Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama's First (?) Rendition

Scott Horton has the disturbing details over at HuffPo.

"[Raymond] Azar alleges that on arriving at Bagram he was shackled to a chair in an office for seven hours and not allowed to move. Then in the midst of a cold rainstorm he was taken to an unheated metal shipping container converted to use as a cell. The cell was brightly lit and although the outside temperature approached freezing, he was given only a thin blanket. He also claims that he was not permitted to sleep during his confinement at Bagram, which lasted over a day. Then he was told he was going to take a plane trip. His handlers would not tell him where he was going. He feared he was being dragged to Guantanamo, there to be 'disappeared' and tortured. How else, he thought, could he explain the absence of Afghan authorities, the hooding and other techniques?"
Other allegations include threats to Azar's family and nude photography.

In the past months, since Inauguration, President Obama and his team have built a framework for this type of activity. They've embraced the abuse of the state secrets privilege to cover up Bush crimes. Well, guess what - it will work equally well to help Obama cover up whatever it is he wants to do.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ya Think?

New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The director of the Central Intelligence Agency,Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.

Now, if I have to guess how this will be received by the right-wing nutosphere I would guess that this makes Panetta an evil librul traitor. I think the "vindicates Nancy Pelosi" (at least at some level) is going to be missed.

Politico says that the CIA is contesting the truth of what is in the letter. The brain, it aches.

Hopefully further exposure of the CIA's lies will create more pressure on the Administration to release important documents relating to the torture regime. At the moment it is obvious that there will be no public/citizen's dialogue on what we did to detainees and how we can effectively combat terrorism without becoming utter barbarians. President Obama is content to develop a "detention post-acquittal" policy behind closed doors, while his DoJ continues to abuse the state secrets privilege. Maybe establishing the abuse of executive power and utter of the Bush years will incite greater public interest in the lies and excessive executive powers that remain.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Obama Deep-Sixed a Truth Commission

Man, I really wish I voted for someone that would deliver transparency and accountability. Apparently, I did not.

I saw this over at TPM Cafe posted by rumpole. Here's the link. Froomkin quotes Jane Mayer:

"'I'm not big on commissions,' Panetta told me. 'On the other hand, I could see that it might make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O'Connor, Lee Hamilton—people like that.' The appeal was that Obama could delegate to others the legal problems stemming from Bush Administration actions, allowing him to focus on his ambitious political agenda. 'In the discussion phase'—early in the spring, before Obama decided the issue—'I was for it,' Panetta said. 'Because every time a question came up, you could basically say, "The commission, hopefully, is looking at this."' But by late April Obama had vetoed the idea, fearing that it would look vindictive and, possibly, inflame his predecessor. 'It was the President who basically said, "If I do this, it will look like I'm trying to go after Cheney and Bush,"' Panetta said. 'He just didn't think it made sense. And then everybody kind of backed away from it.'"

Ok, first of all, Cheney is inflamed. And he is calling for the further declassification of documents - IOW, a Truth Commission.

Accountability for torture, equality for gays - Obama is turning out to be timid. A weenie.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

You'll Never Get Ahead...

From Truthdig/LATimes:

"Reporting from Washington -- President Obama's pick to be the intelligence chief at the Department of Homeland Security withdrew from consideration on Friday amid signs that he could face opposition on Capitol Hill over his role in the CIA's interrogation of terrorism suspects."


Mudd became the latest candidate for a high-level intelligence position to be forced to withdraw after being tied to the CIA's use of severe methods to interrogate terrorism suspects. 

From 2002 to 2005, Mudd served as deputy director of the CIA's counter-terrorism center, a unit that swelled in size in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and was responsible for running the agency's secret overseas prisons."

At least we know torturing doesn't get you ahead in the job world (except when it does - courtesy of Militarytracy).  But you do get to keep your old job and duck questions about what you did in the past - or work your way into another high-level, confirmation unrequired position, like John Brennan did.  

At this point, it's obvious that we would all be better served by having a Truth Commission establish the genesis and implementation of Bush's torture programs.  I don't really weep here for Mudd and his career trajectory, but I do think it is absurd that all our political system has done so far in response to our past torturing is create a bump in the road for anyone interested in civil career advancement.  It is a pathetic injustice to all involved - from Binyam Mohamed to Mudd and the American people in general.

And a final question - why does President Obama keep selecting these guys?  Especially after the example of John Brennan, why did he think Mudd would squeak through?  I would note that Mudd's role at the CTC is not entirely clear - his FBI biography (h/t Laura Rozen) suggests as Deputy Director of the CTC he "was responsible for overseeing operational, analytical, and support programs in the Center" and also that he was in the CTC "the Deputy Director of the Office of Terrorism Analysis, the analytic arm of the CTC."  I would generally be more creeped out by people involved in Operations.

