WASHINGTON (AP) - Then-national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice verbally OK'd the CIA's request to subject alleged al-Qaida
terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, a decision
memorialized a few days later in a secret memo that the Obama
administration declassified last week.
Rice's role was detailed in a narrative released Wednesday by
the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed
timeline yet for how the CIA's harsh interrogation program was
conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White
The new timeline shows that Rice played a greater role than she
admitted last fall in written testimony to the Senate Armed
The narrative also shows that dissenting legal views about the
severe interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly.
The Intelligence Committee's timeline comes a day after the
Senate Armed Services Committee released an exhaustive report
detailing direct links between the CIA's harsh interrogation
program and abuses of prisoners at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
Both revelations follow President Barack Obama's release of
internal Bush administration legal memos that justified the use of
severe methods by the CIA, a move that kicked up a firestorm from
opposing sides of the ideological spectrum.
According to the new narrative, which compiles legal advice
provided by the Bush administration to the CIA, Rice personally
conveyed the administration's approval for waterboarding of
Zubaydah, a so-called high-value detainee, to then-CIA Director
George Tenet in July 2002.
Last fall, Rice acknowledged to the Senate Armed Services
Committee only that she had attended meetings where the CIA
interrogation request was discussed and asked for the attorney
general to conduct a legal review. She said she did not recall
details. Rice omitted her direct role in approving the program in
her written statement to the committee.
A spokesman for Rice declined comment when reached Wednesday.
Days after Rice gave Tenet the nod, the Justice Department
approved the use of waterboarding in a top secret Aug. 1 memo.
Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002.
In the years that followed, according to the narrative issued
Wednesday, there were numerous internal legal reviews of the
program, suggesting government attorneys raised concerns that the
harsh methods, particularly waterboarding, might violate federal
laws against torture and the U.S. Constitution.
But Bush administration lawyers continued to validate the
program. The CIA voluntarily dropped the use of waterboarding,
which has a long history as a torture tactic, from its arsenal of
techniques after 2005.
According to the two Senate reports, CIA lawyers first presented
the plan to waterboard Zubaydah to White House lawyers in April
2002, a few weeks after his capture in Pakistan. Tenet wrote in his
memoir that CIA officers themselves originated the idea.
In May 2002, Rice, along with then-Attorney General John
Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales met at the White
House with the CIA to discuss the use of waterboarding.
The Armed Services Committee report says that six months
earlier, in December 2001, the Pentagon's legal office already had
made inquiries about the use of mock interrogation and detention
tactics to a U.S. military training unit that schools armed forces
personnel in how to endure harsh treatment. A former intelligence
official said Wednesday the CIA officers also based their proposed
harsh interrogations on the mock interrogation methods used by the
unit. He declined to be identified because the CIA had not
authorized the disclosure of the information.
In July 2002, responding to a follow-up from the Pentagon
general counsel's office, officials at the training unit, the Joint
Personnel Recovery Agency, detailed their methods for the Pentagon.
The list included waterboarding.
But the training unit warned that harsh physical techniques
could backfire by making prisoners more resistant. They also
cautioned about the reliability of information gleaned from the
severe methods and warned that the public and political backlash
could be "intolerable."
"A subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer or
many answers in order to get the pain to stop," the training
officials said in their memo.
Less than a week later, the Justice Department issued two legal
opinions that sanctioned the CIA's harsh interrogation program. The
memos appeared to draw deeply on the survival school data provided
to the Pentagon to show that the CIA's methods would not cross the
line into torture.
The opinion concluded that the harsh interrogation methods would
be acceptable for use on terror detainees because the same
techniques did not cause severe physical or mental pain to U.S.
military students who were tested in the government's carefully
controlled training program.
Several people from the survival program objected to the use of
their mock interrogations in battlefield settings. In an October
2002 e-mail, a senior Army psychologist told personnel at
Guantanamo Bay that the methods were inherently dangerous and
students were sometimes injured, even in a controlled setting.
"The risk with real detainees is increased exponentially," he
Nevertheless, for the next two years, the CIA and military
officials received interrogation training and direct interrogation
support from JPRA trainers.
Last week, the Obama administration's top intelligence official,
Dennis Blair, privately told intelligence employees that "high
value information" was obtained through the harsh interrogation
techniques. However, on Tuesday, in a written statement, Blair
said, "The information gained from these techniques was valuable
in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same
information could have been obtained through other means."