by Lara Jakes Jordan and Pamela Hess
Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.
The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to confirm details first reported by ABC News on Wednesday. The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.
Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.
“If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation,” the former intelligence official said. Those who attended the dozens of meetings agreed that “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on al-Qaida detainees, the former official said.
The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were Cheney, then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The White House, Justice and State departments and the CIA refused comment Thursday, as did a spokesman for Tenet. A message for Ashcroft was not immediately returned.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., lambasted what he described as “yet another astonishing disclosure about the Bush administration and its use of torture.”