But the interesting aspect of Mudd's withdrawal from consideration is that it raises questions about how the analytical branches influenced interrogations - from an AP Report:  "Mudd's analysts used information obtained through harsh interrogations, and the official said that Mudd is likely to be questioned on whether the analysis branch pressured interrogators in the field to use harsher methods because they believed detainees were not telling the truth."  This hasn't been much talked about, and apparently it won't be (remember, part of Brennan's defense - or defenses made for him - was that he was in analysis, not operations).

In any case, Mudd's relationship to torture policy has been established.  How cowardly is it that our government selects people with these backgrounds for new positions, allows them close to a confirmation hearing at which point they withdraw, go back into the part of the government they came from, and no one says boo.  I guess the Senate Intelligence Committee really isn't all that eager nor interested in the answers to the questions they were intending to ask.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Um, Duh.

Specter Says Record Needed of Future CIA Briefings

"In a letter Thursday to the White House and leaders of congressional intelligence committees, Specter says this would prevent disputes later -- like the recent one over what and when House SpeakerNancy Pelosi was told about severe interrogation methods used on terrorism detainees.

He says if the dispute involves classified materials, the transcript could be reviewed by top members of the intelligence committees or even a court. Specter is a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee."

I thought that was pretty obvious.  I am hoping that one product of the Bush mess is that more stringent oversight will be conducted over the CIA by Congress.  dday at Hullabaloo has a great post about why that oversight is needed - members of both parties during the Bush years have said the CIA lied.

Another example of the "CIA lied" genre - Jane Harman regarding the videotape destruction:

"Lawmakers were initially told only of the existence of a single tape showing Mr. Zubaydah, said California Rep. Jane Harman, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, when she warned the CIA not to destroy that tape. A committee spokeswoman said it was told in the past year that there were 92 tapes, after Rep. Harman departed the committee.

'My jaw fell through the floor,' Rep. Harman said. 'My impression was that this was a videotape. I never imagined it would be 92 videotapes.' The CIA misled her, she said, and 'it may also be a violation of law.'" [emphasis supplied]

I don't know who is doing the briefing over at the CIA, and who is telling them what to brief Congress about, but that person(s) should be in a little trouble right now.  They would be if we were "looking back," anyway.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What They Want

From Howard Bashman over at How Appealing:

"For example, the 'attention grasp,' described as 'grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on either side of the collar,' is one of the 13 techniques employed in the past by the CIA and is listed in the Justice Department's May 10, 2005, memo. It is barred under the Field Manual. Unlike harsher techniques on the list, such as nudity, dietary control, sleep deprivation and waterboarding, CIA officials say they want the authority to use the attention grasp without going back to Washington for approval."

Here is another description of the "attention grasp," in official SERE language, describing its purpose, via Tom Burghardt:
"10. ATTENTION GRASP: Typical conditions for application: to startle, to instill fear, apprehension, and humiliation or cause insult."
Ok.  So the CIA apparently didn't get the memo that even new military commissions will, in Obama's own words,
"ensure that: First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial."
So the very source of the "attention grasp," SERE, describes the point of the "attention grasp" as to insult and humiliate.  Obviously the opposite of what is permissible in federal courts, and even in military commissions, Obama style.

Doesn't anyone in the CIA see the problem here?

I suppose you could do some legal gymnastics and try to explain how the "attention grasp" is not cruel and degrading.  But that's a road we've been down - and inching closer and closer to Bybee, Yoo, and Bradbury is not pretty.

Regarding Pelosi-Panetta

Mary McCarthy, per WaPo:

"In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA's detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat."
If the subject is truth, it's hard to guess why anyone would be in the CIA's corner.

Hi again, by the way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Liars Lining Up

BTD at TalkLeft critiques Richard Cohen today. I wrote a comment there that warrants a separate post here, methinks, especially as the dialogue on torture is currently revisiting misleading past statements from "agents in the field" on the effectiveness of interrogations (see Marcy Wheeler, and the NYT). So if you will indulge:

First of all, it is pretty much a complete untruth that Obama has "waffled over" whether or not to prosecute CIA interrogators. He has said, Panetta has said, and DNI Blair has said they WILL NOT. But for some reason columnists like Cohen and Ignatius like to ignore that and try to enflame the nation. Here Cohen is standing with Mike Huckabee for God's sakes.

FURTHERMORE, it never ceases to amaze me that MSM writers suck up to disenchanted spies. They seem to take any change to intelligence policy quite personally. Mr. Cohen seems to regard himself as an "agent in the field."

