Jason Leopold

Death Threats, a Fired Bullet and Cold Cells: Hear Guantanamo Horror Stories as Mass Hunger Strike Continues

Abdulsalam Al-Hela does not understand why he and other Guantanamo prisoners reside in a perpetual state of legal limbo.

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CIA Confirms 12 of 92 Videotapes Destroyed Showed Prisoners Tortured

Heavily redacted government documents filed in a New York federal court Friday afternoon say the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes that specifically showed two detainees being tortured.

The documents were filed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. In December 2007, the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt for its destruction of the tapes in violation of a court order requiring the agency to produce or identify all records requested by the ACLU. That motion is still pending.

On Monday, the Justice Department revealed in court documents that the CIA destroyed 92 interrogation videotapes, which is now the subject of a criminal probe. According to Friday's court documents, 90 tapes relate to one detainee and two tapes relate to another detainee.

In a letter filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin said a complete list of summaries, transcripts or memoranda related to the videotapes would be filed with the court by March 20.

"The government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA's use of torture -- including waterboarding -- is no secret," said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU. "This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA's illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law."

On March 2, the Justice Department said in court documents the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes -- far more than previously known -- to prevent disclosure of evidence revealing how the agency's interrogators subjected "war on terror" detainees to waterboarding and other brutal methods.

"The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed," said a letter written by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin and filed in federal court in New York. "Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed."

Previously, the CIA had disclosed that it had destroyed two videotapes and one audiotape of harsh interrogations of detainees. The tape destruction has been the subject of a yearlong criminal investigation by John Durham, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who was appointed special prosecutor last year by Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In the March 2 filing, Dassin noted that a stay of a contempt motion filed by the ACLU seeking release of the tapes was allowed to expire on February 28 without a request for a continuation -- signaling that Durham's investigation is now complete.

In January, Durham had indicated in a court filing that he expected to wrap up his probe by the end of February. The CIA has asked the court to give the agency until Friday to produce a list of all destroyed records, any memos relating to reconstruction of those records, and identification of witnesses who may have watched the videotapes before they were destroyed.

Dassin's letter said some information sought by the ACLU may be classified or "protected from disclosure, such as the names of the CIA employees who viewed the videotapes."

Dassin said the CIA "intends to produce all of the information requested to the court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the plaintiffs."

The videotaped interrogations, which were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, were destroyed in November 2005 after The Washington Post published a story exposing the CIA's use of so-called "black site" prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects with techniques that were not legal on U.S. soil.

The Zubaydah Case

The Post's story focused on alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah and the harsh methods that the CIA used on him and other detainees. Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and was reportedly whisked to a secret prison site in Thailand for interrogation.

Initially, Zubaydah was somewhat cooperative, but later became tight-lipped when asked about alleged terrorist plots against the United States and the whereabouts of high-level al-Qaeda operatives.

In July 2002, a meeting was convened at the White House, where former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department attorney John Yoo, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's attorney David Addington, and unknown CIA officials discussed whether the CIA could interrogate Zubaydah more aggressively in order to get him to respond.

It was at this July 2002 meeting that Yoo, Gonzales and Addington gave the CIA the green light to use a wide variety of techniques, including waterboarding, on Zubaydah and other detainees at several secret prisons to "break" them and force them to cooperate with interrogators, according to an account published in Newsweek in late December 2003.

Less than a month after the meeting, on August 1, 2002, Yoo drafted a memo to Gonzales that was signed by Jay Bybee, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. That memo declared that President Bush had the legal authority to allow CIA interrogators to employ harsh tactics to extract information from detainees.

Yoo's memo -- often called the "torture meme" -- said Congress "may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."

Michael Chertoff, then head of the Justice Department's criminal division, reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.

In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods, but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.

Bush Fixated

In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the "high-value detainee" the CIA had claimed. Rather, Suskind wrote, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families.

However, "Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"

Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.

According to Suskind, Zubaydah's captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind wrote.

Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States" and added: "So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures" to get Zubaydah to talk.

The President did not want to "lose face," because he had stated Zubaydah's importance publicly, Suskind wrote.

Last year, Mukasey appointed U.S. Attorney Durham as special counsel to investigate whether the destruction of the CIA videotapes violated any laws, but did not give Durham the authority to probe whether the interrogation techniques themselves violated anti-torture laws.

In December 2008, Bush and Cheney both admitted in exit interviews that they authorized the waterboarding of Zubaydah and two other detainees.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers proposed expanding the scope of Durham's investigation in January, to include a broader review of the Bush administration's interrogation policies.

