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Profile: John Bellinger
John Bellinger was a participant or observer in the following events:
William Haynes. [Source: C-SPAN]Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, and John Bellinger, senior associate counsel to the president and legal adviser to the National Security Council, discuss whether the president has the legal authority to order the shooting down of a civilian aircraft and Flanigan then consults a Pentagon lawyer to get his opinion on the issue. [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 35-36] President Bush authorized the US military to shoot down hostile aircraft in a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney at 10:18 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] Flanigan, who is in the White House Situation Room, has heard about this and understands the reasons for Bush’s directive, but is concerned about its legality. He approaches Bellinger, mentions the shootdown order, and asks, “Do we have the legal authority nailed down for this?” Bellinger hands him an instant transcript of the conversation between Bush and Cheney. “Here’s the authority,” he says.
White House Lawyer Wants to Know the Opinion of the Military - Flanigan will later recall that he is currently certain of two things regarding the shootdown authorization. Firstly, since it has already been given, “any legal analysis was going to be woefully behind the event.” And secondly, he knows it “was completely justified as a matter of the president’s exercise of commander-in-chief authority to repel an immediate attack.” All the same, he feels uncomfortable. He realizes this is an issue for the military to consider. He therefore instructs an officer in the Situation Room to track down Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes. He is soon on the phone with the lawyer, who is at the Pentagon this morning, and tells him what he read in the transcript of Bush and Cheney’s conversation. Haynes says he already knows about the shootdown authorization. “We need the best possible rational legal basis for this,” Flanigan explains. “We’ve got commander-in-chief authority,” he continues, but adds, “Is there any other authority we can rely on?” Haynes says he will look into this.
Pentagon Lawyer Determines that Only the President Can Issue a Shootdown Order - Haynes thinks the most obvious issue with the shootdown authorization is constitutional, according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. “Under the 14th Amendment, the passengers on those planes could not be deprived of their rights to life, liberty, and property without due process of law,” and “shooting them out of the sky didn’t meet that standard,” Eichenwald will write. Furthermore, Haynes thinks, the Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable search and seizure,” and shooting down a commercial aircraft “would be quite a dramatic seizure” of the citizens on board. All the same, he knows that “the preamble of the Constitution spoke of providing for a common defense and promoting the general welfare,” and, “Under Article 2, the president was the commander in chief of the military.” He therefore determines that the issue of possibly shooting down a commercial aircraft is “a matter of self-defense, of protecting the citizenry, balanced against the rights of the passengers.” With this in mind, he concludes that a shootdown order “could be lawfully issued… but only by the president.” He soon returns to the phone and gives Flanigan his opinion.
Lawyer Says a NORAD Statute Authorizes Shooting Down Hostile Aircraft - However, according to Flanigan’s later recollection, Haynes gives a very different explanation why the president’s shootdown authorization was legal than the reasoning Eichenwald will describe. Flanigan will recall that Haynes tells him someone has already looked into the matter. “There is authority under…” he says, and then cites a “NORAD statute that gives the national command structure authority to deal with imminent threats in US airspace.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 35-36]
Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 135]
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals
(see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Inspectors General, 7/10/2009]
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Bellinger, National Security Agency, Bryan Cunningham, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush issues a three-page executive order authorizing the creation of military commissions to try non-citizens alleged to be involved in international terrorism (see November 10, 2001). The president will decide which defendants will be tried by military commissions. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict a defendant and impose a sentence, including life imprisonment or death. Only the president or the secretary of defense has the authority to overturn a decision. There is no provision for an appeal to US civil courts, foreign courts, or international tribunals. Nor does the order specify how many judges are to preside on a tribunal or what qualifications they must have. [US Department of Defense, 11/13/2001; Washington Post, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Questionable Rule of Evidence Adopted - The order also adopts a rule of evidence stemming from the 1942 Supreme Court case of United States v. Quirin that says evidence shall be admitted “as would… have probative value to a reasonable person.” This rule, according to Judge Evan J. Wallach, “was repeatedly used [in World War II and in the post-war tribunals] to admit evidence of a quality or obtained in a manner which would make it inadmissible under the rules of evidence in both courts of the United States or courts-martial conducted by the armed forces of the United States.” [Wallach, 9/29/2004] Evidence derived from torture, for example, could theoretically be admitted. It should be noted that the order is unprecedented among presidential directives in that it takes away some individuals’ most basic rights, while claiming to have the power of law, with the US Congress not having been so much as consulted.
