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Waterboarding Got White House Nod

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    CIA Tactics Endorsed In Secret Memos: Waterboarding Got White House Nod By Joby Warrick Washington Post http://www.washingt onpost.com/ wp-dyn/content/
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2009
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      CIA Tactics Endorsed In Secret Memos:
      Waterboarding Got White House Nod
      By Joby Warrick
      Washington Post
      http://www.washingt onpost.com/ wp-dyn/content/ article/2008/
      10/14/AR20081014 03331.html


      The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in
      2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency's use of
      interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda
      suspects -- documents prompted by worries among intelligence
      officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became
      public.

      The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were
      requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after
      the start of the secret interrogations, according to four
      administration and intelligence officials familiar with the
      documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002,
      had signed off on the agency's interrogation methods, senior CIA
      officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never
      endorsed the program in writing.

      The memos were the first -- and, for years, the only -- tangible
      expressions of the administration' s consent for the CIA's use of
      harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders,
      the sources said. As early as the spring of 2002, several White House
      officials, including then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice
      and Vice President Cheney, were given individual briefings by Tenet
      and his deputies, the officials said. Rice, in a statement to
      congressional investigators last month, confirmed the briefings and
      acknowledged that the CIA director had pressed the White House
      for "policy approval."

      The repeated requests for a paper trail reflected growing worries
      within the CIA that the administration might later distance itself
      from key decisions about the handling of captured al-Qaeda leaders,
      former intelligence officials said. The concerns grew more pronounced
      after the revelations of mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib
      prison in Iraq, and further still as tensions grew between the
      administration and its intelligence advisers over the conduct of the
      Iraq war.

      "It came up in the daily meetings. We heard it from our field
      officers," said a former senior intelligence official familiar with
      the events. "We were already worried that we" were going to be
      blamed.

      A. John Radsan, a lawyer in the CIA general counsel's office until
      2004, remembered the discussions but did not personally view the
      memos the agency received in response to its concerns. "The question
      was whether we had enough 'top cover,' " Radsan said.

      Tenet first pressed the White House for written approval in June
      2003, during a meeting with members of the National Security Council,
      including Rice, the officials said. Days later, he got what he
      wanted: a brief memo conveying the administration' s approval for the
      CIA's interrogation methods, the officials said.

      Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but
      neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their
      contents in detail because they remain classified. The sources all
      spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to
      discuss the events.

      The second request from Tenet, in June 2004, reflected growing
      worries among agency officials who had just witnessed the public
      outcry over the Abu Ghraib scandal. Officials who held senior posts
      at the time also spoke of deteriorating relations between the CIA and
      the White House over the war in Iraq -- a rift that prompted some to
      believe that the agency needed even more explicit proof of the
      administration' s support.

      "The CIA by this time is using the word 'insurgency' to describe the
      Iraq conflict, so the White House is viewing the agency with
      suspicion," said a second former senior intelligence official.

      As recently as last month, the administration had never publicly
      acknowledged that its policymakers knew about the specific
      techniques, such as waterboarding, that the agency used against high-
      ranking terrorism suspects. In her unprecedented account to lawmakers
      last month, Rice, now secretary of state, portrayed the White House
      as initially uneasy about a controversial CIA plan for interrogating
      top al-Qaeda suspects.

      After learning about waterboarding and similar tactics in early 2002,
      several White House officials questioned whether such harsh measures
      were "effective and necessary . . . and lawful," Rice said. Her
      concerns led to an investigation by the Justice Department's criminal
      division into whether the techniques were legal.

      But whatever misgivings existed that spring were apparently overcome.
      Former and current CIA officials say no such reservations were voiced
      in their presence.

      In interviews, the officials recounted a series of private briefings
      about the program with members of the administration' s security
      team, including Rice and Cheney, followed by more formal meetings
      before a larger group including then-Attorney General John D.
      Ashcroft, then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and then-
      Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. None of the officials recalled
      President Bush being present at any of the discussions.

      Several of the key meetings have been previously described in news
      articles and books, but Rice last month became the first Cabinet-
      level official to publicly confirm the White House's awareness of the
      program in its earliest phases. In written responses to questions
      from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rice said Tenet's
      description of the agency's interrogation methods prompted her to
      investigate further to see whether the program violated U.S. laws or
      international treaties, according to her written responses, dated
      Sept. 12 and released late last month.

      "I asked that . . . Ashcroft personally advise the NSC principles
      whether the program was lawful," Rice wrote.

      Current and former intelligence officials familiar with the briefings
      described Tenet as supportive of enhanced interrogation techniques,
      which the officials said were developed by CIA officers after the
      agency's first high-level captive, al-Qaeda operative Zayn al-Abidin
      Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, refused to cooperate
      with interrogators.

      "The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and
      helped save lives," said a former senior intelligence official
      knowledgeable about the events. "But in the agency's view, it was
      like this: 'We don't want to continue unless you tell us in writing
      that it's not only legal but is the policy of the administration. ' "

      One administration official familiar with the meetings said the CIA
      made such a convincing case that no one questioned whether the
      methods were necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks.

      "The CIA had the White House boxed in," said the official. "They were
      saying, 'It's the only way to get the information we needed, and --
      by the way -- we think there's another attack coming up.' It left the
      principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-
      making on a very fast track."

      But others who were present said Tenet seemed more interested in
      protecting his subordinates than in selling the administration on a
      policy that administration lawyers had already authorized.

      "The suggestion that someone from CIA came in and browbeat everybody
      is ridiculous," said one former agency official familiar with the
      meeting. "The CIA understood that it was controversial and would be
      widely criticized if it became public," the official said of the
      interrogation program. "But given the tenor of the times and the
      belief that more attacks were coming, they felt they had to do what
      they could to stop the attack."

      The CIA's anxiety was partly fueled by the lack of explicit
      presidential authorization for the interrogation program. A secret
      White House "memorandum of notification" signed by Bush on Sept. 15,
      2001, gave the agency broad authority to wage war against al-Qaeda,
      including killing and capturing its members. But it did not spell out
      how captives should be handled during interrogation.

      But by the time the CIA requested written approval of its policy, in
      June 2003, the population of its secret prisons had grown from one to
      nine, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged principal
      architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Three of the detainees had
      been subjected to waterboarding, which involves strapping a prisoner
      to a board, covering his face and pouring water over his nose and
      mouth to simulate drowning.

      By the spring of 2004, the concerns among agency officials had
      multiplied, in part because of shifting views among administration
      lawyers about what acts might constitute torture, leading Tenet to
      ask a second time for written confirmation from the White House. This
      time the reaction was far more reserved, recalled two former
      intelligence officials.

      "The Justice Department in particular was resistant," said one former
      intelligence official who participated in the discussions. "They said
      it doesn't need to be in writing."

      Tenet and his deputies made their case in yet another briefing before
      the White House national security team in June 2004. It was to be one
      of the last such meetings for Tenet, who had already announced plans
      to step down as CIA director. Author Jane Mayer, who described the
      briefing in her recent book, "The Dark Side," said the graphic
      accounts of interrogation appeared to make some participants
      uncomfortable. "History will not judge us kindly," Mayer quoted
      Ashcroft as saying.

      Participants in the meeting did not recall whether a vote was taken.
      Several weeks passed, and Tenet left the agency without receiving a
      formal response.

      Finally, in mid-July, a memo was forwarded to the CIA reaffirming the
      administration' s backing for the interrogation program. Tenet had
      acquired the statement of support he sought.


      Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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