Former committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) says the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions “is not complete,” and urges the prompt declassification of other Bush-era documents that, he says, will show how the Bush administration interpreted the laws governing torture and war crimes. The committee report began in the summer of 2008, at Rockefeller’s behest, and was drafted by committee staffers with heavy input from Bush officials. The entire effort was coordinated through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Bush’s National Security Council refused to declassify the report; President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, signed off on its release and the committee clears it for release today. (Smith and Finn 4/22/2009; Talev 4/22/2009) The Intelligence Committee report dovetails with a report issued by the Senate Armed Forces Committee that showed Defense Department officials debated torture methods months before the Justice Department authorized such methods (see April 21, 2009). The report also shows:
The CIA thought al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was withholding information about an imminent threat as early as April 2002 (see March 28-August 1, 2002), but did not receive authorization to torture him until three months later.
Some Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the torture of Zubaida and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
CIA Director George Tenet, in the spring of 2003, asked for a reaffirmation of the legality of torture methods (perhaps this memo—see June 1, 2003). Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among the participants at a meeting where it was decided that the torture policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell were not present.
The CIA briefed Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
Administration officials had lasting concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Reactions among other senators is divided, with John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) asking Obama not to prosecute Bush officials who authorized or gave advice concerning torture, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reiterating his support for an independent “truth commission” to investigate the interrogations. (Talev 4/22/2009; Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ) In 2008, Bush admitted approving of his administration’s authorization of torture (see April 11, 2008).
Guantanamo detainee Rafiq al-Hami claims to have been tortured at several CIA-operated “black sites,” or secret prisons, months before Justice Department memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002) authorized the torture of prisoners in US custody. Al-Hami’s lawyers file the lawsuit in a US District Court in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s impossible to claim that people who perpetrated torture relied on memos that didn’t exist,” says al-Hami’s lawyer Josh Denbeaux. “Rafiq was tortured before the memos authorizing torture were written.” Denbeaux and his father, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, are lawyers for the plaintiff. Al-Hami, a Tunisian, says he was arrested in Iran in November 2001 and taken to Afghanistan. From there, he was transported to three CIA “black sites” where “his presence and his existence were unknown to everyone except his United States detainers,” and his name was not included on any publicly available list of detainees. The suit alleges, “He was told that no one knew where he was; that he would be secretly detained for 20 years, perhaps until his death, and no one would ever know.” This would make al-Hami a so-called “ghost detainee.” He says he was tortured beginning in December 2001. At various times, he says, he was stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in “stress positions,” beaten with rifle butts, kicked, tormented with bright lights and music played at excruciating volumes, and exposed to extremes of temperature. Al-Hami also alleges that interrogators sprayed pepper spray on his hemorrhoids, causing intense pain. Al-Hami says the torture continued after he was transferred to Guantanamo in January 2003. He says he has no ties to any terrorist group, and was arrested by an Iranian seeking a bounty payment. The suit says that after intensive torture sessions, al-Hami “confessed” to training at an al-Qaeda camp for 10 days. Al-Hami’s lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages and names as defendants former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Navy Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, the former commander of the detention center at Guantanamo, and approximately 20 others. Josh Denbeaux says the allegations in the lawsuit were pieced together from al-Hami’s recollections, declassified documents, and information from human rights organizations. (Porter 4/23/2009; Ryan 4/23/2009) Civil rights activist Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, will write, “It’s likely that all of al-Hami’s claims are true.” Worthington will note that the arrangement between the Iranian and US governments for al-Hami’s transfer remains unexplained. In his book, Worthington will spell the name of the detainee as “Alhami,” noting that the Defense Department spells the name “al-Hami” in its documents. (Worthington 4/27/2009)
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” (Linkins 4/22/2009; MSNBC 4/22/2009)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to release a spate of Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009) was a mistake, but now that these have been released, he says the CIA should release memos which he says prove torture works. “[I]n the aftermath of 9/11 with 3,000 dead Americans, 16 acres of downtown New York devastated, a big hole in the Pentagon,” and anthrax attacks shortly thereafter, the US had to obtain “good first-rate intelligence” quickly to “prepare and defend against” future threats, Cheney tells Fox News host Sean Hannity. “That’s what we did. And with the intelligence programs, terror surveillance programs, as well as the interrogation program, we set out to collect that type of surveillance.” The upshot was, Cheney says, “It worked.” Cheney objects to what he characterizes as selective declassification on the part of the Obama White House, saying: “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is that they put out the legal memos… but they didn’t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.… There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified. I formally ask that they be declassified now.” Cheney does not specify which, if any, unreleased memos might prove his contention that waterboarding and other torture methods produce accurate and reliable information. (BBC 4/21/2009; Orr 4/21/2009) Cheney is reiterating a call he made two days ago, again on Hannity’s show (see April 20, 2009).
New York Times editor Clark Hoyt, in a column entitled “Telling the Brutal Truth,” writes of the lengthy discussions among Times editors and staffers on using the term “torture” in their reports and editorials. Hoyt writes that the term is not used in news reports, though it is in editorials. “Until this month,” he writes, “what the Bush administration called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques were ‘harsh’ techniques in the news pages of the Times. Increasingly, they are ‘brutal.’” He characterizes the decision to use, or not use, the word “torture” as an example of “the linguistic minefields that journalists navigate every day in the quest to describe the world accurately and fairly.” He notes that the final decision—to rely on the adjective “brutal”—“displeas[es] some who think ‘brutal’ is just a timid euphemism for torture [as well as] their opponents who think ‘brutal’ is too loaded.”
Reader Criticism - Hoyt notes that some readers have criticized the Times for its lack of “backbone” in not using the term “torture” in its reporting, with one writing that by refusing to use the term, “you perpetuate the fantasy that calling a thing by something other than its name will change the thing itself.” Others say that even using the word “brutal” is “outrageously biased.”
