Media cite DOJ memo to claim link -- refuted by Bush timeline -- between KSM waterboarding, thwarted L.A. plot

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Media figures have pointed to a 2005 Justice Department memo to claim that the use of waterboarding on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed caused him to reveal information intelligence officials used to foil a plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles. But according to the Bush administration, the plot was broken up more than a year before Mohammed's capture.

Several media figures have recently pointed to a May 30, 2005, Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo, written by then-acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury, to claim that the use of waterboarding on Al Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) caused Mohammed to reveal information intelligence officials used to foil a plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles. However, as Media Matters for America has noted, the Bush administration said in 2006 and 2007 that the plot was broken up in February 2002 -- more than a year before Mohammed's capture in March 2003.

Referring to the Library Tower plot, the Bradbury memo states on Page 10:

You have informed us that the interrogation of KSM -- once enhanced techniques were employed -- led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the "Second Wave," "to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into" a building in Los Angeles. Effectiveness Memo at 3. You have informed us that information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemaah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the "Second Wave," See id. at 3-4; CIA Directorate of Intelligence, Al-Qa'ida's Ties to Other Key Terror Groups: Terrorists Links in a Chain 2 (Aug. 28, 2003). More specifically, we understand that KSM admitted that he had tasked Majid Khan with delivering a large sum of money to an al Qaeda associate. See Fax from [REDACTED] DCI Counterterrorist Center, Briefing Notes on the Value of Detainee Reporting at 1 (April 15, 2005) ("Briefing Notes"). Khan subsequently identified the associate (Zubair), who was then captured. Zubair, in turn, provided information that led to the arrest of Hambali. See id. The information acquired from these captures allowed CIA interrogators to pose more specific questions to KSM, which led the CIA to Hambali's brother, al-Hadi. Using information obtained from multiple sources, al-Hadi "was captured, and he subsequently identified the Guraba cell. See id. at 1-2. With the aid of this additional information, interrogations of Hambali confirmed much of what was learned from KSM.

Some in the media have interpreted the memo's statement that the use of harsh interrogation techniques on Mohammed "led to the discovery" of the Library Tower plot as evidence that the use of these tactics was necessary for intelligence officials to thwart the plot. But as Slate.com's Timothy Noah noted on April 21, that claim conflicts with the "chronology" of events put forth on multiple occasions by the Bush administration. For instance, in a February 9, 2006, White House press briefing that Noah cited, Bush homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend noted that Mohammed was not captured until more than a year after the individuals planning the Library Tower attacks had concluded that the plot had been "canceled." Noah also noted that a May 23, 2007, Bush administration fact sheet stated that the administration "broke up" the Library Tower plot "in 2002" -- before Mohammed was captured. Noah concluded:

Conceivably the Bush administration, or at least parts of the Bush administration, didn't realize until Sheikh Mohammed confessed under torture that it had already broken up a plot to blow up the Library Tower about which it knew nothing. Stranger things have happened. But the plot was already a dead letter. If foiling the Library Tower plot was the reason to water-board Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, then that water-boarding was more than cruel and unjust. It was a waste of water.

The following media figures have pointed to the memo as evidence that the use of harsh interrogation techniques on Mohammed enabled intelligence officials to thwart the Library Tower plot:

