White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said defense and intelligence officials had the opportunity to object to a decision to criminally indict alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But no one registered objections at a Jan. 5 meeting with President Barack Obama, Gibbs said.
“I will say that anybody that wanted or needed to register their concern, the notion that somehow a forum wasn’t readily available to register anybody’s concern doesn’t certainly comport the way I understand events, having been in the room watching those present have an opportunity to ask questions about those procedures,” Gibbs said at a White House news briefing Monday.
The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room to review the intelligence failures that led to the accused al-Qaeda associate being allowed to board a Detroit-bound commercial airliner with explosives in his underwear. Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael E. Leiter attended, Gibbs said.
Gibbs’s remarks lent support to a Los Angeles Times article today that said CIA officials were at the table with DOJ officials before a decision was made to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights, a move that has sparked fierce criticism from Republicans and some administration officials, including Blair.
Asked if the administration had ruled out treating Abdulmutallab as an “enemy combatant” without the protections accorded criminal defendants, Gibbs said: “I think that very experienced interrogators at the FBI made decisions about interrogation, and the Department of Justice made determinations to seek an indictment, and the President believes that’s the appropriate place.”
Gibbs did note there is precedent for reversing such decisions, citing the Jose Padilla and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri cases.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the government charged U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, who was believed to have trained with al-Qaeda, with terrorism offenses. Later Padilla was sent to military custody for three and a half years. In 2007, Padilla was convicted in federal court in Miami of conspiracy to kill and sentenced to prison. Al-Marri likewise was arrested after the 9/11 attacks on suspicion of working with al-Qaeda, then later held in military custody. Last year he pleaded guilty in federal court in Illinois to supporting al-Qaeda.
Pressed whether the administration believed there’s “no more intelligence to be gained” from Abdulmutallab, Gibbs was more cryptic. “The White House is satisfied that the process of gaining that intelligence is working,” he said.
Gibbs also said Monday that “no decision” has been made to transfer the trial of accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others out of New York City, despite news reports to the contrary last week. “[D]ecisions that are being reported as having been made have not been made,” Gibbs said.
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The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate the disclosure of a secret program to kill foreign terrorist leaders abroad, The Washington Times reports.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress in June that he had terminated a initiative planned in the aftermath of 9/11 to dispatch teams of assassins to target al Qaeda leaders. The program was never put into effect.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the nature of the program, and The New York Times later added contour, revealing that CIA had collaborated with the security contractor Xe, formerly known as Blackwater.
The request comes at time when the CIA’s relationship with the Justice Department is under particular strain. Attorney General Eric Holder recently appointed a career prosecutor to review CIA interrogation methods, and he was a driving force behind the release of secret legal opinions and a CIA inspector general’s report detailing the interrogation program.
If the Justice Department takes the CIA up on its request, the pool of potential subjects would include members of the full House and Senate intelligence committees and senior staff.
The CIA and the Justice Department would not confirm or deny that a request had been made.
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CIA Director Leon Panetta got into a ”profanity-laced screaming match” with a White House staffer last month after learning of Department of Justice plans to investigate brutal interrogations, ABC News reported. Read the story here.
The report didn’t identify the White House staffer who was on the receiving end of Panetta’s rage, which ABC News said also included a threat by Panetta to quit. Panetta was reportedly angry about plans by Attorney General Eric Holder to open criminal investigations of CIA officers who may have carried out interrogation methods that both Holder and President Obama have characterized as torture.
Holder also won out over Panetta in April, when President Obama sided with the attorney general and released largely unredacted versions of DOJ Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing the brutal techniques. Click here for our previous report. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that White House counsel Greg Craig’s job may be at stake, in part because of Holder’s decision to release the OLC memos. Craig was an ally of Holder in pushing to release the memos, which kicked up a political controversy that reportedly displeased the president.
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Hopefully you didn’t miss Jane Mayer’s latest article in The New Yorker, dated June 22, 2009 (next Monday).
In an interview with Mayer, CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed that when he first took the reins of the CIA, he had asked then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson to conduct a review to make sure that there was nobody left at the CIA that should be prosecuted for torture or related crimes. Helgerson was the author of the 2004 classified report questioning the legality and effectiveness of the agency’s secret detention and brutal interrogation program. Panetta says that Helgerson, who retired in May, assured him that there were no officers currently with the CIA that had violated the legal guidelines established during the Bush years. He did, however, tell Panetta that ”continuing work was being done.”