'Harsh' Not Accurately Descriptive - Hoyt notes that in the process of editing an April 10 news report on the CIA’s closing of its network of secret overseas prisons (see April 10, 2009), reporter Scott Shane and editor Douglas Jehl debated over the wording of the first paragraph. Jehl had written that the interrogation methods used in the prisons were “widely denounced as illegal torture,” a phrase Jehl changed to “harshest interrogation methods.” Shane argued that the term “harshest” was not strong enough, and the two agreed to use the word “brutal.” After reading the recently released Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009), managing editor Jill Abramson said a new and stronger term needed to be used. “Harsh sounded like the way I talked to my kids when they were teenagers and told them I was going to take the car keys away,” she says. She, too, came down in favor of “brutal” after conferring with legal experts and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet. But senior editors have all agreed that the word torture will not be used except in quoting others’ descriptions of the methods. “I have resisted using torture without qualification or to describe all the techniques,” Jehl says. “Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn’t been resolved by a court. This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture, but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?” (Hoyt 4/25/2009)
Accusation of Bias, Semantic Games - Media critic Brad Jacobson accuses Hoyt and the Times staff of engaging in meaningless semantic wordplay instead of labeling torture as what it is, and notes that Hoyt seems to admit that public opinion, not journalistic standards, has determined what terms the Times will and will not use. Jacobson writes: “1) If the Times called techniques such as waterboarding torture in its reporting, which it should based on US and international law, legal experts, historians, military judges, combat veterans, and human rights organizations, and described, however briefly, what that torture entailed, then the use of modifying adjectives such as ‘harsh’ or ‘brutal’ would not only be superfluous but, in a news story, better left out; and 2) isn’t the Times (along with any news outlet that has failed to report these acts as torture) directly responsible in some way for inspiring the kind of response it received from readers [who objected to the term ‘brutal’]? If readers are not provided the facts—a) waterboarding is torture and b) torture is illegal—while Times editors are simultaneously ascribing arbitrary descriptors to it like ‘brutal’ or ‘harsh,’ then the Times is not only denying its readers the necessary information to understand the issue but this denial may also lead directly to accusations of bias.” He also notes that Jehl censored Shane’s story to eliminate the reference to the methods being “widely denounced as illegal torture,” and asks why Abramson discussed the matter with legal experts rather than determining if waterboarding, physical assaults, and other techniques do indeed qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), and other binding laws and treaties. (Jacobson 4/26/2009)
The CIA tortured and brutalized prisoners for at least seven years without attempting to assess whether such tactics actually resulted in the acquisition of good intelligence, the press reports. Calls to conduct such an assessment of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” began as early as 2003, when the CIA’s inspector general began circulating drafts of a report that raised serious concerns about the various torture techniques being employed (see May 7, 2004). Neither the inspector general’s report or later studies examined the effectiveness of the interrogation tactics, or attempted to verify the assertions of CIA counterterrorism officials who insisted that the techniques were essential to the program’s results. “Nobody with expertise or experience in interrogation ever took a rigorous, systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise—to see what resulted in the best information,” says a senior US intelligence official involved in overseeing the interrogation program. As a result, there was never a determination of “what you could do without the use of enhanced techniques,” the official says. Former Bush administration officials say the failure to conduct such an examination was part of a broader reluctance to reexamine decisions made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The Defense Department, Justice Department, and CIA “all insisted on sticking with their original policies and were not open to revisiting them, even as the damage of these policies became apparent,” according to John Bellinger, then the legal advisor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referring to burgeoning international outrage. “We had gridlock,” Bellinger says, calling the failure to consider other approaches “the greatest tragedy of the Bush administration’s handling of detainee matters.” (Miller 4/25/2009)
Der Spiegel reports new evidence proving that the CIA ran a secret prison in Poland and tortured prisoners there. The prison is identified as the Polish military airbase of Stare Kiejkuty, about an hour’s drive north of the Szymany military airbase. One of the most well-known of the “high-value” prisoners kept there was accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was tortured (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003) and waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003) in the facility. A Gulfstream N379P jet, known to Polish investigators as the “torture taxi,” landed at least five times at Szymany between February and July 2003. According to Der Spiegel, “Flight routes were manipulated and falsified for this purpose and, with the knowledge of the Polish government, the European aviation safety agency Eurocontrol was deliberately deceived.” A witness told the public prosecutor’s office in Warsaw of seeing people wearing handcuffs and blindfolds being led from the aircraft at Szymany, far from the control tower. The witness said it was always the same individuals and the same civilian vehicles that stood waiting on the landing field. Mohammed told delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that most of the group at the airfield wore ski masks, presumably to avoid being identified. “On arrival the transfer from the airport to the next place of detention took about one hour,” he told the ICRC. “I was transported sitting on the floor of a vehicle. I could see at one point that there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet-X people.” Robert Majewski, the Warsaw public prosecutor who took the witness statement cited above, has been investigating former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s government on allegations of abuse of office. One of the issues surrounding the Miller administration is its alleged secret cooperation with the CIA, and its alleged granting of free rein to the agency over the Stare Kiejkuty military base for its extraterritorial rendition program and torture interrogations. Majewski is also investigating whether the Polish intelligence agency, WSI, made 20 of its agents available to the CIA. Recently, two Polish journalists, Mariusz Kowalewski and Adam Krzykowski, have discovered flight record books from Szymany that had been declared lost. Based on these documents, and on a number of interviews with sources, the two journalists have put together a patchwork of evidence pointing to the CIA’s use of Stare Kiejkuty for secret rendition and torture purposes. They say that they lack a final piece of proof—that CIA interrogator Deuce Martinez, one of the primary interrogators of Mohammed, was in Poland at the time of Mohammed’s detention in Stare Kiejkuty. Rumors abound of Martinez’s presence, but Kowalewski and Krzykowski lack the evidence to prove it. Much of Kowalewski and Krzykowski’s reporting has been confirmed by a 2007 investigation conducted by the special investigator for the Council of Europe, Dick Marty. A WSI official told the Marty investigators, “The order to give the CIA everything they needed came from the very top, from the president,” meaning former President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who denies the allegation. The CIA has always denied any knowledge of, or involvement with, such a facility. (Goetz and Sandberg 4/27/2009)
Following the release of a set of Bush administration memos about torture (see April 16, 2009) and the discovery that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times in one month (see April 18, 2009), some commentators recall comments made by former CIA officer John Kiriakou.
