Who's in charge here?

Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice endorsed torture, but took care to "insulate" Bush.

By Steve Benen

Published April 11, 2008 1:56PM (EDT)

ABC News reported this week that a group of so-called "Principals" -- including 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 -- met dozens of times in the White House to "discuss and approve" specific interrogation techniques to be used against suspected terrorists.

The AP moved the ball forward on this story today.

Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.

The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved.

Those are actually two very interesting sentences. The first noted that Cheney & Co. asked Justice to "endorse the legality" of the interrogation techniques they'd decided to use. That seems backwards -- the "Principals" should have sought legal parameters from the Justice Department about what was and was not permissible under the law. Directing administration attorneys to sign off on torture techniques is, shall we say, problematic.

The second noted that Bush was "insulated." It's quite a concept. I'm trying to imagine the president walking through his White House asking his chief of staff, "Hmm. Dick, Rummy, Colin, Tenet, Ashcroft, and Condi are all huddled together. What's that all about?" Only to hear in response, "Don't worry about it."

It's vaguely reminiscent of the "out of the loop" defense utilized during the Iran-Contra scandal. Everyone around the president was engaged in criminal behavior, but we need not blame the president directly because he had no idea what was going on and no clue what the top members of his White House team were doing.

How reassuring.

Steve Benen

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