History > 2009 > USA > CIA (I)
America, What Comes After Torture?
Cheney Offers Sharp Defense
of C.I.A. Interrogation Tactics
August 31, 2009
The New York Times
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday sharply criticized
the Obama administration’s decision to investigate the abuse of prisoners held
by the Central Intelligence Agency as he delivered a forceful defense of the
full range of interrogation techniques used by intelligence officers.
Broadcast just six days after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed a
federal prosecutor to examine the abuse of detainees, Mr. Cheney described the
use of waterboarding and other coercive methods — including threatening
detainees with a gun and a drill — as legal and crucial elements of the
“I knew about the waterboarding, not specifically in any one particular case,
but as a general policy that we had approved,” said Mr. Cheney, who noted that
neither a gun nor a drill had actually been used on detainees. “The fact of the
matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years
“The judgment was made then that there wasn’t anything that was improper or
illegal,” said Mr. Cheney, who was speaking in an interview on Fox News Sunday.
Mr. Cheney said he also supported officers who strayed outside Justice
Department rules and used unauthorized interrogation techniques, saying they did
so to keep Americans safe. And he warned that Mr. Holder’s investigation would
demoralize intelligence officers and discourage them from working aggressively
to protect the nation.
Mr. Cheney described the inquiry as an “intensely partisan, politicized look
back at the prior administration” intended to placate the left wing of the
Democratic Party. “It’s clearly a political move,” he said. “I mean, there’s no
other rationale for why they’re doing this.”
In naming the prosecutor last week, Mr. Holder said he had no choice but to move
forward with the investigation after the Justice Department’s ethics office
recommended a new review of several interrogation cases and he reviewed a 2004
report on the interrogation program by the C.I.A. inspector general that was
released Monday under a court order.
The report described a variety of abuses, including suggestions about sexually
assaulting a detainee’s relatives and staging mock executions as well as the
accounts of one prisoner who was repeatedly knocked out with pressure applied to
his carotid artery and another who was lifted off the grounds by his arms, which
were tied behind his back.
Obama administration officials denied on Sunday that the inquiry was politically
motivated. One administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said the attorney general “makes decisions with independence from the White
House based on the facts and the law.”
Mr. Cheney’s vigorous remarks demonstrated his determination to embrace his new
role as a fiery defender of the Bush administration policies. But some of his
concerns are already reverberating within the Obama administration as officials
debate whether the investigation will undercut the work of the C.I.A. or serve
as a critical step toward exposing and possibly prosecuting grave acts of
wrongdoing that have damaged the nation’s standing abroad.
Officials in the C.I.A. and the Justice Department remain sharply divided about
Mr. Holder’s decision to appoint a federal prosecutor to determine if a full
criminal investigation into the conduct of agency employees or contractors is
needed. On Sunday, it became clear that such concerns were also emerging among
some Democrats in Congress.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the
Intelligence Committee, said she remained ambivalent about the wisdom of the
inquiry, which will be led by John H. Durham, a prosecutor from Connecticut who
has been investigating the C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes.
Mrs. Feinstein said she had read the full inspector general’s report. “I was
horrified, so I understand the attorney general’s reaction,” she said.
But, speaking on “Face the Nation” on CBS, she warned that “the timing of this
is not very good.” She said that her committee was nearing completion of a
bipartisan study of interrogation and detention practices and that it should
have been allowed to complete its work before a decision was made about an
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who leads the Foreign Relations
Committee, defended the Obama administration, saying the president had been
careful to balance the nation’s national security interests with the need to
investigate potential wrongdoing.
In April, Mr. Obama left open the possibility that C.I.A. officers who acted
without legal authorization could still face criminal penalties, but he
emphasized that those acting on the Justice Department’s legal advice would not
be prosecuted, a point Mr. Holder reiterated last week.
“I think the president himself has been unbelievably bending in the direction of
trying to be careful about what happens to national security, protecting our
national security interests, being very sensitive about the C.I.A.’s
prerogatives and needs and so forth,” Mr. Kerry said Sunday in an interview on
“This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on ABC.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was a prisoner of war in
Vietnam, also defended Mr. Holder’s authority to call for an investigation,
though he said on Sunday that it was a mistake that might harm agency morale and
Mr. McCain challenged Mr. Cheney’s argument that the C.I.A.’s use of extreme
interrogation methods had provided critical, life-saving intelligence. He said
such techniques violated the Geneva Convention on torture, damaged United States
relations with allies, substantially aided Al Qaeda with its recruitment and
produced unreliable intelligence.
“I think it harmed our image in the world,” Mr. McCain said on “Face the Nation”
on CBS. “But for us now to go back, I think, would be a serious mistake.”
Mr. Cheney said on Sunday that he supported even those agents who used harsh
interrogation techniques that were unauthorized by the Justice Department. “I
think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years we had no
further mass casualty attacks against the United States,” he said.
“We ask these people to do some very difficult things,” Mr. Cheney said. “They
do so at the direction of the president.” He added: “In this case, we had the
specific legal authority of the Justice Department. And if they’re now going to
be subject to being investigated and prosecuted by the next administration,
nobody’s going to sign up for those kinds of missions.”
Responding to questions about the Bush administration’s Iran policy, Mr. Cheney
also said he was “a bigger advocate of military action” against that country’s
nuclear infrastructure than any of his colleagues. He said that was an argument
that he obviously lost when President George W. Bush decided in favor of
pursuing diplomatic avenues.
“I think it was very important that the military option be on the table,” Mr.
Cheney said. “I thought that negotiations couldn’t possibly succeed unless the
Iranians really believed we were prepared to use military force.”
Scott Shane contributed reporting.
Cheney Offers Sharp
Defense of C.I.A. Interrogation Tactics, NYT, 31.8.2009,
A.C.L.U. Lawyers Mine Documents for Truth
August 30, 2009
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — In the spring of 2003, long before Abu Ghraib or secret prisons
became part of the American vocabulary, a pair of recently hired lawyers at the
American Civil Liberties Union noticed a handful of press reports about
allegations of abuse of prisoners in American custody.
The lawyers, Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh, wondered: Was there a broader
pattern of abuse, and could a Freedom of Information Act request uncover it?
Some of their colleagues, more experienced with the frustrations of such
document demands, were skeptical. One made a tongue-in-cheek offer of $1 for
every page they turned up.
Six years later, the detention document request and subsequent lawsuit are among
the most successful in the history of public disclosure, with 130,000 pages of
previously secret documents released to date and the prospect of more.
The case has produced revelation after revelation: battles between the Federal
Bureau of Investigation and the military over the treatment of detainees at the
Guantánamo Bay prison camp; autopsy reports on prisoners who died in custody in
Afghanistan and Iraq; the Justice Department’s long-secret memorandums
justifying harsh interrogation methods; and day-by-day descriptions of what
happened inside the Central Intelligence Agency’s overseas prisons.
“This is certainly a landmark case in every respect, including in the history of
the Freedom of Information Act,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project
on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and an expert on
But Mr. Aftergood said the case also illustrated how costly litigation was often
necessary to unearth documents the government preferred to protect. “The law
gives you standing to fight,” he said. “It doesn’t guarantee victory.”
In fact, the A.C.L.U. and its partners, a New Jersey law firm, Gibbons P.C., and
four other advocacy groups, estimate that they have put more than 10,000 hours
of legal work into the case. The parties have filed more than 100 motions before
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the United States District Court in Manhattan;
appeared for formal court arguments a dozen times; and twice taken disputes to
the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. And now, for the first time, the
government is seeking a hearing before the Supreme Court.
The total costs in lawyers’ time and other expenses may exceed $2 million, and
under the law, the plaintiffs are entitled to seek reimbursement from the
government if they “substantially prevail” in their quest — a standard almost
certainly met in this case.
The Freedom of Information Act has a mixed reputation with advocates,
journalists and companies who use it regularly. It can be notoriously slow to
generate results, and in the case of classified documents — the vast majority of
the records at issue in the A.C.L.U. case — the pages often come back with all
or most of the content blacked out.
Agencies sometimes do not take a case seriously until the requestor takes the
government to court. The A.C.L.U.’s initial October 2003 request for documents
on the treatment of prisoners produced a single document — an innocuous set of
State Department “talking points” — before the organization filed suit in June
2004, joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human
Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.
Documents began to flow only after September 2004, when Judge Hellerstein issued
a ruling criticizing the “glacial pace” of the government’s response and added,
“If the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should
know of our government’s treatment of individuals captured and held abroad.”
Mr. Jaffer, 37, a Canadian-born lawyer who left a lucrative practice with a
private firm to join the A.C.L.U., said, “Maybe our inexperience was a good
thing, because we actually thought we might get something.”
Ms. Singh, 40, the daughter of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh,
graduated from Yale Law School, is married to an American and holds dual Indian
and American citizenship.
Ms. Singh recalls being teased by a senior colleague in 2003 who asked, “ ‘Are
you clearing out shelf space for all the documents you’ll get?’ ” The joke
backfired, as reams of paper began to arrive. The organization eventually had to
create a new computer system to handle the large electronic database, and in
2007 the two lawyers published a book-length collection of the documents
obtained by then, called “Administration of Torture.”
The largest share of documents (2,814) have come from the Defense Department,
the A.C.L.U. said, followed by the State Department (998), the F.B.I. (872),
other units in the Justice Department (145) and the C.I.A. (49).
A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said the agency “takes very seriously — and
devotes considerable resources to meeting — its legal obligations under the
Freedom of Information Act” and has released tens of millions of pages of
documents over the years.
But the recent C.I.A. disclosures caused deep unease inside the agency. Gen.
Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director, said releasing documents the
agency had designated as top secret could undermine crucial cooperation from
foreign intelligence services. The decision by President Obama in April to
release Justice Department memorandums describing C.I.A. interrogation methods
is leading to a cascade of disclosures, General Hayden said.
Four former C.I.A. directors and the current one, Leon E. Panetta, had all
argued unsuccessfully against the release, which had not yet been ordered by the
court in the A.C.L.U. case, though the plaintiffs’ lawyers said they believed
that that would eventually happen.