Kiriakou's Media Blitz - In late 2007, shortly after the CIA admitted destroying videos of Zubaida (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), Kiriakou toured media outlets, saying that Zubaida had only been waterboarded once (see December 10, 2007 and December 11, 2007). New York Times reporter Brian Stelter writes the most comprehensive treatment of Kiriakou’s “media blitz,” in an article entitled “How ‘07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate.” He points out that Kiriakou’s claim of only one waterboarding was “repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs, and newspapers” and “quickly ricocheted around the media.” This despite the fact that Kiriakou was not present at the black site where Zubaida was interrogated, and only learned of his treatment from reading accounts from the field. This injected the claim of one waterboarding into the public debate without the CIA having to make it itself. When asked about the false claim, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano replies: “This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren’t misled from here.”
Waterboarding Was Necessary - In addition, Kiriakou said that at the time it did produce results and he had thought it was necessary then, statements that were repeated and amplified around the media. The net effect of his interjection in the debate was to make the torture seem much less harsh than it really was, diverting criticism away from the CIA. (Stelter 4/28/2009)
CIA Media Plant? - Numerous other commentators will make similar points. For example, in a piece entitled “John Kiriakou: CIA Media Plant?” Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery says: “It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou—telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television—was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It’s an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.” (Lowery 4/28/2009)
Kiriakou Admits He Was Wrong - In 2010, Kiriakou will publish a book and in it he will mention in passing that his earlier claims were wrong. He did not take part in Zubaida’s interrogation and he was wrong about Zubaida being only waterboarded one time, and about him freely confessing afterwards. He will claim that he was a dupe used by the CIA to promote disinformation, writing, “In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.” (Stein 1/26/2010)
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstates the case of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, overruling strong objections from the Obama administration (see February 9, 2009), which argued that the case risked revealing “state secrets.” The New York Times writes that the verdict “deal[s] a blow to efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to claim sweeping executive secrecy powers.” Five victims of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program are suing Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, for assisting the CIA with its transfer flights to and from secret overseas detention sites. The former detainees are joined in their suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A lower court had previously ruled in the government’s favor while President Bush was in office; the Obama administration supported the Bush administration’s position. The logic of the state secrets privilege, the appeals court panel writes, “simply cannot stretch to encompass cases brought by third-party plaintiffs against alleged government contractors for the contractors’ alleged involvement in tortious intelligence activities. Nothing the plaintiffs have done supports a conclusion that their ‘lips [are] to be for ever sealed respecting’ the claim on which they sue, such that filing this lawsuit would in itself defeat recovery.” The ACLU had argued that there was no compelling reason to prevent the victims from bringing suit against a government contractor who allegedly assisted in their torture. The pursuit of those claims would not necessarily endanger state secrets. (Eviatar 4/28/2009; Savage 4/28/2009)
Government Asked for Immunity from Oversight, Court Finds - Repudiating the state secrets claim in the case, the appeals court adds: “The [government’s position] has no logical limit—it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government activities from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.” (Greenwald 4/28/2009)
Civil Liberties Advocates Celebrate Verdict - Civil liberties correspondent Daphne Eviatar calls the decision “a huge victory, not only for the five victims themselves, but also for many civil liberties advocates.” Former civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald calls the government’s position a “radical secrecy theory” that should have been repudiated in its entirety. “Today’s decision is a major defeat for the Obama [Justice Department]‘s efforts to preserve for itself the radically expanded secrecy powers invented by the Bush [Justice Department] to shield itself from all judicial scrutiny,” he writes.
Further Actions Possible - The Obama administration has the option to ask for another appeals court hearing, ask that the Supreme Court review the decision, or accept the ruling. Greenwald is certain it will ask for another appeal. (Eviatar 4/28/2009; Greenwald 4/28/2009)
An attack by CIA drones in Pakistan kills between six and ten people. One of those who dies is believed to be an al-Qaeda leader. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” (Ross, Cole, and Rhee 4/30/2009; Raw Story 5/1/2009)
John Durham, a special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the destruction of video tapes made by the CIA of detainees’ interrogations (see January 2, 2008), summons CIA officers from overseas to testify before a grand jury. “Three legal sources familiar with the case” also say that Durham wants testimony from agency lawyers who gave advice relating to the November 2005 decision by Jose Rodriguez, then chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, to destroy the tapes (see Before November 2005 and November 2005). Newsweek will say this comes as a surprise to the CIA, whose officials have “plenty to worry about.” Previously, some lawyers on the case had thought Durham intended to wind down the probe without recommending any charges be brought. However, his recent activity has made them unsure. Newsweek will speculate that Durham “might simply be tying up loose ends.” Alternatively, he may be fixing to have charges brought. (Isikoff and Hosenball 5/2/2009)
An attack by a CIA drone kills between five and ten people in Pakistan. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
Up to eight people die in an attack by a CIA drone in Pakistan. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely considered a likely candidate for the presidency in 2012, lambasts current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her recent complaints about the CIA never briefing her about the Bush administration’s use of torture. “I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don’t think the speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters,” Gingrich says. Gingrich then launches a personal attack (see September 20, 1990) on Pelosi, saying: “I think this is the most despicable, dishonest, and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.… Speaker Pelosi’s the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses. The fact is she either didn’t do her job, or she did do her job and she’s now afraid to tell the truth.” (ABC News 5/15/2009) Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, also says the CIA lied to him about the Bush administration’s use of torture. He says that the CIA’s records about its briefings of Graham and Pelosi conflict with his own records of his briefings by intelligence officials, and he has no recollection of ever being briefed about “any of the sensitive programs such as the waterboarding or other forms of excessive interrogation.” (Stein 5/14/2009)
President Obama sends a memo to CIA Director Leon Panetta, which states, “in order to ensure that we have expended every effort, I direct you to provide me within 30 days a detailed operation plan for locating and bringing to justice Osama bin Laden.” (Tapper 6/9/2011) After becoming president in January 2009, Obama put a new focus on the hunt for bin Laden (see Shortly After January 20, 2009).