His column perfectly displays what actual ex-CIA Mel Goodman wrote about recently in CIA & Washington Post: Joined at the Hip. To quote:

"Surely senior journalists from the mainstream media must understand that reliance on anonymous CIA clandestine sources is neither good reporting nor professional journalism. Many of these 'anonymous sources' almost certainly are former and current CIA officials seeking to protect themselves. George Tenet, John McLaughlin, and John Brennan are individuals who fit that description."

Also, you [BTD] are right, Cohen is pretty dim:

"If the threat of torture works -- if it has worked at least once -- then it
follows that torture itself would work. Some in the intelligence field,
including a former CIA director, say it does, and I assume they say this on the
basis of evidence."

Um. OK. One of nice things about some of the recent revelations is that it has shown up even the "good spies" to be deceivers of the public. So for example, John Kiriakou, who came out to ABC with his waterboarding accounts and how awesome it was and how Zubaydah's torture saved so many lives. Basically none of that was true. All this has been covered recently. But I guess Cohen missed it.

There's simply no reason to believe a demonstrable war criminal is telling you the truth. I mean, c'mon.

That to me is the kicker. When someone is that deep in sh*t as serious as a war crime, do you really think they're going to tell you the truth? Especially if they work for the CIA? Not to say that everyone in the CIA is dishonest, but it is rarely the business of the CIA to openly discuss their operations. That is why we have Congressional Oversight Committees. That is why we should have a Truth Commission.

Now Spencer Ackerman paints a picture over at Firedoglake that is even more muddled than what we have now. He says:

"That makes me wonder about the integrity of 'accounts from the field.' We know
from George Tenet's 'guidelines' from January 28, 2003, that every time an "enhanced technique" is used, there has to be a record of it. But this is 2002. It's possible that a) accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding are contradictory or b) accounts are incomplete or c) accounts are incorrect. We have reason
to suspect from Ali Soufan
that the CIA is conflicted about torturing Abu
Zubaydah and that his pre-torture interrogation worked. It's at least possible,
then, that someone could have written or otherwise informed Kiriakou that Abu
Zubaydah "broke" after being subjected to the waterboard once."

If the question is, did Kiriakou intend to lie or not, you are faced with a few situations. If he only read the first page of the Zubaydah interrogation report, he would certainly be deceiving us to tell us Zubaydah "broke" after 35 seconds and that "from that day on, he answered every question" and disrupted so many attacks. But as it turned out, according to WaPo, nothing was disrupted from waterboarding Zubaydah. From his language, it does not exactly sound like Kiriakou was reading an incomplete account of the interrogation, but then what is the explanation for the discrepancy?

Spencer suggests three possible explanations, which are contradictory accounts, incomplete accounts, or incorrect accounts from the field. I am not sure if the problem was the "accounts from the field." I have a few explanations for Kiriakou's pretty offkey whistleblowing:

A. Only later did counterterrorism officials realize the waterboarding didn't work (in which case Kiriakou jumped the gun by going on TV and abused his authority in telling us that waterboarding did work - not exactly a liar, but not a great showing).

B. Kiriakou was being lied to by his superiors (as Marcy/Spencer suggest is possible) OR underlings (which is one of the scariest options - how dysfunctional an agency is that? How does torturing protect our national security if it creates situations of deliberate internal misinformation? We have 100 spies on the payroll, but only 2 of them actually know what's going on???)

C. Kiriakou was simply lying.

Well...Kiriakou may still be lying. Laura Rozen writes the following:

"Following the release this month of U.S. government memos showing Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times in one month, and not one time as Kiriakou had said,
ABC News posted an update to its 2007 interview with Kiriakou in which
he responded: 'When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu
Zubaydah being water boarded on one occasion. It was after this one occasion
that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in
the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in
the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did
I witness the use of such techniques.'"

Again - the Washington Post suggests that Zubaydah disrupted exactly zero terrorist attacks. Note that Kiriakou doesn't say in this statement that the "information related to a planned terrorist attack" was relevant, important, or even accurate.

As I said - There's simply no reason to believe a demonstrable war criminal is telling you the truth. I mean, c'mon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

If By Work You Mean Fail

Now that the memos are out, people are speaking out and pushing back against Cheney's torture works B.S. This editorial is one of the most powerful anti-torture pieces I've read recently. Via Attaturk:

"FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the
mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla,
the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my
counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in
identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process."

Wow, note the emphasis on DUE PROCESS. More from Ali Soufan (the interrogator/writer of the editorial):

"One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him. [emphasis supplied]"

When you discover this level of incompetency, it becomes a little hard to argue that Bush kept us safe.

