Did you catch Liz Cheney's act on Stephanopoulos on Sunday? Sorry to be slow on the uptake, but my Tivo failed and I just caught it last night. Watch if for yourself here and here. Spoiler alert: the Cheney apple didn't fall from the gnarled, twisted tree... If you don't feel like clicking, here's a small portion of the roundtable, in which Liz continues the family tradition of shoving the CIA out front as a human shield:
The goal of the GOP attacks on Nancy Pelosi, which have succeeded in leading the credulous media down a pointless path, is clear: to kill any real investigation into Bush-Cheney-era torture, because such an investigation would inevitably lead to the conclusion that torture was not employed to save Americans from a "ticking time bomb," but rather, to produce false confessions tying Iraq to al-Qaida, to back fill a justification for the war. Watch Fox News work the plan:
There are exactly FOUR TV/cable reporters covering the torture for war bombshell, and all four of them are on MSNBC: Here's one of them: David Shuster:
The others are Chris Matthews, who is interviewing former NBC investigative producer David Windrem tonight, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. The rest of the collective Washington-New York media are fixated -- obsessed even -- over the Republican distraction story about Nancy Pelosi. Human events and others are now even embracing the fact that what was done was torture, so long as they can tie it to Pelosi.
I hope someone will ask him about the emerging evidence that despite his increasingly desperate attempts to shape history, the Bush-Cheney torture program was not about protecting Americans from an imminent "ticking time bomb" attack -- but rather was a sadistic attempt to falsify, and then shore up the falsified, case for invading Iraq. The evidence is everywhere. Plain as day.
We tortured Abu Zubaydah 83 times in one month to try to get him to falsely confess a link, and this after he had been cooperating with FBI interrogators...
We tortured the now very dead Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to force him to confess to a link -- and he did. Per Andrew Sullivan:
...Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was first captured by the US and tortured by CIA surrogates in an Egyptian cell. Apparently, they beat him and put him in a coffin for 17 hours as a mock-burial. To end the severe mental and physical suffering, he confessed that Saddam had trained al Qaeda terrorists in deploying WMDs. This evidence was then cited by Colin Powell as part of the rationale for going to war in Iraq.
An extensive analysis I conducted as a reporter for NBC News of the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report and its monograph on terrorist travel showed that much of what was reported about the planning and execution of the terror attacks on New York and Washington was based on the CIA's interrogations of high-ranking al Qaeda operatives who had been subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques."
More than one-quarter of all footnotes in the 9/11 Report refer to CIA interrogations of al Qaeda operatives subjected to the now-controversial interrogation techniques. In fact, information derived from the interrogations was central to the 9/11 Report’s most critical chapters, those on the planning and execution of the attacks.
The NBC analysis also showed—and agency and commission staffers concur—there was a separate, second round of interrogations in early 2004, specifically conducted to answer new questions from the 9/11 Commission after its lawyers had been left unsatisfied by the agency’s internal interrogation reports.
Human-rights advocates, including Karen Greenberg of New York University Law School’s Center for Law and Security and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, have said that, at the least, the 9/11 Commission should have been more suspect of the information derived under such pressure.
Philip Zelikow, who led the 9/11 commission as its executive director, is the same guy who authored the "anti-torture memo" that was buried by the Bushies, and who is now calling for an independent investigation into Bush-era torture. He now says:
"We were not aware, but we guessed, that things like that were going on. We were wary…we tried to find different sources to enhance our credibility."
Credibility? What credibility? The fact is, that now even the timeline and explanation of events surrounding 9/11 is tainted by torture. If we cannot trust the commission's reconstruction of events, and the means of getting that reconstruction included the same techniques Dick Cheney wanted used to justify a phony case for war with Iraq, what other conclusion can you come to other than that the fruits of that poisoned tree are ALL bad, and we really don't know what happened on 9/11, or who indeed, was ultimately responsible...?