“We got publicly rolled,” General Hayden said. “So our foreign partners may say
there is no value to our promise in the future that ‘Don’t worry, we can keep
this secret.’ ”
In May, Mr. Obama decided to fight the release of hundreds of photographs of
abuse, saying they could encourage attacks on American troops abroad. It is the
photo issue that the administration is taking to the Supreme Court.
The A.C.L.U.’s success has led some news organizations to take a new look at the
potential of the Freedom of Information Act to expose government secrets. But
the A.C.L.U. lawyers note that their effort has repeatedly fed off the work of
investigative reporters who have identified cases of abuse, legal opinions and
other documents that the organization then pursued in court.
Their lawsuit continues. On Monday, the government faces yet another
court-imposed deadline to turn over more documents — including the 2001
presidential directive authorizing the secret prisons — or explain why they must
A.C.L.U. Lawyers Mine
Documents for Truth, NYT, 30.8.2009,
Abuse Issue Puts the C.I.A. and Justice Dept. at Odds
August 28, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER, DAVID JOHNSTON and MARK MAZZETTI
This article is by Peter Baker, David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti.
WASHINGTON — With the appointment of a prosecutor to investigate detainee
abuses, long-simmering conflicts between the Central Intelligence Agency and the
Justice Department burst into plain view this week, threatening relations
between two critical players on President Obama’s national security team.
The tension between the agencies complicates how the administration handles
delicate national security issues, particularly the tracking and capturing of
suspected terrorists overseas. It also may distract Mr. Obama, who is trying to
move beyond the battles of the Bush years to focus on an ambitious domestic
agenda, most notably health care legislation.
The strains became evident inside the administration in the past several weeks.
In July, Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, tried to head off the
investigation, administration officials said. He sent the C.I.A.’s top lawyer,
Stephen W. Preston, to Justice to persuade aides to Attorney General Eric H.
Holder Jr. to abandon any plans for an inquiry.
Mr. Preston presented what was, in effect, a closing argument in defense of the
C.I.A., contending that many potential cases against intelligence operatives
were legally flawed and noting that they had already been investigated, some
more than once. In none, he said, had prosecutors found grounds for charges.
But the Justice Department was unmoved, officials said. Despite the C.I.A.
pressure and the stated desire of the White House not to dwell on the past, Mr.
Holder went ahead with an investigation that will determine whether agents broke
the law in their brutal interrogations.
The officials interviewed for this article spoke anonymously so that they could
discuss debates over classified matters.
On the day the decision was announced, Mr. Panetta phoned Mr. Holder, according
to people familiar with the call. In the conversation, which lasted less than a
minute, the C.I.A. director told the attorney general that the agency would
cooperate but expressed his displeasure and swore mildly, if only once.
Mr. Holder and Mr. Panetta are each confronting difficult balancing acts. Mr.
Holder inherited a dispirited department accused of carrying out the political
wishes of the Bush White House, and he now must show independence while
continuing to work with the rest of the administration.
For his part, Mr. Panetta, who is also new to his job and lacks a background in
intelligence, must carry out White House orders to make a clean break with some
of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies, including ending the
C.I.A.’s harsh interrogations. At the same time he must soothe frayed nerves at
Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said that reports of shouting
matches were overblown and that the protagonists were simply advocating for
their agencies’ viewpoints in robust discussions, as they should. “Leon’s
representing his institutional building,” Mr. Emanuel said. “Eric’s representing
his institutional responsibilities.”
While top C.I.A. officials are angry at the Justice Department, Mr. Panetta has
also quarreled over turf with Dennis C. Blair, the director of national
intelligence, to whom he reports. The White House has occasionally been
frustrated with both Mr. Panetta and Mr. Holder. And some in the administration
have taken aim at Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel, blaming him for
some of the troubles in handling the detainee issue.
The behind-the-scenes fighting began in April when, in response to an A.C.L.U.
lawsuit, the Justice Department prepared to release legal opinions written by
its lawyers during the Bush administration authorizing the C.I.A. to use brutal
Mr. Obama disavowed the harsh methods, like waterboarding and wall-slamming, but
the legal opinions were filled with embarrassing details about the C.I.A.’s
aggressive approach. Mr. Panetta sought to heavily edit the memos before
releasing them but was overruled when Mr. Obama sided with Mr. Holder, who
wanted more detailed disclosures, the officials said.
Though he lost on the memos, Mr. Panetta’s camp came away thinking that at least
they had won a tacit understanding, said some administration officials; the
embarrassing details would be aired, but Justice would back off from any new
In April, C.I.A. officers felt reassured by Mr. Emanuel’s comments on ABC News,
in which he said that Mr. Obama “believes that people in good faith were
operating with the guidance they were provided; they shouldn’t be prosecuted.”
But White House and Justice officials said that there was no such bargain and
that all Mr. Emanuel meant was that C.I.A. officers who followed interrogation
guidelines were safe from prosecution.
For his part, Mr. Holder had arrived in office in January thinking he might open
an inquiry, and his resolve hardened after reading graphic classified reports of
detainee abuse, including several deaths of prisoners in C.I.A. custody in Iraq
Still, it came as a shock to the C.I.A. when Newsweek reported in July that Mr.
Holder was leaning toward an investigation. Given that the information was
contained in an exclusive profile of Mr. Holder, the agency took it as a signal
that an inquiry was coming. Mr. Panetta felt blindsided and had several
conversations with White House officials about the long-term damage he believed
such an inquiry could do to the C.I.A. He said the C.I.A. had already taken
disciplinary action against the officers who had committed the most egregious
At the time, Mr. Panetta felt besieged on several fronts. Mr. Blair, the
intelligence director, was pushing to appoint the senior intelligence officials
in each country overseas, a traditional prerogative of the C.I.A.
And other administration officials complained when the C.I.A. sent documents
about the detention program to the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving
the White House time to consider whether there were any executive privilege
The interagency debate grew heated enough that Mr. Emanuel summoned Mr. Panetta,
Mr. Blair and other officials to the White House to set down rules for what
should be provided to Congress. Mr. Panetta complained that he was being
chastised for excessive openness after being criticized for excessive secrecy
when he pushed to withhold details from the interrogation memos.
The various issues raised by the Bush-era interrogation and detention policies
have caused other tensions within the Obama team. Mr. Emanuel and others have
concluded that the White House mishandled the planning for the closing of the
detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Some in the administration blamed Mr. Craig, the White House counsel, for not
anticipating and managing the political reaction to the decisions on Guantánamo
and other issues. After The Wall Street Journal suggested that Mr. Craig was on
the way out, a White House official said Mr. Emanuel reassured Mr. Craig that it
was nonsense, and Mr. Craig’s defenders said he had been handed a thankless
Throughout the summer, Mr. Holder indicated that he was still weighing whether
to appoint a prosecutor. The C.I.A. dismissed that as empty posturing. To the
agency, it was clear that Mr. Holder had already made up his mind and was
planning to announce the investigation, as he did Monday even as the inspector
general report was released.
Few cabinet officers are closer to Mr. Obama than Mr. Holder, and the issue has
been awkward for the two. Aides said that they could not rule out that the two
discussed the matter but said that there was never a formal White House meeting
Sensitive to the problems other administrations have had regarding politicizing
the Justice Department, Mr. Obama left the decision to Mr. Holder, aides said.
Abuse Issue Puts the
C.I.A. and Justice Dept. at Odds, NYT, 28.8.2009,
How Far Should a Torture Inquiry Go?
August 28, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Strict Rules for C.I.A. Interrogations” (front page, Aug. 26) highlights the
fact that torture was deliberately proposed, authorized and used as an
instrument of policy by top-level government officials and legal and medical
professionals. The limited inquiry recently sanctioned by the attorney general
therefore plainly does not go far enough.
I have not been professionally involved in this matter, and I am expressing my
personal views based solely on the public record. While any inquiry into the
previous administration’s lawless and brutal torture policies and practices
constitutes progress, this long-overdue investigation should not be limited to
“rogue” C.I.A. personnel and others who merely went too far in carrying out
approved tactics in the field.
Instead, it should focus first and foremost on those at the highest levels of
the United States government who authorized the use of waterboarding and other
forms of torture, as well as the senior political appointees — including many
lawyers — who did their superiors’ bidding by providing specious legal
justification for the use of abusive interrogation methods, thereby enabling
These officials should finally have to answer for their disgraceful actions
through a full-fledged criminal inquiry conducted by a respected, nonpartisan
special prosecutor chosen from outside the ranks of the department. This
much-needed investigation should not be just about the little fish.
John S. Koppel
Bethesda, Md., Aug. 26, 2009
The writer is a career attorney with the Appellate Staff of the Justice
Department’s Civil Division.
To the Editor:
Re “Report Provides New Details on C.I.A. Prisoner Abuse” (news article, Aug.
23): Now that the Justice Department has documented these crimes committed in
our name, a special prosecutor must go after not only the actual torturers but
also those who ordered or excused the torture if we are to stop those in power
from continuing to put themselves above the law.
As for the president’s avowed desire not to prosecute, that is not for him to
choose. The only way the Constitution allows him to exempt criminals from paying
for their crimes is by pardoning them after they have been convicted.
Jonathan J. Dobkin
New York, Aug. 24, 2009
To the Editor:
For too long, the Obama administration has viewed the torture issue as a
backward-looking distraction from its forward-looking foreign policy goals. To
compartmentalize thus is to ignore the power of our example in the world.
As long as it is perceived that the United States tortures or countenances
torture, we will never win the allies we need to establish a free and sovereign
Afghanistan. Without those allies, we’re stuck in a quagmire.
Our foreign policy is hostage to how we are perceived, and how we are perceived
rests on seeing that our laws are faithfully executed. Prosecuting torturers
seems a fine place to start.
