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Here's the central point:

As detailed in the recent ABC News story on how top White House officials in the National Security Council discussed specific details of torture, the Bush Administration torture policy was determined by the NSC.

What ABC didn't mention is that Bush is the head of the National Security Counsel and the 2002 NSC decision memo in question, shown at the bottom of this post, signed by George W. Bush, establishes that Bush was in 2002 indeed doing his job as acting head and final decision maker of the National Security Council.

An April 11 AP News study claims Bush was "insulated" from the torture decision making process but existing documents, such as showcased in this post, rebut that claim and indicate Bush was in the torture loop, the top "decider"


On Countdown last night, George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley emphasized that there was a torture program and that it was authorized "AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL".

Turley said, about the "NSC Principals Committee" that discussed torture at a grotesquely specific level of detail, "this is like a meeting of the badda bing club".

Turley stated, bluntly,"This was a torture program... and it goes right to the President's desk."

But Turley went even further than that:

"Olberman: You said it goes to president Bush's desk here... Is it the smoking gun that president Bush authorized torture by the United States of America ?"

Turley: "We really don't have much of a question about the president's role here. He's never denied that he was fully informed of these measures. He in fact, early on in his presidency, he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods. And I don't think there's any doubt that he was aware of this. The only doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do something about it."

SUMMARY: We have at least ONE signed memo which establishes George W. Bush as the executive authority making final decisions in the National Security Council policy formation and decision making process which created a United States run torture regime; the document shown at the bottom of this post.

This post discusses that and also outlines the National Security Council process, Bush's role in the NSC process and how the NSC generates national policy. Key concept: the US president is the final decision maker in the NSC process and the chair of the NSC.  

As corroborating evidence, Bush's August 3, 2003 signing of the "Hague Invasion Law" which asserted a US right top use military force to liberate Americans held by the International Criminal Court at the Hague indicate Mr. Bush was aware of the possibility that Americans might be charged with crimes under international law. Bush's signing of the law was part of a broader attack against the new war crimes court at the Hague, by the United States, which was underway at the time Bush signed the August 2003 legislation. IN short, on February 7, 2002 Bush signed an NSC memo selectively setting aside Geneva Conventions restrictions against torture and then, on August 3, 2002, Bush signed a law asserting a US right to use military force to liberate Americans held by the new International war crimes court at the Hague. That further establishes Bush as the top executive decision maker signing off on laws and policy decisions shaping  the evolving US policy regarding torture and International Law, which led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

[NOTE: I originally used 'authorizing torture' in my story title but decided that 'allowing torture' was more apt. The prior characterization was, I think, true but might have been taken as indicating that the memo in question, which Bush signed, actively called for torture rather than declaring that, under certain circumstances, torture was legal because the Geneva Conventions didn't apply.


"On June 22, 2004, the White House officially released 14 documents originating from the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department concerning the Administration's interrogation policies. These records include only one that previously was published by news media sources, and did not include at least 5 additional documents widely reported in the news media and already made available to the public by the news media concerning interrogation policies from the White House, Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of State. Still other records are reported to exist or referenced in the already released materials, but have not been made available -- either officially or unofficially -- to the public. This Electronic Briefing Book includes a comprehensive listing of available records relating to U.S. interrogation policies, including records officially released by the White House and the Department of Defense on June 22, leaked documents that have not been officially released, and a description of 17 records that have not been made available to the public. In addition, this posting includes the text of a congressional subpoena proposed by Senators Leahy and Feinstein that was defeated on June 17, 2004 by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a copy of the "Taguba Report" detailing the findings of a Department of Defense investigation into the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq."

Here is a large trove of declassified National Security documents which help substantiate the overall picture which is finally starting to emerge and which I've elaborated in this post - the Bush Administration torture policy and torture program came right out of the White House and George W. Bush, in all likelihood, probably signed off on National Security Council memos and resolutions on torture.]

The memo discussed in this post undercuts the frame that the recent ABC torture story established [and that other news media is already picking up] - the ABC story suggested, by simply not mentioning the central role of the president in the NSC, that George W. Bush was elsewhere when decisions were made about torture. Now, we have signed memo indicating Bush was probably at the helm.