But that doesn’t mean Panetta has managed to extricate himself from involvement with high-level officials who are connected with the torture program. Many of his top deputies “worked closely” with former CIA Director George Tenet. Even Panetta’s number 2, Stephen Kappes, was part of the torture regime. Ironically, Kappes’ continued stay at the CIA was demanded by Democrats who refused to support Panetta’s nomination otherwise. Mayer explains that:
During the first term of the Bush Administration, Kappes was a top official in the Directorate of Operations. This group oversaw the agency’s Counterterrorist Center, which, in turn, managed the secret detention-and-interrogation program. Few doubt that he was aware that the C.I.A. was engaging in brutality. One former officer recalls that Kappes voiced qualms, warning that the program amounted to “torture.” According to the former officer, once Kappes was overruled he went along; Kappes was “the brains” of the directorate, the former officer says. (Kappes, through a spokesman, denied having had a direct role in the interrogation program, or having called its tactics torture.) Another former C.I.A. operative says, “It would be hard to say someone so involved could be robustly objective” in advising Panetta.
Another torture holdover is Jonathan Fredman, the former Chief Counsel to the Counterterrorist Center, who famously proclaimed that “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” His former boss, CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo, was the man many of the Justice Department’s torture memos were addressed to. Rizzo remains at the agency while the search for a replacement continues. The current head of the Counterterrorist Center, an undercover officer, ran the torture program during Bush’s second term. Mayer also says that “[s]everal current station chiefs and division chiefs were also deeply involved in brutal interrogations, as were pilots, logistical experts, medical personnel, and others.”
And don’t forget former Tenet’s former chief of staff John Brennan, who is now advising President Obama as a senior official on the National Security Council.
Mayer notes that with all of these former Bush-officials still involved in top-level decision-making, no CIA officer has been charged with criminal acts relating to torture. This, despite the fact that at least three prisoners have died as a result of enhanced interrogation:
In the first case, an unnamed detainee under C.I.A. supervision in Afghanistan froze to death after having been chained, naked, to a concrete floor overnight. The body was buried in an unmarked grave. In the second case, an Iraqi prisoner named Manadel al-Jamadi died on November 4, 2003, while being interrogated by the C.I.A. at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad. A forensic examiner found that he had essentially been crucified; he died from asphyxiation after having been hung by his arms, in a hood, and suffering broken ribs. Military pathologists classified the case a homicide. A third prisoner died after an interrogation in which a C.I.A. officer participated, though the officer evidently did not cause the death
The program was so out of line that German car salesman Khaled el-Masri was tortured for 149 days due to a case of mistaken identity by the CIA… oops. The officer responsible for Masri’s suffering has received two promotions since then.
So what news did Mayer have to offer? For one:
Helgerson, the former inspector general, forwarded the crucifixion case, along with an estimated half-dozen other incidents, to the Justice Department, for possible prosecution. But the case files have languished. An official familiar with the cases told me that the agency has deflected inquiries by the Senate Intelligence Committee seeking information about any internal disciplinary action. (Helgerson told me, “Some individuals have been disciplined. And others no longer work at the agency.”)
Regarding the closed-door investigation into the torture program by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Panetta told Mayer that some 10 million documents had been found.
While there’s little chance that CIA officials will be prosecuted, some remain hopeful that some of the private contractors involved will be held accountable.
In April, Panetta fired all the C.I.A.’s contract interrogators, including the former military psychologists who appear to have designed the most brutal interrogation techniques: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. The two men, who ran a consulting company, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, had recommended that interrogators apply to detainees theories of “learned helplessness” that were based on experiments with abused dogs. The firm’s principals reportedly billed the agency a thousand dollars a day for their services. “We saved some money in the deal, too!” Panetta said. (Remarkably, a month after Obama took office the C.I.A. had signed a fresh contract with the firm.)
According to ProPublica, the investigative reporting group, Mitchell and Jessen’s firm, which in 2007 had a hundred and twenty people on its staff, recently closed its offices, in Spokane, Washington.
Pressure is also coming through less talked about avenues.
A grand jury is currently considering an indictment of CIA officials for destroying 92 video tapes documenting interrogations of detainees, including Abu Zubaydah. There is also reason to believe that the inquiry may extend to determining if the interrogations occurred before the authorization was given. In Italy, two dozen CIA officials are being tried in absentia for a rendition that occurred in 2003. Spain has opened an investigation of high-level Bush officials that authorized torture. And Binyam Mohammed is still using the British courts to try to get information about his rendition. Other lawsuits are also working their way through the United States court system.
Mayer also notes that earlier this month, “Philip Mudd, Obama’s nominee for a top Homeland Security post, withdrew from consideration after it became clear that his Senate confirmation would turn into a fight over his previous role in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program.”