Lafayette, Calif., Aug. 24, 2009
To the Editor:
Your article suggests that there is a partisan divide over the question of
whether abusive Bush-era interrogation methods, including waterboarding,
constitute torture. But it is not only Democrats who have denounced
waterboarding. In fact, leading Senate Republicans, including John McCain and
Lindsey Graham, have repeatedly described waterboarding and other abusive
methods as torture, and have been among the most persistent Congressional
opponents of these practices.
With the release of the inspector general’s report, it is time for a similar
bipartisan consensus on the need to investigate and prosecute such crimes.
Director, Terrorism and
Human Rights Watch
New York, Aug. 23, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “The Torture Papers” (editorial, Aug. 26):
You write of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.: “Mr. Holder displayed real
courage and integrity in ordering the investigation. But he stressed that it was
limited to the specific interrogations outlined in the C.I.A. report, and did
not amount to a full-blown criminal investigation of the Bush-era detention
There has not been a terrorist attack on the United States mainland since Sept.
11, and much of the reason can be credited to the policies of the Bush
administration and specifically Dick Cheney. The terrorists who attacked us on
Sept. 11 were not directed to do so by any country but by Osama bin Laden and
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
If a poll were taken of the American people, I think that the overwhelming
majority would strongly disapprove of this decision. It also sends a message to
terrorists worldwide that the United States is a soft-belly adversary.
But the real threat is that such an investigation could result in tying the
hands of the C.I.A., which could prove devastating to our security.
Williamsburg, Va., Aug. 26, 2009
To the Editor:
The C.I.A. inspector general’s report confirms that doctors played the same role
in C.I.A. interrogations as they did under Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s regime in
Chile: assuring that men would stay alive while tortured. The new documents
shatter the pretense that physicians and psychologists safeguarded detainees;
instead, they acted as enablers of brutality.
No military, C.I.A. or contract physicians or psychologists have been held
accountable for such staggering ethical breaches. Federal agencies that employed
them and state licensing bodies have a responsibility to discipline them.
The New York State Assembly is considering a bill sponsored by Richard N.
Gottfried that would prohibit licensed health professionals from abetting
torture. Such a bill would restore the role of health professionals as healers
rather than as cogs in the machinery of torture.
Leonard S. Rubenstein
Baltimore, Aug. 26, 2009
The writer, former president of Physicians for Human Rights, is a visiting
scholar at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health.
How Far Should a Torture
Inquiry Go?, NYT, 28.8.2009,
Report Shows Tight C.I.A. Control on Interrogations
August 26, 2009
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — Two 17-watt fluorescent-tube bulbs — no more, no less —
illuminated each cell, 24 hours a day. White noise played constantly but was
never to exceed 79 decibels. A prisoner could be doused with 41-degree water but
for only 20 minutes at a stretch.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program operated under
strict rules, and the rules were dictated from Washington with the painstaking,
eye-glazing detail beloved by any bureaucracy.
The first news reports this week about hundreds of pages of newly released
documents on the C.I.A. program focused on aberrations in the field: threats of
execution by handgun or assault by power drill; a prisoner lifted off the ground
by his arms, which were tied behind his back; another detainee repeatedly
knocked out with pressure applied to the carotid artery.
But the strong impression that emerges from the documents, many with long
passages blacked out for secrecy, is by no means one of gung-ho operatives
running wild. It is a portrait of overwhelming control exercised from C.I.A.
headquarters and the Department of Justice — control Bush administration
officials say was intended to ensure that the program was safe and legal.
Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program’s parameters but dictated
every facet of a detainee’s daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an
hour-by-hour basis. From their Washington offices, they obsessed over the
smallest details: the number of calories a prisoner consumed daily (1,500); the
number of hours he could be kept in a box (eight hours for the large box, two
hours for the small one); the proper time when his enforced nudity should be
ended and his clothes returned.
The detainee “finds himself in the complete control of Americans; the procedures
he is subjected to are precise, quiet and almost clinical, ” noted one document.
The records suggest one quandary prosecutors face as they begin a review of the
C.I.A. program, part of the larger inquiry into abuse cases ordered Monday by
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Any prosecution that focuses narrowly on
low-level interrogators who on a few occasions broke the rules may appear
unfair, since most of the brutal treatment was authorized from the White House
“The documents underscore how closely supervised the program was by officials in
Washington,” said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union, whose
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit forced disclosure of the records. “Any
investigation that began and ended with the so-called rogue interrogators would
be completely inadequate.”
A 2004 background paper the C.I.A. sent to the Justice Department gives the
fullest account to date of the oversight of every step that followed the capture
of a man suspected of being a top member of Al Qaeda — an HVD, in agency
parlance, for high-value detainee.
Brought to the “black site” in diapers, the paper says, the prisoner’s head and
face were shaved, he was stripped and photographed and sleep deprivation and a
diet limited to Ensure Plus, a dietary drink, began.
“The interrogators’ objective,” the background paper says, “is to transition the
HVD to a point where he is participating in a predictable, reliable and
sustainable manner.” The policy was to use the “least coercive measure” to
achieve the goal. The harsh treatment began with the “attention slap,” and for
three prisoners of the nearly 100 who passed through the program, the endpoint
Waterboarding might be an excruciating procedure with deep roots in the history
of torture, but for the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services, recordkeeping for
each session of near-drowning was critical. “In order to best inform future
medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of
the waterboard be thoroughly documented,” said medical guidelines prepared for
the interrogators in December 2004.
The required records, the medical supervisors said, included “how long each
application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the
process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied,
if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of
volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the
subject looked between each treatment.”
When the doctors gauged what a drenching in a cold cell might do to a prisoner,
they did their research, consulting a textbook entitled “Wilderness Medicine,”
in particular Chapter 6 on “accidental hypothermia,” as well as a Canadian
government pamphlet, “Survival in Cold Waters,” according to footnotes.
Lawyers at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, likewise, were
immersed in the details of investigations.
A week before he completed the first major legal opinion that authorized the use
of physical pressure, John C. Yoo, the national security specialist in the
counsel’s office, was faxed a six-page C.I.A. “psychological assessment” of the
first man the brutal methods would be used on, Abu Zubaydah. “Subject is a
highly self-directed individual who prizes his independence,” the assessment
In 2004, when Daniel B. Levin, then the acting assistant attorney general in the
counsel’s office, sent a letter to the C.I.A. reauthorizing waterboarding, he
dictated the terms: no more than two sessions of two hours each, per day, with
both a doctor and a psychologist in attendance. In 2007, Steven G. Bradbury,
then in charge of the office, wrote a two-page letter simply to extend the
authorization for use of a particular technique — its name is redacted — for an
extra day, until “1700 E.S.T., November 8, 2007.”
Tom Parker, policy director for counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty
International USA, said the documents were “chilling.”
“They show how deeply rooted this new culture of mistreatment became,” he said.
But defenders of the program say the tight rules show the government’s attempt
to keep the program within the law. “Elaborate care went into figuring out the
precise gradations of coercion,” said David B. Rivkin Jr., a lawyer who served
in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. “Yes, it’s
jarring. But it shows how both the lawyers and the nonlawyers tried to do the
As leaks about the program led to public accusations of torture, court rulings
and Congressional action, the paperwork flowing between nervous C.I.A. and
Justice officials steadily grew.
In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners who were members of Al
Qaeda were entitled to the Geneva Conventions’ protections against humiliating
and degrading treatment, and “outrages on personal dignity.” John A. Rizzo, the
C.I.A.’s top lawyer, asked the Justice Department whether treatment at the
agency’s secret prisons passed that test.
Mr. Bradbury of the Office of Legal Counsel wrote a 14-page response, assuring
the agency that none of the conditions — the blindfolding and shackling, the
involuntary shaving and the white noise — violated the Geneva Conventions’
“These are not conditions that humans strive for,” Mr. Bradbury wrote. “But they
do reflect the realities of detention, realities that the Geneva Conventions
accommodate, where persons will have to sacrifice some measure of privacy and
liberty while under detention.”
Soon the assurances were no longer necessary. Worries about the legality of the
C.I.A. program had reached the highest levels of the Bush administration. Two
weeks after Mr. Bradbury sent his letter, President George W. Bush emptied the
prisons, ordering the C.I.A.’s remaining 14 prisoners transferred to the
American military’s detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Report Shows Tight
C.I.A. Control on Interrogations, NYT, 26.8.2009,
The Torture Papers
August 26, 2009
The New York Times
The Obama administration has taken important steps toward repairing the
grievous harm that President George W. Bush did to this nation with his lawless
and morally repugnant detention policies. President Obama is committed to
closing the Guantánamo Bay camp and creating legitimate courts to try detainees.
He has rescinded the executive orders and the legal rulings that Mr. Bush used
to excuse the abuse of prisoners.
The Defense Department has taken the important step of reversing policy and
notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of
militants who were being held in secret at camps in Iraq and Afghanistan. And
Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a prosecutor to investigate the
interrogation of prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency, whose inhuman
treatment was detailed in a long-secret report written by the agency’s inspector
general in 2004 and released on Monday.
Yet despite these commendable individual steps, Mr. Obama and his political
advisers continue to shrink from the broad investigation of the full range of
his predecessor’s trampling on human rights, civil liberties and judicial
safeguards that would allow this country to make sure this sordid history is
behind it for good.
Indeed, the administration seemed reluctant to make public the C.I.A. report,
which was released under a court order and was heavily censored, with whole
pages blacked out — including the four pages of recommendations. Before Mr.
Holder announced his investigation, the White House made it clear that it was
unhappy with his decision — repeating its sadly familiar line about “looking
forward, not backward.”
Mr. Holder displayed real courage and integrity in ordering the investigation.
But he stressed that it was limited to the specific interrogations outlined in
the C.I.A. report, and did not amount to a full-blown criminal investigation of
the Bush-era detention policies.
The interrogations are certainly worthy of criminal investigation. The report
describes objectionable and cruel practices well beyond waterboarding. They
included threatening a detainee’s family members with sexual assault and
threatening to kill another’s children; the staging of mock executions; and
repeatedly blocking a prisoner’s carotid artery until he began to faint.
