WASHINGTON (AP) — Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.
The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved.
Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.
“If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation,” the former intelligence official said. Those who attended the dozens of meetings agreed that “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on al-Qaida detainees, the former official said.
The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were Cheney, then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress to investigate.
The former intelligence official described Cheney and the top national security officials as deeply immersed in developing the CIA’s interrogation program during months of discussions over which methods should be used and when.
At times, CIA officers would demonstrate some of the tactics, or at least detail how they worked, to make sure the small group of “principals” fully understood what the al-Qaida detainees would undergo.
The small group then asked the Justice Department to examine whether using the interrogation methods would break domestic or international laws.
“No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” said a second former senior intelligence official. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.”
The Office of Legal Counsel issued at least two opinions on interrogation methods.
Both legal opinions since have been withdrawn.
The second former senior intelligence official said rescinding the memos caused the CIA to seek even more detailed approvals for the interrogations.
The department issued another still-secret memo in October 2001 that, in part, sought to outline novel ways the military could be used domestically to defend the country in the face of an impending attack. The Justice Department so far has refused to release it, citing attorney-client privilege, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey declined to describe it Thursday at a Senate panel where Democrats characterized it as a “torture memo.”
I am not a lawyer, I don’t play one on tv, and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but, this sounds like the CIA didn’t want to take the fall when torture was uncovered, and they wanted it in black and white that the higher-ups were on the hook for what they were ordering. Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound very good for Cheney and the rest. Wonder if that will wipe the smirks off their faces. It seems that John Ashcroft wasn’t really too comfortable with the whole idea either, not that he made sure it didn’t happen or anything like that:
“Why are we talking about this in the White House?” [ABC News] network quoted Ashcroft as saying during one meeting. “History will not judge this kindly.”
When do the impeachment hearings begin?