Conyers said he urged Attorney General Eric Holder to "appoint a Special Counsel or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance."

The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, will soon conduct a secret investigation into the CIA's interrogation program to determine whether the methods used against detainees worked, according to published reports.

Health-Care Crisis Endangers Economy

If the United States does not act soon to address health-care costs, federal and state governments as well as American businesses could face a cascading fiscal crisis with devastating long-term consequences, says a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

In the report entitled, "Long Term Federal Fiscal Challenge Driven Primarily by Health Care," the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said an immediate "multi-pronged solution" must be pursued before the "window of opportunity" to address the issue closes.

"Rapidly rising health-care costs are not simply a federal budget problem," said the report, prepared by Gene Dodaro, acting U.S. Comptroller General. "Growth in health-related spending is the primary driver of the fiscal challenges facing state and local governments as well.

"Unsustainable growth in health-care spending also threatens to erode the ability of employers to provide coverage to their workers and undercuts their ability to compete in a global marketplace."

Over recent decades, a patchwork U.S. approach to health care has evolved with many employers offering health insurance to workers; federal Medicare covering health costs for the elderly; state Medicaid programs providing limited care for the poor; and tens of millions of Americans uninsured.

By contrast, most industrial countries offer government-funded health insurance paid for through taxes, freeing up businesses from the direct costs and thus allowing them to charge less for their exports.

The GAO report said health-care costs are putting mounting pressure on both U.S. government budgets and the broader economy.

"Federal expenditures on Medicare and Medicaid represent a much larger, faster-growing, and more immediate problem than Social Security," the report said.

"Medicare and Medicaid are not unique in experiencing rapid spending growth, but instead this growth largely mirrors spending trends in other public health-care programs and the overall health-care system. A number of factors contribute to the rise in spending, including the use of new medical technology and market."

Complicating the long-term economic issue for the United States is the fact that for years the federal government has financed federal initiatives with surpluses in Social Security trust funds.

"When such borrowings occur, the Department of the Treasury issues federal securities to these government funds that are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government," the GAO report said.

"Although borrowing by one part of the federal government from another does not have the same economic and financial implications as borrowing from the public, it represents a claim on future resources and hence a burden on future taxpayers and the future economy.

"If federal securities held by those funds are included, the federal government's total debt is much higher -- about $9 trillion as of the end of fiscal year 2007."

Senate Testimony

Last month, before the Senate Finance Committee, Dodaro testified that immediate health-care reform is essential.

Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office who also testified, said "health-care spending is the single most important factor determining the nation's long-term fiscal condition" and added that the U.S. political system is not very good at addressing long-term problems.

"But the problems caused by rising health-care costs are not just long-term ones," Orszag said. "In fact, some of them are already having significant effects on various aspects of our society.

"Health-care costs are already reducing workers' take-home pay to a degree that is both underappreciated and at least partially unnecessary, consuming roughly a quarter of the federal budget, and putting substantial pressure on state budgets (mostly through the Medicaid program), thereby constraining funding for other governmental priorities."

Orszag said the federal government has dealt with this economic crisis by continuing to borrow heavily from other countries, which he said may not be sustainable.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that since 1975, health-care spending per capita has outpaced overall economic growth at a rate of 2.4 percent faster in Medicare, 2.2 percent faster in Medicaid, and 2 percent faster in other health-related areas.

"Unless we act, in 2030, the federal budget deficit will grow to more than 10 percent of the economy," Baucus said. "In 2050, it will be more than 22 percent of the economy. And by 2082, it will exceed 54 percent of the economy.

"These deficits would dwarf the post-World-War-II record of 6.3 percent in 1983. If we control health-care costs, then along with prudent policies for the rest of the budget, we will be able to control federal budget deficits. But if we fail to control health-care costs, it won't matter what else we do in the rest of the budget. We will have no hope of keeping federal budget deficits under control."

The GAO report supported Baucus's dire economic predictions.

"Health-care costs are growing much faster than the economy, and the nation's population is aging," the GAO report says. "These drivers will soon place unprecedented, growing and long-lasting stress on the federal budget. Absent action, debt held by the public will grow to unsustainable levels."

Providing taxpayers with affordable health care has been a cornerstone of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign. He favors a mix of incentives, subsidies and mandates to individual and employers that largely would leave in place the private health-insurance industry.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has offered a health-insurance plan weighted toward tax incentives, similar to the one favored by President George W. Bush.