The media frame on this, per a Google search, is that "Bush's Principal Advisors OK'd torture" but that's highly misleading because it suggests Bush was out of the loop.

Memo shows Bush at Top of NSC Decision Making Loop On Torture

Ray McGovern has pointed the way to an NSC action memo, signed by George W. Bush himself, which was part of the process under which an entire torture regime, using methods that violate not only the Geneva Conventions but also US anti-torture laws signed by Bill Cinton, came to be.

[note: here's a bit of background on who Ray McGovern is, courtesy of a thoughtful dKos member

Eventually this expanded definition of presidential authority, holding that the chief executive could suspend both US law and the Geneva Conventions simply by executive fiat, came to include, as we have recently learned, the proposition that the president could also, as he saw fit in the interest of national security, have the eyes of United States citizens gouged out.

George W. Bush wasn't somehow detached from that process of insane and probably illegal executive overreach.

Bush signed a National Security Action memo [and lo! - here it is, George W. Bush's signature and all] and delegated the authority to implement it.

The rest is history - written in acts judged by the US itself after World War Two as war crimes.


NOTE: I wrote the following BEFORE I got the news about Ray McGovern's tip on the Bush/Yoo torture authorization memo.

But, my post below, with two 10-minute videos I've put together from a recent interview with George E. Lowe, should serve as a primer on the national security/NSC decision making process and George Bush's relation to it [he's the decider], for those who want to learn how to cut through government and press misdirection on the torture issue.

If you're interested in researching this issue, the framework and perspective I've laid out derives from one insider understanding, which as far I've taken things is both orthodox and accurate, on how the US national security policy making apparatus works. So, equipped with that understanding you may be able to determine how the considerable public trove of declassified and leaked documents now available fits into the picture I've developed here on how the Bush Administration, at the White House level, developed the torture program and torture doctrine, and how that doctrine was implemented.

In terms of pushing this story, it's also VERY important to put the right questions to the White House and Dana Perino, such as:

"We now have an NSC action memo, authorizing torture, with George W. Bush's signature. What other NSC torture resolutions or memos did Bush sign ? If the torture program was implemented through the NSC, how could it have been that Bush was out of the loop ?"

So, last year I had breakfast with former Reagan Adm. official George E. Lowe and he described to me how the implementation of the Bush Administration torture policy probably went down.

As it turns out, Lowe's call was highly accurate and about an hour ago George Lowe called to tell me that a memo, probably one of several memos, resolutions and executive decisions from the office of George W. Bush and with Bush's signature which set the whole Bush Administration torture regime in motion, is publicly available. How about that. [CORRECTION : I initially wrote that this was the first NSC torture memo/document Bush signed but George Lowe suggests to me it isn't the FIRST memo/NSC document in the NSC document trail]

The memo then likely got turned into an NSC resolution [which we have yet to see], a formal national security policy document, that Bush also signed and which set the whole national security apparatus in motion so that calls went out to various civilians, academics and others, for bids on contracts to research how to most effectively torture and drive people insane. That's how Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the whole network of secret US detention centers around the world came to be.

Well, Lowe's description has proven, as documents have come out, uncannily accurate and now Ray McGovern has pointed out the simple truth:

The NSC Action memo which establishes George W. Bush was the final authority in the NSC's decision making process on US torture policy, which led to an entire torture regime and concomitant legal insanity and eventually to the assertion that George W. Bush could legally order the eyes of United States citizens gouged out in the name of national security and he could also order men's testicles crushed on that premise...

That National Security Action memo has been sitting quietly in a website, at George Washington University.

As McGovern asks, why is the press and everyone else going after John Yoo ? Yes, he's irritating but he's actually an extremely minor figure in the drama. McGovern answers his rhetorical question:

" it because our press is STILL reluctant to go after Yoo's guys – first and foremost his ultimate client – President George W. Bush? Oh, but that would be hard, you say.


Available on the Web, in its original format, is a 7 Feb. 2002 action memorandum that the president signed to implement the dubious advice he was getting from Yoo and those at Justice who hired Yoo  – and from the vice president's office which guided Yoo.