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. (Scarborough 6/5/2009)
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” (Cole 2/19/2010; Gorman 8/24/2010) According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” (Cole 2/19/2010)
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. (Cole 2/19/2010) In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
An attack by a CIA-controlled drone in Pakistan kills three to eight people. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
The CIA releases heavily redacted documents containing statements by Guantanamo detainees concerning their allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of CIA personnel. The documents are released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawsuit seeks uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantanamo qualify as “enemy combatants.” Previously released versions were redacted so heavily as to contain almost no information about abuse allegations; the current versions, while still heavily redacted, contain some new information. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, the lead attorney on the FOIA lawsuit, says: “The documents released today provide further evidence of brutal torture and abuse in the CIA’s interrogation program and demonstrate beyond doubt that this information has been suppressed solely to avoid embarrassment and growing demands for accountability. There is no legitimate basis for the Obama administration’s continued refusal to disclose allegations of detainee abuse, and we will return to court to seek the full release of these documents.” The ACLU press release notes, “The newly unredacted information includes statements from the CSRTs of former CIA detainees,” and includes quotes from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003); alleged high-level al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After); and accused terrorists Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)) and Majid Khan (see March 10-April 15, 2007). These statements include details about their treatment, which the ACLU refers to as “torture and coercion”:
Abu Zubaida - “After months of suffering and torture, physically and mentally, they did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs. They didn’t care that I almost died from these injuries. Doctors told me that I nearly died four times.… They say ‘this in your diary.’ They say ‘see you want to make operation against America.’ I say no, the idea is different. They say no, torturing, torturing. I say ‘okay, I do. I was decide to make operation.’”
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - “[And, they used to] drown me in water.”
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - “This is what I understand he [a CIA interrogator] told me: you are not American and you are not on American soil. So you cannot ask about the Constitution.”
Majid Khan - “In the end, any classified information you have is through… agencies who physically and mentally tortured me.” (American Civil Liberties Union 6/15/2009)
Andrew Warren, a former CIA station chief accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), is indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of sexual abuse. Warren surrenders to a Diplomatic Security Service agent just outside the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, but is released on his own personal recognizance after pleading not guilty. Warren’s indictment will not be unsealed for over a week. ABC News will comment, “Officials provided no reason why there was a delay in unsealing the charges.” Morton Taubman, an attorney for Warren, says his client is “Not guilty.… He is innocent.” (Ryan 6/29/2009)
CIA Director Leon Panetta is informed by the agency’s Counterterrorist Center that it has a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was established shortly after 9/11, but has never become operational (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Panetta immediately cancels the program. (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009) CIA spokesman George Little says the decision was “clear and straightforward,” as Panetta “knew it [the program] hadn’t been successful.” (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) There is no resistance inside the CIA to this decision, apparently because the program is not fully operational and has not yet been briefed to Congress. (Shane 7/12/2009)
CIA Was Reviewing Program - It is unclear why Panetta is informed of the program at this time. However, the Counterterrorist Center has recently conducted a review of it, so he may learn of its existence due to the review, which will be presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Why Was Panetta Not Told Before? - It is also unclear why Panetta, who was confirmed as CIA director four months ago, was not told of the program earlier. One explanation is that it is because the program was not operational. “It’s a capability that wasn’t being used, so it wasn’t a front-burner issue,” says one unnamed official. Another retired official familiar with the program’s details says, “It would have been a big deal if it was operational, but since it was not, it’s not a big deal.” However, several former CIA officers and intelligence experts find this explanation unconvincing. According to Time magazine, “For one thing, they say, the mere fact that the program apparently merited [former Vice President Dick] Cheney’s close attention should have been a red flag.” A former operations expert says, “Even if the program was dormant, the top officials would have known about Cheney’s instructions, and they should have told Panetta right away.” Another retired senior official puts it more bluntly, saying, “[Given Cheney’s interest,] I don’t know why the program was not on the new director’s desk within his first two weeks on the job.” He adds, “The speed of Panetta’s actions when he was informed tells me that the program was pretty important.” Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the Counterterrorist Center, comments, “In retrospect, the [Cheney] angle ought to be sufficient grounds for someone to think, this does deserve the boss’s attention.” (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009)
A strike by a CIA-controlled Predator drone near the town of Makeen in South Warizistan, Pakistan, kills between two and six people. According to reporter Jane Mayer, the men are “unidentified militants.” Makeen is home to Baitullah Mahsud, a key Pakistan Taliban leader. (Mayer 10/26/2009) CIA drones will also attack the funeral for these men later in the day, killing dozens (see June 23, 2009).