As Bush stays silent, the evidence against Dick Cheney mounts
I've often wondered, is George W. Bush really as dumb as he seems, or could he, behind the scenes, have figured out -- eventually -- that his vice president had hijacked his presidency. Assuming for the moment that he did figure out, maybe around mid-to-late 2003, by which time the case for the Iraq war had completely fallen apart, and during the summer of which, Robert Novak had completed the leak of a CIA officer's name, something that originated inside the vice president's office, too. There is some evidence to suggest that not only did Dubya figure out what was up, but he also took steps to correct it:
Bush fought fiercely for a second term, deploying Karl Rove (who by the way has now admitted that the Bush administration conducted torture...) to do anything to win.
After he won (or stole Ohio, whichever historic read you prefer) he ejected the entire neocon fraternity from his administration -- including, eventually, Don Rumsfeld.
The one person he couldn't get rid of, or didn't try to, was Dick Cheney, who had gone to war with the CIA over Iraq (an agency Bush's father once held,) and authorized the Plame leak, something that went against Bush Sr.'s strongest admonitions when it came to undercover personnel. So could Bush, in his second term, have been seeking to repair the presidency he had allowed his vice president to destroy? Maybe. And then there's this: Bush and Cheney are no longer on speaking terms, according to news reports, and Bush does indeed blame Cheney for what went wrong with his reign (he should blame himself more -- Katrina wasn't Cheney's fault, and the economi catastrophe was a shared responsibility...) Bush also refused to pardon Scooter "the CIA agent outer" Libby, despite Cheney's strenuous insistance. And now, Cheney is out there on his own, defending the Bush administration's torture program as if it was ... well, the Cheney administration torture program. Which brings me to a post in today's Daily Beast:
Robert Windrem, who covered terrorism for NBC, reports exclusively in The Daily Beast that:
*Two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney’s office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.
*The former chief of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, in charge of interrogations, tells The Daily Beast that he considered the request reprehensible.
*Much of the information in the report of the 9/11 Commission was provided through more than 30 sessions of torture of detainees.
At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.
Two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard an Iraqi prisoner came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.
“To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest,” Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the interrogation was proceeding.
Could GWB be keeping so very quiet, because he knows that if prosecutions for torture do occur, Cheney will be on the hook more than he? Perhaps that's why this past weekend, Cheney tried to tie Bush to the torture program, claiming Bush "signed off on it..."
Meanwhile, the CIA today turned down Cheney's request to selectively declassify documents he insists will clear him ... or, he never asked. Either way he's not getting any memos. (BTW, which guy do you think would get more CIA cover if bad things went down in the A.G.'s office, former son of a CIA director Bush, or Dick "Deferrments" Cheney?" Just asking. BTW, the American Conservative's Philip Geraldi makes a very good point about those still classified memos, about which he was briefed by someone who has seen them; he writes this:
... The memos were drafted for the White House to demonstrate the success of the enhanced interrogation program and were not intended to look at the downside of the procedure, which means they provide only a very selective and uncritical overview. They were written by the CIA staff tasked with carrying out the interrogations which inevitably had a vested interest in making the program appear to be both effective and legal. Other Agency components, including its Inspector General’s office, opposed the program for various reasons, including its failure to produce any genuine intelligence, so there was hardly any consensus even inside the CIA on the procedure and effectiveness.
The memos cite several leads developed from the interrogations which may or may not have led to the thwarting of terrorist plots, but they make no attempt to critique the interrogation process itself to determine if the information might have been obtained more conventionally. None of the interrogations of “high value suspects” related to a “smoking gun scenario” where a detainee knew details of an imminent terrorist attack, meaning that the waterboarding was carried out even when there was no pressing need to use that technique. The memos also did not address the issue of the numerous false leads and bogus information derived from confessions under torture that made the entire process questionable. [emphasis added]
And the credulous Washington press corps continues to buy into the GOP's Operation Get Nancy distraction technique, to a degree that is shameful, even for this Republican-coddling crowd.
TIME Magazine also wondered why the once-reclusive Dick is so chatty these days, and concluded as follows:
Cheney is "trying to rewrite history," says a Republican consultant who has experience in intelligence matters. "He knows that as time goes by, he will look worse. And so he's trying to put his stroke on it."
And you know what? I'll bet George W. Bush knows that, too.
