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.
Cheney has publicly called for the release of the CIA’s still classified memo and another document, insisting their disclosure will bolster his claim that the rough interrogation tactics he vigorously pushed for while in the White House yielded actionable intelligence that foiled terrorist plots against the United States.
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 memo also omitted any references to a notorious incident in which another high level CIA detainee, Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided “false information” about Al Qaeda’s supposed connections to Iraq in order to stop his Egyptian interrogators from abusing him, the Justice report states. (Al-Libi was transfered by the CIA to Egyptian custody under the agency's "extraordinary rendition" program.)
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. The Justice report faults Bradbury for not pushing the CIA to backup its effectiveness claims. “We question whether it was reasonable for Bradbury not to have demanded more specific information before concluding that the use of EITs was both essential and effective in disrupting terrorist attacks,” the report states. “Given the importance of the CIA Effectiveness Memo’s conclusions to Bradbury’s constitutional analysis ... he should have insisted it set forth: the CIA’s basis for believing the subjects possessed information about imminent attacks … and any verification or follow up use of that information... Absent this type of information and analysis, we question Bradbury’s reliance on the CIA Effectiveness Memo to approve the use of EITs going forward.”
Bradbury did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.