As national security adviser to former US president George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice verbally approved the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, the earliest known decision by a Bush administration official to OK the use of the simulated drowning technique.
Rice’s role was detailed in a narrative released on Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed time line yet for how the CIA’s harsh interrogation program was conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White House.
The new time frame shows that Rice played a greater role than she admitted last fall in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The narrative also shows that dissenting legal views about the severe interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly.
The Intelligence Committee’s time frame comes a day after the Senate Armed Services Committee released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the CIA’s harsh interrogation program and abuses of prisoners at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan and at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
Both revelations follow US President Barack Obama’s release of internal Bush administration legal memos that justified the use of severe methods by the CIA, a move that kicked up a firestorm from opposing sides of the ideological spectrum.
The new narrative, which compiles legal advice provided by the Bush administration to the CIA, says Rice personally conveyed the administration’s approval for waterboarding of Zubaydah, a so-called high-value detainee, to then CIA director George Tenet in July 2002.
Last fall, Rice acknowledged to the Senate Armed Services Committee only that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed and asked for the attorney general to conduct a legal review. She said she did not recall details. Rice omitted her direct role in approving the program in her written statement to the committee.
A spokesman for Rice declined comment when reached on Wednesday.
Days after Rice gave Tenet the nod, the Justice Department approved the use of waterboarding in a top secret Aug. 1 memo.
Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002.
In the years that followed, the narrative issued on Wednesday says, there were numerous internal legal reviews of the program, suggesting government attorneys raised concerns that the harsh methods, particularly waterboarding, might violate federal laws against torture and the US Constitution.
But Bush administration lawyers continued to validate the program. The CIA voluntarily dropped the use of waterboarding, which has a long history as a torture tactic, from its arsenal of techniques after 2005.
The two Senate reports say CIA lawyers first presented the plan to waterboard Zubaydah to White House lawyers in April 2002, a few weeks after his capture in Pakistan. Tenet wrote in his memoir that CIA officers themselves originated the idea.