Tough Choices

The GAO also recommended tax increases and spending cuts to deal with the looming fiscal crisis. However, in an election year, it's unlikely either presidential candidate would embrace that idea.

McCain has vowed not only to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent but lower other taxes as well.

Baucus agreed that the fiscal issue requires immediate attention, but he recognized that it's unlikely that lawmakers will take action to address the crisis until a new administration takes office in 2009.

By then the issue will surely be worse, the GAO report said.

"The longer action on reforming heath care and Social Security is delayed, the more painful and difficult the choices will become. Simply put, the federal budget is on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path that is getting worse with the passage of time. The window for timely action is shrinking."

Bush Operative Pushes Voter-ID Law

Mark "Thor" Hearne, Bush-Cheney's national counsel in 2004 and now a partner in the St. Louis, Missouri, firm of Lathrop & Gage, has been collaborating with Missouri's Republican state Rep. Stanley Cox, the sponsor of the constitutional amendment, Cox's office confirmed this week.

For years, Hearne has been a leading Republican figure demanding stricter voter-identification laws and popularizing claims about widespread voter fraud, although many election experts dismiss such alarms as hyperbole.

During the 2004 campaign, Hearne reportedly worked with White House political adviser Karl Rove on "voter fraud" issues and spearheaded GOP efforts to challenge voter-registration drives by pro-Democratic groups.

According to a posting at his law firm's Web site, "Hearne traveled to every battleground state and oversaw more than 65 different lawsuits that concerned the conduct of the election."

Hearne also has shown up as a background figure in the Bush administration's scandal that erupted over the firing of nine federal prosecutors, some of whom came under White House criticism for not seeking pre-election voter fraud indictments in 2006.

More recently, Hearne has been instrumental in pushing state lawmakers to pass strict voter identification laws in Missouri, New Mexico, Indiana and other states. The Indiana voter-ID law recently was upheld by the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hearne conducted much of this work through his now defunct organization, the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), which called itself a non-partisan group defending voter rights and seeking to enhance public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections.

However, an investigation into ACVR by blogger Brad Friedman reported that it concentrated on stricter voter-ID laws. "Thor Hearne helped to write that Indiana law, then Thor Hearne submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of Republican U.S. Congress members in support of it."

GOP Strategy

Rather than an epidemic of illegal voters casting ballots, some election experts point to a nationwide Republican strategy of exploiting those concerns to depress the voting of low-income and minority citizens and thus boost the chances of GOP candidates.

Joseph Rich, formerly chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said that under the Bush administration the department "shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights."

"Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections," Rich wrote in a March 29, 2007, op-ed in The Los Angeles Times.

"From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities."

One of the chief advocates for tilting the Justice Departments scales in the direction of voter fraud was Hearne, who has testified widely urging that voter fraud, not voter suppression, should be the government's priority

However, Justin Levitt, an attorney and an expert on voting issues who teaches at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, wrote last year that "the notion of widespread voter fraud ... is itself a fraud. Evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy."

The numbers are fairly small. From October 2002 to September 2005, 95 people were indicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Seventy resulted in convictions. Only eighteen of those were for ineligible voting.

Voting Fraud Myth?

In March, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a hearing to determine whether voter fraud is a "myth" and if voter identification laws actually disenfranchise legitimate voters.

Former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who was one of nine prosecutors fired around the 2006 election, told the panel that he established an election fraud task force in September 2004 and spent more than two months probing claims of voter fraud in his state.

"After examining the evidence, and in conjunction with the Justice Department Election Crimes Unit and the FBI, I could not find any cases I could prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt," Iglesias said. "Accordingly, I did not authorize any voter fraud related prosecutions."

Iglesias said he is certain that his firing was due, in part, to the fact that he would not file criminal charges of voter fraud in New Mexico.

Iglesias added that, based on "Karl Rove's obsession with voter fraud issues throughout the country," he now believes GOP operatives wanted him to go after pro-Democratic organizations in an attempt to swing the 2006 midterm elections to Republicans.

Iglesias said in an interview that Hearne's associate, Pat Rogers, a Republican attorney in Albuquerque, and Mickey Barnett, a Republican lobbyist, pressured him to bring charges of voter fraud. Iglesias also came under pressure from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico.

After Iglesias was fired, Rogers, the former chief counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party, emerged as Domenici's favorite to be the new U.S. Attorney for New Mexico.