Is it just me who is disturbed by "intelligence officials" who may or may not be partisan Republicans, or persons otherwise interested in forestalling a full investigation of torture during the Bush administration, leaking memos that are intended to implicate Nancy Pelosi (who has some say in the matter of investigations, but who was disallowed by law from even discussing the classified briefings, let alone objecting to their content...) in foreknowledge of torture?
In a letter accompanying the new documents, CIA Director Leon Panetta explains that it is possible that the CIA’s description of the briefing is inaccurate. Panetta explains that its report is based on the “best recollections” of those in attendance and states that the Senate Intelligence Committee, to whom they sent the report, “will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened”
CNN is reporting that President Obama today signaled a shift toward investigating former Bush administration officials on torture, saying now that he's open to an investigation, so long as it's done "in a bipartisan way." So my question is, what happened in the last 24 hours to change the president's mind? Could it be Dick Cheney's braying? And could the media stop saying that the only people seeking accountability are "supporters on the left?" Last time I checked, those seeking to hold the torturers to account include Libertarians like professor Jonathan Turley and Republicans like John Dean (also on the record re Bybee...)
Jay Bybee, the sitting federal judge whose previous occupation was crafting crude legal arguments that would allow CIA personnel to torture, including waterboarding two terrorism suspects up to 6 times a day ... has hired a lawyer. And while we in the blog world would like to think it's our (or Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann's) doing, the real reason is that the Justice Department is not in any way obligated to go along with President Obama in eschewing prosecution of those who committed or attempted to sanction war crimes. (Despite the twisting of the job by Al "Torquemada" Gonzales, the A.G. is NOT the president's lawyer. He's OUR lawyer.) From Michael Isikoff at Newsweek (nowadays looking into things much more important than stained dresses...)
... the Obama administration is not off the hook. Though administration officials declared that CIA interrogators who followed Justice's legal guidance on torture would not be prosecuted, that does not mean the inquiries are over. Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers, who declined to be identified discussing a sensitive subject, say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has discussed naming a senior prosecutor or outside counsel to review whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries--and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place. Some Justice officials are deeply troubled by reports of detainee treatment and believe they may suggest criminal misconduct, these sources say. Even if prosecutions prove too difficult to bring, an outside counsel's report could be made public. For his part, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still pushing for a "truth commission." In a democracy, the wheels of justice grind on--and the president, for good reason under the rule of law, does not have the power to stop them.
Bybee does have legal counsel, for free, even. But the notion that he might be off the hook in Spain is a non-starter. A judge there has overruled that country's attorney general on the prosecution of the so-called Bush Six, Bybee included. Meanwhile, Isikoff also uncovered this interesting piece of data:
After several intense cabinet meetings, Obama appeared to back down and go along with a Panetta proposal to heavily "redact"—black out—all references to specific interrogation techniques, say the administration sources. But this would make the release meaningless, argued others, and Obama began to swing back again. Panetta had one ally, John Brennan, a former agency official who is now Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser. But Adm. Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, backed a more complete release, and so did Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Bush holdover (and former CIA director).
"As a practical matter, it's over—nobody is going to get prosecuted," says Robert Bennett, the Washington lawyer whose clients include Jose Rodriguez, the former chief of the CIA's clandestine service, who has been under investigation for his November 2005 decision to destroy 92 videotapes showing the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. But what if evidence emerges that CIA officials (or contractors, who actually conducted most of the interrogations) went beyond the boundaries that the Justice Department erected? The CIA has consistently denied wrongdoing, but an intriguing footnote to one of the memos says that an internal CIA investigation found that there might have been "unnecessary use of enhanced techniques" against one Qaeda suspect.
There are other inquiries to come, in Congress, and inside the Justice Department's ethics division:
Three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, are the subjects of a coming report by the Justice Department’s ethics office that officials say is sharply critical of their work. The ethics office has the power to recommend disbarment or other professional penalties or, less likely, to refer cases for criminal prosecution.
On a side note, Jason and I were discussing last night whether President Obama might be more clever in this regard than he's being given credit for -- pushing the notion of prosecutions away from himself as a political matter, knowing that he can't stop Congress, Justice or the international community from acting. Not the most principled use of power, I'd argue, but perhaps a clever way to keep the politics at arms length, while ultimately having those who broke the law held to account. We'll see what happens.