  • In an April 22 Scripps Howard News Service column, Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, asserted: "Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah was slammed against only a flexible wall, with cushioning around his neck to prevent injury. In the end, he provided the intelligence used to capture KSM, who in turn 'yielded critical information' -- according to one of the released memos -- that helped foil a 'second wave' of terrorist plots, with Los Angeles among the targets."
  • On the April 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Karl Rove said, "I hope every American frankly reads the memos. I put them up on my website, Rove.com." The only memos listed on Rove's website are the four recently released OLC memos, including the May 30, 2005, Bradbury memo. Rove later said, "Remember, we specifically stopped the plot to run jets into the Liberty Tower [sic] in Los Angeles because of the information that we got from this. And there's a lot of other things that were stopped because of this interrogation techniques and the information they yielded."
  • In an April 21 CNSNews.com article headlined "CIA Confirms: Waterboarding 9/11 Mastermind Led to Info that Aborted 9/11-Style Attack on Los Angeles," Editor-in-Chief Terry Jeffrey referred to "the assertion made in a May 30, 2005 Justice Department memo that the use of 'enhanced techniques' of interrogation on al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) -- including the use of waterboarding -- caused KSM to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles." Similarly, in an April 22 column published at CNS and the Human Events website, Jeffrey wrote that "the CIA confirmed to me that it stands by assertions credited to the agency in this 2005 memo that subjecting KSM to 'enhanced techniques' of interrogation -- including waterboarding -- caused him to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to stop a planned 9/11-style attack on Los Angeles."

Additionally, an April 16 Associated Press report stated that the Justice Department memos "also offer justification for using the tough tactics. A May 30, 2005, memo says that before the harsher methods were used on top al-Qaida detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he refused to answer questions about pending plots against the United States. 'Soon you will know,' he told them, according to the memo. It says the interrogations later extracted details of a plot called the 'second wave' to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into a building in Los Angeles." The AP report did not mention that the plot had already been thwarted a year earlier, according to Bush administration statements.

Several American counterterrorism officials have reportedly expressed doubts that the Library Tower plot ever advanced beyond the initial planning stages and that it ever posed a serious threat, as Media Matters for America documented in February 2006.

From the April 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

ROVE: Well, yeah, but the left is -- you know, the left isn't that mad at him. You know, he has ended the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques, and that was their goal.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Dick Cheney is coming forward. I never thought he'd be talking this much six months ago. I thought we wouldn't hear from him for two years. And now he comes forward again, saying, "Now I want you to release the results of those enhanced interrogation practices." He is calling them out.

ROVE: Yeah.

KILMEADE: Why?

ROVE: Well, because, look, they -- we see this in a memo. There were two memos released by the administration. One by the director of national intelligence this week. One of them was released to the press the same time as the president made his decision. There was a second one that he sent to the intelligence community, which is now available online, that says, "This informa-- we got high-value information. We got -- this information kept America safe."

We briefed congressional and executive leadership about this and received approval for these methods. Meaning Nancy Pelosi, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle. These people were all briefed. Jane Harman -- they were all briefed. And third, America is still under assault and people want to plot -- are plotting to kill our people today.

So, Dick Cheney is wisely, I think, saying, "You know what? Let's let America judge these memos in their entirety." Not only -- I hope every American frankly reads the memos. I put them up on my website, Rove.com, so people can go and read them. You read them, and you see the care with which the CIA took. You know --

CARLSON: Oh, the whole thing about insects?

ROVE: -- they had doctors standing by, they had limitations. They could only use them when they had --

CARLSON: Exactly.

ROVE: -- under certain conditions when they thought they needed to get information. And now Dick Cheney has taken it one step further. The vice president is saying, "Let's take a look at the information that we got. Declassify those memos so the American people can see how they were protected." Remember, we specifically stopped the plot to run jets into the Liberty Tower in Los Angeles --

DOOCY: That's right.

ROVE: -- because of the information that we got from this. And there's a lot of other things that were stopped because of this interrogation techniques and the information they yielded.

DOOCY (co-host): Yeah. By the way, more of [Sean] Hannity's exclusive interview with Dick Cheney tonight on the Hannity show, 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Karl, yesterday we saw Jake Tapper kind of jabbing at Robert Gibbs in the press briefing room about, "$100 million -- that's really kind of just a drop of a bucket." And suddenly, it seems as if the mainstream media is -- a couple of members of it are taking a critical eye -- look at Obama.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Interrogation
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, CNSNews.com
Person
Terry P. Jeffrey, Clifford May, Karl Rove
Show/Publication
FOX & Friends
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