The Roots of the Torture Memos
With the revelations that the NSC principals, top cabinet level members of the Bush administration, met repeatedly and went over techniques and torture scenarios in detail, and the subsequent revelation in an interview yesterday with ABC that President George W. Bush both knew of the meetings and approved of them, the origin of this apparatus, this systematization, this state sanctioning of torture need to be ferreted out.
Much of the material coming out now centers around 2002: In January, opinions were solicited from the OLC about whether or not the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (CATCIDT) applied first to al Qaeda, and then to the Taliban. These opinions were available to President Bush in January, as the government sought to figure out what to do about prisoners captured in Afghanistan, and President Bush issued a pair of memos denying first al Qaeda, then the Taliban, both the protection of prisoners of war, and the protections of common Article 3. The latter is important, because when the Supreme Court issued it's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, Justice John Paul Stevens relied on both common Article 3 and the Hague Conventions of 1907 in writing the majority opinion, leading to a wave of anger amongst Bush supporters that Americans were being subject to foreign law, which ultimately led to the Military Commissions Act, which John McCain sponsored in 2006, and its immunizations against war crimes and restriction of the Torture Act.
The next event was the capture of Abu Zubaydah in late March. He was wounded in the capture, and needed to be nursed back to health before interrogation. The timeline then puts him as uncooperative, leading to the high level meetings, first, and then the request for, and subsequent composition of the Torture Memos, the first of which was signed by Jay Bybee on August 1, 2002. On the ground, Zubaydah's capture roughly coincided with the U.S. fiasco at Tora Bora, which now turns out to have been influenced by both a battle for control of operations between DoD and CIA, and by drawing off troops in preparation for an invasion of Iraq, a scenario that had not yet been broached with the Congress or the American people. Bin Laden and Zawahri had slipped away, and rumors had them traveling by boat down the rivers through Pakistan to parts unknown, or bin Laden was dying from lack of dialysis, or any of a number of different rumors and conjectures. It isn't clear yet, but if I had to guess, I would put the discussions of torture descending from the abstract to the concrete in May/June 2002.
The Muslim Bomb and the campfire
But how to extend the timeline in the other direction? Why were the gloves off already by January 9, the first date attached to the memos removing Geneva Convention protections?
Actually, the gloves came off for some almost immediately after September 11. It is a separate issue what people thought before that, given that there were some in the administration who had declared it the destiny of the United States to move from republic to empire before George W. Bush took office. We are not talking about that, for now, because there isn't evidence of a move away from international law except for the move away from the International Criminal Court prior to September 11.
The key events stressed by Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctrine are the meeting around the campfire, and the anthrax mailings, both in late 2001. The anthrax mailings are well known and discussed, so the influence of the campfire meeting is key - key to the attitude in the government, key to the One Percent Doctrine, key to the ticking bomb theories, and interestingly, perhaps key to the NSA data collection methods: The placement of a single individual in two roles leads automatically to conflation of the roles. Whether or not that is a valid assumption, the doctrine led to processing the worst case scenario into a reality, and from there, most likely, into the Torture Council.
The CIA had learned that two people had met with bin Laden and Zawahri around a campfire in Kandahar province in Afghanistan in August 2001. They were Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majid. They are two scientists from Abdul Qadeer Khan's Pakistani nuclear program, and were among the Islamic radicals around the Pakistani ISI chief Hamid Gul [Interestingly, the now retired Hamid Gul is a now a fervent supporter of the secular lawyer's movement in Pakistan]. These people were all supporters of the Taliban and of bin Laden, who had sworn an oath, with others, to protect the Taliban in January 2001, so their presence among the Taliban and with bin Laden should not have been surprising, but the CIA suspected the subject of the meeting to be discussions of nuclear weapons, and in that, one cannot fault them. The principals, and in particular Vice President Cheney, became aware of this meeting in early October 2001 (Ron Suskind's book, pp. 27, ff.).
From what I can glean in Suskind's book, and from the character of the memos, it appears that pulling out all the stops had meant extensive collaborations between the FBI and the CIA, and had probably meant either violating or planning to violate FISA almost immediately after September 11, but talk of torture started within the CIA after the people at the top had been informed of the campfire meeting, and during the anthrax scare, in late 2001. That all the forms of pulling out the stops were all conflated, and that the discussions had progressed to the point of denying Geneva Conventions and CATCIDT protections to prisoners by the end of 2001 at high level, then, is an interesting case study in how the placement of a single person in two organizations leads to the immediate assumption of the truth of the worst case scenario under the One Percent Doctrine. This all would imply that the first exposition of the ticking bomb theory at a high level meeting of the U.S. government was between October 17 and December 2, 2001, and that theory became a reality soon after: Virtually all of the justifications for any lawbreaking by the Bush Administration, and even the justifications for the Iraq War, are based on al Qaeda seeking weapons of mass destruction.
The explanations that Abu Zubaydah's intransigence and an immediate and likely threat of another attack by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad are probably disingenuous. Decisions to vacate international law, to detain without a shred of civil rights, and even to use torture on prisoners had already been made months before Zubaydah, a schizophrenic who was given busy work duties by bin Laden (Suskind, pp. 96-96), was captured. And the decision to actually begin torturing, which we now know was made by the Torture Council with the express approval and knowledge of the President of the United States, was made because the fact that Zubaydah was crazy was at odds with a previous public statement by Bush that he was al Qaeda's number three, and would look bad politically. To wit, it occurred as a result of President Bush saying to DCI George Tenet, "I said he was important. You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" So they dutifully tortured a man who had referred to himself as three separate personalities in his diary, Hani1, Hani2, and Hani3. And they claim to this day, they got valuable information. From which Hani, I wonder?