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Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” (Golden 10/24/2004; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. (Alberto R. Gonzales 1/25/2002 ; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
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