National

Bush-era officials gave the CIA wide latitude

In July 2004, despite growing internal concerns about the CIA’s brutal interrogation methods, senior members of George W. Bush’s national security team gave the agency permission to employ the harsh tactics against an al-Qaida facilitator the agency suspected was linked to a plot to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.

After weeks of torture that included being subjected to prolonged stress positions and sleep deprivation at a secret site in Romania, the prisoner, Janat Gul, begged to be killed. But he steadfastly denied knowledge of any plot, CIA records show – leading interrogators to conclude he was not the hardened terrorist they thought he was, and that the informant who fingered him was a liar.

Yet there is no evidence the CIA relayed that information to the White House and the Justice Department, which continued to cite the case in legal justifications for the use of the brutal techniques.

In subsequent correspondence and testimony, the agency called the interrogation of Gul a success story on the grounds that it helped expose their original source as a fabricator.

The Gul case is an example of what a Senate investigation portrays as a dysfunctional relationship between the Bush White House and the CIA regarding the brutal interrogation program. The White House didn’t press very hard for information, and the agency withheld details about the brutality of the techniques while exaggerating their effectiveness, the report shows.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general who was White House counsel when harsh CIA interrogations were approved, said it was not the White House’s responsibility to manage the program. Gonzales was the only former senior Bush administration official who agreed to speak on the record about the matter.

Once executive branch lawyers declared it legal for the CIA to use harsh methods on al-Qaida prisoners in secret facilities, Gonzales said, it was up to the spy agency to oversee the mechanics, punish abuses and keep policymakers informed. So Bush officials can’t be blamed if CIA officers did things that were not authorized, or misinformed White House officials, as the report alleges, he said.

“Whether or not they followed the guidance, quite frankly, the oversight responsibility fell to the inspector general and general counsel of the CIA,” said Gonzales, who is now a law professor at Belmont University in Tennessee. “We just wouldn’t know about it, because that was not our responsibility.”

Bush declined an AP request for comment, as did former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage. Condoleezza Rice, who was national security adviser at the program’s inception, did not respond to interview requests. Nor did former Vice President Dick Cheney, former attorney general John Ashcroft, former White House counsel Harriet Myers, and former chief of staff Andrew Card.

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