[Vision2020] Conservatives lie to protect themselves, not country
Gray Tree Crab aka Big Bertha
gray.treecrab.aka.big.bertha at gmail.com
Mon Dec 31 15:00:10 PST 2007
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December 30, 2007
Tapes by C.I.A. Lived and Died to Save Image By SCOTT
WASHINGTON — If Abu
a senior operative of Al
died in American hands, Central Intelligence
pursuing the terrorist group knew that much of the world would
believe they had killed him.
So in the spring of 2002, even as the intelligence officers flew in a
surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital to treat Abu Zubaydah, who had been shot
three times during his capture in Pakistan, they set up video cameras to
record his every moment: asleep in his cell, having his bandages changed,
In fact, current and former intelligence officials say, the agency's every
action in the prolonged drama of the interrogation videotapes was prompted
in part by worry about how its conduct might be perceived — by Congress, by
prosecutors, by the American public and by Muslims worldwide.
That worry drove the decision to begin taping interrogations — and to stop
taping just months later, after the treatment of prisoners began to include
And it fueled the nearly three-year campaign by the agency's clandestine
service for permission to destroy the tapes, culminating in a November 2005
destruction order from the service's director, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.
Now, the disclosure of the tapes and their destruction in 2005 have become
just the public spectacle the agency had sought to avoid. To the already
fierce controversy over whether the Bush administration authorized torture
has been added the specter of a cover-up.
The Justice Department, the C.I.A.'s inspector general and Congress are
investigating whether any official lied about the tapes or broke the law by
destroying them. Still in dispute is whether any White House official
encouraged their destruction and whether the C.I.A. deliberately hid them
from the national Sept. 11 commission.
But interviews with two dozen current and former officials, most of whom
would speak about the classified program only on the condition of anonymity,
revealed new details about why the tapes were made and then eliminated.
Their accounts show how political and legal considerations competed with
intelligence concerns in the handling of the tapes.
The discussion about the tapes took place in Congressional briefings and
secret deliberations among top White House lawyers, including a meeting in
May 2004 just days after photographs of abuse at Abu
in Iraq had reminded the administration of the power of such images.
The debate stretched over the tenure of two C.I.A. chiefs and became
entangled in a feud between the agency's top lawyers and its inspector
general. The tapes documented a program so closely guarded that President
Bush himself had agreed with the advice of intelligence officials that he
not be told the locations of the secret C.I.A. prisons. Had there been no
political or security considerations, videotaping every interrogation and
preserving the tapes would make sense, according to several intelligence
"You couldn't have more than one or two analysts in the room," said A. B.
Krongard, the C.I.A.'s No. 3 official at the time the interrogations were
taped. "You want people with spectacular language skills to watch the tapes.
You want your top Al Qaeda experts to watch the tapes. You want
psychologists to watch the tapes. You want interrogators in training to
watch the tapes."
Given such advantages, why was the taping stopped by the end of 2002, less
than a year after it started?
"By that time," Mr. Krongard said, "paranoia was setting in."
The Decision to Tape
By several accounts, the decision to begin taping Abu Zubaydah and another
detainee suspected of being a Qaeda operative, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was
made in the field, with several goals in mind.
First, there was Abu Zubaydah's precarious condition. "There was concern
that we needed to have this all documented in case he should expire from his
injuries," recalled one former intelligence official.
Just as important was the fact that for many years the C.I.A. had rarely
conducted even standard interrogations, let alone ones involving physical
pressure, so officials wanted to track closely the use of legally fraught
interrogation methods. And there was interest in capturing all the
information to be gleaned from a rare resource — direct testimony from those
who had attacked the United States.
But just months later, the taping was stopped. Some field officers had never
liked the idea. "If you're a case officer, the last thing you want is
someone in Washington second-guessing everything you did," said one former
More significant, interrogations of Abu Zubaydah had gotten rougher, with
each new tactic approved by cable from headquarters. American officials have
said that Abu Zubaydah was the first Qaeda prisoner to be waterboarded, a
procedure during which water is poured over the prisoner's mouth and nose to
create a feeling of drowning. Officials said they felt they could not risk a
public leak of a videotape showing Americans giving such harsh treatment to
Heightening the worries about the tapes was word of the first deaths of
prisoners in American custody. In November 2002, an Afghan man froze to
death overnight while chained in a cell at a C.I.A. site in Afghanistan,
north of Kabul, the capital. Two more prisoners died in December 2002 in
American military custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
By late 2002, interrogators were recycling videotapes, preserving only two
days of tapes before recording over them, one C.I.A. officer said. Finally,
senior agency officials decided that written summaries of prisoners' answers
Still, that decision left hundreds of hours of videotape of the two Qaeda
figures locked in an overseas safe.
Clandestine service officers who had overseen the interrogations began
pushing hard to destroy the tapes. But George J.
then the director of central intelligence, was wary, in part because the
agency's top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, advised against it, current and former
Yet agency officials decided to float the idea of eliminating the tapes on
Capitol Hill, hoping for political cover. In February 2003, Mr. Muller told
members of the House and Senate oversight committees about the C.I.A's
interest in destroying the tapes for security reasons.
But both Porter J.
then a Republican congressman from Florida and the chairman of the House
Intelligence Committee, and Representative Jane
California, the ranking Democrat, thought destroying the tapes would
legally and politically risky. C.I.A. officials did not press the matter.
