The Magazine

Stalking the CIA

Justice lawyers at daggers drawn with the ­intelligence community.

Mar 29, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 27 • By DEBRA BURLINGAME and THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Last week, Bill Gertz of the Washington Times broke news of a fight between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice. The CIA wants Justice to investigate aggressively whether any laws were broken by attorneys working for the John Adams Project, a joint initiative of the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The lawyers reportedly provided photographs of CIA interrogators to defense attorneys, who then showed them to al Qaeda terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay. 

Stalking the CIA

Why would lawyers do that? Gertz says it was done “in an attempt to have the terrorism suspects identify the interrogators in order to call them as witnesses in future trials.” The John Adams Project’s lawyers wanted to use court proceedings intended to try mass-murdering terrorists for another purpose: to put the Bush administration and the CIA on trial. 

Although CIA officials say the pictures compromised the agency’s ongoing operations and could potentially lead to reprisals against the interrogators, Attorney General Eric Holder’s department apparently does not think the photos are all that important. During discussions with the CIA, the department’s lawyers have reportedly downplayed the seriousness of the offense. And the CIA is not happy about it. 

“Given the events of the past year there is concern in the agency over whether or not someone has their back,” a former senior intelligence official explained to us. “A failure to aggressively follow up these allegations will only worsen that concern.”

Gertz attributes the Justice Department’s reticence to particular lawyers within the department who are “sympathetic to the John Adams Project.” One Justice Department lawyer who is clearly sympathetic is Jennifer Daskal, who previously worked for Human Rights Watch and was appointed by Holder to the Justice Department’s Detainee Policy Task Force last year. Prior to joining the government, Daskal was an outspoken critic of the CIA and the interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration. 

President Bush “will go down in history as the torture president,” Daskal told the Associated Press in March 2008. “The Bush administration continues to insist that CIA and other nonmilitary interrogators are not bound by the military rules and has reportedly given CIA interrogators the green light to use a range of so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques, including prolonged sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, and exposure to extreme cold,” Daskal added.

Daskal’s anti-CIA activism was not limited to making hyperbolic statements to the press. Daskal and Human Rights Watch played a significant role in uncovering the CIA’s secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, where top terrorists were detained and interrogated. 

On November 2, 2005, Dana Priest of the Washington Post reported that the “CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.” The Post, citing the government’s security concerns, did not name the countries where the facilities were located. But just a few days later, on November 6, 2005, Human Rights Watch revealed the countries in a posting on its website. The organization said it had “collected information that CIA airplanes traveling from Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 made direct flights to remote airfields in Poland and Romania.” The organization encouraged European officials to investigate further, and the Europeans did just that.

In May 2006, the European parliament sent a delegation to Washington to discuss the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program with various interested parties. The delegation met with Human Rights Watch on May 10. Here is how a document produced by the European parliament describes the meeting:

The delegation met with John SIFTON (Counterterrorism Researcher) and Jennifer DASKAL (US Advocacy Director) who provided the delegation with circumstantial evidence linking Poland and Romania to secret CIA prisons, including flight records, statements by Polish and Romanian government officials, as well as precise details of specific planes used by the CIA. Both recognized that they do not have formal evidence of these allegations, but stressed the indications of these facts were actually very strong. Their information was that there had been detainees in CIA custody well before the Guantánamo Bay detention center had been established.

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