Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas.By asking for approval each time, Tenet seemed to be trying to get additional cover for his people's use of the interrogation techniques, which were torture in most people's minds, though not in the opinion of White House legal hacks. Perhaps the meetings also promoted a sense of shared complicity, mutual buy-in and an incentive for secrecy. After all, who was going to talk -- if talking meant confessing to participating in detailed discussions of war crimes.
"It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time," said one high-ranking official who asked not to be identified. "They'd say, 'We've got so and so. This is the plan.'"
Sources said that at each discussion, all the Principals present approved.
"These discussions weren't adding value," a source said. "Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it's legal, (you should) just tell them to implement it."
Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.
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."
Call me naive, but I still find it shocking that discussions like this were held by senior officials of my government, in the White House yet. So much for the idea of Abu Ghraib as a few bad apples.