The writer makes a final point - that contractors, as opposed to CIA officers, requested that "alternative techniques" be used. It's still on the hands of the CIA brass that these techniques were used, but if true, it poses some interesting questions. Who was in charge of overseeing and regulating these contractors? Why were the contractors given so much authority? Prosecuting contractors would be easier than prosecuting government officials - right now, a torture suit against CACI is going forward - though CACI tried to have it dismissed, twice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Hard Is This?

David Ignatius is having a hard time:

"Put yourself in the shoes of the people who were asked to interrogate
al-Qaeda prisoners in 2002. One former officer told me he declined the job, not
because he thought the program was wrong but because he knew it would blow up.
'We all knew the political wind would change eventually,' he recalled. Other
officers who didn't make that cynical but correct calculation are now 'broken
and bewildered,' says the former operative.

For a taste of what's ahead, recall the chilling effects of past CIA
scandals. In 1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a 'scrub' of the agency's
assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads. Officers were
told they shouldn't jettison sources who had provided truly valuable
intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one former division chief, was:
'Don't deal with assets who could pose political risks.' A similar signal is
being sent now, he warns."

How hard is this? What does a scrub of the CIA's Guatemalan contacts have to do with this one simple message: DO NOT TORTURE. That's all. That's the only messsage. DO NOT TORTURE AND DO NOT SEND PEOPLE TO BE TORTURED.

And I wonder why these officers involved with torture interrogations are broken and bewildered. Is it perhaps because they...tortured?

But David Ignatius has a point. No, not a good point, just that he structured his entire editorial to get to his point - that conservative elements in the CIA must be constantly fellated and that a commission that reviews Bushco policy should be done "behind closed doors" and prepare a tidy little report to us. Because nothing will discourage us from going through this entire mess again like a secret commission.

There was not one single source in his editorial that approved of Obama's recent activies - that is, unless you count the masses quoted in David Ignatius' piece as "hooting and hollering" during Obama's speech. But apparently they don't count.

IMO, the best way to raise the CIA's morale is to ensure we never put them in a position where they commit war crimes again. Hopefully that is what we are on the way to doing. I am sure there are people in the CIA that understand that.

Update: From Jeff Stein, the crushing low morale:

"Fans began lining up four hours before Obama's con --, er, speech, Meek reported
late Tuesday afternoon in the D.C. bureau's always entertaining "Mouth of the Potomac" blog.

'Agency workers began lining up at noon for a chance to see the rock
star of public life. And when Obama entered the room, a cheer exploded that was
as shrill and ear-piercing as it was long: about 80 seconds. Think the Beatles,
Michael Jackson, Mick and the boys. Definitely not George W. Bush.'"

You Don't Get to Plead Ignorance

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have an astonishing story today at NYT. Apparently these bozos really didn't know what they were doing:

"WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations
without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans
during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New
York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A.
officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George
W. Bush
, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees —
investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with
little debate."

Here's a specific example:

"Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been
prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was
a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish
Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia."

Now, I really don't buy this "oh my god, we had no idea simulated drowning was torture!" idea. And isn't there someone in the CIA whose job it is to like...know stuff? There was no one in Operations who had some understanding of what constitutes torture? I find that really hard to believe. And finally, the course of barraging Zubaydah with whatever they could imagine is in itself suggestive of torture - this is your body, and we do what we want with it.

Reading Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side, you know that post 9/11 the atmosphere was one of brutality - Cofer Black's "we're going to put their heads on sticks" and all of Dick Cheney's dark side rhetoric.

Claiming ignorance is not going to fly here, guys and girls. Especially since it means your argument is falling apart - how do you argue "we didn't know it produced false confessions!" while saying "it worked! it worked!"?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another good reason for a Truth Commission

alongside prosecutions of course:

"'The next day, he told his interrogators that Allah had visited him in his
cell during the night and told him to cooperate,' said Kiriakou in an

'From that day on, he answered every question,' Kiriakou said. 'The
threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of

(from the Christian Science Monitor)

Basically, everything we think we know about torture could be a crock of crap. Because Kiriakou was clearly lying out his butt when describing the entire Zubaydah interrogation - even though he was there. Once upon a time, Kiriakou's information was a touchstone. Perhaps he should be brought in for another interview.

Good news: Obama is open to a truth commission and it is up to Holder to determine whether prosecutions will happen.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Marcy Wheeler tells us that the CIA used waterboarding at least 83 times against Abu Zubaydah in August of 2002 and 183 times against KSM in March 2003. As she notes,

"Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. So this is presumably a number that was once backed up by video evidence."

This brings us back again into the pressing need to pursue the CIA for the destruction of these tapes. The torture mess is colossal. The tape destruction at least is digestible.

I went back again and read the WSJ article on the tapes in light of the revelation that Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times.

