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The Central Intelligence Agency must turn over records regarding detainee interrogation tapes the agency destroyed in an alleged effort to protect the identity of its officers.
A federal judge rejected the CIA’s attempt to withhold records relating to the agency’s destruction of 92 videotapes that depicted interrogation of CIA prisoners in a ruling Friday afternoon. The tapes were said to have shown some detainees’ torture.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing for the documents’ release under the Freedom of Information Act, and aims to have the agency held in contempt of court for refusing to provide them.
The ACLU has been remarkably successful at obtaining previously secret government documents. President Barack Obama was recently forced to release Bush administration memos which outlined torture techniques to be employed on detainees.
ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh lauded the court’s decision.
“We welcome the court’s recognition that the ACLU’s contempt motion against the CIA must be promptly resolved,” Singh said in a release. “Recent disclosures about the CIA’s torture methods further confirm that there is no basis for the agency to continue to withhold records relating to the content of the destroyed videotapes or documents that shed light upon who authorized their destruction and why.
“The public has a right to this information and the CIA must be held accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law,” Singh added.
In a release, the civil liberties group noted “the CIA had previously said it would only turn over documents from August 2002 that relate to the content of the videotapes. But U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York today ordered the CIA to produce records from April through December 2002 that relate to the content of the tapes, as well as documents from April 2002 through June 2003 that related to the destruction of the tapes and information about the persons and reasons behind their destruction.”
“Judge Hellerstein also ordered the government to reconsider the extent of redactions it intends to make to the documents in light of last week’s release, also as part of the ACLU’s FOIA litigation, of four secret memos used by the Bush administration to justify torture,” the release adds. “In addition, the court ordered the government to explain whether contempt proceedings would interfere with a federal criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes led by prosecutor John Durham.”
Issue dated Dec 22, 2008
It is one of the darkly iconic scenes of the Bush Administration. In March 2004, two of the president’s most senior advisers rushed to a Washington hospital room where they confronted a bedridden John Ashcroft. White House chief of staff Andy Card and counsel Alberto Gonzales pressured the attorney general to renew a massive domestic-spying program that would lapse in a matter of days. But others hurried to the hospital room, too. Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, later joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller, stood over Ashcroft’s bed to make sure the White House aides didn’t coax their drugged and bleary colleague into signing something unwittingly. The attorney general, sick and pain-racked from a rare pancreatic disease, rose up from his bed, gathering what little strength he had, and firmly told the president’s emissaries that he would not sign their papers.
White House hard-liners would make one more effort—getting the president to recertify the program on his own, relying on his powers as commander in chief. But in the end, with an election looming and the entire political leadership of the Justice Department poised to resign rather than carry out orders they thought to be illegal, Bush backed down. The rebels prevailed.
But that is only part of the story—because Bush, even though he made concessions to the rebels, kept other aspects of the program intact. Even after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret surveillance two years later—and despite outrage in Congress and among civil libertarians—monitoring of calls and e-mails between the United States and overseas without court approval continues. Much has been written about the Justice Department rebellion, including, most recently, the account in Barton Gellman’s groundbreaking book “Angler.” But a mystery remains: What did the Justice Department rebels object to, and what concessions did Bush make to appease them? What, precisely, was canceled?
Two knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that the clash erupted over a part of Bush’s espionage program that had nothing to do with the wiretapping of individual suspects. Rather, Comey and others threatened to resign because of the vast and indiscriminate collection of communications data. These sources, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence matters, describe a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program’s classified code name was “Stellar Wind,” though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it “SW.” (The NSA says it has “no information or comment”; a Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.)
The NSA’s powerful computers became vast storehouses of “metadata.” They collected the telephone numbers of callers and recipients in the United States, and the time and duration of the calls. They also collected and stored the subject lines of e-mails, the times they were sent, and the addresses of both senders and recipients. By one estimate, the amount of data the NSA could suck up in close to real time was equivalent to one quarter of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica per second. (The actual content of calls and e-mails was not being monitored as part of this aspect of the program, the sources say.) All this metadata was then sifted by the NSA, using complex algorithms to detect patterns and links that might indicate terrorist activity.
The secret collection and data-mining program had begun with a blessing by John Yoo, an ultraconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo was a close ally of hard-line lawyers in the White House and worked closely with David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer. (Addington is now Cheney’s chief of staff.) But by 2003, Yoo had moved on, and a new head of the OLC, Jack Goldsmith, began reviewing his work. Goldsmith found Yoo’s legal opinions justifying the program flawed. His reasons are based on a mind-numbingly complex area of federal law, but the basic analysis comes down to this: the systematic collection and digital transmission of huge amounts of telephone and e-mail data by the government constitutes “electronic surveillance” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the exclusive law governing domestic spying in national-security cases. For such activities, FISA requires a court-approved warrant. Therefore, the program was illegal. The White House lawyers countered that the president’s constitutional powers as commander in chief trumped FISA. Goldsmith and his colleagues rejected that argument, and won. Days after the hospital clash, Bush shut down the massive data-collection program and stopped searches of the data that had already been stored. (It’s unclear whether the administration has since found new legal justification to return to at least some of these activities.)
This updated version of events helps explain exactly what motivated stalwart Republican lawyers like Comey to defy their Republican president. The Justice lawyers were not fuming about an Orwellian invasion of the privacy of American citizens. Though all the rebellious lawyers agreed that the program was illegal, some favored its goals while others questioned its efficacy. “At the end of the day, the dispute was a legal one, not a policy one,” says one participant. “It was about upholding the rule of law, not about what was appropriate from a civil-libertarian standpoint or any other standpoint.”
One of the most consequential government rebellions in memory may be regarded as an act of heroism by civil libertarians. But the rebels were conservatives who might have been willing to—and in some cases did—approve policies that would not sit well with many Americans. They just weren’t willing to break the law. Which is how the president’s men ended up in John Ashcroft’s hospital room on a cool March evening.
One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex
In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.
The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.
Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.
Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.
Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.
“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.
Charles Gibson aboard for Bush interview
ABC anchor will boat to Camp David with first family
Nov 25, 2008, 06:18 PM ETNEW YORK — During the same week Barbara Walters interviews the president-elect in Chicago, ABC’s “World News” anchor Charles Gibson will interview President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush during the holiday weekend.
Gibson will ride with the first family on Marine One from the White House to Camp David, then interview Mr. and Mrs. Bush there. Gibson will ask about the past eight years, the couple’s future plans and if they have any advice for Bush’s successor, Sen. Barack Obama, and his family.
The interview will air on Monday’s “World News With Charles Gibson” plus that show’s webcast, “Good Morning America” and elsewhere.