The reiterations of the Obama policy on the Sunday shows this morning do not convince. On this one, the administration is dead wrong. Well, let me back up a bit. I suppose I can understand the practical reasons for granting immunity to those in the CIA who carried out torture policies "under the color of law" due to the advice issued by the then- Justice Department. The Obama administration doesn't want to incite a wholesale rebellion at Langley, or make the CIA the scapegoat for what were clearly Bush administration -- not intelligence community -- policies. However, three points from the Sundays that slap down the argument that immunity should be anything more than immunity to testify against those higher officials who ARE being prosecuted:
1. As Katty Kay pointed out on the "CMS," the Nuremberg trials, conducted by American prosecutors, didn't distinguish between those who committed war crimes out of pure depravity, and those who did it under color of law. They said they were following the laws of Germany (or Japan); we prosecuted them anyway.
... in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, explained that Obama’s grant of immunity is likely a violation of international law. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture:
STANDARD: CIA torturers are according to U.S. President Obama not to be prosecuted. Is that decision supportable?
NOWAK: Absolutely not. The United States has, like all other Contracting Parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, committed itself to investigate instances of torture and to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture is found.
3. Indeed, there is no legal argument that the administration can point to that would get them out of their obligation to pursue these torture allegations. Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture, and many of the details of what was done during the Bush administration are already publicly known, as Rahm Emanuel pointed out on "This Week." The memos have people's names and signatures on them, including the name of Jay Bybee, who now occupies the dual role of probable war criminal and sitting federal judge (though hopefully, he's soon to be an impeached one, as the NYT called for in an editorial yesterday.) At a minimum, the lawyers who concocted the torture memos should be disbarred, and in the case of Bybee, "disbenched." And the people who put the policies in place, at the Pentagon, Justice Department and yes, the Bush White House, should, as Andrew Sullivan eloquently pointed out, be held to account.
As the Times points out in its editorial, the intent behind thememos makes what should be done clear enough:
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
And as the Times further points out:
It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Except that mobsters don't generally brag on television about the horse's heads they've laid to rest on victims' pillows.
The Bush administration went to great lengths to impose Soviet-style eavesdropping, gulags and torture on the American experiment. Shouldn't America repay them by imposing a little constitutional law on them?
What you can do:
To get more info and to get involved in the push to impeach Jay Bybee, click here.
For more on the push to have John Yoo removed from his professorship over his role in the torture memos, click here.
To sign the ACLU petition to call on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture during the Bush administration, click here.
For all Powell's continuing respectability, and I am one who still respects him -- if less so than I did before he held up those vials of sand at the United Nations -- the quite well done Maddow interview highlights, once again, the fact that as a man of the military, and a man of principal, General Powell had many, many reasons to resign from the Bush cabinet, and would have raised the level of respect many of us have for him had he done so.
And speaking of torture, Doug Feith calls Spain's investigation of him and 5 other Bush administration torture proponents "outrageous!!!" I've met Doug Feith, and I can tell you that he's one arrogant S.O.B. I wish him happy travels ... just maybe keep those travels domestic, brother.
Judge Garzon, however, has built an international reputation by bringing high-profile cases against human-rights violators as well as international terrorist networks like Al Qaeda. The arrest warrant for General Pinochet led to his detention in Britain, although he never faced a trial. The judge has also been outspoken about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Spain can claim jurisdiction in the case because five citizens or residents of Spain who were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have said they were tortured there. The five had been indicted in Spain, but their cases were dismissed after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained under torture was not admissible.
BTW, Pat Leahy has now said his idea for a "truth commission" in lieu of legal proceedings here in the U.S., is D.O.A.
From the New York Review of books comes a chilling account of U.S. torture of terror suspects, gleaned from interviews with the arbiter of whether or not war crimes have taken place in a given conflict: the International Committee of the Red Cross. A clip from their interviews with "high value detainee" Abu Zubaydah:
Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.
