The Public Record | Intrepid New Journalism
Date: Jun 7, 2009 6:07 PM
Dick Cheney and his lawyer, David Addington, pressured the Justice Department in 2005 to quickly approve a torture memo that authorized CIA interrogators to use a combination of barbaric techniques during interrogations of "high-value" detainees, despite objections from senior officials in the Department of Justice, according to e-mails written by James Comey, the DOJ's former Deputy Attorney General.
In the emails, Comey also wrote that then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was "weak" and had essentially allowed Cheney and Addington to politicize the Justice Department. [The emails can be found here: Documents: Justice Department Communication on Interrogation Opinions].
"The AG explained that he was under great pressure from the Vice President to complete both memos, and that the President had even raised it last week, apparently at the VP's request and the AG had promised they would be ready early this week," Comey wrote. Gonzales added that the VP kept telling him 'we are getting killed on the Hill.'"
"It leaves me feeling sad for the Department and the AG"--I just hope that when this all comes out, this institution doesn't take the hit, but rather the hit is taken by those individuals who occupied positions at [Office of Legal Counsel and [Office of the Attorney General] and were too weak to stand up for the principles that undergird the rest of this great institution."
The New York Times obtained the e-mails, but the newspaper appears to have seriously mischaracterized some of the content of the communications in a story published Saturday.
The Times reported that Comey "went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful."
But Comey's 2005 e-mails tell a far more disturbing story and shows that the Justice Department's former No. 2 had objected to torture on moral and ethical grounds and predicted that the matter would become the focus of a congressional hearing "three years from now."
In April 2005, several weeks before OLC issued the first of three torture memos, Comey sent an e-mail to his Chief of Staff Chuck Rosenberg stating that he had met privately with Gonzales after reading the legal opinion that allowed CIA interrogators to employ a combination of torture techniques against detainees.
"In our private meeting yesterday afternoon, I told [Gonzales] I was here to urge him not to allow the '-combined effects' memo to be finalized,"- Comey wrote on April 27, 2005. "I told him it would come back to haunt him and the Department. I told him the first opinion was ready to go out and I concurred. I told him I did not concur with the second and asked him to stop it."
Surprisingly, Gonzales said he agreed with Comey and instructed him to tell OLC to finalize the first opinion but not the second, according to Comey's e-mail.
Gonzales said, "He would speak with [White House Counsel] Harriet Miers and share the concerns."
"He also directed me to call John Rizzo and the CIA and give him some comfort by saying the first [torture memo] would be done and that we would need to do additional work on the second," Comey added in his e-mail to Rosenberg.
Comey was not the only one concerned with the authorization to the CIA to use "combined effects"- during interrogations. Patrick Philbin, the OLC's deputy assistant attorney general, also raised red flags.
"Pat alerted me to his serious concerns about the adequacy of the 'combined effects' analysis, particularly as it related to the category of 'severe physical suffering,'" Comey wrote.
Gonzales, after sharing Comey's concerns with the Principals, who included then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Cheney, Addington and others, told Comey it didn't matter. Cheney and Addington were pressuring him to have the memo finalized and signed immediately. The opinion was approved on May 10, 2005.