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Is Vagueness a Crime? And Other Reactions to CIA Reports

POSTED: 01:27 PM ET, 08/25/2009 by Liz Heron
TAGS: CIA

The Justice Department released a raft of documents yesterday related to the Bush-era CIA's interrogation program as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he had asked a prosecutor to investigate possible abuses by the agency interrogators. At the same time, the White House announced steps to form a new interrogation unit under the aegis of FBI.

In addition, the ACLU received several other documents late yesterday as a response to its Freedom of Information suit: Office of Legal Counsel Documents and Memos from 2002-2005 and 2006-2007.

Here are a few reactions from the blogosphere to the documents and Obama administration's actions.

Daphne Eviatar at The Washington Independent asks if Justice Department lawyers could be prosecuted for deliberately writing vague guidelines on interrogation.

Although the inspector general's report is heavily redacted, 33 out of 105 pages in all, it strongly suggests that all of the guidelines governing the detention and interrogation of detainees were approved by Justice Department lawyers. Yet the report also suggests that the way the guidelines were written and approved was so vague as to encourage their violation.
Of course, vagueness isn't a crime. It may be just bad lawyering. But if Justice Department lawyers deliberately wrote or approved the CIA's guidelines in a way that was vague and left "substantial room for misinterpretation" so as to encourage their violation, then they were not acting in good faith. And if they knew that the guidelines, as written, were likely to lead to illegal conduct, then they could be liable for conspiracy to commit torture.

Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel picks up on a reference in the 2004 CIA inspector general report to an "undated and unsigned document entitled, 'Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Captured Al-Qa'ida Personnel'" that has yet to appear to the public.

"One of the most important--but least sexy--passages revealed in yesterday's release of the IG Report is this one, on page 22," Wheeler writes on Emptywheel.

[The unsigned document] is important for several reasons. First, it explains how CIA decided it was okay to torture detainees without first--as they had done with Abu Zubaydah--assuring DOJ that the detainee was truly a High Value Detainee and was "fit" to be tortured. It explains how a memo authorizing the torture of one person came to authorize an entire regime of torture.
It also explains why the CIA continued to claim that its torture program did not violate CAT [Convention Against Torture]....For years, Congress kept pushing CIA to get OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] to do a real assessment of whether the torture program violated CAT's prohibition on cruel and inhuman treatment... But it turns out all this time there was an undated, half-official document declaring the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment invalid for this program. And, at the same time, dismissing the War Crimes statute. Poof! One unsigned, undated document, and there go several critical laws governing detainee treatment.


Jeff Stein at Congressional Quarterly's Spy Talk blog
identifies another agency that has lost influcence now that The Obama administration has shifted interrogation oversight from the CIA to the White House, as the Post's Ann Kornblut reported yesterday.

What will become of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [ODNI], which was "set up after 9/11 to put the 16 intelligence agencies into a harness"? Stein asks.

It's hard to find any clear winners in the new interrogations set-up confirmed by the White House on Monday, but it's easy to spot the losers: Leon Panetta and Dennis Blair....The CIA director's nose had already been out of joint ever since Blair, the navy admiral who heads the uber-spook Office of National Intelligence, decided to terminate the CIA's longtime prerogative of naming station chiefs, the top U.S. intelligence official in American embassies....But now Blair has reason to be unhappy, too: If the ODNI doesn't deserve the HIG, what's its role in this world?

Salon's Glenn Greenwald goes through various interrogation practices detailed in the IG report that he says every American should know about.

Perhaps worst of all, the Report notes that many of the detainees who were subjected to this treatment were so treated due to "assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence" -- meaning there was no real reason to think they had done anything wrong whatsoever. As has been known for quite some time, many of the people who were tortured by the United States were completely innocent -- guilty of absolutely nothing.