The report said the interrogations generally followed guidelines approved by Mr.
Bush’s Justice Department, which dedicated itself to finding ways to authorize
abuse and evade legal accountability. But it offered a scathing condemnation of
those guidelines, which it said diverged “sharply” from the practices of
military and police interrogators, and the positions of pretty much everyone
else, including the State Department, Congress, other Western governments and
human rights groups.
The inspector general said that, in some cases, interrogations exceeded even the
Bush Justice Department’s shockingly lax standards.
The report offers one more compelling reason for a far broader inquiry into Mr.
Bush’s lawless behavior. It is possible to sympathize with Mr. Obama’s desire to
avoid a politically fraught investigation. But the need to set this nation back
under the rule of law is no less urgent than it was when he promised to do so in
That will not be accomplished by investigating individual interrogators. It will
require a fearless airing of how the orders were issued to those men, and who
gave them. Only by making public officials accountable under the law can
Americans be confident that future presidents will not feel free to break it the
way Mr. Bush did.
The Torture Papers,
C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed in Report on Detainees
August 26, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON —The Justice Department released a long-secret report Monday
chronicling abuses inside the Central Intelligence Agency’s overseas prisons,
showing how interrogators choked a prisoner repeatedly and threatened to kill
another detainee’s children.
In response to the findings, Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr. chose John H.
Durham, a veteran prosecutor from Connecticut who has been investigating the
C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes, to determine whether a full
criminal investigation of the conduct of agency employees or contractors was
warranted. The review will be the most politically explosive inquiry since Mr.
Holder took over the Justice Department in February.
The decision was a significant blow to the C.I.A, and Mr. Holder said he would
be criticized for undercutting the intelligence agency’s work. He said that he
agreed with President Obama’s oft-expressed desire not to get mired in disputes
over the policies of former President George W. Bush, but that his review of
reports on the C.I.A. interrogation program left him no choice.
“As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,”
Mr. Holder said in a statement. “Given all of the information currently
available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of
action for me to take.”
Although large portions of the 109-page report are blacked out, it gives new
details about a variety of abuses inside the C.I.A.’s overseas prisons,
including suggestions about sexually assaulting members of a detainee’s family,
staging mock executions, intimidation with a handgun and power drill, and
blowing cigar and cigarette smoke into prisoners’ faces to make them vomit.
The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to
identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists
provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.
But the inspector general’s review raised broad questions about the legality,
political acceptability and effectiveness of the harshest of the C.I.A.’s
methods, including some not authorized by the Justice Department and others that
were approved, like the near-drowning technique of waterboarding.
“This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically
whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been
unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report said, and whether the
frequency and volume of water poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose exceeded
the Justice Department’s legal authorization.
The attorney general said his decision to order an inquiry was based in part on
the recommendation of the Justice Department’s ethics office, which called for a
new review of several interrogation cases.
In what appeared to be a response to the Justice Department’s release, the
C.I.A. later on Monday released previously secret agency reports from 2004 and
2005 that detailed intelligence scoops produced by the interrogation program.
One of the reports calls the program “a crucial pillar of U.S. counterterrorism
efforts” and describes how interrogations helped unravel a network headed by an
Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali. The other report details information
elicited from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks, saying it “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on Al
Those reports, which former Vice President Dick Cheney had sought to have
released earlier this year, do not refer to any specific interrogation methods
and do not assess their effectiveness.
The inspector general’s report, by contrast, offers details of abusive methods.
During one session, a C.I.A. interrogator told Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, charged
with plotting the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole, that if he did not
cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring
your family in here.”
According to the report, the interrogator wanted Mr. Nashiri to infer for
“psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused.
In another session of questioning, the report said, one C.I.A. interrogator told
investigators that Mr. Mohammed was told that if there was another attack on
American soil, the C.I.A. would “kill your children.” Mr. Mohammed’s young sons
were in the custody of Pakistani and American authorities at the time.
Among a litany of C.I.A. tactics, the report describes the “hard takedown,” when
a detainee was grabbed and thrown to the floor before being moved to a
sleep-deprivation cell. It details baths given to Mr. Nashiri, saying he was
sometimes scrubbed with “the kind of brush one uses in a bath to remove stubborn
dirt” to induce pain. In July 2002, the report says, a C.I.A. interrogator
grabbed a detainee’s neck to restrict the prisoner’s carotid artery until he
began to faint. Another officer then “shook the detainee to wake him,” and the
“pressure point” technique was repeated twice more.
Interrogators also staged a mock execution in 2002 to intimidate a detainee.
C.I.A. officers began screaming outside the room where he was being
interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a
hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had
been shot to death.”
In 2003, C.I.A. officers began using another technique — called “water dousing”
— that involved laying a detainee on a plastic sheet and pouring water over him
for 10 to 15 minutes.
According to the report, an interrogator believed this was an effective
technique, and sent a cable back to C.I.A. headquarters requesting guidelines.
A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet,
may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must
exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”
Such detailed guidelines reflected concern throughout the C.I.A. about the
potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed
unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and
said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” the report said.
The C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, issued a statement to employees Monday
that carefully avoided defending the brutal treatment while expressing support
for the agency’s efforts.
Mr. Panetta wrote that he was not “eager to enter the debate, already
politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and
interrogation effort.” He said the program had produced crucial intelligence but
added that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.”
Members of Congress from the left and the right criticized Mr. Holder’s
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, criticized the potential focus on interrogators, suggesting that
ignoring Justice Department lawyers and senior Bush administration officials in
the investigation had echoes of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when “lower ranking
troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.”
But Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House
Intelligence Committee, said the Justice Department inquiry risked disrupting
current counterterrorism operations. He said abuse charges had already been
The choice of Mr. Durham is likely to speed the review’s progress, because his
team of F.B.I. agents and lawyers was already deeply immersed in the details of
the C.I.A. program. Since January 2008, they have been investigating C.I.A.
officials’ decision in 2005 to destroy videotapes documenting interrogations of
Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri.
The inspector general’s staff reviewed the 92 tapes before they were destroyed,
and the report released Monday revealed that 11 of the videotapes were entirely
blank and that two others were almost blank. The report does not indicate
whether the videotapes were erased by C.I.A officers.
David Johnston contributed reporting.
C.I.A. Abuse Cases
Detailed in Report on Detainees, NYT, 26.8.2009,
'Inhumane' CIA Terror Tactics Spur Criminal Probe
August 25, 2009
Filed at 1:28 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation
Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush's war
on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators' threats to kill one suspect's
children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted.
At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future
interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction
of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The
administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual,
with strict rules on tactics, and said the White House would keep its hands off
the professional investigators doing the work.
Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, several Obama spokesmen declared
anew -- as the president has repeatedly -- that on the subject of detainee
interrogation he ''wants to look forward, not back'' at Bush tactics. They took
pains to say decisions on any prosecutions would be up to Attorney General Eric
Holder, not the White House.
Monday's five-year-old report by the CIA's inspector general, newly declassified
and released under a federal court's orders, described severe tactics used by
interrogators on terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seeking
information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one
detainee with a gun and a power drill, choked another and tried to frighten
still another with a mock execution of another prisoner.
Attorney General Holder said he had chosen a veteran prosecutor to determine
whether any CIA officers or contractors should face criminal charges for
crossing the line on rough but permissible tactics.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Obama's decision to allow the
investigation ''serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many
Americans have doubts about this administration's ability to be responsible for
our nation's security.'' Cheney released the statement to The Weekly Standard, a
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appointed by President Bush in 2006,
expressed dismay by the prospect of prosecutions for CIA officers. He noted that
career prosecutors have already reviewed and declined to prosecute the alleged
Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal
guidelines, but the report by the CIA's inspector general said they went too far
-- even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that
have since been withdrawn and discredited. The report also suggested some
questioners knew they were crossing a line.
''Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this (but) it has to be
done,'' one unidentified CIA officer was quoted as saying, predicting the
questioners would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.
The report concluded the CIA used ''unauthorized, improvised, inhumane''
practices in questioning ''high-value'' terror suspects.
Monday's documents represent the largest single release of information about the
Bush administration's once-secret system of capturing terrorism suspects and
interrogating them in overseas prisons.
White House officials said they plan to continue the controversial practice of
rendition of suspects to foreign countries, though they said that in future
cases they would more carefully check to make sure such suspects are not
In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of
being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened
with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also
threatened al-Nashiri's mother and family, implying they would be sexually
abused in front of him, according to the report.
The interrogator denied making a direct threat.
Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,
''if anything else happens in the United States, 'We're going to kill your
children,''' one veteran officer said in the report.
Death threats violate anti-torture laws.
In another instance, an interrogator choked off the carotid artery of a detainee
until he started to pass out, then shook him awake. He did this three times. The
interrogator, a CIA debriefer accustomed to questioning willing subjects, said
he had only recently been trained to conduct interrogations.
Top Republican senators said they were troubled by the decision to begin a new
investigation, which they said could weaken U.S. intelligence efforts. Sen.
Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the
revelations showed the Bush administration went down a ''dark road of excusing
Investigators credited the detention-and-interrogation program for developing
intelligence that prevented multiple attacks against Americans. One CIA
operative interviewed for the report said the program thwarted al-Qaida plots to
attack the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, derail trains, blow up gas stations and cut
the suspension line of a bridge.
''In this regard, there is no doubt that the program has been effective,''
investigators wrote, backing an argument by Cheney and others that the program
But the inspector general said it was unclear whether so-called ''enhanced
interrogation'' tactics contributed to that success. Those tactics include
waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration says
is torture. Measuring the success of such interrogation is ''a more subjective
process and not without some concern,'' the report said.
Cheney, in his statement Monday, argued that the documents ''clearly demonstrate
that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the
bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaida. This intelligence saved lives and
prevented terrorist attacks.''
The report describes at least one mock execution, which would also violate U.S.
anti-torture laws. To terrify one detainee, interrogators pretended to execute
the prisoner in a nearby room. A senior officer said it was a transparent ruse
that yielded no benefit.