Read the whole thing here. The major scoop of this leaked report was done not by a journalist, but by a journalism professor at Berkley:
Mark Danner has scooped the NY Times, the Washington Post and other papers by publishing in the current New York Review of Books an essay quoting long excerpts of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on "high-value" prisoners held in CIA black site prisons. The interviews took prior to their release in late 2006, and the report itself is dated February 2007, and likely was sent originally to then CIA Acting General Counsel, John Rizzo.
The prisoners interviewed by ICRC personnel included Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, and eleven others, all of whom, the ICRC concluded, were submitted to torture.
As the poster at Axis of Logic points out, this is no bedtime reading.
Related: a British author says Zubaydah might not be the terror mastermind the Bush administration made him out to be. Meanwhile, it turns out that Zubaydah's rendition (initially to Thailand) was timed tantalizingly close to the Justice Department torture memos written by Jay Bybee and John Yoo.
A pay freeze for administration members earning over $100,000 a year and strict rules on lobbying, both before and after serving his White House.
Phone calls to top Middle Eastern leaders, and a nod to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as Mideast envoy. Mitchell did great things during the Clinton administration for peace in Northern Ireland, but he has special qualifications for this job, too, as Mother Jones points out:
At first glance, Mitchell may not seem the most obvious choice for the Middle East envoy job. Others have far more experience in the region, and Mitchell's success in Northern Ireland does not necessarily translate to the intractable conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. But what you may not know is that Mitchell is himself of Lebanese ancestry; his father, John Kilroy, was an Irishman adopted by a Lebanese family, and his mother was a Lebanese Maronite Christian.
More than that, Mitchell had a brief, albeit unsuccessful, run as Middle East envoy during President Bill Clinton's last-minute attempt to broker peace there before he left office. The so-called "Mitchell Commission" studied the conflict in detail for several months before releasing a report in April 2001 to the newly inaugurated Bush administration.
As with his work in Northern Ireland, Mitchell suggested in the 2001 report (available here) that no peace could come to the Middle East until both sides stopped the violence and steeled themselves for difficult negotiations. Beyond that, though, he affected a more balanced approach to the peace process, calling not only for the Palestinians to renounce terrorism, but for the Israelis to cease using economic blockades against the Palestinians and to halt the construction of new settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Putting a Lebanese-American at the forefront of policy, along with the well known and widely trusted Secretary of State Clinton, is a great look, and Obama seems to be signaling that he will be as tough on settlement building as Bush was soft on it.
Meanwhile, on the newly de-tourested Capitol Hill:
Hillary is approved, and then greeted as a liberator by a weary Foggy Bottom, which made little attempt to show their relief that the new administration has arrived. BTW the two GOPers who voted against Hillary in the Senate were Jim DeMint (R, SC) and David Vitter (R, Whore House.) Geithner is approved, tax issues and all.
Eric Holder is held up by Bush lackeys on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are apparently seeking assurances that there will be no torture prosecutions emanating from the Obama Justice Department. (Meanwhile, the U.N.'s top torture investigator says the body doesn't really need the United States to act on the matter. They can move against top Bushies themselves, and Manfred Nowak, the U.N. "Special Raporteur on Toture," has at least two defendants in mind ...) Said Mr. Nowak:
“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld. […] He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.
“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
Cheney should of course be added to the list, along with Bush and Don Rumsfeld, particularly since he has openly admitted to authorizing the torture of U.S. detainees.
BTW, check out the new Whitehouse.gov. It mirrors the previous Obama campaign and transition sites. Nice.
Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.
Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.
"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.
During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
Bush admits to knowledge of lawbreaking, Washington yawns
So George W. Bush has no problem admitting to ABC news' Martha Raddatz that not only did his top cabinet officials meet inside the White House to game out torture techniques, but also that he knew about the meetings, and approved. Two questions: why isn't Dubya ever allowed in the room when the big kids are talking, and did the president of the United States just admit to war crimes on a national television network?
Twilight of the torturers (or, the rehabilitation of John Ashcroft, part II)
I think I've said before that when John Ashcroft is the voice of reason, you know that you've gone over the cliff. But Ashcroft, the one-term Bush attorney general, is slowly emerging as one of the few occasional voices of reason inside an administration bent on lawbreaking.