In previous e-mails exchanges, Rogers insisted that he did not play a role in Iglesias's firing and categorically denied that he pressured Iglesias to bring charges of voter fraud against Democrats.

Shortly after details of Iglesias's firing surfaced, Hearne's ACVR Web site was dismantled.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which is still investigating the U.S. Attorney firings, interviewed Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias's former executive assistant, to find out whether he was pressured by Rogers, Barnett or Hearne to file criminal charges of voter fraud in the state in 2004.

During his tenure in the U.S. Attorney's office, Armijo was in charge of voter issues and worked with Iglesias's task force to probe the matter, Iglesias confirmed.

Missouri Cases

In Missouri, U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was another federal prosecutor who fell into disfavor with the Bush administration because of alleged inaction on voter fraud issues.

Graves would not file criminal charges of voter fraud against four employees of ACORN, a group that registers low-income individuals who tend to cast votes for Democrats, according to documents later released by the Justice Department in connection with the fired-prosecutors probe.

Graves also resisted pressure from Justice Department official Bradley Scholzman to file a civil suit against Robin Carnahan, Missouri's Democratic Secretary of State, on charges that Carnahan failed to take action on cases of voter fraud, Graves testified last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Graves was forced to resign in March 2006 and was replaced by Schlozman, who as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division's voting-rights section had clashed with Graves.

ohn McKay, the U.S. Attorney from Washington State who also was ousted in the purge, said "many U.S. attorneys were concerned when Mr. Schlozman was appointed" to replace Graves.

Schlozman "was the deputy in the [Justice Department's] civil rights division, but I don't think he had the sort of background and experience we would have expected as a United States Attorney," McKay told me in an interview last year.

"So I would say it would be true that many eyebrows were raised when he was first appointed. Of course, we didn't know that Todd Graves had been forced to resign ... and it appears that he was forced to resign at least in part because Mr. Schlozman himself was trying to push the prosecution of voter fraud cases."

Schlozman filed federal criminal charges of voter fraud against members of ACORN only days before the November 2006 mid-term elections. The case was later dismissed and Schlozman came under criticism for breaking with longstanding Justice Department policy against bringing voter fraud charges close to an election.

Schlozman testified before a Senate committee last year that he received approval to file the voter fraud charges from a Justice Department official who was instrumental in drafting the guidelines urging that U.S. Attorneys avoid filing charges claiming voter fraud at the height of an election.

At the time, Iglesias stated that he had worked with the same Election Crimes Unit attorney and simply did "not believe" Schlozman's testimony.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division also filed a civil suit against Missouri's Secretary of State Carnahan but it was dismissed by a federal court judge who ruled, "The United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of deficiencies alleged by the United States. Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."

Hearne took part in a conference call during the 2004 presidential campaign with several high-ranking Bush administration officials who discussed strategies for suppressing votes in battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, where Bush was in tight races with Democratic nominee John Kerry.

An e-mail dated Sept. 30, 2004, and sent to about a dozen staffers on the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC, under the subject line "voter reg [sic] fraud strategy conference call," describes how campaign staffers planned to challenge the veracity of votes in a handful of battleground states, such as Ohio, in the event of a Democratic victory.

E-mails among Ohio Republican Party official Michael Magan, national field director of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign Coddy Johnson, and close Rove associate Timothy Griffin reveal the men were given documents that could be used as evidence to justify widespread voter challenges if the Bush campaign needed to contest the election results.

The documents, which Hearne and his counterparts had obtained, were lists of registered voters who did not return address confirmation forms to the Ohio Board of Elections. The Republican operatives compared this list with lists of voters who requested absentee ballots.

In the opinion of one strategist, the fact that many names appeared on both lists was evidence of voter fraud.

"A bad registration card can be an accident or fraud. A bad card AND an Absentee Ballot request is a clear case of fraud," former Bush-Cheney campaign staffer Robert Paduchik wrote in a 2004 e-mail.

Bush-Cheney field director Johnson called the documents a "goldmine."

But Christopher McInerney, a RNC researcher, warned his colleagues at the time that if "other states ... don't have flagged voter rolls, we run the risk of having GOP fingerprints."

As it turned out, the Ohio documents were not needed since the official tally put George W. Bush narrowly ahead and -- despite allegations of Republican misconduct -- Kerry chose not to demand a statewide recount.

In mid-2006, Griffin expressed an interest in becoming the U.S. attorney in Arkansas. The Justice Department then forced out Bud Cummins, the state's U.S. attorney, to make room for Griffin, who subsequently resigned amid the fired-prosecutors scandal.