Yoo did their dirty work (and now he takes the rap).

Weren't Yoo's co-conspirators careful to keep their fingerprints off the more blatantly offensive memoranda? Sure they were.

But there was one problem. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-CIA Director George Tenet could not get their people to torture folks without written, signed authorization by the president.

And we have a copy of that authorization? Yes, it's been available for years. You have to download it to believe it." [emphasis mine]


George E. Lowe knows the National Security policy process from his experience in the two Reagan Administrations, his time in the Navy and Naval Intelligence and his experience working on the theory of nuclear deterrence.

Yesterday an ABC news story incriminated top Bush Administration officials Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Ashcroft and  Powell, in discussing highly specific details of proposed torture techniques, in National Security Council meetings, and then approving those techniques as policy through the NSC. There's a problem with this however ; the president is the head of the NSC, chairs certain meetings and, crucially, is the only one with authority to sign off on key National Security Council policies and decisions.

That's not surprising; it's the very role of the chief executive in American government and if the NSC, not to mention the Justice Department, could somehow operate quasi-independently from the president American Democracy would fall apart. That's American government 101; the president is head of the executive branch and functions as, put so charmingly by George W. Bush, "the decider".

That's an accurate description. The president is the ultimate "decider" of the executive branch and it also happens that, as president, George W. Bush is the head of the National Security Council, "the decider" for all key NSC decisions.

In other words, George E. Lowe suggested to me, if Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and other in the administration authorized US policy on torture without Bush's clearance they staged, in effect, a virtual coup :

bizarrely, the ABC story neglects to mention that the NSC is an executive body which helps formulate national security policy and that, at the head of it, the final authority who signs off on the national policy documents the NSC generates, the final authority who signs off on NSC policy documents, NSC resolutions, is the president: George W. Bush, the decider.

For a description of how that process works, listen to part two of my latest interview with George E. Lowe, part 2 :

Last week law professor Jonathan Turley suggested that the Yoo memos pointed to the White House, and now ABC reports that the "most senior Bush administration officials" discussed and approved specific torture techniques. As ABC news reported yesterday April 9, 2008:

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

But based on my interviews George E. Lowe the ABC story amounts to what the CIA calls "limited hang out", because the strong likelihood is that George W. Bush himself signed off on torture.

The ABC story says Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Ashcroft and  Powell discussed highly specific details and also authorized the torture policy. In an interview last year, Former CIA Director George Tenet stated that "It [the suggested torture techniques] was legal according to the Attorney General" and "it was authorized."

Tenet did not say who authorized the torture and although the ABC story notes the Justice Dept. had issued a 'top secret' memo declaring the "enhanced" torture methods to be legal such a ruling, on the supposed legality of the torture methods, does not indicate that the "authorization" Tenet referred to came from the Justice Department. Indeed, evidence points rather to the National Security Council and the White House.

Regardless of the Justice Department ruling, Tenet was apparently unwilling to implement the torture techniques without the additional legal cover of direct orders to do so from the White House. Tenet has referred to the "golden shield" which protects CIA agents his multiple trips to the National Security Council and the White House, on the torture issue, indicate he was was anxious to get as much legal cover for his people as possible.

As ABC details, Tenet "wanted reassurance his agents would be protected" went to the White House "again and again". That in turn suggests Tenet knew that using the torture techniques promoted by the administration would violate the Geneva Conventions and amount to war crimes.

The ABC story indicates that the Justice Department bears some of the culpability for the torture policy, and it also specifically implicates Condaleeza Rice and Dick Cheney, but ABC's coverage fundamentally muddies the nature of the power relationships.

The suggestion inherent to ABC's coverage is that the Justice Department and also the National Security Council operate as independent or qausi independent branches of government, somehow autonomous from presidential control. That is wildly misleading.  