First, there was his really rather heroic refusal to supercede the authority of his equally heroic deputy, James Comey, who was acting attorney general at the time the administration sent errand boy Al Gonzales to Ashcroft's hospital bed to get him to sign off on domestic eavesdropping. Now, comes a report from ABC News that Ashcroft sounded the alarm as the highest possible level members of the Bush administration torture of detainees, one at a time. They did so at the insistence of the CIA, which wasn't going to allow its agents to become the fall guys for the Bush team's illegal torture policies. So, Tenet and Co. sought legal and political cover from the White House and its "legal team." And yes, I use the term lightly. From ABC today:
In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.
The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.
Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.
The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.
The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.
At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.
So much for vice president Rice. So what did Ashcroft ultimately do this time? Well, I wish I could say he repeated the heroism he displayed in the later spying situation by declaring the torture of detainees in U.S. custory unlawful, unconostitutional and un-American. He did not. However, Ashcroft did make a prophetic statement, according to ABC's sources, that rings truer than true. A bit more from the exhaustive ABC report:
Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.
According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
And indeed it won't. War crimes have been committed by agents acting under the color of authority of the president of the United States. His own cabinet signed off, not just on the notion of torture, but on the specific techniques and use of torture on individual detainees. Each "enhanced interrogation" constitutes an explicit war crime. And the people in those meetings -- all of them, Ashcroft included -- should be held liable for those crimes, up to and including the man they worked for, the president of the United States.
If we had a real Congress, rather than a cowering hall of shameful derelicts on Capitol Hill, someone might even do something about it.
P.S.: Right wingers will likely cheer the ABC report, along with the Vanity Fair story by Philppe Sands that says interrogators, strapped for torture ideas, began getting their techniques from the show "24," the Bible for right wing warmongers and torture afficionados. They represent an ideology that is infected, in a very real sense, with Saddamism. They wish to see the president of the United States become more like Saddam Hussein, in order to defeat those about whom they are paranoid: Muslims. They, too, are acting in a manner that absolutely flies in the face of everything America is supposed to stand for. At the end of the day, we are being governed by a bunch of criminals in the White House, who will likely go unprosecuted for the rest of their miserable lives, at least in this country.
Some non-Iowa news from NBC: California hawk Jane Harman warned the CIA not to destroy the now infamous torture tapes:
WASHINGTON - The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee warned in a 2003 letter that destroying videotapes of terrorist interrogations would put the CIA under a cloud of suspicion, according to a newly declassified copy of the letter.
"Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future," Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., wrote in a Feb. 10, 2003 letter to then-CIA general counsel Scott Muller. "The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the agency."
Harman's office released the declassified letter on Thursday, a day after the Justice Department announced it had opened a criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes. The letter notes that a copy also went to then-CIA Director George Tenet.
A criminal probe is finally opened in the CIA torture tapes destruction scandal. From AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department opened a full criminal investigation Wednesday into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, putting the politically charged probe in the hands of a mob-busting public corruption prosecutor with a reputation for being independent.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced that he was appointing John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to oversee the investigation of a case that has challenged the Bush administration's controversial handling of terrorism suspects. The CIA acknowledged last month that in 2005 it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. The acknowledgment sparked a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by Justice into whether the CIA violated any laws or obstructed congressional inquiries such as the one led by the Sept. 11 Commission.
"The Department's National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.
Durham, who has served with the Justice Department for 25 years, has a reputation as one of the nation's most relentless prosecutors. He was appointed to investigate the FBI's use of mob informants in Boston, an investigation that sent former FBI agent John Connolly to prison.
"Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise," Durham said in 2002 after Connolly's conviction. Mukasey made the move after prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia, which includes the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va., removed themselves from the case. CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, who worked with the Justice Department on the preliminary inquiry, also removed himself.
"The CIA will of course cooperate fully with this investigation as it has with the others into this matter," agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said.
Mukasey named Durham the acting U.S. attorney on the case, a designation the Justice Department frequently makes when top prosecutors take themselves off a case. He will not serve as a special prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald, who operated autonomously while investigating the 2003 leak of a CIA operative's identity.
"The Justice Department went out and got somebody with complete independence and integrity," said former Connecticut U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, who worked with Durham. "No politics whatsoever. It's going to be completely by the book and he's going to let the chips fall where they may."