Campaign 2008

Since the 2006 elections, the Republican strategy has focused more on passing legislation that forces voters to produce photo IDs or even proof of citizenship in order to cast a ballot.

Already, there are signs that legitimate voters are being turned away in the face of such laws. In the May 6 Indiana primary, 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s were prevented from voting because they lacked acceptable IDs.

Now, Missouri and about 19 other states are considering passing laws that require proof of citizenship to vote.

Missouri's Secretary of State Carnahan estimates that the amendment could disenfranchise some 300,000 voters this November -- because they would have trouble acquiring the required documentation -- in order to weed out possibly a few dozen ineligible voters.

Cox, the amendment's sponsor, argues that it would block illegal immigrants from voting and combat voter fraud. The proposed amendment reads:

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White House Used Twisted Health Language to Justify Torture

John Yoo, the author of the infamous Aug. 1, 2002, "torture memo" that formed the legal basis for so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques against high-level terrorist detainees, used a statute governing health benefits when he provided the White House with a legal opinion defining torture, according to a former Justice Department official.

Yoo's legal opinion stated that unless the amount of pain administered to a detainee results in injury "such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions" than the interrogation technique could not be defined as torture.

Waterboarding, a brutal and painful technique in which a prisoner believes he is drowning, therefore was not considered to be torture.

Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, said that Yoo, a former OLC attorney who now teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, arrived at that definition by relying on statute written in 2000 related to health benefits.

"That statute defined an 'emergency medical condition' that warranted certain health benefits as a condition 'manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain)' such that the absence of immediate medical care might reasonably be thought to result in death, organ failure, or impairment of bodily function," Goldsmith wrote in his book, The Terror Presidency.

"The health benefits statute's use of 'severe pain' had no relationship whatsoever to the torture statute. And even if it did, the health benefit statute did not define 'severe pain.' Rather it used the term 'severe pain' as a sign of an emergency medical condition that, if not treated, might cause organ failure and the like ... OLC's clumsily definitional arbitrage didn't seem even in the ballpark."

Earlier this week, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, wrote a letter to the Justice Department's inspector general and the agency's office of professional responsibility requesting an investigation into the department's authorization of waterboarding, specifically, how Yoo and others in the OLC formed the legal basis for waterboarding and whether DOJ standards and policies were met when OLC reached it's conclusions on the technique.

"Did Justice Department officials who advised the CIA that waterboarding is lawful perform legal work that meets applicable standards of professional responsibility and internal Justice Department policies and standards? For example, did these officials consider all relevant legal precedents, including those that appear to contradict directly their conclusion that waterboarding is lawful?" stated Durbin's Feb. 12 letter to DOJ Inspector General Glen Fine.

On Feb. 13, the Senate narrowly passed legislation banning waterboarding as well as other brutal interrogation tactics used by the CIA. President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation.

Goldsmith claims that after reviewing various arguments and opinions in Yoo's August 2002 "torture memo," particularly "any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of battlefield detainees would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the president, has no foundation in prior OLC opinions, or in judicial decisions, or in any other source of law."

Goldsmith, who was tapped to head the OLC in October 2003, determined after eight weeks as head of OLC that Yoo's "torture memo" was "legally flawed," sloppily written, and called into question whether the White House was provided with sound legal advice.

That conclusion, along with Yoo's reliance on a health benefits statute to form a legal opinion regarding torture, may factor into whether the DOJ's inspector general and office of professional responsibility decide to probe the matter.

"On an issue that demanded the greatest of care, OLC's analysis of the law of torture in the Aug. 1, 2002, opinion and the March 2003 opinion was legally flawed, tendentious in substance and tone, and overbroad and thus largely unnecessary," Goldsmith wrote in his book.

When he arrived at the OLC in October 2003, Goldsmith was unaware that the CIA had, for more than a year, used interrogation methods to extract information from so-called high-level detainees held at secret prisons in European countries that, before 9/11, would have most certainly been construed as violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed by the U.S. but one that Congress had made unenforceable in U.S. courts.

Goldsmith, who had worked at the Pentagon's office of general counsel, may appear to be one of a handful of individuals who challenged the White House on matters of national security matters but he was still a strong supporter of many of the administration's policies.

A law professor and scholar on international law who graduated from Oxford and Yale universities, Goldsmith held the view that international laws that prohibited human rights abuses should not be considered as binding by courts in the United States.