By Liz Heron |  August 25, 2009; 1:27 PM ET Hot Documents
Previous: Guide to Acronyms in Interrogation Documents | Next: Latest Documents Released by DOJ

Comments

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Vagueness may NOT be a crime.
Beating INNOCENT human beings to DEATH is a crime.
An international crime. We have obligations, under the terms of legal treaties, to prosecute that crime.
RULE OF LAW.

Posted by: Tomcat3 | August 25, 2009 4:13 PM

I doubt very much that there will be any prosecutions against those who wrote the guidelines unless those guidelines explicitly directed the use of unambiguous torture. There are also not likely to be prosecutions against those who used carefully controlled interrogation techniques on the captured Al Queda leaders even if many perceive those techniques to be very harsh. The prosecutions will be in cases where the interrogators were clearly over the line of acceptable behavior on their own initiative.

Posted by: dnjake | August 25, 2009 4:41 PM

Vagueness is not a crime but not being able to construct sentences that reflect truth and meaning is. If it's vague, get an editor.

Posted by: EmBug2 | August 25, 2009 5:04 PM

The "Redaction" is ridiculous. Note the first paragraph in "Introduction" is blacked out.

Any Federal Agency, be it CIA, FBI, or USDA - should not be able to black-out whole paragraphs, pages without giving an explanation. There ought to be an explanation.

These should be categorized into one of several, types. Say, a name, a location, reference to a secret piece of informatio, etc. Then each "Redaction" should be flagged by the reason for doing so. Embarrassment to Officials, Illegal Action Undertaken, could/should not be valid reasons.

The House and Senate Committees, and the prosecutor investigating the matter should ask the folks at CIA to justify each instance of redaction.

Posted by: pKrishna43 | August 25, 2009 5:46 PM

We are a country rule by law. No one is above the law, not the president, not the vice-president. Bush and Cheney are the litmus test. America's future hangs in the balance if our country fails this test.

Posted by: Mickey2 | August 25, 2009 6:40 PM

People died during those interrogations. That's what's being hidden in the blacked-out parts of the report, as reported a couple of hours ago in ABC News. Link: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=8410340

Posted by: kingsbridge77 | August 25, 2009 7:26 PM

"Vagueness is not a crime but not being able to construct sentences that reflect truth and meaning is."

You mean like this sentence of yours?

Posted by: HughJassPhD | August 25, 2009 7:40 PM

People Murderous Terrorists died during those interrogations.

FTFY

Posted by: HughJassPhD | August 25, 2009 7:46 PM

From ABC link:

The CIA and the Obama Administration continue to keep secret some of the most shocking allegations involving the spy agency's interrogation program: three deaths and several other detainees whose whereabouts could not be determined, according to a former senior intelligence official who has read the full, unredacted version.

I question the credibility of someone who would so easily leak classified information.

Posted by: HughJassPhD | August 25, 2009 8:03 PM

Beating INNOCENT human beings to DEATH is a crime.

Someone has to be quite gullible to believe this really happened.

Posted by: HughJassPhD | August 25, 2009 8:07 PM

PeopleMurderous Terrorists diedspilled their guts during those interrogations.

FIFY even more.

Posted by: HughJassPhD | August 25, 2009 8:10 PM

The U.S. is signatory to a number of treaties that prohibit torture. Article VI of the U.S. constitution places treaties co-equal to the constitution in legal status.

For Cheney and others to decry the investigation and prosecution of torture makes a mockery of the "rule of law" that he and others spent so much time bleating about while in office.

If you really believe in "the rule of law," then you demonstrate that belief when it's hard, not when it's easy.

Posted by: MagicDog1 | August 25, 2009 10:35 PM

Once Bush and Chenney are incarcerated the whole country will return to perfection? Will the world then see what a great country we are? This is only a distraction.

Posted by: MsMrPs | August 30, 2009 8:54 PM

What does taking the gloves off mean? Could it be a univeral prescription to all people everywhere that civilization is over and caveman existence is back in again? What does walking on the darkside mean?? Have you noticed all our streets are feeling darker lately?

Posted by: Wildthing1 | September 1, 2009 1:09 PM

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