Specifics Left to Rumsfeld - Bush’s executive order contains few specifics about how the commissions will actually function. Bush will delegate that task to Rumsfeld, although, as with the order itself, White House lawyers will actually make the decision to put Rumsfeld in charge, and Bush will merely sign off on the decision (see March 21, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Dispute over Trial Procedures - During the next few years, lawyers will battle over the exact proceedings of the trials before military commissions, with many of the military lawyers arguing for more rights for the defendants and with Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and Justice Department and White House lawyers (including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, vice presidential counsel David Addington, and Gonzales’ deputy Timothy Flanigan) taking a more restrictive line. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Out of the Loop - Both National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell were left outside of the circle during the drafting of this directive (see November 6, 2001 and November 9, 2001). Rice is reportedly angry about not being informed. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Serious 'Process Failure' - National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger will later call the authorization a “process failure” with serious long-term consequences (see February 2009).
John Yoo and Robert Delahunty of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) write a classified memo to John Bellinger, the senior legal counsel to the National Security Council. Yoo and Delahunty claim that President Bush has the unilateral authority to “suspend certain articles” of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the US and Russia (see May 26, 1972). Six months later, President Bush will withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/15/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The memo will not be released until two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009).
Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004]
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Richard B. Myers, US Department of State, Taliban, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bellinger, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
John Bellinger, the White House’s chief national security counsel, sends his supervisor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, what he thinks is a private memo with a blunt warning about the legality of the proposal to ignore the Geneva Conventions in interrogating terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). The proposal, Bellinger writes, will place Bush in direct breach of international law and threaten the most fundamental cooperation from allied governments. Faxes from other governments, even Britain, have been pouring into the State Department warning that they cannot turn over suspects to the US if the Bush administration withdraws from accepted legal norms. The Bellinger memo quickly finds its way into Vice President Cheney’s office, to Bellinger’s chagrin; Cheney is reportedly “concerned” about Belliger’s advice. Bellinger does not know until now that any documents prepared for Rice are always “routed outside the formal process” to Cheney. The reverse does not apply. Bellinger is unaware of just how systematically he is being cut out of the decision-making process. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger. [Source: New York Times]The CIA meets three White House officials to discuss what to do with videotapes it has made of detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). The CIA wants to destroy the tapes, so it briefs the officials on them and asks their advice. The officials are:
Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel until early 2005, when he will become attorney general;
David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney;
John Bellinger, senior lawyer at the National Security Council;
There are conflicting accounts of the advice the lawyers give the CIA. One source will say there was “vigorous sentiment” among some unnamed top White House officials to destroy the tapes. They apparently want to destroy the tapes in 2005 because they could be damaging in the light of the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004). Other sources will say nobody at the White House advocates destroying the tapes. However, it seems none of the lawyers gives a direct order to preserve the tapes or says their destruction would be illegal. [New York Times, 12/19/2007] A source familiar with Bellinger’s account will say, “The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes… The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007] When CIA Director Michael Hayden informs legislators of these discussions in late 2007, he will say that upon being informed high-ranking CIA officials are demanding the tapes be destroyed, the lawyers “consistently counseled caution.” The Washington Post will comment: “The ambiguity in the phrasing of Hayden’s account left unresolved key questions about the White House’s role. While his account suggests an ambivalent White House view toward the tapes, other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed. Also unexplained is why the issue was discussed at the White House without apparent resolution for more than a year.” [Washington Post, 12/20/2007] Another White House official, Harriet Miers, is also consulted around this time and is said to advise against the tapes’ destruction (see Between 2003-Late 2005). [New York Times, 12/19/2007] When it is revealed that these officials were consulted, Law professor Jonathan Turley will comment: “[T]his is a very significant development, because it shows that this was not just some rogue operator at the CIA that destroyed evidence being sought by Congress and the courts. It shows that this was a planned destruction, that there were meetings and those meetings extended all the way to the White House, and included Alberto Gonzalez, who would soon become attorney general and Harriet Miers, who would become White House counsel. That’s a hair’s breath away from the president himself.” [CNN, 12/19/2007]
The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other methods. According to a 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the officials “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.” [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s Jameel Jaffer will say: “This was not an abstract discussion. These were very detailed and specific conversations. And it’s further evidence of the role that senior administration officials had.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. [US Department of Justice, 3/19/2004 ; Cross, 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).
Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Larry Downing/ Reuters]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission under oath and with the threat of perjury. The Bush administration originally opposed her appearance, but relented after great public demand (see March 30, 2004). [Independent, 4/3/2004] The testimony is a huge media event and major television networks interrupt their programming to carry it live. First, the Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reads a statement trying to establish a tone of non-confrontation and saying that the Commission’s purpose is “not to put any witness on the spot,” but “to understand and to inform.”
