Britain's Guardian newspaper, among others, has confirmed what we already knew — that Condoleezza Rice was just as vile a war criminal as anyone in the Bush administration. Indeed, it now appears that she provided the first official approval for waterboarding. She has worked harder than most of the Bush war criminals to cover her tracks, but the report newly released by the Senate intelligence committee lays bare her role.
Moreover, this means that she lied to Congress and the American people last fall.
Rice gave early approval for CIA waterboarding,
Senate report reveals
• Go-ahead in July 2002 is first known official approval
• Finding suggests greater Rice role than she admitted
Condoleezza Rice gave permission for the CIA to use waterboarding techniques on the alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah as early as July 2002, the first known official approval for the technique, according to a report released by the Senate intelligence committee yesterday.
The revelation indicates that Rice, who at the time was national security adviser and went on to be secretary of state, played a greater role than she admitted in written testimony last autumn.
The committee's narrative report (pdf) also shows that dissenting legal views about the interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly. The mood within the Bush administration at the time is caught in a handwritten note attached to a December 2002 memo from Donald Rumsfeld, the then defence secretary, on the use of stress positions. "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" he asked.
The intelligence committee's timeline comes a day after the Senate armed services committee released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the harsh interrogation programme of the CIA and abuses of prisoners at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
The latest report, which compiles legal advice provided by the Bush administration to the CIA, indicates that Rice personally conveyed the administration's approval for waterboarding Zubaydah to the then CIA director, George Tenet, in July 2002.
Last autumn, Rice acknowledged to the armed services committee only that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed. She said she did not recall details. Within days, the justice department secretly approved the use of waterboarding. Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002.
In the years that followed, according to yesterday's report, there were numerous internal legal reviews, suggesting government lawyers were concerned that methods such as waterboarding might violate federal laws against torture and the US constitution. Bush administration lawyers continued to validate the programme, but the CIA voluntarily dropped the use of waterboarding after 2005.
The 232-page armed services committee report, the most detailed investigation yet into the background of torture, undercut the claim of the then deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq was the work of "a few bad apples".
Its release yesterday added to the debate raging within the US after President Barack Obama, who regards the techniques as torture, opened the way for possible prosecution of members of the Bush administration.
Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said: "The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots." The report shows a paper trail going from Rumsfeld to Guantánamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.
The report says: "The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees."
The report, the result of an 18-month inquiry, revealed that the administration rejected advice from various branches of the armed services against using more aggressive techniques. The military questioned the morality and the reliability of information gained.
The report condemned the techniques adopted, saying: "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."
The report disclosed that waterboarding and other techniques used were based on a faulty premise. The methods were lifted from a military programme known as Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape, but the armed forces pointed out this was intended to train troops in resisting torture during the Korean war, rather than establishing whether these were useful interrogation methods.
A New York Times report says that, even then, it was appreciated that the techniques induced false confessions from the American personnel on which it was tried. The paper adds that the US prosecuted torturers who employed waterboarding in war crimes trials following the second world war and that it was a technique known to have been used by despots including Pol Pot in Cambodia.
The New York Times says administration officials briefed by Tenet were not aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading the CIA to use waterboarding had never conducted a real interrogation and that the justice department lawyer most responsible for declaring the method legal had "idiosyncratic ideas" that the department would later renounce.
Bush administration memos released by Obama last week were confined to interrogations at Guantánamo and CIA secret prisons around the world, but the Senate report goes wider, including prisons run by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.