The House Intelligence Committee is also conducting an investigation, and they have asked Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who ordered the tapes destroyed, to appear at a January 16 hearing.
I have serious doubts about Mr.Mukasey's independence, but this Durham character sounds pretty solid (he supervised the prosecution of Republican governor of Connecticut John Rowland, among other things... not that it matters that he's prosecuted Republicans...)
That was essentially George W. Bush's answer to reporter's queries during a press conference today, regarding his foreknowledge of the destruction of those CIA torture tapes. This will sound familiar to Valerie Plame and her husband:
The president, fencing good-naturedly with reporters at a White House news conference, parried a question that suggested there was ambiguity in his earlier statements that he had no recollection about the existence or destruction of the tapes.
“It sounds pretty clear to me,” Mr. Bush said. “The first recollection is when Mike Hayden briefed me. That’s pretty clear.” Gen. Michael V. Hayden is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nor would the president respond directly when asked whether he thought the C.I.A.’s 2005 destruction of the videotapes showing harsh questioning of two suspected terrorists was “the responsible thing to do.”
The president said he was confident that inquiries being started by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, by the C.I.A.’s own inspector general’s office and in Congress “will end up enabling us all to find out what exactly happened.”
“And, therefore, over the course of these inquiries and oversight hearings, I’m going to reserve judgment until I find out the full facts,” Mr. Bush said. “I know I’m going to be asked about this question a lot as time goes by. I’m just going to prepare you. Until these inquiries are complete, until the oversight’s finished, then I will be rendering no opinion from podium.”
"There's a serious investigation," the president said. "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation." He commented in response to reporters' questions during a meeting with Bulgaria's president, Georgi Parvanov. ...
Oh, it was Scooter??? Well I'll be damned! Okay, here's where Bush just gets downright embarrassing:
Only a few minutes went by at Thursday morning’s news conference before the subject of the tapes was raised again, this time by a questioner who asked the president whether he was concerned that the episode would raise “questions from people around the world” about how the United States treats terrorism suspects.
“You know, you’re trying to get me to prejudge the outcome of this inquiry,” Mr. Bush said. “Let’s wait and see what the facts are.”
As for America’s image in the world, Mr. Bush said, “I’m not surprised we get criticized on a variety of fronts. And you know, on the other hand, most people like to come to our country, and most people love what America stands for.
“And so, it’s like I said about the presidency,” Mr. Bush went on. “People in America, you know, like the presidency, and sometimes they like the president. Get it?”
Yeah, get it? What a shmuck. I wonder what that press conference would have sounded like in pre-war Iraq...?
So, Saddam, do you think that the disclosure that your government tortures people harms Iraq's image around the world?
"Well, infidel, people like to come to Iraq. This is where the Garden of Eden was, you know. ... and the Tower of Babel. People like that sort of thing. Get it?"
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the White House staff and vice president have their offices ... is burning ... on the same day the NYT reports the following:
Bush Lawyers Discussed Fate of C.I.A. Tapes
By MARK MAZZETTI and SCOTT SHANE WASHINGTON — At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.
The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged.
Those who took part, the officials said, included Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel.
It was previously reported that some administration officials had advised against destroying the tapes, but the emerging picture of White House involvement is more complex. In interviews, several administration and intelligence officials provided conflicting accounts as to whether anyone at the White House expressed support for the idea that the tapes should be destroyed.
One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. The former official did not specify which White House officials took this position, but he said that some believed in 2005 that any disclosure of the tapes could have been particularly damaging after revelations a year earlier of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. ...
Here's a bit more, and check out who one of the principals in the growing case has lawyered up with...
The new information came to light as a federal judge on Tuesday ordered a hearing into whether the tapes’ destruction violated an order to preserve evidence in a lawsuit brought on behalf of 16 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The tapes documented harsh interrogation methods used in 2002 on Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two Qaeda suspects in C.I.A. custody.
The current and former officials also provided new details about the role played in November 2005 by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the chief of the agency’s clandestine branch, who ultimately ordered the destruction of the tapes.
