Cheney's CIA memos don't show what he said they'd show.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Aug. 25 2009 7:32 PM

Cheney Refuted

Those CIA memos he got released don't show what he said they'd show.

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Update, Aug. 26, 2009: The newly released, less-redacted version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General's report on enhanced interrogation sheds more light on all these questions than the two reports whose release Cheney demanded. Most significantly, it states that Sheikh Mohammed "provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete." So why didn't Cheney talk up the IG report instead? Perhaps because its findings on whether enhanced interrogation actually worked are inconclusive. Perhaps because it says that "[u]nauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented techniques were used," including mock executions and threats to harm or kill members of detainees' families, and that these techniques were "inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights." Perhaps because it says that none of the plots revealed by detainees "were imminent." (So much for ticking time bombs.) Perhaps because it says that enhanced interrogation has put the CIA at risk of "potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges." Perhaps because, even though the conclusions are still blacked out, one gets the strong sense that the CIA IG thinks torturing enemy combatants was a truly terrible idea.

Update, Aug. 27, 2009: Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard calls the two CIA reports "the so-called Cheney documents" because the second of the two, "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against al-Qaida," is dated June 3, 2005 whereas the document Cheney actually requested is dated June 1, 2005. Cheney's request stated that the June 1 report was 13 pages long, but the June 3 report released by the CIA is only 12 pages long. (The other report, "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Preeminent Source on al-Qaida," is the document Cheney requested, Hayes writes; the dates and page numbers match.)

My instinct would be to believe that Cheney just got the date and number of pages slightly wrong. If the CIA released the wrong document, wouldn't Cheney be making a noisy stink about it? On the other hand, maybe Hayes' blog item is Cheney making a stink about it; Hayes wrote a  sympathetic 2007 biography of Cheney, and got lots of access.

Hayes writes that an "intelligence source with knowledge of the memos" tells him there really are two separate reports, one dated June 1 and one dated June 3, and that the unreleased June 1 report is more detailed (even though it's only one page longer). If that's true, then either the Obama administration goofed by releasing the wrong memo or it pulled a deliberate switch. The latter possibility strikes me as remote, given the near-certainty that someone would notice the discrepancy. I've put a call in to Judicial Watch to find out what they know.

Update, Aug. 27, 2009, 5:40 p.m.: "It is not the right document," says Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. Although Fitton told me he has no independent knowledge of a June 1 report, "we plan to raise this issue with lawyers for the CIA." Fitton directed me to what he called "cagey" language in the cover letter  accompanying the release. Eric Soskin, a trial attorney with the Justice Department's Civil Division, which represented the CIA in the FOIA lawsuit, writes that the CIA has examined "certain records in this matter, and has determined that it may release some of these records in whole or part." Nowhere does Soskin say he is releasing the specific records that Cheney and Judicial Watch actually requested.


I phoned Soskin to ask him about this. Would he comment? He would not and referred me to a Justice Department press officer, whom I was unable to reach. I have now sent an e-mail query to someone else in the Justice Department press office.

Although I disagree with Hayes about what the documents released thus far show and don't show about the alleged efficacy of torture, I now think he is probably right that the CIA substituted a June 3 report for a June 1 report.

Update, Aug. 28, 4:40 p.m.: There was no reply from the Justice department's press office, so I e-mailed my query again this afternoon. In response to this second request, I received an e-mail from Matthew A. Miller in the Justice department's press office. It said: "Going to refer you to the CIA for the question, as the documents in question are theirs." I phoned the CIA. The relevant press officer couldn't come to the phone, so I sent my question by e-mail. He replied: "Will be in touch shortly."

Update, Aug. 29: Yup, there was a switcheroo. How very annoying.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.