CIA-controlled drones attack a funeral in Makeen, a town in South Warizistan, Pakistan, that is home to Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. Deaths number in the dozens, possibly as many as 86, and an account in the Pakistani News says they include 10 children and four tribal elders. The funeral is for two locals killed by CIA drones earlier in the day (see June 23, 2009), and is attacked because of intelligence Mahsud would be present. One eyewitness, who loses his right leg during the bombing, tells Agence France-Presse that the mourners suspected what was coming, saying, “After the prayers ended, people were asking each other to leave the area, as drones were hovering.” Before the mourners could clear out, the eyewitness says, two drones start firing into the crowd. “It created havoc,” he says. “There was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help.” Then a third missile hits. Sections of Pakistani society express their unhappiness with the attack. For example, an editorial in The News denounces the strike as sinking to the level of the terrorists, and the Urdu newspaper Jang declares that US President Barack Obama is “shutting his ears to the screams of thousands of women whom your drones have turned into dust.” Many in Pakistan are also upset that the Pakistani government gave approval for the US to strike a funeral. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
At an emergency meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells the House and Senate intelligence committees of a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009) Panetta learned of the program the previous day and immediately canceled it (see June 23, 2009). The lawmakers had not previously received information about the program, apparently at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002). Panetta says he thinks the lawmakers should have been told earlier, because the program had moved beyond the planning stage and therefore deserved Congressional scrutiny. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Robert Seldon Lady, one of the more senior CIA figures charged in Italy over the kidnap of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), breaks his silence in a rare interview with the Italian daily Il Giornale. Lady acknowledges a role in the abduction, but says the plan was not his idea: “I’m not guilty. I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors.” He adds that he committed no crime because the kidnapping was a “state matter,” and, “I console myself by reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was in a war against terrorism, that I couldn’t discuss orders given to me.” He also says, “I wasn’t at the scene and I didn’t organize the thing, the rendition, the arrest, the kidnapping, however we want to call it.” He claims only one Italian, a police officer who has already confessed, was at the scene. Lady also comments on why the operation was so sloppy that Italian prosecutors could uncover it: “How could we have been so unprofessional? The answer I’ve given is that there were too many people involved. In these operations, there should be few.” (Stewart 6/30/2009)
National Public Radio reports that Saad bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, has probably been assassinated by the US in Pakistan. The assassination was performed by a Predator drone, using Hellfire missiles. Saad was not the intended target of the missiles and was not a missile target at all, but was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to a counterterrorism official. (Kelly 7/22/2009) US drones are operated by the CIA in Pakistan. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
Uncertainty about Death and Role - The exact date of Saad’s death is unclear, and it is reported only as “sometime this year.” The death is also not completely certain, as the US does not obtain a body to conduct tests on. However, a senior US counterterrorism official will say the US is “80 to 85 percent” certain that Saad is dead. Saad had escaped from house arrest in Iran around December 2008 or January 2009 (see (Between December 2008 and January 2009)). (Kelly 7/22/2009) The relatives with whom he was imprisoned in Iran will indicate he had no involvement with terrorism during the seven years he was held in Iran. (Brown 12/23/2009) However, the counterterrorism official says Saad was active in al-Qaeda, but was not a major player. “We make a big deal out of him because of his last name,” he adds. (Kelly 7/22/2009)
Missed Intelligence Opportunity - Others point out that Saad might have been much more valuable if he’d been captured alive, if only because of what he knew about his father. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former adviser to the National Security Council, claims that the US had several opportunities to interrogate Saad during the years he was in Iran (see Spring 2002 and Mid-May 2003). She says, “The Iranians offered to work out an international framework for transferring terror suspects, but the Bush administration refused.” She adds: “We absolutely did not get the most we could. Saad bin Laden would have been very, very valuable in terms of what he knew. He probably would have been a gold mine.” (Mayer 10/26/2009)
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) recommends reversing a Bush-era policy and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner abuse investigations, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision could potentially expose CIA employees and contractors to prosecution for crimes involving brutalizing and torturing prisoners in US custody, particularly as some detainees died in custody and others were physically and mentally abused. The OPR makes the recommendation in early August, but the information is not reported in the media until later in the month. The decision comes as the Justice Department is ready to disclose new information on prisoner abuse from a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general that has never before been released (see May 7, 2004). The Bush-era Justice Department chose not to pursue investigations into any of the allegations, deciding that none of them warranted further inquiry. However, Attorney General Eric Holder reconsidered that decision after he saw the allegations and the accompanying evidence, much of which is contained in the 2004 CIA report. The OPR gives Holder additional leverage to reopen the investigations. The OPR report is primarily authored by the office’s new chief, Mary Patrice Brown, a federal prosecutor picked to replace the office’s former head, H. Marshall Jarrett, who is working elsewhere in the Justice Department. One case under review is that of Iraqi citizen Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003) after being captured by a team of Navy SEALs. Prosecutors believe he received his fatal injuries from his captors, but lawyers for the SEALs deny the charge. During President Bush’s tenure, the Justice Department responded to inquiries about the incidents from Democratic lawmakers with little more than summaries of the numbers of cases under scrutiny, and provided virtually no details about individual cases or explanations as to why the department chose not to prosecute. (Johnston 8/24/2009)
A CIA-controlled Predator drone kills Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud in the hamlet of Zanghara, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Prior to the attack, officials at CIA headquarters watched a live video feed from the drone showing Mahsud reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house with his wife and his uncle, a medic; at one point, the images showed that Mahsud, who suffers from diabetes and a kidney ailment, was receiving an intravenous drip. After the attack, all that remains of him is a detached torso. Eleven others die: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards. According to a CNN report, the strike was authorized by President Obama. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik will later see the footage and comment: “It was a perfect picture. We used to see James Bond movies where he talked into his shoe or his watch. We thought it was a fairy tale. But this was fact!” According to reporter Jane Mayer: “It appears to have taken 16 missile strikes, and 14 months, before the CIA succeeded in killing [Mahsud]. During this hunt, between 207 and 321 additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.” (Mayer 10/26/2009)