Rice Reads Lengthy Statement - Knowing that she has a deal to appear only once and for a limited time, Rice begins by reading a statement much longer than those read by other witnesses testifying before the Commission, a move specifically approved by Hamilton and the Commission’s chairman Tom Kean. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 293, 295] In the statement she repeats her claim that “almost all of the reports [before 9/11] focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States.… The information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorists operation overseas.” Moreover, she stresses that the “kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.” But she concedes: “In fact there were some reports done in ‘98 and ‘99. I think I was—I was certainly not aware of them.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Heated Questioning from Democrats - The exchanges with the Republican commissioners are polite, but Rice’s interactions with the Democrats on the Commission become heated. According to author Philip Shenon, her strategy is to “try to run out the clock—talk and talk and talk, giving them no chance to ask follow-up questions before the 10 minutes that each of the commissioners had been allotted had run out.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 295] During questioning several subjects are discussed:
Why didn’t counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before September 11? Clarke says he had wished to do so, but Rice states, “Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
What was the content of the briefing President Bush received on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001)? While Rice repeatedly underlines that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting,” commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Tim Roemer ask her why it cannot therefore be declassified. [Washington Post, 4/8/2004] Asked what the PDB item’s still-secret title is, Rice gives it as “Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States,” leading to an audible gasp from the audience. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 298] Two days later, the White House will finally publish it, and it will be shown to contain more than just historical information.
Did Rice tell Bush of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the US before August 6, 2001? Rice says that she does not remember whether she “discussed it with the president.”
Were warnings properly passed on? Rice points out: “The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” But commissioner Jamie Gorelick remarks: “We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, she admits that she worked with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, during the Bush administration transition, and that they discussed terrorism issues.
She claims that a plan Clarke presented to her to roll back al-Qaeda in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001) was not actually a plan, but merely “a set of ideas and a paper” that had not been implemented. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 299-300]
Central Issues Unresolved - Rice does not apologize to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, as Clarke did weeks earlier. The Associated Press comments, “The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice’s testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did, and should have done before the September 11 terrorist attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/8/2004]
Testimony an 'Ambitious Feat of Jujitsu' - The Washington Post calls her testimony “an ambitious feat of jujitsu: On one hand, she made a case that ‘for more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient.’ At the same time, she argued that there was nothing in particular the Bush administration itself could have done differently that would have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001—that there was no absence of vigor in the White House’s response to al-Qaeda during its first 233 days in office. The first thesis is undeniably true; the second both contradictory and implausible.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2004]
'Cherry-Picking' Rice's Testimony - In 2009, Lawrence Wilkerson, who is chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, will recall: “John [Bellinger, the legal adviser to the National Security Council] and I had to work on the 9/11 Commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been. They didn’t give a sh_t about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Entity Tags: Jamie Gorelick, Lee Hamilton, Lawrence Wilkerson, George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Kerrey, Bush administration (43), Tim Roemer, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Kean, Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections
Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009; Politico, 4/21/2009]
David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). [National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005] Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). [Washington Post, 10/11/2004; National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005; US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]
Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, US Department of State, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Ronald Reagan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Bruce Fein, Bradford Berenson, 9/11 Commission, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, John Bellinger, Jack Goldsmith, Lawrence Wilkerson, John C. Yoo, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
After President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), his office issues a “signing statement” concerning how he believes the government should enforce the new law. His advisers have spent days composing a statement that declares the administration’s support for the bill. But that statement is never issued. Just before Bush signs the bill, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, intercepts the statement “and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it,” a White House official will later recall. Instead, Addington substitutes a single sentence. Bush, writes Addington, would interpret the law “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president to supervise the unitary executive branch and as commander in chief.” Neither Addington nor Cheney have any qualms about ignoring or superseding what Addington calls “interagency treaties” or language “agreed between cabinet secretaries.” Top officials from the CIA, the Justice Department, State Department, and Defense Department oppose the substitution. The White House’s senior national security lawyer, John Bellinger, says that Congress will view the statement as a “stick in the eye.” Nevertheless, with Cheney’s backing, White House counsel Harriet Miers sends the revised statement to Bush for his signature. Bush signs the statement. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
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; Washington Post, 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. [Associated Press, 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.” [New York Times, 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; Washington Post, 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?” [Financial Times, 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. [Agence France-Presse, 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.” [New York Times, 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.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
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.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2009]
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