It's Auto-Blue on Blue as Michael Isikoff of Newsweek takes on Michael Isikoff of Newsweek in an enhanced interrogation smackdown. First, let's hear from Isikoff 2010, who has found an oddity in the new report on Bybee, Yoo and the torture opinions:
A crucial CIA memo that has been cited by former Vice President Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials as justifying the effectiveness of waterboarding contained “plainly inaccurate information” that undermined its conclusions, according to Justice Department investigators.
...But a just released report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility into the lawyers who approved the CIA’s interrogation program could prove awkward for Cheney and his supporters. The report provides new information about the contents of one of the never released agency memos, concluding that it significantly misstated the timing of the capture of one Al Qaeda suspect in order to make a claim that seems to have been patently false.
The CIA memo, called the Effectiveness Memo, was especially important because it was relied on by Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department’s acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, to write memos in 2005 and 2007 giving the agency additional legal approvals to continue its program of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” The memo reviewed the results of the use of EITs – which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity – mainly against two suspects” Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the report states. One key claim in the agency memo was that the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogations of Zubaydah led to the capture of suspected “dirty bomb’ plotter Jose Padilla. “Abu Zubaydah provided significant information on two operatives, Jose Padilla and Binyam Mohammed, who planned to build and detonate a ‘dirty bomb’ in the Washington DC area,” the CIA memo stated, according to the OPR report. “Zubaydah’s reporting led to the arrest of Padilla on his arrival in Chicago in May 2003 [sic].”
But as the Justice report points out, this was wrong. “In fact, Padilla was arrested in May 2002, not 2003 … The information ‘[leading] to the arrest of Padilla’ could not have been obtained through the authorized use of EITs.” (The use of enhanced interrogations was not authorized until Aug. 1, 2002 and Zubaydah was not waterboarded until later that month.) “ Yet Bradbury relied upon this plainly inaccurate information” in two OLC memos that contained direct citations from the CIA Effectiveness Memo about the interrogations of Zubaydah, the Justice report states.
As Newsweek reported last year, the information about Padilla’s plot was actually elicited from Zubaydah during traditional interrogations in the spring of 2002 by two FBI agents, one of whom, Ali Soufan, vigorously objected when the CIA started using aggressive tactics.
I assume the OPR is emphasizing the word "authorized" above. But wait a second! Did Isikoff even re-read what he reported last year? Geez, I cited it as evidence that Ali Soufan was blowing smoke. Here we go, from Isikoff.2009, lead paragraph:
The arguments at the CIA safe house were loud and intense in the spring of 2002. Inside, a high-value terror suspect, Abu Zubaydah, was handcuffed to a gurney. He had been wounded during his capture in Pakistan and still had bullet fragments in his stomach, leg and groin. Agency operatives were aiming to crack him with rough and unorthodox interrogation tactics—including stripping him nude, turning down the temperature and bombarding him with loud music. But one impassioned young FBI agent wanted nothing to do with it. He tried to stop them.
Spring of 2002. Not August. David Johnston of the Times reported on "early spring" start to the rough stuff in a 2006 story; the DoJ Inspector General report said the CIA took over with what FBI agents said was "border line torture" within a few days of Zubaydh's arrest (page 111.) But let's stick with Isikoff.2009:
...As Soufan tells the story, he challenged a CIA official at the scene about the agency's legal authority to do what it was doing. "We're the United States of America, and we don't do that kind of thing," he recalls shouting at one point. But the CIA official, whom Soufan refuses to name because the agent's identity is still classified, brushed aside Soufan's concerns. He told him in April 2002 that the aggressive techniques already had gotten approval from the "highest levels" in Washington, says Soufan. The official even waved a document in front of Soufan, saying the approvals "are coming from Gonzales," a reference to Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel and later the attorney general. (A lawyer for Gonzales declined to comment.)
Gonzales was not in DoJ and the approvals apparently preceded the paperwork from the OLC, but Isikoff.2009 was quite clear that the CIA thought they had approval from someone in authority to engage in rough stuff in April 2002. What sort of things? Well, not waterboarding - that came later. More Isikoff.2009, with my emphasis:
What this document was—and what, exactly, it authorized—is unclear. Soufan notes that, at that point, there had not been any talk in his presence of waterboarding, the most extreme of the techniques. But, as he later told Justice Department investigators, Soufan considered the methods he witnessed to be "borderline torture." A CIA spokesman declined to comment on what Soufan may have been shown, but wrote in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK: "The Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Department of Justice wasn't the first piece of legal guidance for the [interrogation] program." "There are still gaping holes in the record," says Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who spearheaded the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced the disclosure of the Justice memos. The ACLU is now suing for further disclosures.
But now Isikoff.2010 wants to believe!
As to what this means for the OPR investigators and their report, who knows? Their claim is that since there was no OLC approval prior to Aug 1, 2002, no authorized enhanced interrogations could have occurred before that date. From that they infer that no enhanced interrogations could have occurred before that date. Yet their own IG report contradicts that timeline.
So where are we? Isikoff doesn't read Isikoff, the DoJ doesn't read the DoJ, but they all know enhanced interrogation can't be effective.
PILING ON: Adam Serwer of TAPPED also wants to believe. I was pretty sure his post would be a useful target when I saw the title: "Another Thiessen Claim Proved False."
My gloomy experience with the Tappers is that "Proved" generally means "I wish" and "False" often means "True". Still, I liked this from Serwer:
This not only acts as a refutation of Thiessen's claim about Zubaydah but calls into question the effectiveness of torture in general, since it was one of the examples Steven Bradbury had used to claim that the "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" had worked.
Everyone makes mistakes, but given the centrality of these new facts to Thiessen's arguments about torture, he should acknowledge them.
I am holding my breath waiting for Mr. Serwer to lead by example.
STILL MORE: Greg Sargent couldn't even be bothered to re-read the Isikoff 2009 article to which Isikoff linked, and offers this:
In essence, the classified memo cited by Cheney stated that the CIA torture of Abu Zubaydah led to the capture of suspected “dirty bomb’ plotter Jose Padilla in 2003. But as Isikoff reports, the newly-released docs point out that Padilla was arrested in 2002 — so torture couldn’t have secured his capture.
This also appears to vindicate claims by former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who said he obtained all the crucial info from Zubaydah through non-enhanced methods. And as Adam Serwer points out, it seems to blow a hole in former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen’s claims about Soufan and about the efficacy of waterboarding in general.But here’s my question about this. Cheney’s claim that documents would prove torture worked got reams and reams of press coverage. Will the fact that we now know that one of the docs he cited was “plainly inaccurate” get even a fraction of the attention his initial claims did?
It must be a real strain to be "reality-based" - there is an awful lot of invented reality to keep track of.