It looks like the Obama administration will have to confront this problem sooner rather than later.
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House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused to make any further comments on the ongoing interrogation briefings saga today at her weekly press conference.
Pelosi said she continued to stand behind her comments last week when she said she was misled by the CIA on the harsh interrogation methods used against suspected terrorists.
“I don’t have anything more to say,” Pelosi said.
The speaker said at a heated press conference last week that CIA briefers in September 2002 did not inform her that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. She said adviser Michael Sheehy was at a February 2003 briefing where he learned about the actual use of waterboarding on detainees. Pelosi also divulged at the press conference last week that she was informed of the February 2003 letter sent from Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) to the CIA general counsel that questioned the interrogation methods.
Since her comments last week, CIA Director Leon Panetta rejected Pelosi’s accusation, and House Republicans pushed Pelosi to prove or retract her claims. The House also tried to pass a resolution yesterday that would have established a bipartisan panel to investigate Pelosi’s claims.
“What we are doing is staying on our course and not be distracted from it,” Pelosi said.
In a Gallup poll released yesterday, more Americans disapproved than approved of Pelosi’s handling of the interrogation matter.
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The ongoing saga on who knew what and when has two new twists today: a former intelligence professional told Talking Points Memo that the CIA did not use the “enhanced interrogation techniques” term when briefing House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) told Politico his staffer’s inclusion in the infamous briefings document is bunk.
TPM said that although the document refers to the discussion of “EITs” at each of the briefings, the source said the “EIT” term was not used until 2006 — four years after the briefing with Pelosi.
“The former intel professional said that by using the term in the recently compiled document, the CIA was being “disingenuous,” trying to make it appear that the use of such techniques was part of a “formal and mechanical program.” In fact, said the former intel pro, it wasn’t until 2006 that — amid growing concerns about the program among some in the Bush administration — the EIT program was formalized, and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were properly defined and given a name.”
As for Obey, the chairman wrote a letter to CIA Chief Leon Panetta asking the CIA chief to remove Obey aide Paul Juola from the document, Politico reported. Obey claimed that Joula was kicked out of the meeting before anything involving interrogations was discussed, Politico said.
The letter obtained by Politico:
“In light of current controversy about CIA briefing practices, I was surprised to learn that the agency erroneously listed an appropriations staffer as being in a key briefing on September 19, 2006, when in fact he was not. The list the agency released entitled “Member Briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs)”, shows that House Appropriations Committee defense appropriations staffer Paul Juola was in that briefing on that date. In fact, Mr. Juola recollects that he walked members to the briefing room, met [former CIA Director] General Michael Hayden and Mr. Walker, who were the briefers, and was told that he could not attend the briefing. We request that you immediately correct this record.”
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The memos released yesterday on the harsh interrogation methods authorized by the Bush administration could open a floodgate of more disclosures about Bush-era policies for terrorism suspects, The New York Times reports.
President Obama will likely face a slew of opportunities to make good on his promise to protect CIA officials from prosecution as lawmakers and courts are lining up to investigate the interrogation policies of the Bush administration.
Members of Congress and human rights groups are expected to press for more Bush-era memos and reports about interrogation policies, The Times says.
“These are the first dominoes,” Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, told The Times. “It will be difficult for the new administration to now argue that other documents can be lawfully withheld.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, hinted at the prosecutions of top Bush officials and lawyers.
“If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify torture, they should be criminally prosecuted,” he said in a statement to The Times.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told his staffers in a statement to brace themselves for more disclosures.
“More requests will come — from the public, from Congress, and the Courts — and more information is sure to be released,” he said.
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Attorney General Eric Holder held an unannounced meeting at the Justice Department today with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior administration officials to discuss plans to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison by next January.
The meeting of the Guantanamo Bay Detainee Review Task Force also included FBI Director Robert Mueller, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, White House Counsel Gregory Craig, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Randy Beers and Justice Department national security division veteran Matthew Olsen, the executive director of the task force.
The officials also talked about the “standards for detainee reviews, factors that will be considered in prioritizing detainee reviews, and progress that has been achieved thus far,” according to a statement from the Justice Department.
According to an official familiar with the process, detainees are being grouped into categories, and government officials from multiple agencies are being grouped into teams assigned to examine particular categories of detainees.
The review teams would then make recommendations to the Guantanamo task force. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private.
If a review team cannot reach a consensus on a particular detainee, the case will go to the Cabinet-level officials to reach a decision, the official said.
Holder, who visited Guantanamo Bay last month, told the Associated Press that he vowed to close the facility and handle the 240 people imprisoned there “in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.”