As more documents come out about enhanced interrogations, we are getting a clearer picture of the steps taken to implement them. One surprising revelation came yesterday, when the declassification of Senate Intelligence Committee documents showed former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the command chain for approval. It puts the decision even further in the White House, joining then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (via Baldilocks):
Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice verbally OK’d the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, a decision memorialized a few days later in a secret memo that the Obama administration declassified last week.
Rice’s role was detailed in a narrative released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed timeline yet for how the CIA’s harsh interrogation program was conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White House.
The new timeline shows that Rice played a greater role than she admitted last fall in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rice may not have occupied an organizationally higher spot in the White House than Ashcroft or Gonzales, but she’s been known as one of George Bush’s closest advisers ever since he took office. If one was tempted to make a compartmentalization defense for Bush in case of a prosecution, having Rice in the loop giving her blessing would make that more difficult. It seems very unlikely that she would have given her approval without at least briefing Bush.
However, that’s really a moot point. Dick Cheney has all but burst into song with his defense of these interrogations, and a VP has no authority other than that which a President explicitly gives him. If Cheney was in the loop, and McClatchy reports that Cheney signed off as well, then obviously Bush was as well. Cheney hasn’t been shy about it since the revelations in 2005 about waterboarding.
Rice’s involvement is more a historical footnote than a scandal explosion, but it’s an interesting historical footnote nonetheless. She has been reticent to get involved in politics since leaving the State Department at the end of the Bush administration. I suspect she’ll have to get back into the game to defend herself and the interrogations, even if she does it reluctantly.