Jason Leopold / t r u t h o u t | Report – 2009-05-22 22:18:00
WASHINGTON (May 22, 2009) — Former Vice President Dick Cheney intervened in CIA Inspector General John Helgerson’s investigation into the agency’s use of torture against “high-value” detainees, but the watchdog was still able to prepare a report that concluded the interrogation program violated some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture.
The report, which the Obama administration may soon declassify, was completed in May 2004 and implicated CIA interrogators in at least three detainee deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and referred eight criminal cases of alleged homicide, abuse and misconduct to the Justice Department for further investigation, reporter Jane Mayer wrote in her book, “The Dark Side,” and in an investigative report published in The New Yorker in November 2005.
In “The Dark Side,” Mayer described the report as being “as thick as two Manhattan phone books” and contained information, according to an unnamed source, “that was simply sickening.”
“The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized,” Mayer wrote. “The source said, ‘You couldn’t read the documents without wondering, “Why didn’t someone say, ‘Stop!'””
Mayer added that Cheney routinely “summoned” Inspector General Helgerson to meet with him privately about his investigation, launched in 2003, and soon thereafter the probe “was stopped in its tracks.” Mayer characterized Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson as highly unusual.
Cheney’s “reaction to this first, carefully documented in-house study concluding that the CIA’s secret program was most likely criminal was to summon the Inspector General to his office for a private chat,” Mayer wrote. “The Inspector General is supposed to function as an independent overseer, free from political pressure, but Cheney summoned the CIA Inspector General more than once to his office.”
“Cheney loomed over everything,” the former CIA officer told Mayer. “The whole IG’s office was completely politicized. They were working hand in glove with the White House.”
But Mayer said Cheney’s intervention in Helgerson’s probe proved that as early as 2004 “the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [torture] Program.” Helgerson has denied that he was pressured by Cheney.
In October 2007, former CIA Director Michael Hayden ordered an investigation into Helgerson’s office, focusing on internal complaints that the inspector general was on “a crusade against those who have participated in [the] controversial detention program.”
News reports have suggested that when Helgerson’s report is declassified it will seriously undercut claims made by Cheney in numerous interviews that the systematic torture of “high-value” detainees produced valuable intelligence, thwarted pending terrorist plots against the United States and saved “hundreds of thousands of lives.”
In addition to showing the inconclusive nature of the value of intelligence gleaned through torture, the report will likely show that Helgerson warned top CIA officials that the interrogation techniques administered to detainees “might violate some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture.”
A November 9, 2005, report published in The New York Times said Helgerson’s report “raised concern about whether the use of the [torture] techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability.”
Sources quoted by The New York Times said “the report expressed skepticism about the Bush administration view that any ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under the treaty does not apply to CIA interrogations because they take place overseas on people who are not citizens of the United States.
“The officials who described the report said it discussed particular techniques used by the CIA against particular prisoners, including about three dozen terror suspects being held by the agency in secret locations around the world.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to gain access to Helgerson’s report. Portions of the report have already been turned over to the organization, but they were heavily redacted.
Mayer also suggested that the CIA may have decided to destroy 92 interrogation videotapes in November 2005, after Sen. Jay Rockefeller began asking questions about the tapes referenced in the report. Helgerson had viewed the tapes at one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons.
“Further rattling the CIA was a request in May 2005 from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to see over a hundred documents referred to in the earlier Inspector General’s report on detention inside the black prison sites,” Mayer wrote in her book. “Among the items Rockefeller specifically sought was a legal analysis of the CIA’s interrogation videotapes.
“Rockefeller wanted to know if the intelligence agency’s top lawyer believed that the waterboarding of [alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu] Zubaydah and [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as captured on the secret videotapes, was entirely legal. The CIA refused to provide the requested documents to Rockefeller. But the Democratic senator’s mention of the videotapes undoubtedly sent a shiver through the Agency, as did a second request he made for these documents to [former CIA Director Porter] Goss in September 2005.”
Helgerson’s report has been highly sought after by members of Congress and civil liberties organizations for some time. Justice Department torture memos released last month contain several footnotes to the inspector general’s report noting the watchdog’s concerns about the fact that interrogators strayed from the legal limits set forth in the memos on how specific interrogation methods could be used.
For example, a footnote in a May 2005 Justice Department legal opinion says Helgerson found that, “in some cases,” the “waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated … and also that it was used in a different manner.”
According to court papers in a contempt lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the CIA over the destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes, “at the conclusion of [Helgerson’s] special review in May 2004, [CIA Office of Inspector General] notified DOJ and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.”
A month later, according to documents released last month by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Helgerson’s report was made available to top lawmakers on the committee.
That same month, June 2004, then-CIA Director George Tenet asked the White House to explicitly sign off on the agency’s torture program with a memo that authorized specific techniques, such as waterboarding. A similar request was also made by the agency at the start of Helgerson’s probe in 2003, according to a report published in The Washington Post last October.
“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 Post reported.
“The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed (and remain classified), 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.”
It’s unknown whether Helgerson’s report led Tenet to request the later memo from the White House.
According to the Post report, “the CIA’s anxiety was partly fueled by the lack of explicit presidential authorization for the interrogation program” and “Tenet seemed … interested in protecting his subordinates” from legal liability.
In July 2004, “the CIA briefed the [Senate Intelligence Committee’s] Chairman and Vice Chairman on the facts and conclusions of the Inspector General special review,” the Post report said.
In an interview with Harper’s magazine last year, Mayer said Helgerson “investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees” and forwarded several of those cases “to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution.”
“Why have there been no charges filed? It’s a question to which one would expect that Congress and the public would like some answers,” Mayer said. “Sources suggested to me that … it is highly uncomfortable for top Bush Justice officials to prosecute these cases because, inevitably, it means shining a light on what those same officials sanctioned.”
In “The Dark Side,” Mayer wrote that Helgerson was “looking into at least three deaths of CIA-held prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
One of those prisoners was Manadel al-Jamadi, who was captured by Navy SEALs outside Baghdad in November 2003.
“The CIA had identified him as a ‘high-value’ target, because he had allegedly supplied the explosives used in several atrocities perpetrated by insurgents, including the bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in October 2003,” Mayer reported in The New Yorker.
“After being removed from his house, Jamadi was manhandled by several of the SEALs, who gave him a black eye and a cut on his face; he was then transferred to CIA custody, for interrogation at Abu Ghraib. According to witnesses, Jamadi was walking and speaking when he arrived at the prison. He was taken to a shower room for interrogation. Some forty-five minutes later, he was dead.”
At the time of his death, Jamadi’s head was covered with a plastic bag, he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe and according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he suffocated.
The CIA interrogator implicated in his death was Mark Swanner, who was never charged with a crime despite a recommendation by investigators working for Helgerson that the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation into the matter.
The Swanner/Jamadi case was forwarded in 2004 to then-Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, where the file remained. McNulty is under scrutiny by a special prosecutor investigating the role he and other Bush administration officials played in the firings of nine US attorneys in 2006.
Helgerson also “had serious questions about the agency’s mistreatment of dozens more, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” Mayer wrote in her book, adding that there was a belief by some “insiders that [Helgerson’s investigation] would end with criminal charges for abusive interrogations.”
Jason Leopold is editor in chief of The Public Record, www.pubrecord.org.
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