The consensus of top administration officials about the C.I.A. interrogation program, which they had approved without debate or dissent in 2002, began to fall apart the next year. Acutely aware that the agency would be blamed if the policies lost political support, nervous C.I.A. officials began to curb its practices much earlier than most Americans know: no one was waterboarded after March 2003, and coercive interrogation methods were shelved altogether in 2005. Yet even as interrogation methods were scaled back, former officials now say, the battle inside the Bush administration over which ones should be permitted only grew hotter. There would be a tense phone call over the program’s future during the 2005 Christmas holidays from Steven J. Hadley, the national security advisor, to Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director; a White House showdown the next year between Ms. Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney; and Ms. Rice’s refusal in 2007 to endorse the executive order with which Mr. Bush sought to revive the C.I.A. program.
The real trouble began on May 7, 2004, the day the C.I.A. inspector general, John L. Helgerson, completed a devastating report. In thousands of pages, it challenged the legality of some interrogation methods, found that interrogators were exceeding the rules imposed by the Justice Department and questioned the effectiveness of the entire program.
This IG report completely contradicted the legal analysis and rationales that had been provided by Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury and helped lead to the shutdown of the program, even prior to the passage of the McCain sponsored Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib Scandal.
Yet amazingly, even after Abu Ghraib and passage of the DTA, Cheney and Bradbury attempted to revive the program over the objections of Rice and NSA Counsel John Bellinger III.
Still, Mr. Cheney and top Justice Department officials fought to revive the program. Steven G. Bradbury, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel and author of the recently declassified 2005 memorandums authorizing harsh C.I.A interrogations, began drafting another memorandum in late 2006 to restore legal approval for harsh interrogation. Mr. Bradbury noted that Congress, despite the public controversy, had left it to the White House to set the limits. Early drafts of the memorandum, circulated through the White House, the C.I.A. and the State Department, stunned some officials. Just months after the Supreme Court had declared that the Geneva Convention applied to Al Qaeda, the new Bradbury memorandum gave its blessing to almost every technique, except waterboarding, that the C.I.A. had used since 2002.
Forced as secretary of state to defend the C.I.A. program before angry European allies, Ms. Rice and her aides argued that it had outlived its usefulness. In February 2007, Mr. Bellinger wrote to the Justice Department challenging Mr. Bradbury’s position. He called Mr. Bradbury’s memorandum a “work of advocacy” that gave a twisted interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, and told colleagues he might resign.
In 2007 President Bush - possibly exploiting a loophole in the DTA which allowed CIA personnel and contractors to exceed the Army Field Manual - re-instituted the interrogation program, despite the CIA IG Report and the Hamdan v Rumsfeld which had reinstated Geneva protections to detainees. In this go-around the Waterboarding and nudity which had previously been authorized were prohibited, but various other methods remained.
Bellinger's indictment of Bradbury's memo and Bush's decision to ultimately ignore the law and knowingly implement a plan that both the CIA and NSA doubted was either legal or effective may ultimately prove to be the final, sad, shameful CRIMINAL epitaph of his administration.