The officials said that before he issued a secret cable directing that the tapes be destroyed, Mr. Rodriguez received legal guidance from two C.I.A. lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger. The officials said that those lawyers gave written guidance to Mr. Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.
The agency did not make either Mr. Hermes or Mr. Eatinger available for comment.
Current and former officials said the two lawyers informed the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, about the legal advice they had provided. But officials said Mr. Rodriguez did not inform either Mr. Rizzo or Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director, before he sent the cable to destroy the tapes.
“There was an expectation on the part of those providing legal guidance that additional bases would be touched,” said one government official with knowledge of the matter. “That didn’t happen.”
Robert S. Bennett, a lawyer for Mr. Rodriguez, insisted that his client had done nothing wrong and suggested that Mr. Rodriguez had been authorized to order the destruction of the tapes. “He had a green light to destroy them,” Mr. Bennett said.
Bennett is a popular lawyer 'round there...
The NYT report also reveals that the CIA kept the tapes overseas, in the unidentified country where the "harsh interrogations" (read "torture,") took place, something almost unbelievable from a security standpoint. Had they been stolen, say, in whatever country we're talking about, but which could very well be a majority Muslim one, the damage to U.S. interests would have been enormous.
John Dean commented before today's revelation that:
There are three court orders that may have been violated, but one in particular strikes me as a very serious problem for the CIA. Accordingly, we may well be in the unique situation in which a pending civil lawsuit might flush out some answers, and the federal judiciary might thus embarrass the other branches into actually taking meaningful action. I say "might" because the Bush Administration thinks nothing of stiffing federal court judges who seek information, and they probably figure they can tap-dance for the federal judiciary - along with all the other inquiries -- until they are out of Washington on January 20, 2009.
Nevertheless, the situation in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union, could well force the Bush Administration's hand. An order holding the CIA in contempt of court might get the Administration's attention.
The ACLU's Lawsuit, and the Order that the CIA Produce Documents
When word of mistreatment of detainees surfaced, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request targeting the CIA and others on October 7, 2003 and May 25, 2004, seeking records concerning the treatment of all detainees apprehended after September 11, 2001 and held in U.S. custody abroad. This, of course, would mean not only in Guantanamo but in the secret prisons in Eastern Europe operated by the CIA.
Not surprisingly, the government stiffed the request, so the ACLU filed a lawsuit in June 2004 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case ended up in the courtroom of Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. On September 15, 2004, Judge Hellerstein ordered the CIA and other government departments to "produce or identify" all responsive documents by October 15, 2004.
The CIA claimed that some of the relevant documents were the subject of an inquiry by the CIA's Office of the Inspector General, so its attorneys requested a stay of the judge's order and an extension of time to comply with the request for other documents. In February 2005, Judge Hellerstein denied the CIA's request for a stay, but he did not enforce the stay immediately when the CIA moved for the judge to reconsider his ruling based on additional evidence from the CIA's Director - as the CIA entered a full-court press to prevent the ACLU from getting anything.
This stalling action had been playing out, when news of the destruction of the tapes became public. Now, in the action before Judge Hellerstein, he ACLU has moved to hold the CIA in contempt of court, based on the Judge's September 15, 2004 ruling. It is difficult to see why the CIA is, in fact, not in contempt, given the nature of the FOIA request and the judge's order.
Well, another federal district judge has ordered hearings for Friday on the matter, and whether the destruction of the tapes violated a court order:
n June 2005, Kennedy ordered the Bush administration to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay."
Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos. The recordings involved suspected terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The Justice Department argued that the videos weren't covered by the order because the two men were being held in secret CIA prisons overseas, not at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
David Remes, a lawyer who represents Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, said the government was obligated to keep the tapes and he wants to be sure other evidence is not being destroyed.
"We want more than just the government's assurances. The government has given these assurances in the past and they've proven unreliable," Remes said. "The recent revelation of the CIA tape destruction indicates that the government cannot be trusted to preserve evidence."
Those should be some hearings.
Meanwhile, Georgetown law professor Johnathan Turley sees about 6 possible crimes in the CIA tapes destruction...
And the White House says the NYT has gotten it all wrong... and the story is "pernicious and troubling," to boot! Oh, that Dana Perrino!