Bush Admits to Approving Torture-But Which Use of It?

The WaPo reports that Bush, in his book, admits to approving waterboarding.

In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes
clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique
against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission
the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for

In his book, titled "Decision Points," Bush recounts being asked by
the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush
said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots
against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was "Damn right"
and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives,
according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

At one level, this is thoroughly unsurprising. We know the Bush
Administration very deliberately implemented torture, so it's
unsurprising to hear that it was approved by the President.

But-at least as Jeffrey Smith relays the admission from Bush-it raises as many questions as it does answers.

It appears that Bush admits to approving torture for use with Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed. That is, he approved torture sometime around March 1,
2003, when KSM was captured.

That date is itself very significant. After all, on February 5, 2003,
the first Democrat (Jane Harman) was briefed that the CIA had used
waterboarding. Her response was a letter,
objecting not just to the destruction of the torture tapes, but also
asking specifically whether Bush had signed off on torture.

I would like to know what kind of policy
review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I
would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House
have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles
and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been
authorized and approved by the President?

In response, CIA appears to have met with the White House around February 19, ostensibly to talk about an appropriate response. They also appear to have consulted
with the White House on how they should record the results of the Gang
of 4 briefings from that month; in the end, they only recorded the
outcome of the Senate briefing-which Jay Rockefeller did not attend and
at which Pat Roberts is recorded to have signed off not just on torture,
but on destroying the torture tapes depicting that torture. In other
words, for much of February 2003, CIA was working closely with the White
House to create a false appearance of Congressional approval for
torture, even while they were specifically refusing to give Congress
something akin to a Finding making it clear the President had signed off
on that torture.

And now we come to find out that's precisely the period during which-at least according to Bush-he approved torture.

But note what that leaves out. At least from Smith's description, it
appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu
Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind
you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost
gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah.

But Bush doesn't cop to that in his book.

Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not
yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to
torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

Moreover, there's the whole issue of the approval method for the torture that occurred before August 1, 2002.

The source says nearly every day,
Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the
CIA's counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request
permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The
source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House,
where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the
technique. That would provide the administration's legal blessing for
Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next

According to multiple reports, the White House-Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss-approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis.
And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it's very
clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the
torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House's
prior approval for torture-potentially up to and including
waterboarding-may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first
place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush's unilateral
disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.

In other words, Bush has admitted to approving torture in 2003. But
that likely obfuscates his earlier approval for torture at a time when
he had no legal cover for doing so.

In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape
destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we've got silence
coming from John Durham.

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