Cheney, others OK'd harsh interrogations
Cheney, others OK'd harsh interrogations
By LARA JAKES JORDAN and PAMELA HESS, Associated Press
Writer 37 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - 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
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.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar
with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to
confirm details first reported by ABC News on
Wednesday. The intelligence official spoke on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized
to publicly discuss the issue.
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
The meetings were held in the White House Situation
Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11
attacks. Attending the sessions were then-Bush aides
Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State
Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national
security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The White House, Justice and State departments and the
CIA refused comment Thursday, as did a spokesman for
Tenet. A message for Ashcroft was not immediately
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., lambasted what he
described as "yet another astonishing disclosure about
the Bush administration and its use of torture."
"Who would have thought that in the United States of
America in the 21st century, the top officials of the
executive branch would routinely gather in the White
House to approve torture?" Kennedy said in a
statement. "Long after President Bush has left office,
our country will continue to pay the price for his
administration's renegade repudiation of the rule of
law and fundamental human rights."
The American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress
"With each new revelation, it is beginning to look
like the torture operation was managed and directed
out of the White House," ACLU legislative director
Caroline Fredrickson said. "This is what we suspected
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
principals eventually authorized physical abuse such
as slaps and pushes, sleep deprivation, or
waterboarding. This technique involves strapping a
person down and pouring water over his cloth-covered
face to create the sensation of drowning.
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
The Office of Legal Counsel issued at least two
opinions on interrogation methods.
In one, dated Aug. 1, 2002, then-Assistant Attorney
General Jay Bybee defined torture as covering "only
extreme acts" causing pain similar in intensity to
that caused by death or organ failure. A second, dated
March 14, 2003, justified using harsh tactics on
detainees held overseas so long as military
interrogators did not specifically intend to torture
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
Not all of the principals who attended were fully
comfortable with the White House meetings.
The ABC News report portrayed Ashcroft as troubled by
the discussions, despite agreeing that the
interrogations methods were legal.
"Why are we talking about this in the White House?"
the network quoted Ashcroft as saying during one
meeting. "History will not judge this kindly."
Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this
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