"Just a fraction of the tapes showed the two men being questioned, the person
added. 'Most of the tapes were of Abu Zubaydah. A few were of Nashiri,' the
official said. 'Only about a dozen showed actual interrogations. The rest were
basically just them sitting around.'"

The ACLU's Amrit Singh makes a good point in the article - "the number of tapes destroyed indicate[s] a coverup."

Considering how utterly untrustworthy the CIA has been on every factual aspect of waterboarding, it is hard to doubt her logic. How many of those tapes really were just them "sitting around?" We now know enough to be sure that was on the interrogation tapes was chilling. While the appointment of a special prosecutor is still an open question, we do at least have a special prosecutor, John Durham, on this aspect. Dahlia Lithwick profiles him here. I hope he does not share Rahmbo's fear of pressing charges.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Happens When Your Lawyer Is A War Criminal?

"In this phase, you would like to employ ten techniques that you believe will dislocate his expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive and encourage him to disclose the crucial information mentioned above." Bybee Memo August 1 2002.

I think Valtin's/Mary's point here is important. And it is sobering to think of the past and present failures of our Congressional Intelligence Committees. The present failures include keeping an official investigation of the CIA secret and supporting Stephen Kappes for the D/CIA position.

I'm not sure there's an honest player in this whole thing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tomorrow We May Have New Reading

via Talkleft, tomorrow comes the Obama Administration deadline for releasing three particularly controversial CIA torture memos. And guess what? The CIA is going bonkers about it.

But this is what I don't understand -

"Top CIA officials have spoken out strongly against a full release, saying it
would undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services and
hurt the agency's work force, people involved in the discussions said. However,
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair favors releasing the information,
current and former senior administration officials said."

What is the point of having a DNI if he doesn't have some control, or sway, over a key intelligence agency beneath him? Why is the CIA allowed to make such a ruckus, and where is DNI Blair's voice if he is so in favor?

And why must we keep up the farce that these memos made any sense, ever?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Penetrating the Secrecy

Stephen Soldz has a new post up promoting a John Sifton article. It's very good and on one of my favorite subjects: the retention of Bush-era torture enablers and their total lack of accountability. From Sifton/Soldz:

"Take Stephen Kappes. At the time of the worst torture sessions outlined in the
ICRC report, Kappes served as a senior official in the Directorate of
Operations—the operational part of the CIA that oversees paramilitary operations
as well as the high-value detention program. (The directorate of operations is
now known as the National Clandestine Service.) Panetta has kept Kappes as
deputy director of the CIA—the number two official in the agency. One of Kappes’
deputies from 2002-2004, Michael Sulick, is now director of the National
Clandestine Service—the de facto number three in the agency. Panetta’s refusal
to investigate may be intended to protect his deputies. Since the basic facts
about their involvement in the CIA interrogation program are now known,
Panetta’s actions are increasingly looking like a cover-up."


"Nonetheless, footnote 9 reveals that the ICRC was informed by the then-director
of the CIA, Michael Hayden, that interrogation plans for detainees were
submitted to the 'CIA headquarters' for approval and as of 2007 were approved by “the Director or Deputy Director of the CIA.”
It is likely that this approval process existed at earlier points in 2002-2006.
This is more than an interesting detail. In fact, it could implicate several high-level CIA officials in torture, including previous CIA directors George Tenet (resigned 2004) and Porter Goss (resigned 2006), as well as deputy directors John McLaughlin (resigned 2004) and Albert Calland (resigned 2006). These CIA officials are no longer serving. Kappes, Sulick and others are still there." [emphasis supplied]

This is a point I made during the D/CIA nomination process - don't be naive - if you're in power in the CIA, you knew. You must've known. That was the basis of my "Broader CIA Critique" and Stephen Kappes diaries (1, 2). That's why articles like this one (entitled "Do We Really Have to Call Steve Kappes a Torturer?") by Spencer Ackerman get under my skin:

"The most serious charge against Kappes, as best I can tell, comes from his
role in the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar, the Egyptian
cleric taken by the CIA off the streets of Milan
and tortured in Egypt. A 2007
article from The Chicago Tribune
about the rendition reports briefly that
Kappes was 'one of those who signed off on the Abu Omar abduction.' (h/t TalkLeft.) No doubt that’s troubling. Extraordinary rendition is legally and morally
problematic. Italy is prosecuting in absentia the CIA agents involved in the Abu
Omar rendition.

But we really don’t know from what’s publicly available the context of
Kappes’ decision. Was this something that his bosses demanded? Did he have
decision-making authority on the rendition? (The Chicago Tribune piece is
extremely complex, as much of this is murky.) What were the alternatives to
handling Abu Omar? What did or didn’t Kappes know? I’m not saying this is
exculpatory, necessarily. I’m saying that we should investigate before we reach
a conclusion.
This is partially why I keep calling for an independent congressionally-mandated investigation. There’s just too much that’s unknown to label individual CIA people torturers as a general proposition, so take it easy on that front. Reality-based community and all that."