As the report was released, Attorney General Holder appointed prosecutor John
Durham to open a preliminary investigation into the claims of abuse. Durham is
already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and now will
examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in the handling of
The administration also announced Monday that all U.S. interrogators will follow
the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual. The manual, last
updated in September 2006, prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening
them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock
executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.
Formation of the new interrogation unit for ''high-value'' detainees does not
mean the CIA is out of the business of questioning terror suspects, deputy White
House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters covering the vacationing
president on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Burton said the unit will include ''all these different elements under one
group'' and will be located at the FBI headquarters in Washington.
The structure of the new unit the White House is creating would be significantly
broader than under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and
sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects.
Obama campaigned vigorously against Bush administration interrogation practices
in his successful run for the presidency. He has said more recently he didn't
particularly favor prosecuting officials in connection with instances of
Burton said Holder ''ultimately is going to make the decisions.''
CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an e-mail message to agency employees Monday
that he intended ''to stand up for those officers who did what their country
asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the
president's position, too,'' he said.
Panetta said some CIA officers have been disciplined for going beyond the
methods approved for interrogations by the Bush-era Justice Department. Just one
CIA employee -- contractor David Passaro-- has been prosecuted for detainee
Associated Press Writers Matt Apuzzo and Jennifer Loven in Washington and Philip
Elliott in Oak Bluffs, Mass., contributed to this story.
'Inhumane' CIA Terror
Tactics Spur Criminal Probe, NYT, 25.8.2009,
Rendition to Continue, but With Better Oversight, U.S. Says
August 25, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s
practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and
interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that
they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.
Human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying that continuing the
practice, known as rendition, would still allow the transfer of prisoners to
countries with a history of torture. They said that promises from other
countries of humane treatment, called “diplomatic assurances,” were no
protection against abuse.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the
Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have
been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” said Amrit Singh, a
lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who tracked rendition cases
under President George W. Bush.
Ms. Singh cited the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian sent in 2002 by
the United States to Syria, where he was beaten with electrical cable despite
assurances against torture.
The announcement, by President Obama’s Interrogation and Transfer Policy Task
Force, seemed intended in part to offset the impact of the release on Monday of
a long-withheld report by the C.I.A. inspector general, written in 2004, that
offered new details about the brutal tactics used by the C.I.A. in interrogating
Though the Obama administration previously signaled that it would continue the
use of renditions, some civil liberties groups were disappointed because, as a
presidential candidate, Mr. Obama had strongly suggested he might end the
practice. In an article in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2007, Mr. Obama
wrote, “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that
reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people.”
Mr. Obama continued, “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners
in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands
without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail
people beyond the reach of the law.” In January, the president ordered secret
prisons run by the C.I.A. to be shut down.
The task force has proposed a more vigorous monitoring of the treatment of
prisoners sent to other countries, but Ms. Singh said the usual method of such
monitoring — visits from American or allied consular officials — had been
ineffective. A Canadian consular official visited Mr. Arar several times, but
the prisoner was too frightened to tell him about the torture, a Canadian
The administration officials, who discussed the changes on condition that they
not be identified, said that unlike the Bush administration, they would operate
more openly and give the State Department a larger role in assuring that
transferred detainees would not be abused.
“The emphasis will be on ensuring that individuals will not face torture if they
are sent overseas,” said one administration official, adding that no detainees
would be sent to countries known to conduct abusive interrogations.
Rendition began to be used regularly under President Bill Clinton and its use
expanded rapidly under President Bush after the terrorist attacks in September
2001. American intelligence agencies often appeared to send detainees to other
countries to avoid the legal complications of bringing them to the United
Some human rights advocates said they thought the Obama administration was
maintaining the rendition program out of fear that its elimination would force
the government to accept additional detainees on American soil and threaten Mr.
Obama’s pledge to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by
The task force that recommended the modified transfer policy was set up in
January to study changes in rendition and interrogation policies under an
executive order signed by President Obama.
Another recommendation approved by Mr. Obama was a proposal to establish a
multiagency interrogation unit within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to
oversee the interrogations of top terrorism suspects using largely noncoercive
techniques approved by the administration earlier this year.
The creation of the new unit will formally strip the C.I.A. of its primary role
in questioning high-level detainees, but agency officials said they would
continue to play a substantial role.
“The C.I.A. took active part in the work of the task force, and the agency’s
strong counterterrorism knowledge will be key to the conduct of future
debriefings,” said Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman. “That won’t change.”
The new unit, to be called the High Value Interrogation Group, will be made up
of analysts, linguists and other personnel from the C.I.A. and other
intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It will operate under policies set by
the National Security Council.
The officials said all interrogations would comply with guidelines contained in
the Army Field Manual, which outlaws the use of physical force. The group will
study interrogation methods, however, and may add additional noncoercive methods
in the future, the officials said.
Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said the new interrogation policy
represented a significant step toward more humane treatment, though he expressed
dismay that administration officials failed to impose stricter limits on
But he praised the Obama administration’s overall approach to difficult
counterterrorism issues, saying the government had adopted “some of the most
transparent rules against abuse of any democratic country.”
Rendition to Continue,
but With Better Oversight, U.S. Says, NYT, 25.8.2009,
Justice Dept. Report Advises Pursuing C.I.A. Abuse Cases
August 24, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing
the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases,
potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to
prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person
officially briefed on the matter.
The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice
Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse
that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been
When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors,
they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s
associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included
the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment,
he began to reconsider.
With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least
some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a
prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems
for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President
Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the
issue at the expense of his own agenda.
The advice from the Office of Professional Responsibility strengthens Mr.
The recommendation to review the closed cases, in effect renewing the inquiries,
centers mainly on allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The
Justice Department report is to be made public after classified information is
deleted from it.
The cases represent about half of those that were initially investigated and
referred to the Justice Department by the C.I.A.’s inspector general, but were
later closed. It is not known which cases might be reopened.
Mr. Holder was said to have reacted with disgust earlier this year when he first
read accounts of abusive treatment of detainees in a classified version of the
inspector general’s report and other materials.
In examples that have just come to light, the C.I.A. report describes how C.I.A.
officers carried out mock executions and threatened at least one prisoner with a
gun and a power drill. It is a violation of the federal torture statute to
threaten a prisoner with imminent death.
Mr. Holder, who questioned the thoroughness of previous inquiries by the Justice
Department, is expected to announce within days his decision on whether to
appoint a prosecutor to conduct a new investigation; in legal circles, it is
believed to be highly likely that he will go forward with a fresh criminal
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said Sunday that the Justice Department
recommendation to reopen the cases had not been sent to the intelligence agency.
He added: “Decisions on whether or not to pursue action in court were made after
careful consideration by career prosecutors at the Justice Department. The
C.I.A. itself brought these matters — facts and allegations alike — to the
The report by the Justice Department’s ethics office has been under preparation
for more than five years, and its critique of legal work on interrogations
provoked bitter complaints from Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey as he was
leaving office as the Bush administration’s final attorney general.
The Justice Department’s report, the most important since Mr. Holder took
office, was submitted by Mary Patrice Brown, a veteran Washington federal
prosecutor picked by Mr. Holder to lead the Office of Professional
Responsibility earlier this year after its longtime chief, H. Marshall Jarrett,
moved to another job in the Justice Department.
There has never been any public explanation of why the Justice Department
decided not to bring charges in nearly two dozen abuse cases known to be
referred to a team of federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., and in some
instances not even the details of the cases have been made public.
Former government lawyers said that while some detainees died and others
suffered serious abuses, prosecutors decided they would be unlikely to prevail
because of problems with mishandled evidence and, in some cases, the inability
to locate witnesses or even those said to be the victims.
A few of the cases are well known, like that of Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in
2003 in C.I.A. custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after he was first captured
by a team of Navy Seals. Prosecutors said he probably received his fatal
injuries during his capture, but lawyers for the Seals denied it.
Over the years, some Democratic lawmakers sought more details about the cases
and why the Justice Department took no action. They received summaries of the
number of cases under scrutiny but few facts about the episodes or the
department’s decisions not to prosecute.
The cases do not center on allegations of abuse by C.I.A. officers who conducted
the forceful interrogations of high-level Qaeda suspects at secret sites,
although it is not out of the question that a new investigation would also
examine their conduct.
That could mean a look at the case in which C.I.A. officers threatened one
prisoner with a handgun and a power drill if he did not cooperate. The detainee,
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was suspected as the master plotter behind the 2000
bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole.
All civilian employees of the government, including those at the C.I.A., were
required to comply with guidelines for interrogations detailed in a series of
legal opinions written by the Justice Department. Those opinions, since
abandoned by the Obama administration, were the central focus of the Justice
Department’s internal inquiry.
It has been known that the Justice Department ethics report had criticized the
authors of the legal opinions and, in some cases, would recommend referrals to
local bar associations for discipline.
But the internal inquiry also examined how the opinions were carried out and how
referrals of possible violations were made — a process that led ethics
investigators to find misconduct serious enough to warrant renewed criminal
Justice Dept. Report
Advises Pursuing C.I.A. Abuse Cases, NYT, 24.8.2009,
America, What Comes After
April 24, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “In the Spirit of Openness”
(editorial, April 23):
Americans and the world deserve a complete and thorough investigation of the
Bush administration’s use of torture, and if this is to occur, it must be by a
special prosecutor and not a “bipartisan” commission, which, if the past is
prologue, will end up with a fuzzy whitewash.
If, as former Vice President Dick Cheney claims, torture produced valuable
information, we need to know. If torture produces unreliable information, as
interrogation specialists claim, we will know that torture is doubly wrong,
violating morality, the law and degrading the United States before the world.
Oakland, Calif., April 23, 2009
To the Editor:
“My Tortured Decision,” by Ali Soufan (Op-Ed, April 23), sheds welcome light and
credibility on one more instance where the previous administration ignored
fundamental American principles and proven bodies of knowledge to justify
imprudent actions detrimental to our country’s best interests (going to war with
Iraq being another instance).
