For a while now, it’s been clear that, as former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan testified earlier this month, Abu Zubaydah was tortured well before the Justice Department issued its first opinion approving enhanced interrogation techniques in August 2002.
So we’ve been wondering about the procedure by which that treatment was authorized. And it looks like a crucial new report from NPR may have offered an answer.
It reported Wednesday:
One source with knowledge of Zubaydah’s interrogations agreed to describe the legal guidance process, on the condition of anonymity.
The source says nearly every day, [CIA contractor James] Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.
In other words, the White House — in the person of one Alberto Gonzales — directly signed of on the techniques.
NPR bolsters that account with this:
A new document is consistent with the source’s account.
The CIA sent the ACLU a spreadsheet late Tuesday as part of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. The log shows the number of top-secret cables that went from Zubaydah’s black site prison to CIA headquarters each day. Through the spring and summer of 2002, the log shows, someone sent headquarters several cables a day.
Of course, if things did indeed go down this way, the CIA would also deserve a lot of the blame for accepting the White House’s sign-off as adequate. As Brad Berenson — a White House counsel at the time who wasn’t involved in the issue — told NPR: “[O]rdinarily the White House counsel’s office is not in the business of providing advice to anyone outside the White House itself.”
Of course, President Bush eventually got around this problem by just sending Gonzo to run the Justice Department.