"Take it easy?" So Kappes signs off on a rendition to Egypt - a country known to torture prisoners - and that makes him...what? A good person? His bosses made him do it? What boss - he was no.2 in the Directorate of Operations at the time. Nobody holds a gun to your head to make you torture. And as a matter of fact, Stephen Kappes eventually did resign from the CIA - but not because of torture, rather because of office politics!

From wiki:

"It had been widely reported in the press that Kappes quit the Agency rather
than carry out a request by Goss to reassign Michael Sulick, his then
deputy[1]. It is also reported that this incident occurred because the chief of staff
admonished the then assistant deputy director for counterintelligence, Mary Margaret Graham (who now works for the DNI John Negroponte) about leaking personnel information[1]. According to some news reports, Sulick had just engaged in a shouting match with Goss’s chief of staff."

Wow, what a principled guy.

Yes, torture is a serious crime. Serious enough that you do not want to besmirch someone's name with it. But it's also serious enough that if you knew what was good for you, you should've run the other direction. Instead, Stephen Kappes was sitting pretty at the top of the CIA before office politics drove him out - and then back in again.

One final point is that it's especially difficult to get at some of these CIA people because they are lovingly protected by Congress. As wiki notes in Stephen Kappes' entry, Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein prefered he be selected for the CIA Director post. I mean...it is completely mind-boggling to think that the incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, in charge of oversight, would want to place someone so closely tied with deceiving that same committee and carrying out torture policies at the top of the CIA...but there you go. The CIA is deeply and seriously protected by our politicians. And the only way we can change that is by ensuring those politicians are fired...next time we see their name on a ballot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Institutional Power

The antics being laid at the feet of John Brennan are quite interesting. Stephen Soldz sums up both major articles on the release/not to release question swirling around the OLC memos here.

Basically, the John Brennan example is instructive because it mirrors in many ways the complaints being put up now about Obama's economic team. They are serving the interests of their friends - or, if you must be charitable, somehow it always happens that by coincidence their friends make out from decisions that simply have to be made. If you want to know the policy, look to the circle of friends. And that's simple - in Brennan's case, it was Tenet and even Cofer Black.

But the problem goes beyond Brennan - it has been noted that Brennan was able to flip Panetta on the issue. When I say flip, I say so because I assume that Panetta would have favored the release of these memos, due to his past statements on torture and the like. It's possible Panetta decided to completely sell out out of some entitlement of his new role, but I think it's more likely that institutional factors influenced him to do so - least of all the RETENTION OF STEPHEN KAPPES as the Deputy Director of the CIA. If anyone would like to hide the evidence, it is Stephen Kappes, whose link to the rendition of Abu Omar was reported in the Chicago Tribune. And furthermore, as in all these things, that link (to Abu Omar) is obvious simply by virtue of his preeminent position in the CIA. It was his job to know, and what he knew was reprehensible.

And what of that? What of a defiant CIA whose colorful alumni willfully threaten the country's security in the media? Even the Senate Intelligence Committee, screwed over (supposedly) by the CIA's reluctance to let the Senate conduct its mandated oversight, does not know if it will make its investigatory findings public. Senator Feinstein, do not hurt yourself while slapping your own wrist. Although I'm sure you won't.

This is especially crappy because the CIA has the information. This is the agency where it all began. The problem is not John Brennan (though he deserves the ire) - the problem is much larger. It's our reluctance to take the CIA in hand - because the organization is full of people who apologize for and defend torture. That attitude needs some exposure to the sunlight. We must expose the horror of what actually happened - war crimes - and expose the assumption that this actually works. The CIA analyzed the torture results...and reports are suggesting now that there weren't really any results at all. Why defend this stuff? And why not at least ask why the CIA feels its ineffective and inhumane methods should be spared any investigatory violence whatsoever? How many privileges does the CIA have and are they completely morally irresponsible in their role as servants of the President for what they actually do?

It's simple, especially in a country that at times leans as right as ours - if we're not careful, our laziness in terms of accountability will lead us into torture again, soon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Knew...

that when John Brennan was in the news again it would be for some annoying conservative bullsh*t (hence the title). And here it is:

"But some former and current Central Intelligence Agency officials say a rush to
release classified material could expose intelligence methods and needlessly
offend dedicated counterterrorism officers. Some administration and
Congressional officials said John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who now serves as
President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, has urged caution in disclosing
interrogation documents."