The House Intelligence Committee launches an investigation into whether the CIA broke the law by failing to notify Congress about an agency program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was initiated shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but Congress was not notified of it, apparently at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), until it was shut down in July 2009 (see June 23, 2009 and June 24, 2009). (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009) Congressional Democrats are furious that the program was not shared with the House Committee and with its Senate counterpart. However, some Congressional Republicans say that as Congress had already approved broad authorities for the CIA after 9/11, the CIA was not required to brief lawmakers on specifics about the program, which never became operational. (Shane 7/12/2009; Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009)
Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” (Scahill 8/20/2009) The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” (Miller 8/21/2009)
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” (Miller 8/21/2009)
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Miller 8/21/2009) Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
According to ABC News, the Justice Department’s release of a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (see May 7, 2004 and August 24, 2009) is preceded by a “profanity-laced screaming match” between CIA Director Leon Panetta and White House officials. This apparently produces disquiet among White House officials regarding Panetta. According to ABC News, some White House officials are “worrying about the direction of its newly-appoint[ed] intelligence team.” Some reports say that Panetta has already threatened to resign once, and White House officials are discussing “a possible shake-up of top national security officials.” According to one unnamed “senior adviser to [President] Obama on intelligence matters,” “You can expect a larger than normal turnover in the next year.” And another former senior intelligence official predicts, “Leon will be leaving.” But a White House spokesman, Denis McDonough, says the reports of Panetta’s threatened resignation and a potential “shake-up” of top intelligence and national security officials are “inaccurate.” Both Panetta and CIA spokesman George Little say reports of his threatened resignation are “absolutely untrue”; the spokesman says of the alleged tirade that Panetta is known to use “salty language.” Former counterterrorism specialist and current ABC News consultant Richard Clarke says: “It would be a shame if such as talented a Washington hand as Panetta were to leave after one year. It takes that long for any senior bureaucrat to begin to understand what needs to get done and how to do it. The CIA needs some stability.” (Cole, Esposito, and Ross 8/24/2009) Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball says that Panetta has been sending mixed messages. “Panetta had been kind of ambiguous, at least in terms of his public statements and even his private messages, as to whether he’s strongly opposed to release of documents like this or not,” he says. “Some cases it’s looked like he’s been in favor of releasing documents like this; in other cases, it’s looked like he’s been against it. I think he’s trying to straddle the issue here. I mean, certainly, previous CIA directors like General Mike Hayden and George Tenet have strongly expressed the view that this stuff shouldn’t have been released. Panetta hasn’t been quite as strong in saying that publicly, anyway.” (PBS 8/24/2009)
The Republican National Committee (RNC) releases a memo entitled “CIA IG Report Confirms Effectiveness of CIA Interrogation Program.” The memo is in response to the release of a 2004 CIA report detailing numerous instances of torture and abuse against detainees by CIA interrogators and contractors (see August 24, 2009). The RNC memo asserts that, far from detailing potential crimes and abuses, the report proves that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program was effective in garnering critical intelligence from detainees. The memo reads in part: “Media coverage [of the report] seems to imply that CIA interrogators were constantly going beyond programmatic guidance, where the IG report found the reality to be that ‘there were few instances of deviations from approved procedures.‘… Additionally, the media today has latched on to the use of a gun in an interrogation, without usually reporting the other important element of that salacious story, which is that the interrogator was promptly disciplined for his actions.… Similarly going unreported today is that the release of the IG report should finally put to rest claims that the CIA interrogation program was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence.” The memo notes that in the report, “[a]gency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Hambali, and [Abd al-Rahim a]l-Nashiri.” In the report, an unidentified senior CIA official called the program “an absolute success.” (Goldfarb 8/24/2009) The RNC statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from former Vice President Dick Cheney (see August 24, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney releases a statement that asserts the just-released CIA inspector general’s report (see August 24, 2009) proves that torture, which he refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” works, and follows up with an attack on the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the nation. Cheney writes: “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al-Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel (see First Half of August 2009), and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House (see August 24, 2009), serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.” (Hayes 8/24/2009; Ackerman 8/24/2009) Cheney’s statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from the Republican National Committee (see August 24, 2009).
Disputing Cheney's Assessment - A Democratic official disputes the assertions, saying that the report provides no basis to conclude that torture was effective in eliciting actionable intelligence, and cites caveats in the body of the report. (Allen 8/25/2009) And the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009)
'Silly Semantic Game' - Reporter and columnist Spencer Ackerman notes that the memos seem to suggest that the most useful intelligence came from traditional intelligence techniques. He writes, “Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t.” Human rights organizations take a similar line. Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights says the documents “don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact.” Tom Parker of Amnesty International notes that the memos “are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.” (Ackerman 8/24/2009; Roth 8/25/2009) Reporter Zachary Roth calls Cheney’s claim a “silly semantic game.” While it is true that the US gained actionable intelligence from detainees who were tortured, Roth observes, “it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim—that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.” (Roth 8/25/2009)
The Obama administration says it intends to continue the Bush administration policy of extraordinary rendition. The announcement comes from President Obama’s Interrogation and Transfer Policy Task Force, and is apparently intended to help offset the impact of the release of a long-withheld report by the CIA inspector general that provides new details about the brutal tactics used by the CIA in interrogating terrorism detainees (see August 24, 2009). As a candidate for the presidency, Obama had signaled that he would discontinue the practice. In a 2007 article for the magazine Foreign Affairs, he said the US must end “the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” One of Obama’s first actions as president was to order the closure of secret CIA prisons (see January 22, 2009). Senior Obama advisers say this administration’s rendition policy is different from the Bush administration’s because the State Department will have a larger role in assuring that transferred prisoners will not be abused. “The emphasis will be on ensuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent overseas,” one administration official says, and adds that detainees will not be sent to countries known to conduct abusive interrogations. Nevertheless, the decision is sharply criticized by human rights advocacy groups, who say that the administration will continue to send prisoners to countries that torture, and so-called “diplomatic reassurances” from those countries are meaningless. “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” says the American Civil Liberties Union’s Amrit Singh. Singh cites the case of detainee Maher Arar (see October 7, 2002), who was renditioned to Syria and tortured even though Syrian officials assured Bush administration officials that they would not use such techniques against him. Singh also notes that the previously used method of ensuring compliance—monitoring via visits from Americans or allied consular officials—has proven entirely ineffective. For example, Arar was visited several times by a Canadian consular official, but was too frightened to tell the official that he was being abused. Some human rights advocates believe that Obama is continuing the rendition policy in order to avoid having to admit Guantanamo detainees to US prisons after that facility is closed. (Johnston 8/25/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