Writing from personal experience in getting, useful actionable intelligence from
“regular” interrogation techniques, Mr. Soufan exposes the false pretenses under
which the previous Justice Department tried to justify torture, euphemistically
called “enhanced techniques.” He also tells how his objections to using torture
led to his being removed from interrogation duty.
One hopes that more interrogators come forward, and that the current Justice
Department can determine if there is information to justify bringing to justice
those responsible for putting us on such a disgraceful path.
Rodger A. Mattlage
Lincoln, Mass., April 23, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “In the Spirit of Openness” (editorial, April 23) and “My Tortured Decision,”
by Ali Soufan (Op-Ed, April 23):
Even one instance of waterboarding sounds like torture to me. But 266? What else
could it be?
And don’t tell me it’s not torture because the military does it to train our
forces. A willingness to impose harsh conditions on ourselves voluntarily cannot
justify imposing those conditions on an another involuntarily.
Further, the reason the military uses the techniques on our soldiers is to
prepare them for torture by an enemy. Would we say use of those techniques on
our own forces by the enemy is not torture?
Todd Hunter Thomas
Chicago, April 23, 2009
To the Editor:
Ali Soufan writes that “it’s important to not allow the torture issue to harm
the reputation, and thus the effectiveness, of the C.I.A.” But that is
impossible. The C.I.A. tortured, and that harmed its reputation, and worse. All
we can do now is to try to ensure that Americans never torture again.
Daniel J. H. Greenwood
Brooklyn, April 23, 2009
To the Editor:
“Interrogations’ Effectiveness May Prove Elusive” (news analysis, April 23)
claims that the value of harsh interrogation methods used by the Bush
administration will be hard to determine. Yet the testimony you present strongly
indicates that those methods did yield very valuable results that did deter
attacks and save lives.
You write that “even President Obama’s new director of national intelligence,
Dennis C. Blair, wrote in a memorandum to his staff last week that ‘high value
information came from interrogations in which these methods were used.’ ”
You add that former Vice President Dick Cheney has repeatedly said these methods
worked, as have four consecutive C.I.A. directors.
Against that, you have only Obama aides and other Democrats in Congress who say
it didn’t work, or that it might not have worked.
These people are political operatives, not intelligence insiders. The people on
the inside know that it worked, and the political operatives want a witch hunt.
Mark R. Godburn
North Canaan, Conn., April 23, 2009
To the Editor:
The debate about aggressive interrogation techniques like waterboarding now
centers on their effectiveness.
It is frightening to think that we, a nation that has long believed that
principle mattered and that human rights applied to all, would now be open to
assuming that such values need not apply when we are frightened or at risk.
Has it all been a fiction? Are there no lines that we, as a nation, will not
cross no matter the cost to us? If every value is negotiable depending upon
circumstance, we have no true values.
Davenport, Iowa, April 23, 2009
To the Editor:
“Any Indictment of Interrogation Policy Makers Would Face Several Hurdles” (news
article, April 23) reports that a letter to President Obama from Senators John
McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joseph I. Lieberman discourages the prosecution of
former government lawyers who gave deeply flawed advice to the Bush
You quote the letter as saying, “Moving in such a direction would have a deeply
chilling effect on the ability of lawyers in any administration to provide their
client — the U.S. government — with their best legal advice.”
That seems counterintuitive. Would not such prosecutions ensure that in the
future lawyers did give their best advice, not legal fictions that served the
whims and wishes of their client, the United States government?
South Bend, Ind., April 23, 2009
The writer is a former United States Army interrogator.
To the Editor:
When I was 12 in the 1950s, my mother made me promise — if I were drafted into
the Army — not to do something stupid or wrong even if an officer told me to.
She is a Holocaust refugee. That was the meaning of the Nuremberg laws, I was
If I could understand that at 12, shouldn’t C.I.A. agents bear the same
responsibility to judge the orders from their superiors?
I was astonished to hear that the Nuremberg rationale was invoked — “I was only
following orders” — as an acceptable excuse in the current debate.
Where is that better America that President Obama calls upon us to heed?
Can we really live with ourselves if we fail to prosecute all involved under the
real Nuremberg laws?
Amherst, Mass., April 22, 2009
America, What Comes
After Torture?, NYT, 24.4.2009,
In the Spirit of Openness
April 23, 2009
The New York Times
When he was vice president, Dick Cheney never acknowledged the public’s right
to know anything. Now, suddenly, he has the full disclosure bug. He told Fox
News this week that President Obama’s decision to release memos written by the
Bush Justice Department authorizing the abuse and torture of detainees inspired
him to ask the Central Intelligence Agency to release transcripts of those
Doing so, he said, would show the world how much valuable intelligence was
obtained by subjecting detainees to forced nudity, prolonged sleep deprivation,
slamming against walls, extremes of heat and cold and the near-drowning known as
Mr. Cheney was not being entirely honest (he made the request last month), and
his logic is confounding. If releasing the memos leaves this country open to a
devastating terrorist attack — as Mr. Cheney claims — imagine the potential harm
from revealing all of the secrets gleaned from the three most “high value”
terrorists captured since Sept. 11, 2001.
Still, Mr. Cheney raised an important point. Did violating the law against
torture and abuse, shredding international treaties and destroying America’s
global standing actually do any good?
Mr. Cheney claims that the waterboarding saved thousands of lives. Most accounts
that don’t come from officials involved in the formation of those policies
suggest that that is not the case. The question needs to be answered so
Americans can decide if they want to buy into Mr. Cheney’s view that the ends
always justify such barbaric means.
Americans also need to know who pushed the Justice Department lawyers to twist
the law and the Constitution to excuse torture. And we need to know the legal
reasoning, if any, behind former President George W. Bush’s decision to
authorize illegal tapping of Americans’ telephones and e-mail accounts.
We need to know the legal reasoning, planning and authorization behind Mr.
Bush’s program of “extraordinary rendition” — in which people were abducted and
sent to countries where it was obvious to all that they were in danger of being
tortured, or would be tortured.
Until these questions are answered, there is no way to ensure that these abuses
will never be repeated. And the only way to get those answers is with a full
investigation that has both stature and subpoena power.
The report on detainee abuse in Iraq, released by the Senate Armed Services
Committee this week, showed how decisions made at the White House on detainee
abuse led directly to Abu Ghraib. Among the documents that still need to be
released is a Justice Department report on the attorneys who wrote the torture
apologias. It was finished last year, but it was bottled up by then-Attorney
General Michael Mukasey, who wanted to give those very lawyers a chance to read
and amend it. The C.I.A. should also declassify its inspector general’s report
on detainee abuse.
It was encouraging to hear Mr. Obama, who has been resisting a serious look at
these abuses, virtually invite Congress to open an investigation. He also did
not rule out criminal prosecutions, at least for the lawyers and other
Punting this to Congress was not the bravest political act. But at least the
White House recognizes that an investigation is needed and does not want to be
seen as standing in its way. We can’t imagine how such an investigation can move
ahead without Mr. Cheney’s testimony. But given the former vice president’s new
devotion to full disclosure, we’re sure he’ll be happy to comply.
In the Spirit of
Openness, NYT, 23.4.2009,
Interrogations’ Effectiveness May Prove Elusive
April 23, 2009
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Even the most exacting truth commission may have a hard time
determining for certain whether brutal interrogations conducted by the Central
Intelligence Agency helped keep the country safe.
Last week’s release of long-secret Justice Department interrogation memorandums
has given rise to starkly opposing narratives about what, if anything, was
gained by the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and other physical
pressure to shock and intimidate Qaeda operatives.
Senior Bush administration officials, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and
cheered by many Congressional Republicans, are fighting a rear-guard action in
defense of their record. Only by using the harshest methods, they insist, did
the intelligence agency get the information it needed to round up Qaeda killers
and save thousands of American lives.
Even President Obama’s new director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair,
wrote in a memorandum to his staff last week that “high value information came
from interrogations in which these methods were used,” an assertion left out
when the memorandum was edited for public release. By contrast, Mr. Obama and
most of his top aides have argued that the use of those methods betrayed
American values — and anyway, produced unreliable information. Those are a
convenient pair of opinions, of course: the moral balancing would be far
trickier if the C.I.A. methods were demonstrated to have been crucial in
disrupting major plots.
For both sides, the political stakes are high, as proposals for a national
commission to unravel the interrogation story appear to be gaining momentum. Mr.
Obama and his allies need to discredit the techniques he has banned. Otherwise,
in the event of a future terrorist attack, critics may blame his decision to
rein in C.I.A. interrogators.
But if a strong case emerges that the Bush administration authorized torture and
got nothing but prisoners’ desperate fabrications in return, that will tarnish
what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have claimed as their greatest achievement:
preventing new attacks after Sept. 11, 2001.
Within the agency, the necessity, effectiveness and legality of the
interrogation methods have been repeatedly subject to review. The agency’s
inspector general, John L. Helgerson, studied the program in 2004 and raised
serious questions. According to former intelligence officials, that led to
separate reviews by an internal panel headed by Henry A. Crumpton, a veteran
counterterrorism officer, and by two outsiders, Gardner Peckham, who had served
as national security adviser to Newt Gingrich, and John J. Hamre, a former
deputy defense secretary.
Their conclusions remain classified, but that could change now that the
intelligence agency’s techniques have been made public. In a twist this week,
Mr. Cheney, a fierce defender of secrecy as vice president, called for the
release of more classified memorandums that he asserted prove the effectiveness
of the coercive techniques.
The second-guessing of the C.I.A.’s methods inside the government began long
before Mr. Obama’s election. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government
agency with the greatest knowledge of Al Qaeda in 2001, chose not to participate
in the C.I.A. interrogation program after agents became uneasy about the
earliest use of harsh methods in 2002 on Abu Zubaydah, a long-sought terrorist
In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, the F.B.I. director since 2001,
Robert S. Mueller III, was asked whether any attacks had been disrupted because
of intelligence obtained through the coercive methods. “I don’t believe that has
been the case,” Mr. Mueller said. (A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, John Miller,
said on Tuesday, “The quote is accurate.”)