Goldsmith's interpretation of international laws, as well as his staunch conservative credentials, played a crucial role in his transition from the Pentagon's office of general counsel to director of the OLC at the Justice Department.

Upon his arrival at the DOJ, Goldsmith inherited a stack of legal opinions, some written by Yoo, who he counts as a close friend.

Yoo's legal opinions virtually gave President Bush unilateral authority to launch preemptive military strikes against any regime suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, provided Bush with the power to begin a covert domestic surveillance program, and authorized the president to allow CIA agents to interrogate alleged terrorist detainees using brutal methods of interrogation as long as it didn't result in death or maiming of the prisoner.

White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and his legal counsel, David Addington, believed that Goldsmith would reauthorize Yoo's legal opinions after arriving at the DOJ so the wide range of classified programs would continue without interruption.

But eight weeks after he settled into his new job Goldsmith said, according to his book that he worried "about the possibility of excessive interrogation" being undertaken by CIA agents after reviewing some of the legal documents written by his predecessors.

Patrick Philbin, at the time a deputy at the OLC who had provided the White House with legal advice following Yoo's departure from the office, advised Goldsmith soon after he arrived at OLC that he was working to correct one such OLC opinion written by Yoo that he believed was "out there."

The legal opinion that so worried Philbin was Yoo's "Standards of Conduct for Interrogation," which formed the legal basis for the Bush administration's so-called "enhanced" interrogation program.

Another opinion written by Yoo on March 14, 2003, for Jim Haynes, Goldsmith's former boss at the Pentagon under the heading "Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States," provided the Department of Defense, specifically former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with authority to use the same interrogation techniques against high-level prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and other facilities maintained under the DOD's control. That opinion remains classified.

According to Goldsmith, "the primary legal issue in both opinions was the effect of a 1994 law that implemented a global treaty banning torture and that made it a crime, potentially punishable by death, to commit torture."

"Congress defined the prohibition on torture very narrowly to ban only the most extreme of acts and to preserve many loopholes," Goldsmith wrote in his book.

It did not criminalize cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (something prohibited by international law) and did not even criminalize all acts of physical or mental pain or suffering, but rather only those acts "specifically intended" to cause "severe" physical pain or suffering or "prolonged mental harm."

Both of Yoo's opinions concluded that the laws governing torture violated President Bush's Commander-in-Chief powers under the Constitution because it prevented him "from gaining the intelligence he believes necessary to prevent attacks upon the United States."

Goldsmith said that even though, "ironically," Yoo relied on a health benefits statute to write his legal opinion, these and "other questionable statutory interpretations, taken alone, were not enough to cause me to withdraw and replace the interrogation opinions."

"OLC has a powerful tradition of adhering to its past opinions, even when a head of the office concludes they are wrong," he wrote in his book.

Still, Goldsmith "decided in December 2003 that opinions written nine and sixteen months earlier by my Bush administration predecessors must be withdrawn, corrected, and replaced," Goldsmith wrote in his book.

"I reached this decision, and had begun to act on it, before I knew anything about interrogation abuses. I did so because the opinions' errors of statutory interpretation combined with many other elements to make them unusually worrisome."

CIA Leak Scandal Goes to the Top

Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley led a campaign beginning in March 2003 to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for publicly criticizing the Bush administration's intelligence on Iraq, according to current and former administration officials.

The officials work or had worked in the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council in a senior capacity and had direct knowledge of the Vice President's campaign to discredit Wilson.

In interviews over the course of two days this week, these officials were urged to speak on the record for this story. But they resisted, saying they had already testified before a grand jury investigating the leak of Wilson's wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and added that speaking out against the administration and specifically Vice President Cheney would cause them to lose their jobs and subject their families to vitriolic attacks by the White House.

The officials said they decided to speak out now because they have become disillusioned with the Bush administration's policies regarding Iraq and the flawed intelligence that led to the war.

They said their roles, along with several others at the CIA and State Department, included digging up or "inventing" embarrassing information on the former Ambassador that could be used against him, preparing memos and classified material on Wilson for Cheney and the National Security Council, and attending meetings in Cheney's office to discuss with Cheney, Hadley, and others the efforts that would be taken to discredit Wilson.

A former CIA official who has worked in the counter-proliferation division, and is familiar with the undercover work Wilson's wife did for the agency, said Cheney and Hadley visited CIA headquarters a day or two after Joseph Wilson was interviewed on CNN.

These were the first public comments Wilson had made about Iraq. He said the administration was more interested in redrawing the map of the Middle East to pursue its own foreign policy objectives than in dealing with the so-called terrorist threat.

