Its an age old conundrum - which came first, the chicken or the egg. It has no identifiable answer because both are necessary for the chicken life cycle. Nonetheless, WaPo has apparently decided it in favor of the chicken. The Wapo is expressing outrage, shock and horror that the CIA considered using coeercive interrogation before asking for a legal opinion from the OLC.
The Chicken: The lead story at the Washington Post is "Harsh Tactics Readied Before Their Approval"
Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.
Previously secret memos and interviews show CIA and Pentagon officials exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, investigators found.
Ummm, no kidding?
The Egg: What the WaPo fails to do is explain how the lawyers at OLC could ever have been asked to render a legal opinion on these matters if the CIA hadn't considered the coercive interrogation methods first and decided they wanted to use them.
I am reminded of the story of one politician of the last century who is reputed to have used accusatory language in speeches against his opponent to describe wholly normal, benign events with a decidedly sinister twinge. If I recall correctly, one of the lines of his speech was - At college, my opponent MARTICULATED!!!! I see little if any difference between that politician and today's WaPo coverage of the coeercive interrogation techniques.
This article, though far more articulate than that written by the NYT and slightly fisked in my post below, tracks many of the same talking points as the NYT article. The big talking point is the claim that coeercive interrogation methods do not work and are likely to lead to false information. Lacking even the modicum of intellectual honesty displayed by the NYT, WaPo raises this claim in its article but neglects to include claims that such methods were directly responsible for saving American lives.
There are a few other lines from the WaPo article that are noteworthy. One is how they conclude the article, after suggesting that, on one occasion, coeercive interrogation techniques may have been used before the OLC finalized their opinion.
Brent Mickum, one of Abu Zubaida's attorneys in a habeas corpus proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington, said he believes the Justice Department's Aug. 1, 2002, memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used.
"If torture occurred before the memo was written, it's not worth the paper it's written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal," Mickum said.
That is a non-sequiter if there ever was one. It is a collateral attack on the legal opinions in an attempt to discredit them without having to address the substance of the opinions. Further, it presupposes that 1) the OLC wrote their memos with the foreknowledge that the tactics were already in use, and 2) wrote their finding specifically to justify the use, ignoring precedents which, as I discussed in a post here, do not apparently exist. Both are spin and pure speculation. The WaPo of course raises none of those issues, merely finishing with the good soundbyte.
There are two final points raised in the article worthy of mention. The first is from Senator Carl Levin who is apparently readying a highly selective witch hunt in Congress and is attempting to somehow shoehorn the coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA into the "frat party" stunts of some out of control enlisted soldiers at Abu Ghraib:
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the committee, said the new findings show a direct link between the early policy decisions and the highly publicized abuses of detainees at prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
"Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques," Levin said. "Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses."
He is right, senior officials were aware - including Senate and House Democratic leadership who were briefed on the coeercive interrogation techniques in 2002. How he is going to get around that is something I am waiting to see.
Lastly, there was this interesting paragraph:
The report shows Pentagon officials reaching out to the military agency for advice on interrogations as early as December 2001 and finding some specialists eager to help. By late 2001, counterterrorism officials were becoming frustrated by the paucity of useful leads coming from interrogations -- a meager showing that was linked, according to one Army major, to interrogators' insistence on "establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq," the report said.
Setting aside for a moment that it attempts to raise the tired canard that there was no link between al Qaeda and Iraq, the fact that there were a "paucity of useful leads" certainly suggests that normal interrogation methods were failing. I am sure we will see much more of this in the days to come.