IOW, don't release the torture memos, because they describe what I oversaw as no.4 figure in the CIA.

And seriously, don't release them because it would hurt torturers' feelings?

It's unbelievable, this crap. Thank God for the courts - people (from the Executive Branch) want to bury this, and we can't let them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

David Ignatius: Opinions and Facts

Funny how these things work out! Maybe David Ignatius didn't know his asinine editorial would appear on the same pages as Peter Finn and Joby Warrick's report "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots" on March 29. Unfortunately for him, it did.

Ignatius' editorial reassures us that Obama's detention and interrogation policies are not some "new left-wing experiment." And he makes it known that if he chooses to, Obama can bring torture back. Ignatius writes:

"In drafting the new policy on interrogation, Obama and his advisers recognized
that there could be extraordinary situations -- say, a suspect with information
about nuclear terrorism -- where the president could decide to waive the
executive order banning harsh techniques. 'Everybody understands that if the
nation faces a severe threat, the president can do what's needed to protect us.
But he has to explain it. The problem with Bush was doing it all in secret,
which leads to abuse,' argues [Jeffrey] Smith."

This is pretty glib. On the same day that his paper declares that torturing Abu Zubaydah produced "no specific leads" and sent federal agencies on a million dollar goose-chase to discover plots fabricated out of torture (including imaginary plots about WMDs!), Ignatius just wants you to know - yes, we could do that again if we wanted to flex some muscle. Even though it doesn't work.

Further substantiating the Finn/Warrick article, Scott Horton quotes David Rose interviewing Bush-era FBI Director Robert Mueller:

"I ask Mueller: So far as he is aware, have any attacks on America been
disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through what the administration still
calls 'enhanced techniques'? 'I’m really reluctant to answer that,' Mueller
says. He pauses, looks at an aide, and then says quietly, declining to
elaborate: 'I don’t believe that has been the case.'”

And as far as ex-CIA Jeffrey Smith goes, no, dear reader, we're not in hell, it's just that you're feeling a lot of hot air right now. The notion that a CIA that is completely adverse to a public investigation, similar to the one conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, would like us to publicily announce our return to torture is crazy. (Remember - this guy helped advise Obama and Craig on these decisions!) And how does this picture square with what we now know of the Obama Administration - that they like the state secrets privilege, and that they have no interest in pursuing investigations into Bushco's misdeeds? You think Obama would step up to podium and tell America he's authorized waterboarding? And that that would make it all better? As Big Tent Democrat notes regarding another torture op-ed, making torture "okay" would be more complicated than simply saying it is so:

"Drum begs the question - since no such vote took place, torture remained
illegal. And of course, if an open vote was held - torture could not have been
'kept out of sight.' The United States would have had to opt out of the UN
Convention on Torture and repeal its codification of the Convention. Would we as
a people have approved of this when forced to say 'we approve of torture?' I do
not know, but the illegality, indeed, the criminality, of what occurred remains
manifest. In our names. The stain will never be removed."

Instead of acknowledging what is found in another section of his own paper, that torture doesn't work, Ignatius takes up (without dispute) Cheney's notion that torture is an important tool. In the process Ignatius uses the imaginary concept of the "ticking time bomb," itself as fear-mongering a device as any Cheney would employ to defend torture. Note to Ignatius - it's no longer 2003, and you don't have to simply entertain Cheney and his ghoulish, false notions. Years behind his own paper, I guess Ignatius didn't see the need to incorporate a few facts into his editorial - namely, that torture doesn't work.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Rendition Test

(h/t How Appealing) "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots" at WaPo. This is a profile of the screwy case of Abu Zubaydah and the US government not knowing what to do with him. The story has a number of points of interest but this in particular caught my eye:

"The Palestinian, 38 and now in captivity for more than seven years, had
alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda member dubbed the 'Millennium
Bomber' for his plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve
1999. Jordanian officials tied him to terrorist plots to attack a hotel and
Christian holy sites in their country. And he was involved in discussions, after
the Taliban government fell in Afghanistan, to strike back at the United States,
including with attacks on American soil, according to law enforcement and
military sources.

Others in the U.S. government, including CIA officials, fear the
consequences of taking a man into court who was waterboarded on largely false
assumptions, because of the prospect of interrogation methods being revealed in
detail and because of the chance of an acquittal that might set a legal
precedent. Instead, they would prefer to send him to Jordan."

People in the CIA are continuing to advocate rendition to torture, which is what rendition to Jordan is. Here you can read a Human Rights Watch report on the conditions in Jordanian prisons.

