Describing the Bush administration's affinity for torture, Michael Stickings noted this morning, "it's not all about John Yoo. The U.S. didn't just start torturing its detainees because a government lawyer said it was okay, or because some executive-branch extremist like David Addington determined that anything and everything was permissible in a time of war, or because some dim-witted troops at Abu Ghraib just didn't know any better. At some point, early on, a decision to allow torture, to enable it, must have been made -- and it must have been made at the highest levels of government."
In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.
The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.
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 "Principals," ABC reported, included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who chaired the meetings.
According to one top official, Ashcroft reportedly asked aloud after one meeting, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
On this, Ashcroft could not have been more correct.
Marc Ambinder, among others, raises the prospect of war-crimes charges against these top White House "Principals," though Jack Balkin notes that the Military Commissions Act can serve as a get-out-of-the-Hague-free card.
Either way, the disgrace the "Principals" have brought upon the country is beyond question.