ABC News reports that Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and John Ashcroft were part of a Principals Committee that discussed in great detail and specifically approved harsh interrogation techniques for detainees held by the CIA.
Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects—whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.
The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.
John Ashcroft, it appears, repeatedly signed off on the legality of the techniques but was squeamish about going into details, arguing "that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations." "According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: `Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.' "
Morever, the committee's approvals, it appears, continued even after Jack Goldsmith disavowed the Yoo torture memos:
[T]he CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns—shared by Powell—that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."