Lara Jakes Jordan & Pamela Hess / Associated Press – 2008-04-11 22:48:47
WASHINGTON (April 11, 2008) — 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 learned.
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 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.
In 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 Qaeda detainees, the former official said.
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 returned.
Sen. Edward 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. “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 to investigate.
“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 all along.”
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 principals fully understood what the al Qaeda 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 principals 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 command.”
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