Video above from MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on Thursday, April 10. (See transcript below.)
In the 1990s, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor and constitutional expert, was a strong advocate for impeaching Pres. Bill Clinton because Clinton lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky while under oath in a deposition for a civil lawsuit.
• ACLU Calls for Independent Prosecutor in Bush Torture Case
The issue today is far more serious. According to ABC News, starting in 2002, senior Bush officials, including Vice President Cheney and Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then the national security adviser, were involved hands-on in drafting torture guidelines for the CIA. Because torture is illegal under U.S. and international law, Jonathan Turley says he believes the drafting of these guidelines was a war crime.
Late Friday afternoon, George Bush confirmed to ABC News that Cheney, Rice and the other officials were working at his behest.
News that Bush commissioned his executive staff to create guidelines for torture is being ignored in the media today (Saturday). It will be interesting to see if it makes it onto the Sunday political shows, including even ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous.”
The transcript for Turley’s “Countdown” interview follows:
OLBERMANN: What if the step-by-step and case-by-case details of the torture of detainees had been discussed at the highest levels of government, inside the White House? It might prove to be the core to unraveling an entire administration’s policy on torture. It might even one day find its way into a trial of war criminals. In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, such meetings were regular occurrences in the Bush White House.
The group called itself the National Security Principals Committee. It held dozens of top-secret decisions in the White House. This according to an ABC News investigation, sourced with unnamed, high-ranking officials. The Principals included Vice President Dick Cheney, then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, also the CIA Director at the time, George Tenet, and then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who according to a top official said, quote, why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.
The Principals signed off on exactly how the CIA would interrogate supposed top al Qaeda suspects and approved of combined techniques, including, but not limited to, water boarding. A choreography, if you will. Such meetings began in the spring of 2002, according to the ABC report, after the CIA had captured a top al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, who the CIA has since confirmed was one of the three al Qaeda suspects who were, indeed, water boarded.
All the Principals present approved at each discussion, reportedly, yet the CIA wanted the principals to sign off on each case, each time. When then director George Tenet sometimes made elaborate presentations, and that was even after a so-called golden shield was issued — that was in an August 2002 memo from the Justice Department giving formal legal authority to government interrogators to use enhanced interrogation techniques.
Let’s turn now to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If this is accurate or nearly accurate, what is the fullest interruption, as you see it, of what went on in those meetings?
TURLEY: This is one meeting of principal. They’re not talking about the LE kind. What you have are a bunch of people talking about what is something that’s a crime. For those of us who look at the criminal code and see torture for what it is, this is like a meeting of the Bada Bing club. These people are sitting around regularly talking about something defined as a crime.
Then you have John Ashcroft standing up and saying, maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this at the White House. Well, obviously, that’s quite disturbing. It shows that this was a program, not just some incident, not just someone going too far. It was a torture program, implemented by the United States of America and approved as the very highest level. And it goes right to the president’s desk.
And it’s notable that this group wanted to get lawyers to sign off on this, and they found those lawyers, people like Jay Buyby (ph), and John Yoo. And those people were handsomely rewarded. In Buyby’s case, he became a federal judge after signing off on a rather grotesque memo that said that they could do everything short of causing organ failure or death.
OLBERMANN: The point that you made up — mentioned there that Attorney General Ashcroft said, why do this in the White House, why do it at such a high level; between the location and the resumes, you said it goes to President Bush’s desk here. Is it the smoking gun that President Bush authorized torture by the United States of America?
TURLEY: We really don’t have much of a question about the president’s role here. He’s never denied that he was fully informed of these measures. He, in fact, early on in his presidency — he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was aware of this. The doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do anything about it.
OLBERMANN: The meetings, obviously, were not conducted to serve the purposes of historians or those of us who analyze this situation. It looks like it was 100 percent CYA. The question I have here, am I reading this right; did the lower-level interrogators, did the lower-level people in that food chain of principals, people like the director of the CIA, come out ranked a lot lower than, say, the vice president of United States in any kind of ceding of cabinet positions — were they there to protect themselves at the cost of the most powerful people in the nation? In other words, did they play these people? Did they — who was being protected here?
TURLEY: Well, you know, as a criminal defense attorney, we call meetings like this meetings of the designated defendant, because they are people who are signing off and will have to bear witness and bear responsibility. And here you have the CIA, which is basically saying, we’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.
So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect. And they establish a rather clear record, that this was a program that was done with intention, knowingly done, and repeatedly a subject for meetings at the White House itself.
OLBERMANN: If there’s a paper trail regarding this, John, is this — is this a war crimes trial waiting to happen somewhere some day?
TURLEY: It’s always been a war crimes trial ready to happen. But Congress is like a convention of Claude Raines actors. Everyone’s saying, we’re shocked, shocked; there’s torture being discussed in the White House. But no one is doing anything about it. So what we have is the need for someone to get off the theater and move to the actual in going and trying to investigate these crimes.
OLBERMANN: And all the attorneys talk about movie characters; they’re all Burt Lancaster, the Ernst Janning character in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” all the people who authorized this. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University I’ll save you a seat down front if we ever have this trial.
TURLEY: Thank you, Keith.