That assessment stands in sharp contrast to many assertions by Mr. Bush and Mr.
Cheney, who on Fox News on Sunday said of the methods: “They did work. They kept
us safe for seven years.”
Four successive C.I.A. directors have made similar claims, and the most recent,
Michael V. Hayden, said in January that he believed the methods “got the maximum
amount of information” from prisoners, citing specifically Abu Zubaydah and
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief 9/11 plotter.
Many intelligence officials, including some opposed to the brutal methods,
confirm that the program produced information of great value, including tips on
early-stage schemes to attack tall buildings on the West Coast and buildings in
New York’s financial district and Washington. Interrogation of one Qaeda
operative led to tips on finding others, until the leadership of the
organization was decimated. Removing from the scene such dedicated and skilled
plotters as Mr. Mohammed, or the Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali, almost
certainly prevented future attacks.
But which information came from which methods, and whether the same result might
have been achieved without the political, legal and moral cost of the torture
controversy, is hotly disputed, even inside the intelligence agency.
The Justice Department memorandums released last week illustrate how difficult
it can be to assess claims of effectiveness. One 2005 memorandum, for example,
asserts that “enhanced techniques” used on Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Mohammed
“yielded critical information.”
But the memorandum then lists among Abu Zubaydah’s revelations the
identification of Mr. Mohammed and of an alleged radiological bomb plot by Jose
Padilla, the American Qaeda associate. Both those disclosures were made long
before Abu Zubaydah was subjected to harsh treatment, according to multiple
On Mr. Mohammed, the record is murkier. The memorandum says that “before the
C.I.A. used enhanced techniques,” Mr. Mohammed “resisted giving any answers to
questions about future attacks, ‘Simply noting, ‘Soon, you will know.’ ”
But the same memorandum reveals in a footnote that Mr. Mohammed, captured on
March 1, 2003, was waterboarded 183 times that month. That striking number,
which would average out to six waterboardings a day, suggests that interrogators
did not try a traditional, rapport-building approach for long before escalating
to their most extreme tool.
Mr. Obama paid his first visit to the agency this week, and his reference to the
interrogation issue made for an awkward moment in which he sounded like a
teacher gently correcting his pupils.
“Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some
mistakes,” he said. “That’s how we learn.”
Effectiveness May Prove Elusive, NYT, 23.4.2009,
Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects
April 20, 2009
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top
Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on
two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported.
The C.I.A. officers used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against
Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum. Abu
Zubaydah has been described as a Qaeda operative.
A former C.I.A. officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media
organizations in 2007 that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35
seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.
The 2005 memo also says that the C.I.A. used waterboarding 183 times in March
2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks.
The New York Times reported in 2007 that Mr. Mohammed had been barraged more
than 100 times with harsh interrogation methods, causing C.I.A. officers to
worry that they might have crossed legal limits and to halt his questioning. But
the precise number and the exact nature of the interrogation method was not
The release of the numbers is likely to become part of the debate about the
morality and efficacy of interrogation methods that the Justice Department under
the Bush administration declared legal even though the United States had
historically treated them as torture.
President Obama plans to visit C.I.A. headquarters Monday and make public
remarks to employees, as well as meet privately with officials, an agency
spokesman said Sunday night. It will be his first visit to the agency, whose use
of harsh interrogation methods he often condemned during the presidential
campaign and whose secret prisons he ordered closed on the second full day of
C.I.A. officials had opposed the release of the interrogation memo, dated May
30, 2005, which was one of four secret legal memos on interrogation that Mr.
Obama ordered to be released last Thursday.
Mr. Obama said C.I.A. officers who had used waterboarding and other harsh
interrogation methods with the approval of the Justice Department would not be
prosecuted. He has repeatedly suggested that he opposes Congressional proposals
for a “truth commission” to examine Bush administration counterterrorism
programs, including interrogation and warrantless eavesdropping.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has begun a yearlong, closed-door
investigation of the C.I.A. interrogation program, in part to assess claims of
Bush administration officials that brutal treatment, including slamming
prisoners into walls, shackling them in standing positions for days and
confining them in small boxes, was necessary to get information.
The fact that waterboarding was repeated so many times may raise questions about
its effectiveness, as well as about assertions by Bush administration officials
that their methods were used under strict guidelines.
A footnote to another 2005 Justice Department memo released Thursday said
waterboarding was used both more frequently and with a greater volume of water
than the C.I.A. rules permitted.
The new information on the number of waterboarding episodes came out over the
weekend when a number of bloggers, including Marcy Wheeler of the blog
emptywheel, discovered it in the May 30, 2005, memo.
The sentences in the memo containing that information appear to have been
redacted from some copies but are visible in others. Initial news reports about
the memos in The New York Times and other publications did not include the
Michael V. Hayden, director of the C.I.A. for the last two years of the Bush
administration, would not comment when asked on the program “Fox News Sunday” if
Mr. Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times. He said he believed that that
information was still classified.
A C.I.A. spokesman, reached Sunday night, also would not comment on the new
Mr. Hayden said he had opposed the release of the memos, even though President
Obama has said the techniques will never be used again, because they would tell
Al Qaeda “the outer limits that any American would ever go in terms of
interrogating an Al Qaeda terrorist.”
He also disputed an article in The New York Times on Saturday that said Abu
Zubaydah had revealed nothing new after being waterboarded, saying that he
believed that after unspecified “techniques” were used, Abu Zubaydah revealed
information that led to the capture of another terrorist suspect, Ramzi
The Times article, based on information from former intelligence officers who
spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abu Zubaydah had revealed a great deal of
information before harsh methods were used and after his captors stripped him of
clothes, kept him in a cold cell and kept him awake at night. The article said
interrogators at the secret prison in Thailand believed he had given up all the
information he had, but officials at headquarters ordered them to use
He revealed no new information after being waterboarded, the article said, a
conclusion that appears to be supported by a footnote to a 2005 Justice
Department memo saying the use of the harshest methods appeared to have been
“unnecessary” in his case.
Waterboarding Used 266
Times on 2 Suspects, NYT, 20.4.2009,
The Torturers’ Manifesto
April 19, 2009
The New York Times
To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by
George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.
Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters
throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner
against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and
what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an
insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate
the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.
In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney
general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for
waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while
water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for
having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.
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.
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
The Americans Civil Liberties Union deserves credit for suing for the memos’
release. And President Obama deserves credit for overruling his own C.I.A.
director and ordering that the memos be made public. It is hard to think of
another case in which documents stamped “Top Secret” were released with hardly
But this cannot be the end of the scrutiny for these and other decisions by the
Until Americans and their leaders fully understand the rules the Bush
administration concocted to justify such abuses — and who set the rules and who
approved them — there is no hope of fixing a profoundly broken system of justice
and ensuring that that these acts are never repeated.
The abuses and the dangers do not end with the torture memos. Americans still
know far too little about President Bush’s decision to illegally eavesdrop on
Americans — a program that has since been given legal cover by the Congress.
Last week, The Times reported that the nation’s intelligence agencies have been
collecting private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans on a scale that
went beyond the broad limits established in legislation last year. The article
quoted the Justice Department as saying there had been problems in the
surveillance program that had been resolved. But Justice did not say what those
problems were or what the resolution was.
That is the heart of the matter: nobody really knows what any of the rules were.
Mr. Bush never offered the slightest explanation of what he found lacking in the
1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he decided to ignore the law
after 9/11 and ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ overseas calls
and e-mail. He said he was president and could do what he wanted.
The Bush administration also never explained how it interpreted laws that were
later passed to expand the government’s powers to eavesdrop. And the Obama
administration argued in a recent court filing that everything associated with
electronic eavesdropping, including what is allowed and what is not, is a state
We do not think Mr. Obama will violate Americans’ rights as Mr. Bush did. But if
Americans do not know the rules, they cannot judge whether this government or
any one that follows is abiding by the rules.
In the case of detainee abuse, Mr. Obama assured C.I.A. operatives that they
would not be prosecuted for actions that their superiors told them were legal.
We have never been comfortable with the “only following orders” excuse,
especially because Americans still do not know what was actually done or who was
giving the orders.
After all, as far as Mr. Bush’s lawyers were concerned, it was not really
torture unless it involved breaking bones, burning flesh or pulling teeth. That,
Mr. Bybee kept noting, was what the Libyan secret police did to one prisoner.
The standard for American behavior should be a lot higher than that of the
Libyan secret police.
At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the
small fry — like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an
obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning
the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the
That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening
memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury,
who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime
seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.
These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal
judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if
the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues,
then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch
accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the
stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.
After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the
American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of
his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to
Manifesto, NYT, 19.4.2009,
The Tortured Memos
March 4, 2009
The New York Times
We had two powerful reactions this week after the C.I.A. admitted to
destroying 92 videotapes of interrogations that may involve torture and the
Justice Department released several of the legal manifestos that former
President George W. Bush used to justify mangling the Constitution after Sept.
We were horrified to be reminded that the nation still has not plumbed the
depths of the Bush administration’s abuses. At the same time, it was a relief to
see President Obama beginning to make good on his promise of greater
While the C.I.A.’s admission was made in legal proceedings, the government
voluntarily released the Justice Department memos. A lot more transparency is
needed. The documents do not include memos justifying harsh interrogations nor
those justifying Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize illegal eavesdropping on
The Bush administration admitted last year that the chief of the spy agency’s
clandestine service had ordered the destruction of tapes showing the
interrogations of two Al Qaeda suspects, who may have been subject to the
torture technique known as waterboarding.
But the Central Intelligence Agency redacted the number of tapes destroyed when
it provided an accounting for a federal lawsuit that seeks release of its
interrogation records. On Monday, the Justice Department said there were 92 — a
stunning amount of evidence-shredding that needs further scrutiny.
