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Context Behind Cheney’s Detainee-Review Requests

Greg Sargent has obtained the request Dick Cheney filed for “CIA documents he claims will prove that torture worked.” They’re for two CIA reports:

One is dated July 13th, 2004, and numbers eight pages.

The other is dated June 1st, 2005, and numbers 13 pages.

David Kurtz remarks, “I’m a little surprised at first glance by how late those reports are dated, coming well after the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah and the 2003 capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.” But consider them in light of the timeline presented by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and other aspects of the public record. Then it’s not so surprising the documents would be issued when they’re issued.

OK, July 13, 2004. What had happened then? Two important developments. First, in May, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson had completed his review of how the interrogation program worked in practice, a still-classified document that appears to have found the agency had exceeded the boundaries demarcated for it by the 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo that gave the program legal sanction. And second, in June, the new OLC chief, Jack Goldsmith, revoked that 2002 memoranda, which sent Cheney legal adviser David Addington into a sputtering rage:

[Addington pulled] out of his jacket pocket a 3-by-5 card that listed the withdrawn opinions. “Since you’ve withdrawn so many legal opinions that the president and others have been relying on,” Addington said, according to Goldsmith, “we need you to … let us know which [of the remaining] ones you still stand by.”

It remains to be seen what’s in the July 13, 2004 memo that the CIA produced on the interrogation program. But a safe bet, given this context, is that Cheney and his bureaucratic allies wanted something from CIA to push back on the obstacles the program created by Helgerson and especially Goldsmith.

Next, June 1, 2005. No, not merely a birthday present for me. That’s the day after new OLC chief Steven Bradbury had released the final of his three May 2005 memos that reauthorized the CIA’s interrogation program — rulings that found, among other things, that waterboarding (which the CIA says it had not performed since 2003) did not cause “severe physical pain.” All the memos, taken together, determined the CIA’s interrogation program was, in every material respect, legal. But it’s likely that Cheney recognized this wouldn’t be the end of the debate on torture — either internally, or with Congress and the Courts. Having material from the CIA — especially a CIA helmed by his ally, Porter Goss — arguing for the need for the program’s continuation would be powerful ammunition for any bureaucratic fight.

Also, Marcy Wheeler has a great hunch about what one of those documents is. Here’s Marcy quoting from Bradbury’s May 30, 2005 OLC opinion:

Prior to his capture, the CIA considered KSM to be one of al Qaeda’s “most important operational leaders … based on his close relationship with Usama Bin Laden and his reputation among the al-Qa’ida rank and file.” [reference omitted] After the September 11 attacks, KSM assumed “the role of operations chief for al-Qa’ida around the world.” CIA Directorate of Intelligence, Khalid Shaykh Muhammed: Preeminent Source on Al-Qa’ida (July 13, 2004)

One wonders when the CIA was asked to put that document together, and by whom.

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