Today's Washington Post has has a front-page, top-of-the-fold story on the evolution of torture policy ("robust interrogation," in Vice President Cheney's words), which is part of its series examinging the influential role of Dick Cheney. This headline is not only disingenuous, it is flatly wrong. While the Washington Post thinks it is breaking news that the embryonic torture policy began on or around January 11, 2002, "well before previous accounts have suggested," I can put the date even earlier and I have the memo to prove it: Rumsfeld's counsel authorizing the military to "take the gloves off" in interrogating "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. UPDATE: The Washington Post changed its headline in today's hard copy from "The Unseen Path to Cruelty" to "Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power" in the electronic version. One of the article's authors was just asked in a live chat why he omitted my report of torture. The Post's Gellman said: "Oh, we've omitted a lot more than that."
The Washington Post's front-page story today puts the initial government meeting about torture "shortly after Jan. 11, 2002" because that's when the CIA, White House and the Justice Department had a little Situation Room chat about it. Wrong.
I have the memo from "higher headquarters" in December 2001 in which "the Secretary of Defense's [Rumsfeld's] counsel had authorized him [a military Admiral in charge of Mazar-e-Sharif] to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted" in interrogating "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. John Yoo, who is quoted extensively in the Washington Post article, says that this was "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House Officials. This is untrue. As the ethics advisor in the Lindh case, I had to "let John Yoo know becuase he's the one dealing with these issues" in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
Moreover, the idea these policies were an "unseen" path to cruelty is specifically belied by the fact that the torture memos tried to exempt interrogators from prosecution:
We find that in the circumstances of the current war against al Qaeda and its allies, prosecution under Section 2340A [the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment] may be barred because enforcement of the statute would represent an unconstitutional infringement of the President's authority to conduct war.
Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, August 1, 2002, from U.S. Department of Justice.
Kudos to the Washington Post for exposing that the VP played a central role in torture policy, which the Bush Administration portrayed as the initiatives of low-ranking folks. But rotten eggs for otherwise lame reporting.