Torture authorization came straight from the top

ABC news has broken a huge story:  officials at the top of the Bush administration were directly responsible for authorizing torture in 2002. The “Principals Committee” was chaired by Condoleezza Rice, then the National Security Advisor. Other participants included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The presenting issue was the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah was believed to be a high-ranking al Qaeda operative, but he was not supplying the kind of information the CIA had expected to extract from him. (The CIA and the FBI disagree fundamentally on Zubaydah’s seniority within al Qaeda, and whether torture was effective in producing the desired intelligence.)

This was before the infamous Bybee memo was written by John Yoo.

ABC news reports that there were “dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House” in which the Principles Committee approved specific techniques to be used on top al Qaeda suspects:

whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding. …

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas.

“It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time,” said one high-ranking official who asked not to be identified. “They’d say, ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.'”

Sources said that at each discussion, all the Principals present approved.

“These discussions weren’t adding value,” a source said. “Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, (you should) just tell them to implement it.”

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

The Principals also approved interrogations that combined different methods, pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department’s own legal approval in the 2002 memo, sources told ABC News. …

Condoleezza Rice

Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns — shared by Powell — that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA:  “This is your baby. Go do it.”

I had wondered whether Barack Obama would consider choosing Colin Powell as his running mate. The odds are certainly against it now.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:03:11

    To be blunt, this story stinks. Unnamed sources, no documentation and lack of specificity as to just what was signed up to, and referring to events allegedly taking palce in 2002, all illustrated with a big picture of Condoleeza Rice – and all coming out in the same week as Rice is reported as being interested in running as VP on McCain’s ticket. Coincidence? Hardly. Unless ABC can produce some actual, serious evidence this is just another hit job on a Republican candidate like the McCain “affair” story.

    “I had wondered whether Barack Obama would consider choosing Colin Powell as his running mate. The odds are certainly against it now.”

    That was never going to happen for three reasons – (1) Powell is a Republican and Obama is probably the most left wing Democrat in the Senate; (2) putting someone of Powell’s stature and experience on the ticket would only provide an excuse for people to mock the ticket as being upside down; and (3) an officer of Powell’s stature, integrity and patriotism would never dream of running as VP on the ticket of a man who thinks it’s cool to hang around with unrepentant terrorists who have bombed US govenrment facilities and defended the murder of police officers.

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 08:33:30

    Actually, Random, I saw a follow-up story in which President Bush seemed to confirm that the story was accurate in its essential facts. I’ll try to dig it out for you, though I’m going to be quite busy today.

    Even without it, you have to consider the level of detail that’s supplied in the account. The unnamed sources indicate that they were troubled by the whole process, from a policy perspective:

    These discussions weren’t adding value,” a source said. “Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, (you should) just tell them to implement it.

    This is not posturing on the part of someone who wants to exonerate the White House officials. The position is, in fact, critical of the CIA for its ass-covering, and of the administration for playing along with the CIA’s little game.

    Then there’s the direct quote of Ashcroft:

    “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

    This is very specific, not the vague sort of hand-wringing which lacks all credibility.

    Then we hear of the disagreement between Powell and Rice. The sources make it clear that Powell approved the specific techniques under discussion, so there’s no whitewashing of his role here. He objected only on pragmatic grounds, because it was harming the USA’s reputation internationally. Still, Powell lost the battle to Rice — just as he consistently lost battles in the Bush White House.

    Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. … Sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: “This is your baby. Go do it.”

    In short, the account is entirely credible in its details. And ABC news speaks of “sources”, indicating that they had at least two witnesses corroborating the account.

    Reply

  3. Stephen
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 21:36:55

    The follow-up story is here (via Andrew Sullivan, natch).

    “Yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” …

    “I told the country we did that,” Bush said. “And I also told them it was legal. We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it.”

    Reply

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