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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dissembling -- It's Not Just a Job, It's a Way of Life

Steno Sue in today's WaPo online chat:
Alice Fisher has been in and out of the Bush Justice Department. Her appointment was held up as a procedural move by a member of the Senate for reasons unrelated to her qualifications. All top DOJ officials are Bush appointees. I am not aware of any ties between Fisher and DeLay. That said, she and other DOJ leaders are going to be scrutinized for any sign they are not pursuing this case aggressively. So far, though, they seem to have made it a high priority.
[Levin] has raised questions about Fisher ever since he obtained a more complete copy of a May 10, 2004, internal FBI e-mail outlining bureau concerns about interrogation practices at Guantanamo. The e-mail to senior FBI counterterrorism official T. J. Harrington—sent by an agent whose name remains redacted—reported on earlier disputes between FBI agents and top generals overseeing Guantanamo about “the effectiveness (or lack thereof)” of aggressive Defense Department interrogation techniques being used at the U.S. detention facility.

“In my weekly meetings with DOJ [the Department of Justice] we often discussed DOD [Department of Defense] techniques and how they were not effective or producing [intelligence] that was reliable,” the e-mail reads. The agent then listed a number of Justice Department Criminal Division officials who attended the meetings, including Fisher, who between July 2001 and September 2003, was deputy assistant attorney general in charge of the division. “We all agreed DOD tactics were going to be an issue in the military commission cases. I know [senior Criminal Division lawyer Bruce Swartz] brought this to the attention of DOD OGC [Office of General Counsel].”

But in written responses to the Judiciary Committee, Fisher denied having heard about such complaints. While acknowledging that she attended the weekly meetings referred to in the e-mail, Fisher wrote: “I do not recall that interrogation techniques were discussed at these meetings.” Fisher said she did recall becoming aware of “FBI concerns” about interrogations, “but I cannot recall the content of specific meetings … I do not recall the FBI expressing to me concerns about illegal activity at Guantanamo Bay regarding detainee treatment or mistreatment.”

After receiving her responses, Levin as well as Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. Dick Durbin, told Justice officials that they wanted to question the FBI agent who wrote the May 10, 2004, e-mail to resolve what they saw as a conflict. Justice refused, citing longstanding policy, thereby leading to Levin’s hold on Fisher’s nomination. (Under longstanding custom, any individual senator can place such a hold and delay confirmation votes.) In an effort to break the logjam, Justice officials then interviewed the FBI agent on their own and then reported back that the Democratic senators were misconstruing his e-mail, according to a July 26 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter by William E. Moschella, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.

Moschella said that the unnamed FBI author of the May 10 e-mail reported that the sentence referring to weekly meetings with Fisher should be “decoupled” from the sentences before and after it, which refer to discussions about the ineffectiveness of Defense Department tactics and the agreement among participants that “DOD tactics were going to be an issue in the military commission cases.” In fact, according to Moschella’s letter, the FBI agent only remembered discussions with Fisher about one particular detainee and his links to law-enforcement investigations; “he does not recall any conversation with or in the presence of Ms. Fisher regarding interrogation techniques or the treatment of detainees.”

The answer didn’t satisfy Levin who still insists on speaking directly to the FBI agent, not relying on the Justice representation of what he said, according to a Senate source who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the matter.
"Unrelated to her qualifications?" That's a bit of a stretch, I would say. She didn't recall being at a meeting where the FBI expressed their concerns over Gitmo interrogation procedures, despite the fact that she was listed in the memo as having attended. Several Senators understandably wanted was to talk to the FBI agent who wrote the memo. Gonzo claimed the author's story had now changed, and the Senators said fine, let's hear it directly. But instead of doing something rather simple to clear it all up -- produce the FBI agent who can just repeat the story that they were mistaken -- Bush takes the rather extraordinary step of giving Fisher a recess appointment smack dab in the middle of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Does anyone else smell a steaming pile of bullshit?