The White House announces the formation of a new unit to question “high-value” terrorism suspects. The unit is called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). It operates out of the FBI, but is overseen by the National Security Council; this structure removes the CIA as the primary interrogators of high-level detainees and gives the White House direct oversight. According to author and reporter David Ignatius, the HIG will be composed of small groups of “special interrogation experts” sent out to interrogate certain detainees. (PBS 8/24/2009) Administration officials say all interrogations overseen by the HIG will comply with guidelines contained in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits the use of physical force. The group will study other interrogation methods, however, and may add additional noncoercive methods in the future. Tom Malinkowski of the organization Human Rights Watch says the new interrogation policy represents a significant step toward more humane treatment, though he wants stricter limits on rendition (see August 24, 2009]). Overall, Malinkowski says the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism issues is strong, noting that the government has now adopted “some of the most transparent rules against abuse of any democratic country.” (Johnston 8/25/2009)
De-Emphasizing CIA's Role in Interrogations - Author and reporter Jane Mayer observes: “[T]o to some extent, this is bringing the CIA back to its earlier role traditionally, before 9/11, but still it’s taking authority away from the CIA. It’s also—the new rules for interrogation are going to make the CIA use only techniques that are allowed for the military. They’re not going to have any special dispensation to do enhanced interrogation techniques, so you’re basically seeing them kind of knocked down to just having to act like everybody else.” Ignatius adds: “My conversations today with the people who know the CIA tells me that the feeling out there is kind of, ‘Let this cup pass from our lips.’ You know, they are sick of this interrogation issue. They were in many cases reluctant to get into it in the first place. This has been a nightmare for them. Careers have been destroyed. Officers feel like their lives have been wrecked. And I think the career people there say, ‘Fine, you know, if the FBI wants to do this, let them have it.‘… [T]he only thing that worries me is putting it so directly under the White House, having the White House running interrogation programs, that seems a little odd to me.” (PBS 8/24/2009) CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano says that the agency will continue to be involved in interrogations. “The CIA took active part in the work of the task force, and the agency’s strong counterterrorism knowledge will be key to the conduct of future debriefings,” he says. “That won’t change.” (Johnston 8/25/2009)
Worries that Obama Administration May be Taking Too Much Power for Itself - MSNBC’s Alison Stewart says the decision “might cause involuntary eyebrow-raising among people who thought the Bush administration gave itself too much power in these matters.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) supports the decision, saying that “it brings for the first time… a very rigorous and serious overview to our interrogation of high-value detainees. If you set aside all of the spin and all of the nonsense that you heard out of the top layers of the Bush administration, what you really saw was—for a lot of these high-value detainees, you saw very amateurish investigation by people who knew nothing about al-Qaeda, who knew nothing about interrogation, who had familiarity with antique techniques that were used by brutal tyrant regimes for propaganda purposes not for intelligence gathering purposes, and were put for reasons that are still not adequately explained into high value interrogations. We know from testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that at least one very productive investigation was interrupted and probably ruined by the intervention of these amateurish and brutal techniques into an investigation—an interrogation that was generating absolutely first-class interrogation for our country.” Whitehouse does not identify the subject of that “productive interrogation,” but he could be referring to the interrogation of Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). (MSNBC 8/25/2009)
The CIA, apparently in response to the Justice Department’s release of a 2004 CIA report that documents numerous instances of torture and abuse of detainees in US custody (see August 24, 2009), releases two previously classified agency reports from 2004 and 2005 that purport to prove that the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program provided information necessary for stopping terrorist attacks. One report calls the program “a crucial pillar of US counterterrorism efforts,” and describes how interrogations helped unravel a network headed by an Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali (see August 12, 2003). The other report details information elicited from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, saying it “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on al-Qaeda’s plots.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009) The two memos state that some detainees, particularly Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, provided useful information during debriefing sessions. One memo, titled “Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War against Al-Qa’ida,” says that intelligence gathered from multiple detainees, combined with other information, led to the capture of several key al-Qaeda operatives, and aided in the capture of Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29 - Mid-May, 2003), who “was captured on the verge of mounting attacks against the US consulate in Karachi, Westerners at the Karachi Airport, and Western housing areas” in Pakistan. Another report says that Mohammed “has provided information on al-Qaeda strategic doctrine, probable targets, the impact of striking each target set, and likely methods of attacks inside the United States.” They do not, however, say that Mohammed or other detainees provided useful information as a direct result of being tortured. (Ackerman 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; Roth 8/25/2009)
Cheney Claims Memos Prove Efficacy of Torture - The memos have been touted by former Vice President Dick Cheney as proving the efficacy of “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—in gaining actionable intelligence from detainees. Cheney has repeatedly asked for the memos to be declassified so as to prove his contention. In the wake of the memos’ release, Cheney claims that the memos do indeed prove that torture worked. “The documents released Monday,” Cheney says in a statement, “clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda” (see August 24, 2009). (Hayes 8/24/2009) However, the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009)
CIA Director: Memos 'Old News' - CIA Director Leon Panetta sends a message to agency employees concerning the release of the two memos, calling their contents “in many ways an old story,” and says that “the challenge is not the battles of yesterday, but those of today and tomorrow. My emphasis on the future comes with a clear recognition that our agency takes seriously proper accountability for the past.… As the intelligence service of a democracy, that’s an important part of who we are.” (Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009)
A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” (Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” (Heron 8/24/2009) Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” (MSNBC 8/25/2009) The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. (Seibel 8/24/2009) Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” (Heron 8/24/2009) Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” (PBS 8/24/2009)
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” (PBS 8/24/2009)
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009) The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” (Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” (Human Rights Watch 8/24/2009)
Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. (US Department of Justice 8/24/2009; Johnson 8/25/2009)