As George E. Lowe has informed me this is not how the NSC works - the NSC does not operate independently from the president. The president chairs NSC meetings and he signs off on NSC resolutions. Here's how the White House itself describes the National Security Council:

The National Security Council is chaired by the President. Its regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) are the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the statutory military advisor to the Council, and the Director of National Intelligence is the intelligence advisor. The Chief of Staff to the President, Counsel to the President, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy are invited to attend any NSC meeting. The Attorney General and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget are invited to attend meetings pertaining to their responsibilities. The heads of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials, are invited to attend meetings of the NSC when appropriate.
National Security Council's Function

The National Security Council is the President's principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and cabinet officials. Since its inception under President Truman, the function of the Council has been to advise and assist the President on national security and foreign policies. The Council also serves as the President's principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies.

The Federation of American Scientists has a highly detailed description of the function and history of the NSC as an institution. The FAS account corresponds very closely with the account given to me by George E. Lowe right down to the specific sorts of terminology used.

The most salient point is this :

The National Security Council does not formulate policy independently from the president. The President chairs the NSC and is the final authority in policy formation.

Indeed, the president signs off on all key National Security Council decisions and all key NSC policy documents, and the president is the one who delegates authority so that NSC decisions and policies are implemented.

Thus, it's very likely George W. Bush signed an NSC document authorizing specific torture methods. In doing so Bush would have authorized, as official United States national policy, torture methods judged both by the Geneva Conventions, and also United States anti-torture legislation signed by Bill Clinton in the mid 1990's, to be illegal and which were treated, per the US prosecution of Japanese military officers for waterboarding, as war crimes.

As quoted by ABC, then Attorney General John Ashcroft's outburst during one of the NSC meetings on torture highlights the legally dubious nature of the torture techniques: "WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE ! --HISTORY WILL NOT JUDGE THIS KINDLY."  

[Below: part one (10 minutes) of my interview with George E. Lowe. Bottom and also a (5 minute) video based on an excerpt from a previous interview with Lowe]


Based on his 30 years of experience in government, as someone who has written National Security Council decision memos and is quite familiar with the National Security Council, George E. Lowe last week walked me through the process by which the Bush Administration torture program was probably first conceived of, as a legal opinion, and then turned into a National Security Council action memo, which presented a range of options, that got sent up the line to Bush.

As Lowe describes in the interview, "it's an art form", the writing of these things and the idea is to craft them in such a way (and to whisper in his ear to this end) so the president picks the right option.

Then, that act memo gets converted, probably, into a National Security Council resolution or other NSC document and it sets the official government policy and, as Lowe stresses, that's what this is all about, "it's about controlling the policy".

Here's the basic situation, as George Lowe describes it to me:

The torture techniques that were devised, sanctioned and implemented by the Bush Administration are widely recognized to violate the Geneva Conventions and international law, and this presented a bureacratic problem because the torture program, implemented at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and throughout a network of secret US detention centers established around the world, was massive.

The torture program was global policy, there were lots of people involved in implementing it. So, simply on a "cover your ass" basis, civil servants and people in the professional military, whomever was involved in the program in any capacity, needed the best possible legal cover. That's the subtext to Former CIA Director Gerge Tenet's resistance to authorizing torture based on a mere ruling from the Justice Department. Tenet wanted direct orders from the White House and he appears to have gotten them as, described in the ABC story, Condaleeza Rice instructed Tenet "This is your baby. Go do it!". Rice was delegating the authority to Tenet and ordering him to implement the new NSC torture policy.  

As Lowe explains, is about process, there's an established process by which government policy gets set, and then authority to implement that policy gets delegated, from Bush down the line.  
According to Lowe, the only person who has the level of authority necessary to sign off on National Security memos and resolutions is the president. So, at the White House level, there are two possibilities: Bush signed off on the torture policy or top members of his administration, Cheney, Rumsfeld and maybe others illegally usurped the authority, in effect staging a virtual coup. That would also indicate the president to be oblivious and incompetent, and we have to take such a possibility seriously, yes, but the greater likelihood is that George W. Bush signed off on torture and a National Security policy document got generated. Then Bush delegated to Rumsfeld the authority to implement the torture policy and from there Rumsfeld delegated down the line.

Originally posted to Troutfishing on Thu Apr 10, 2008 at 02:15 PM PDT.

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