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Disentangling Torture TapeGate
Wednesday, 12 December 2007 23:49
by Larry C. Johnson

After querying former intelligence officers and reviewing the letter from the U.S. Attorney’s in Richmond, Virginia, I can clarify some issues surrounding what’s what with respect to the question of the “destruction” of interrogation tapes and speculate on others.

The bottom line is: Jose Rodriguez, the recently retired Deputy Director of Operations, has been fingered as acting unilaterally, but that is not true. He did check with both the IG and the DO’s assigned Assistant General Counsel before destroying the DO’s copies of the tapes. Although Jose is a lawyer, he made the mistake of trusting fellow lawyers, and now is likely to get chopped up in the political meat grinder while trying to clear his name and reputation.  (UPDATE:  See today’s NY Times piece by Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti confirming Jose got a legal opinion before destroying the tapes.) 

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Why destroy the tapes? It appears that the June 2005 decision of the Italian judge to issue arrest warrants for C.I.A. officers and contractors involved in the kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in 2003 may have been the precipitating incident convincing Jose Rodriguez that Agency must destroy video tapes of terrorist interrogations. That operation was conducted with the full knowledge and approval of the Italians. If the Italians could flip on us that meant anyone could.

Let’s follow the timeline:

March 2002 – Abu Zubaydah is captured in Pakistan. George Bush is briefed regularly by George Tenet on the details of Zubaydah’s interrogation (see p. 22, State of War by James Risen). Cofer Black is in charge of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and oversees the CIA’s hunt for the terrorists. Zubaydah is interrogated in Thailand, where the sessions were filmed. He was waterboarded sometime in the May-June 2002 time frame. Enhanced interrogation methods were used and approval for them came from Jim Pavitt (see p. 21 of ABC News interview of former CIA case officer, John Kiriakou). Pavitt was the DDO (i.e., Deputy Director of Operations). Stephen Kappes, who currently serves as the Deputy Director of the CIA, was named Assistant Deputy Director of Operations in June 2002. Ron Suskind confirms Risen’s report that the President and his National Security team were regularly briefed on the results of Zubaydah’s torture sessions (see The One Percent Doctrine, pp. 111-115).

What we know for certain is that the CIA was keeping the President and his National Security team fully briefed on the methods and results of interrogating Abu Zubaydah. In fact, it is highly likely that George Tenet showed part of the videotape of the interrogation to the President.

November-December 2002 – Cofer Black leaves the C.I.A. and is sworn in as the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State. Jose A. Rodriguez takes over the helm of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.

9 May 2003 – C.I.A. declares in sworn statement to Judge Leonie Brinkema that it was not recording interrogations of terrorist suspects in any format (see p. 4 of letter to Federal Judges by U.S. attorneys Novak and Raskin).

June 2004 – George Tenet resigns as Director of the C.I.A. James Pavitt retires. Stephen Kappes replaces Pavitt as DDO.

September 2004 – Porter Goss sworn in as Director of the C.I.A.

November 2004 – Stephen Kappes resigns from the C.I.A. in a dispute with Porter Goss and the his aides. Jose Rodriguez takes over as the DDO.

late June 2005 – An Italian judge issued arrest warrants for 13 U.S. CIA agents accused of kidnapping imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Italy in 2003, and sending him to Egypt for questioning regarding possible terrorist activities.

14 November 2005 – In response to an order of the U.S. District Court for the C.I.A. to confirm or deny that it has video or audio tapes of interrogations of C.I.A. subjects, the C.I.A. the “U.S. Government does not have any video or audio tapes of the interrogations of (two terrorist suspects whose names are blacked out)” (see p. 4 of U.S. Attorney letter).

June 2006 – Michael Hayden takes over as Director of the C.I.A. and Stephen Kappes returns as the Deputy Director of the C.I.A.

13 September 2007 – C.I.A. notifies the U.S. Attorneys in Richmond, Virginia that it had discovered the videotape of the interrogation of terrorists whose names are blacked out in the declassified letter (see. p. 2 of the letter).

19 September 2007 – The U.S. Attorneys view the video tape. Attorneys direct the C.I.A. to search its files again for relevant material.

18 October 2007 – C.I.A. provides the U.S. Attorneys with an additional video tape and an audio tape of an interrogation. The U.S. Attorneys compare the video tapes with the operational cables (i.e., written reports) reporting the results of the interrogations. They determined that the reports accurately reported what was viewed on the video tape.
This is an important point – the substance of what transpired during those interrogations was given to the Moussaoui defense team.

So. Who did what?

Jose Rodriguez has the advantage of being a lawyer. I am fairly certain that he can document who he talked to and the guidance he received before taking the step of destroying the tapes. Another thing that might save him a bit is that he and Congressman Reyes are buddies, which is what Congressman Reyes may have meant when he told the NYT today that he (Reyes) “was not looking for scapegoats.”

This isn’t the first time that Jose has had his tit in a ringer. During Iran-Contra, he and another C.I.A. officer were summoned to DC for questioning by the FBI. He could prove that he had asked for, and never received, DCI confirmation through cable command channels that Ollie North’s orders were legit, and thus diplomatically told Felix Rodriguez to pound sand. However, when it was thought that he was going to be called to testify on the Hill, the DCI’s office told him that, despite what the regulations said, OGC would not provide him legal support for acting within his authority and the law. Then C.I.A. Director told Jose thru a friend that Iran-Contra was “political, get your own lawyer.”

Jose Rodriguez did not consult beforehand with Kyle “Dusty” Foggo. However, Jose did inform Dusty subsequently of the advice he received from the OGC’s counsel. Jose may not be in as much trouble as some imagined. If he destroyed the tapes before November 14, 2005 then the C.I.A. told the truth to the judge. The May 2003 date puts the onus on Jim Pavitt and George Tenet rather than Jose Rodriguez. They knew about the tapes and the C.I.A. General Counsel lied to a Federal Judge. Who told whom what then? That’s going to be the interesting question.

And last but not least. The top two Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees – the so-called “gang of eight” – were fully briefed in interrogation techniques several times during 2002-3. They concurred unanimously that the interrogation techniques were OK. This means that Democrats as well as Republicans backed this process.

All for now boys and girls. Stay tuned.
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Comments (1)add comment

Concerned citizen said:

Are you reading too much into the U.S. Attorney's letter?
"The U.S. Attorneys compare the video tapes with the operational cables (i.e., written reports) reporting the results of the interrogations. They determined that the reports accurately reported what was viewed on the video tape.
This is an important point – the substance of what transpired during those interrogations was given to the Moussaoui defense team."

This is an important assertion, and I don't see it supported by the U.S. Attorney's letter.

Too much is redacted from the letter on pages 2 and 3 to determine what the cables were compared to. There also nothing in the letter indicating that the cables in question were provided to the defense. At least so far, the judge is just getting transcripts, and it's not clear from the unredacted portions of the letter that these transcripts are complete. The defense does not even get the transcripts. And these are a small part of the videotapes, are they not? Weren't most destroyed?

This is not just about torture - these tapes would relate to (reportedly) ongoing criminal investigations of the crimes of 9/11.

December 17, 2007
Votes: +0

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