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009) The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. (US Department of Justice 8/24/2009) According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009; Goldman 9/7/2010)
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” (US Department of Justice 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009; Johnson 8/25/2009) Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” (Murphy 1/7/2008) In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” (Carlile 8/24/2009)
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” (MSNBC 8/25/2009)
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009) Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. (Roth 8/25/2009)
The mainstream media shows little interest in reporting that the just-released CIA report on torture (see August 24, 2009) does not prove that torture works as a method of eliciting actionable intelligence from detainees, according to Washington Post columnist and blogger Greg Sargent, writing on the Post’s political blog “The Plum Line.” Sargent notes that when former Vice President Dick Cheney was asserting that the then-classified memos did indeed show that torture worked, “[t]he mainstream media trumpeted Cheney’s lies about what the documents show. But now that they’ve been made public and they contradict his claims, most reporters seem to have lost interest.” He also notes the coverage given to Cheney’s claim that the report proves torture was effective (see August 24, 2009). Sargent backs up his claim with analysis of the media coverage provided by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and CNN; the Times was the only source to directly address Cheney’s claims, but, as Sargent observes, “this came in the 13th paragraph in an article not directly focused on Cheney’s claims.” He goes on to note that only ABC News and the Washington Independent devoted stand-alone stories to Cheney’s claims not being proven. (Roth 8/25/2009; Sargent 8/25/2009) CNN reported, “Cheney says documents show interrogations prevented attacks… and yielded crucial information about al-Qaeda.” Sargent notes that Cheney didn’t say that at all, but rather he said “that the same individuals who were tortured also happened to yield the most important evidence about al-Qaeda. He’s not saying that the docs proved torture was responsible for producing that info” (emphasis in the original). Sargent credits Cheney with “masterful obfuscation,” and says that CNN was “being played for chumps.” (Sargent 8/25/2009; CNN 8/25/2009) Sargent observes: “To be fair, there was tons of news yesterday. Maybe the news orgs will get around to doing big takeouts on this. But come on, Cheney and his daughter Liz were granted tons of print space and air time to claim for weeks that these docs would prove torture worked. Seems fair to expect aggressive, stand-alone stories about what they do—and don’t—prove in the real world.” And reporter Zachary Roth concludes, “[N]o doubt, when Cheney or his daughter want to go public with their next set of self-justifying crap, they’ll be welcomed as authorities, as if none of this ever happened.” (Sargent 8/25/2009; Roth 8/25/2009)
The response by media and public officials to the announcement of a preliminary investigation by the Justice Department into whether crimes were committed in the course of a small number of detention and interrogation cases by the CIA (see August 24, 2009) is mixed. The investigation is headed by special prosecutor John Durham. Reporter Michael Isikoff says that it will be “difficult to bring cases against agency operatives when you have the [former] attorney general of the United States [John Ashcroft] saying repetitive use of waterboarding is okay with him. He has no problem with it. The Justice Department has no problem with it—which is why some people say if we’re not going to have criminal investigations at the very top, the leadership that authorized these programs, at least have full disclosure so the American public can know the full story of what happened.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticizes the potential focus on interrogators and says the inquiry should focus on former Bush administration officials and Justice Department lawyers; he says the investigation could echo the Abu Ghraib investigation, where “lower ranking troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.” Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says the Justice Department inquiry risks disrupting current counterterrorism operations, and claims that abuse charges have already been “exhaustively reviewed.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Lack of Accountability? - Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “It’s heartening that the attorney general has opened a preliminary investigation of these crimes, but it’s crucial that its scope include senior officials who authorized torture. Lower-level CIA operatives—even if using so-called ‘unauthorized’ techniques—may still have relied on the letter or the spirit of high-level authorizations.” Human Rights Watch warns that if the investigation focuses solely on so-called “rogue” interrogators who acted without official authorization, but fails to investigate senior officials with responsibility for the interrogation program, it will lack credibility. The organization writes, “Such an approach would validate the Bush-era Justice Department memoranda that authorized torture.” It calls the US’s record on accountability for detainee abuse “abysmal.” (Human Rights Watch 8/24/2009)
Focusing on 'Low-Level Operatives'? - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer later says that Durham’s investigation seems to be far too narrow in scope, focusing solely on CIA interrogators and ignoring Bush administration officials who authorized torture and other abusive actions. (Roth 8/31/2009) This position is echoed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which states: “Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.” The center demands the appointment of “an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified, and orchestrated the torture program.” Another organization, Physicians for Human Rights, says that it “urges the administration to pursue any investigation up the chain of command to those officials who authorized and supervised the use of illegal techniques.” (Roth 8/24/2009) Several Democrats, including Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI), issue statements urging the investigation to go beyond looking into the actions of CIA interrogators, and investigate the officials who authorized those actions. (Roth 8/24/2009)
Former CIA case officer Robert Baer, now an author and a columnist for Time.com, tells MSNBC host Alison Stewart that former Vice President Dick Cheney is wrong when he says just-released CIA documents prove that “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—works (see August 24, 2009). Baer says: “I’ve looked to the documents and there is no evidence that torture led to the disclosure of imminent attacks, ‘the ticking bomb,’ as they call it. There’s just no evidence there.… [W]hat Cheney said and what’s come out in these documents don’t prove anything at all.” Baer goes on to say that he has never seen torture work: “I’ve spent 21 years in the CIA. It isn’t—and watched other countries use torture and it never worked. In fact, there was a rule, a very fixed rule in the CIA—don’t accept tortured information because it’s unreliable. And that was across the board. It went from China to Zimbabwe to every country in the world. It’s unreliable.” The CIA was never equipped to perform torture, or what Baer “nicely” calls “hostile intelligence,” in the first place. The agency, Baer says, is “filled with liberal arts majors who go out and collect intelligence without coercion. So 9/11 comes along. The White House is desperate to do something. It turns to the CIA.… So, guys, like you and me, will go out and then all we know about torture is we watch “24”, and suddenly, these guys are put on the line and they improvise and they use mock executions. They threaten mothers and children and the rest of it. And it looks like the amateur hour because it is the amateur hour. This is not the role of the CIA to do abusive interrogations. I mean, if anybody should be doing them, it should be the military or the FBI.” Baer supports the release of the memos because, he says, “I’m afraid we’re going to be attacked again and everybody’s going to say, you know, under this administration, maybe and say, they do something, we have to start going back to torture. What we need to know is, was it really useful or wasn’t it? And no one’s answered that question in spite of what Vice President Cheney says.” (MSNBC 8/26/2009)
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