"The underlying objective, as I see it, the more I look at this, is less and less disarmament, and it really has little to do with terrorism, because everybody knows that a war to invade and conquer and occupy Iraq is going to spawn a new generation of terrorists," Wilson said in a March 2, 2003, interview with CNN.

"So you look at what's underpinning this, and you go back and you take a look at who's been influencing the process. And it's been those who really believe that our objective must be far grander, and that is to redraw the political map of the Middle East," Wilson added.

This was the first time that Wilson had spoken out publicly against the administration's policies. It was two and a half weeks before the start of the Iraq war.

But it wasn't Wilson who Cheney was so upset about when he visited the CIA in March 2003.

During the same CNN segment in which Wilson was interviewed, former United Nations weapons inspector David Albright made similar comments about the rationale for the Iraq war and added that he believed UN weapons inspectors should be given more time to search the country for weapons of mass destruction.

The National Security Council and CIA officials said Cheney had visited CIA headquarters and asked several CIA officials to dig up dirt on Albright, and to put together a dossier that would discredit his work that could be distributed to the media.

"Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright," the CIA official said. "The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The Vice President felt Mr. Albright's remarks would fuel the debate."

The officials said a "binder" was sent to the Vice President's office that contained material that could be used by the White House to discredit Albright if he continued to comment on the administration's war plans. However, it's unclear whether Cheney or other White House officials used the information against Albright.

A week later, Wilson was interviewed on CNN again. This was the first time Wilson ridiculed the Bush administration's intelligence that claimed Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger.

"Well, this particular case is outrageous. We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger, and for something like this to go unchallenged by US -- the US government -- is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early '60s. All this stuff is open. It's a restricted market of buyers and sellers," Wilson said in the March 8, 2003, CNN interview. "For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq."

What Wilson wasn't at liberty to disclose during that interview, because the information was still classified, was that he had personally traveled to Niger a year earlier on behalf of the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had in fact tried to purchase uranium from the African country. Cheney had asked the CIA in 2002 to look into the allegation, which turned out to be based on forged documents, but was included in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address nonetheless.

Wilson's comments enraged Cheney, all of the officials said, because they were seen as a personal attack against the Vice President, who was instrumental in getting the intelligence community to cite the Niger claims in government reports to build a case for war against Iraq.

The former Ambassador's stinging rebuke also caught the attention of Stephen Hadley, who played an even bigger role in the Niger controversy, having been responsible for allowing President Bush to cite the allegations in his State of the Union address.

At this time, the international community, various media outlets, and the International Atomic Energy Association had called into question the veracity of the Niger documents. Mohammed ElBaradei, head of IAEA, told the UN Security Council on March 7, 2003, that the Niger documents were forgeries and could not be used to prove Iraq was a nuclear threat.

Wilson's comments in addition to ElBaradei's UN report were seen as a threat to the administration's attack plans against Iraq, the officials said, which would take place 11 days later.

Hadley had avoided making public comments about the veracity of the Niger documents, going as far as ignoring a written request by IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei to share the intelligence with his agency so his inspectors could verify the claims. Hadley is said to have known the Niger documents were crude forgeries, but pushed the administration to cite it as evidence that Iraq was a nuclear threat, according to the State Department officials, who said they personally told Hadley in a written report that the documents were bogus.

The CIA and State Department officials said that a day after Wilson's March 8, 2003, CNN appearance, they attended a meeting at the Vice President's office chaired by Cheney, and it was there that a decision was made to discredit Wilson. Those who attended the meeting included I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff who was indicted in October for lying to investigators, perjury and obstruction of justice related to his role in the Plame Wilson leak, Hadley, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and John Hannah, Cheney's deputy national security adviser, the officials said.

"The way I remember it," the CIA official said about that first meeting he attended in Cheney's office, "is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an 'asshole,' a son-of-a-bitch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress."

A spokeswoman for Cheney would not comment for this story, saying the investigation into the leak is ongoing. The spokeswoman refused to give her name. Additional calls made to Cheney's office were not returned.

The CIA, State Department and National Security Council officials said that early on they had passed on information about Wilson to Cheney and Libby that purportedly showed Wilson as being a "womanizer" and that he had dabbled in drugs during his youth, allegations that are apparently false, they said.

The officials said that during the meeting, Hadley said he would respond to Wilson's comments by writing an editorial about the Iraqi threat, which it was hoped would be a first step in overshadowing Wilson's CNN appearance.

