[Ppnews] Waterboarding Endorsed In Secret Memos
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 16 13:52:24 EDT 2008
CIA Tactics Endorsed In Secret Memos
Waterboarding Got White House Nod
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008; A01
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
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
Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency's
interrogation methods, senior
officials were troubled that
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
leaders, the sources said. As early as the spring of 2002, several
White House officials, including then-national security adviser
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
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
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
"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
General John D. Ashcroft, then-White House counsel
R. Gonzales and then-Defense Secretary
H. Rumsfeld. None of the officials recalled
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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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