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.
The advisers were members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.
At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
This is the first time sources have disclosed that a handful of the most senior advisers in the White House explicitly approved the details of the program. Then there’s this:
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."
No, it won’t. But worse than that, it raises the spector that Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powel, Tenet and Ashcroft might have committed, or approved, war crimes. Jack Balkin thinks that even if they did, nothing will happen, since it won’t be in the national interest (even under a Clinton or Obama presidency):
It is not that certain members of the Bush Administration haven’t committed war crimes. I’m pretty certain that at least some of them have. The point rather is that it is very unlikely that they will ever be brought to justice for it, at least in our own country– despite the fact that there are statutes on the books which assert that the commission of war crimes violates our laws. That is not a normative recommendation. It is rather a prediction about power politics and about the deeply unjust world that we live in.
Aside from political considerations, Balkin notes that the Gang of Six could have a defense that they relied on Ashcroft’s legal approval, thus shielding them from war crimes conviction.
Still, there are some immediate consequences from this news. Mostly, you can now forget about Condaleeza Rice as a running mate for McCain. In fact, forget about her political career, as well as Powell’s.