The released memos were written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal
Counsel, which is supposed to ensure policies comply with the Constitution and
the law. They make it chillingly clear how quickly that office was rededicated
to finding ways for Mr. Bush to evade, twist or ignore both. Some low points:
• In an Oct. 23, 2001, memo, John C. Yoo, then a Justice Department lawyer,
explained how Mr. Bush could ignore the Fourth Amendment and the Posse Comitatus
Act and deploy the military within the United States in “anti-terrorist
operations.” In the same memo, Mr. Yoo argued that Mr. Bush could also suspend
First Amendment rights to free speech and a free press.
• On March 13, 2002, Jay Bybee, the head of the office at the time, wrote that
Mr. Bush could ignore the Geneva Conventions and the anti-torture treaty. Mr.
Bybee, who now has a lifetime seat as a judge on a federal court, said Mr. Bush
was free to send prisoners to countries known to employ torture — a practice
known as extraordinary rendition — as long as there was no agreement to do the
• On Jan. 15, 2009, five days before Mr. Bush left office, Steven G. Bradbury,
the head of the counsel’s office in Mr. Bush’s second term, repudiated the
earlier memos and tried to excuse them by saying they were made “in a time of
great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” They were, but that should
have led honest lawyers to exercise extra prudence, not to rush into sweeping
away this country’s most cherished rights.
The Justice Department’s internal ethics office is reviewing these and other
memos and trying to decide whether political appointees knowingly twisted their
interpretations of the law to provide legal cover for decisions made by the
White House. At least two Congressional committees are, quite rightly, also
looking into these issues.
Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is holding a hearing
on Wednesday into the creation of a bipartisan inquiry into the range of Mr.
Bush’s abuses and has raised the possibility of granting immunity to witnesses.
We are skeptical about immunity, but we are looking forward to hearing a careful
debate about how to proceed toward the essential goal: providing Americans with
as much truth and accountability as possible about their government’s actions.
The Tortured Memos, NYT,
Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan
February 21, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama
administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence
Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a
broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely
carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States
frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in
cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at
Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks
on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some
cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies
against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his
presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some
of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects,
which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani
officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto,
the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali
Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant
leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or
It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks,
which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on
Monday, hitting camps run by Mr. Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed
specifically at Mr. Mehsud, but he was not killed, according to Pakistani and
The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah
Mehsud, a top aide to the militant. By striking at the Mehsud network, the
United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new
administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the
But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant
attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation
with nuclear weapons, at risk.
For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about
Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones
struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a
militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American
troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on
two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence
about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the
information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the
Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.
The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke,
the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Holbrooke declined to talk about the
attacks on Mr. Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mr. Mehsud
or the decisions that led up to the new strikes. A C.I.A. spokesman also
declined to comment.
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a
time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government
and militants in the Swat region.
While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several
American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing
the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke
said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others
would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about
what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west,
and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in
Afghanistan and threats to American forces.
Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration
officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government.
But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the
Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course.
Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian
border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain
shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.
Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan
have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the
Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones,
the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according
to American and Pakistani officials.
The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad
al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998
American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott
Hotel in Islamabad.
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a
number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a
commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by
Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the
commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior
officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare
joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also,
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy
service, will accompany General Kayani.
Bomber Kills More Than 30
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The police on Friday blamed a suicide bomber for a
powerful explosion that killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 50 in
the Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, according to residents and Pakistani
The bombing, aimed at the funeral of a Shiite man who had been shot, set off
chaos in the city of a million people on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Mobs attacked security forces, ransacked shops and surrounded hospitals said the
mayor, Abdur Rauf.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Obama Widens Missile
Strikes Inside Pakistan, NYT, 21.2.2009,
Panetta Chosen as C.I.A. Chief in Surprise Step
January 6, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON — Leon E. Panetta, a former congressman and White House chief of
staff, has been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to head the Central
Intelligence Agency. The choice, disclosed Monday by Democratic officials,
immediately revealed divisions in the party as two senior lawmakers questioned
why Mr. Obama would nominate a candidate with limited experience in intelligence
The job was the last unfilled major post for Mr. Obama, who has criticized the
agency for using interrogation methods he characterized as torture. Democratic
officials said Mr. Obama had selected Mr. Panetta for his managerial skills, his
bipartisan standing, and the foreign policy and budget experience he gained
under President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Panetta has himself been a sharp critic of the agency’s interrogation
practices. Some Democrats expressed strong support for the choice, with Harry
Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, describing him as “one of the finest
public servants I have ever served with and dealt with since he left the White
But Mr. Panetta, 70, was also widely described as a surprising and unusual
choice to head the C.I.A., an agency that has been notoriously unwelcoming to
previous directors perceived as outsiders.
News of the decision was disclosed by Democratic officials who insisted on
anonymity, and neither Mr. Obama nor his transition office has commented
publicly about it.
Among the lawmakers who expressed skepticism about the choice was Senator Dianne
Feinstein, Democrat of California and the new chairwoman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee. Ms. Feinstein, who would oversee any confirmation
hearing for Mr. Panetta, issued a statement that signaled clear disapproval and
said she had not been notified about the choice.
“My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by
having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” she said.
A second top Democrat, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the
departing chairman of the Intelligence Committee, shares Ms. Feinstein’s
concerns, Democratic Congressional aides said.
Ms. Feinstein’s Republican counterpart on the Intelligence Committee, Senator
Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said he would be “looking hard at Panetta’s
intelligence expertise and qualifications.”
It was not clear whether the skepticism would become an obstacle to the
nomination of Mr. Panetta, who would succeed Michael V. Hayden, a retired Air
Force general with decades of intelligence experience.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence
Committee, called Mr. Panetta a “strong choice” who “has the skills to usher in
a new era of accountability at the nation’s premier intelligence agency.”
The choice of Mr. Panetta comes nearly two weeks after Mr. Obama had otherwise
wrapped up his major personnel moves. It appears to reflect the difficulty Mr.
Obama has encountered in finding a candidate who is capable of taking charge of
the agency but is not tied to the interrogation and detention program run by the
C.I.A. under President Bush.
Aides have said that Mr. Obama had originally hoped to select a C.I.A. director
with extensive field experience, especially in combating terrorist networks. But
his first choice for the job, John O. Brennan, had to withdraw his name amid
criticism over his alleged role in the formation of the agency’s detention and
interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
As President Clinton’s chief of staff for two and a half years, Mr. Panetta
regularly attended daily intelligence briefings in the Oval Office, and he has a
reputation in Washington as a skilled manager and power broker with a strong
background in budget issues. But he has little direct intelligence experience,
and did not serve on the House Intelligence Committee during his 16 years in
In disclosing the selection, Democratic officials said Mr. Panetta’s gravitas
and ties to Mr. Obama would give the C.I.A. a powerful voice within the
administration, particularly in bureaucratic jockeying with the Pentagon, which
has a much bigger budget and more bureaucratic clout.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Panetta would take control of the agency most
directly responsible for hunting senior leaders of Al Qaeda around the world. He
would also become the oldest director in the agency’s history, as well as the
second politician and former lawmaker in recent years to take it over. Porter J.
Goss, the former Republican congressman from Florida, ran the C.I.A from 2004 to
2006, though Mr. Goss was himself a former C.I.A. operative and the longtime
chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Among the outsiders who ran into trouble in the past after being installed as
C.I.A. director were Stansfield M. Turner, a retired Navy admiral selected by
President Jimmy Carter, and John M. Deutch, a physicist and former deputy
defense secretary who was chosen by Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Deutch, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said
there would have been good reasons for Mr. Obama to select a C.I.A. veteran to
lead the agency. But Mr. Deutch also cited the examples of John McCone in the
Kennedy administration and George Bush in the Nixon administration as cases in
which outsiders became “two of the agency’s most successful directors.”
Mr. Deutch said that Mr. Panetta and Dennis Blair, a retired admiral who has
been selected by Mr. Obama to become director of national intelligence, were an
“absolutely brilliant team.” He called Mr. Panetta a “talented and experienced
manager of government and a widely respected person with Congress.”
An early test in Mr. Panetta’s tenure at the C.I.A. would be to determine the
future of the agency’s detention and interrogation program.
“Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain
select circumstances and still be true to our values,” he wrote in The
Washington Monthly last year. “But that is a false compromise.” He also wrote:
“We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better
Some human rights groups praised the choice. Elisa Massimino, executive director
of Human Rights First, said it was important that the new C.I.A. director be
someone “who recognizes that torture is illegal, immoral, dangerous and
But some intelligence experts called the selection underwhelming, given the
important role the C.I.A. plays in disrupting terrorist attacks against the
“It’s a puzzling choice and a high-risk choice,” said Amy Zegart, a professor at
the University of California, Los Angeles, who has written extensively on
“The best way to change intelligence policies from the Bush administration
responsibly is to pick someone intimately familiar with them,” Ms. Zegart said.
“This is intelligence, not tax or transportation policy. You can’t hit the
ground running by reading briefing books and asking smart questions.”
As C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta would report to Mr. Blair. Neither choice has
yet been announced.
The C.I.A. has settled down from years of turmoil after the Sept. 11 attacks and
fallout from flawed intelligence assessments about Iraq’s unconventional weapons
programs. But the agency’s role among the constellation of spy agencies
operating under the director of national intelligence remains ill-defined.
Mr. Panetta, a native of Monterey, Calif., served eight terms in the House
before becoming the chief budget adviser to Mr. Clinton in 1993 and taking over
as Mr. Clinton’s chief of staff from July 1994 to January 1997.
Lee H. Hamilton, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a
co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, of which Mr. Panetta was a member, said Mr.
Panetta’s good relationship with Mr. Obama could translate into influence within
the broader intelligence community.
Mr. Hamilton said Mr. Panetta could make up for a lack of direct intelligence
experience by picking a strong group of aides at the agency.
“You have to look at the team,” he said. “You clearly will want intelligence
professionals at the highest levels of the C.I.A.”
Panetta Chosen as C.I.A.
Chief in Surprise Step, NYT, 6.1.2009,