A column written by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune on February 16, 2003, was redistributed to newspaper editors by the State Department on March 10, 2003, two days after Wilson was interviewed on CNN. The column, "Two Potent Iraqi Weapons: Denial and Deception" once again raised the issue that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger.

Cheney appeared on Meet the Press on March 16, 2003, to respond to ElBaradei's assertion that the Niger documents were forgeries.

"I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong," Cheney said during the interview. "[The IAEA] has consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don't have any reason to believe they're any more valid this time than they've been in the past."

Cheney knew the State Department had prepared a report saying the Niger claims were false, but he thought the report had no merit, the two State Department officials said. Meanwhile, the CIA was preparing information for the vice president and his senior aides on Wilson should the former ambassador decide to speak out against the administration again.

Behind the scenes, Wilson had been speaking to various members of Congress about the administration's use of the Niger documents and had said the intelligence the White House relied upon was flawed, said one of the State Department officials who had a conversation with Wilson. Wilson's criticism of the administration's intelligence eventually leaked out to reporters, but with the Iraq war just a week away, the story was never covered.

It's unclear whether anyone disseminated information on Wilson in March 2003, following the meeting in Cheney's office. Although the officials said they helped prepare negative information on Wilson about his personal and professional life and had given it to Libby and Cheney, Wilson seemed to drop off the radar once the Iraq war started on March 19, 2003.

With no sign of weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq, news accounts started to call into question the credibility of the administration's pre-war intelligence. In May 2003, Wilson re-emerged at a political conference in Washington sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. There he told the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff that he had been the special envoy who traveled to Niger in February 2002 to check out allegations that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from the country. He told Kristoff he briefed a CIA analyst that the claims were untrue. Wilson said he believed the administration had ignored his report and were dishonest with Congress and the American people.

When Kristoff's column was published in the Times, the CIA official said, "a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said 'the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.' I'm paraphrasing. But that's more or less what I was asked to find out."

In his column, Kristoff Had accused Cheney of allowing the truth about the Niger documents the administration used to build a case for war to go "missing in action." The failure of US armed forces to find any WMDs in Iraq in two months following the start of the war had been blamed on Cheney.

What in the previous months had been a request to gather information that could be used to discredit Wilson now turned into a full-scale effort involving the Office of the Vice President, the National Security Council, and the State Department to find out how Wilson came to be chosen to investigate the Niger uranium allegations.

"Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down," the CIA official said. "This wasn't just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion."

Cheney was personally involved in this aspect of the information gathering process as well, visiting CIA headquarters to inquire about Wilson, the CIA official said. Hadley had also raised questions about Wilson during this month with the State Department officials and asked that information regarding Wilson's trip to Niger be sent to his attention at the National Security Council.

That's when Valerie Plame Wilson's name popped up showing that she was a covert CIA operative. The former CIA official who works in the counter-proliferation division said another meeting about Wilson took place in Cheney's office, attended by the same individuals who were there in March. But Cheney didn't take part in it, the officials said.

"Libby led the meeting," one of the State Department officials said. "But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was."

The officials said that as of late May 2003 the only correspondence they had had was with Libby and Hadley. They said they were unaware who had made the decision to unmask Plame Wilson's undercover CIA status to a handful of reporters.

George Tenet, the former director of the CIA, took responsibility for allowing what is widely referred to as the infamous "sixteen words" to be included in Bush's State of the Union address. Tenet's mea culpa came one day after Wilson penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which he accused the administration of "twisting" intelligence on Iraq. In the column, Wilson revealed that he was the special envoy who traveled to Niger to investigate the uranium claims.

Tenet is working on a book titled At the Center of the Storm with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, which it is expected will be published later this year. Tenet will reportedly come clean on how the "sixteen words made it into the President's State of the Union speech, according to publishersmarketplace.com, an industry newsletter.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Plame Wilson leak for more than two years, questioned Cheney about his role in the leak in 2004. Cheney did not testify under oath, and it's unknown what he told the special prosecutor.

On September 14, 2003, during an interview with Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press," Cheney maintained that he didn't know Wilson or have any knowledge about his Niger trip or who was responsible for leaking his wife's name to the media.

"I don't know Joe Wilson," Cheney said, in response to Russert, who quoted Wilson as saying there was no truth to the Niger uranium claims. "I've never met Joe Wilson. And Joe Wilson -- I don't who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back … I don't know Mr. Wilson. I probably shouldn't judge him. I have no idea who hired him."


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