The Detention Program
Scrutiny of the C.I.A.'s secret detention program kept building. Later in
2003, the agency's inspector general, John L. Helgerson, began investigating
the program, and some insiders believed the inquiry might end with criminal
charges for abusive interrogations.
Mr. Helgerson — now conducting the videotapes review with the Justice
Department — had already rankled covert officers with an investigation into
the 2001 shooting down of a missionary plane by Peruvian military officers
advised by the C.I.A. The investigation set off widespread concern within
the clandestine branch that a day of reckoning could be coming for officers
involved in the agency's secret prison program. The Peru investigation often
pitted Mr. Helgerson against Mr. Muller, who vigorously defended members of
the clandestine branch and even lobbied the Justice Department to head off
criminal charges in the matter, according to former intelligence officials
"Muller wanted to show the clandestine branch that he was looking out for
them," said John Radsan, who served as an assistant general counsel for the
C.I.A. from 2002 to 2004. "And his aggressiveness on Peru was meant to prove
to the operations people that they were protected on a lot of other
Mr. Helgerson completed his investigation of interrogations in April 2004,
according to one person briefed on the still-secret report, which concluded
that some of the C.I.A.'s techniques appeared to constitute cruel, inhuman
and degrading treatment under the international Convention Against Torture.
Current and former officials said the report did not explicitly state that
the methods were torture.
A month later, as the administration reeled from the Abu Ghraib disclosures,
Mr. Muller, the agency general counsel, met to discuss the report with three
senior lawyers at the White House: Alberto R. Gonzales
the White House counsel; David S.
legal adviser for Vice President Dick
and John B. Bellinger III, the top lawyer at the National Security
The interrogation tapes were discussed at the meeting, and one Bush
administration official said that, according to notes of the discussion, Mr.
Bellinger advised the C.I.A. against destroying the tapes. The positions Mr.
Gonzales and Mr. Addington took are unknown. One person familiar with the
discussion said that in light of concerns raised in the inspector general's
report that agency officers could be legally liable for harsh
interrogations, there was a view at the time among some administration
lawyers that the tapes should be preserved.
Looking for Guidance
After Mr. Tenet and Mr. Muller left the C.I.A. in mid-2004, Mr. Rodriguez
and other officials from the clandestine branch decided again to take up the
tapes with the new chief at Langley, Mr. Goss, the former congressman.
Mr. Rodriguez had taken over the clandestine directorate in late 2004, and
colleagues say Mr. Goss repeatedly emphasized to Mr. Rodriguez that he was
expected to run operations without clearing every decision with superiors.
During a meeting in Mr. Goss's office with Mr. Rodriguez, John A. Rizzo
who by then had replaced Mr. Muller as the agency's top lawyer, told the new
C.I.A. director that the clandestine branch wanted a firm decision about
what to do with the tapes.
According to two people close to Mr. Goss, he advised against destroying the
tapes, as he had in Congress, and told Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Rodriguez that he
thought the tapes should be preserved at the overseas location. Apparently
he did not explicitly prohibit the tapes' destruction.
Yet in November 2005, Congress already was moving to outlaw "cruel, inhuman
and degrading" treatment of prisoners, and The Washington Post reported that
some C.I.A. prisoners were being held in Eastern Europe. As the agency
scrambled to move the prisoners to new locations, Mr. Rodriguez and his
aides decided to use their own authority to destroy the tapes, officials
One official who has spoken with Mr. Rodriguez said Mr. Rodriguez and his
aides were concerned about protection of the C.I.A. officers on the tapes,
from Al Qaeda, as the C.I.A. has stated, and from political pressure.
The tapes might visually identify as many as five or six people present for
each interrogation — interrogators themselves, whom the agency now prefers
to call "debriefers"; doctors or doctor's assistants who monitored the
prisoner's medical state; and security officers, the official said. Some
traveled regularly in and out of areas where Al Qaeda and other Islamist
extremists are active, he said.
Apart from concerns about physical safety in the event of a leak, the
official said, there was concern for the careers of officers shown on the
tapes. "We didn't want them to become political scapegoats," he said.
According to several current and former officials, lawyers in the agency's
clandestine branch gave Mr. Rodriguez written guidance that he had the
authority to destroy the tapes and that such a move would not be illegal.
One day in November 2005, Mr. Rodriguez sent a cable ordering the
destruction of the recordings. Soon afterward, he notified both Mr. Goss and
Mr. Rizzo, taking full responsibility for the decision.
Former intelligence officials said that Mr. Goss was unhappy about the news,
in part because it was further evidence that as the C.I.A. director he was
so weakened that his subordinates would directly reject his advice. Yet it
appears that Mr. Rodriguez was never reprimanded. Nor is there evidence that
Mr. Goss promptly notified Congress that the tapes were gone.
The investigations over the tapes frustrate some C.I.A. veterans, who say
they believe that the agency is being unfairly blamed for policies of
coercive interrogation approved at the top of the Bush administration and by
some Congressional leaders. Intelligence officers are divided over the use
of such methods as waterboarding. Some say the methods helped get
information that prevented terrorist attacks. Others, like John C. Gannon, a
former C.I.A. deputy director, say it was a tragic mistake for the
administration to approve such methods.
Mr. Gannon said he thought the tapes became such an issue because they would
have settled the legal debate over the harsh methods.
"To a spectator it would look like torture," he said. "And torture is
Gray Tree Crab aka "Big Bertha"
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