That Jordan is off-limits to any proposed rendition program should be obvious from reading Obama's executive orders. Apparently though the desire to perform such renditions lives on. It will be interesting to see if Obama is able to keep his promise not to render to torture. Hopefully he will.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Secret Secrets Are No Fun

Yesterday, I commented at Andy Worthington's blog about the Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry into the CIA. My comment was that this inquiry is highly unlikely to be effective based on Senator Feinstein's biases alone - she pushed publicly for long-time CIA Operations officer Steve Kappes to take the CIA Director position, despite his ties to the rendition program and God knows what else (he was no.2 in Operations for much of the early Bush years). Feinstein was finally pleased with the actual D/CIA selection when her request that Kappes stay on was granted. So I don't imagine that Feinstein will take a very hard line against some of these CIA operatives, and it seems pretty obvious that she will not apply any broader CIA critique of the sort that I think makes sense. If you're at the top, you take responsibility for what happens at the bottom...that's the way of the world isn't it? Alternatively, you could be taken under the wing of the investigator probing the war crimes your organization (read: YOU) performed. That is also the way of the world (in the US).

Unfortunately, there are a few other reasons why this investigation tastes like weak tea. The United States Senate Armed Services Committee held open hearings for their inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, and later published a report on what they found. Upon publication of this report, Senator Carl Levin appeared on the Rachel Maddow show and encouraged an investigation of the CIA that could lead to "indictments or civil action." You might think we were well on our way.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Reuters reports some very important (and really cowardly) differences between the Senate Intel. Committee's investigation and the Senate Armed Services Committee's investigation:

"The inquiry, to begin 'soon,' will be conducted in secret, a congressional aide
said, and it is unclear whether findings will be made public. The committee will have the power to subpoena witnesses but 'this is not a witch hunt,' the aide
said." [emphasis supplied]

We may never know! Never know the internal CIA opinion on torture, the way torture was carried out, who oversaw the programs, how it was implemented, what value it actually had (or rather was perceived to have), etc. The Congressional Intelligence Committees were mindblowingly disappointing during the Bush years. And this is just salt in the wound. How dare they call this an investigation when it seems clear that this is just going to be hanging out with their CIA buddies, shooting the sh*t about all the important stuff they used to do. If Carl Levin could publish his report, why can't Senator Feinstein publish hers? I simply do not understand why an agency that admits to waterboarding must be handled with kid gloves.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Politics & Our Crazies

I do my darndest to keep this a single-issue blog, but sometimes there are other issues that make other topics just so tempting. I could basically Twitter my reactions to the financial crisis ("OMG." "WTF??" "PLZ HELP" "MORE KRUGMAN") and my political quarterbacking hasn't paid off for anyone yet. But then there's Michele Bachmann. I have read so many hilarious posts about her today - they have really kept my spirits up. I read Blue Texan and laughed for a long time.

"I'm starting to believe Michelle Bachmann isn't actually a real politician at
all, but instead, an unusually gifted performance artist who's engaged in a
brilliant post-modern parody of an insane wingnut.
Over the weekend, she gave a radio interview to Assrocket, and here's how she describes her blogging and social media outreach as a member of Congress.
'I’m a foreign correspondent on enemy lines and I try to let everyone back here in Minnesota know exactly the nefarious activities that are taking place in Washington.'
This is beyond unhinged. It sounds like a press release from Stormfront."

The full chronicles of Minnesota's Rep can be found all over the blogosphere so I won't go into her amazing repertoire (see BarbinMD instead). I enjoy Ms. Bachmann as I would a talk radio personality. Except that after a moment you realize - oh my god, people actually elected her.

Now, why is this a big deal or at all relevant? Well, the Republicans have quite a crew of attention-grabbing crazies in their stable right now. They say outlandish, at times threatening, things that are not grounded in reality. I'm not sure if this is part of a political game, to basically be an actor and create your own drama around a given issue, or if the pols are truly stupid.

In any case, their ignorance is making it a lot tougher to dig out of the hole Bush made for us. You have Kansas' Senators fear-mongering about the possibility of Guantanamo detainees being transferred to their state. And Dick Cheney, fear-mongering, possibly because it's a hard habit to break. I'm not saying we need to run a glitzy PR campaign for all the innocents in Guantanamo but Good God, we really need to let the public know what the situation is there. These detainees received no fair trial that would exonerate them, and are little known otherwise to Americans. Not much has really changed since Guantanamo opened - "these guys are the worst of the worst!! Right?" There are plenty of people who will try to perpetuate that view (Bachmann, certainly). I think there is a lot of work to do between now and the time when the Obama DoJ finishes their reviews. Judging by their approach so far, I think the Obama DoJ will keep a low-profile on this stuff. I think it's essential that somebody explains who these people are in Guantanamo to the world (and of course, heroically enough, many people are...Andy Worthington, Glenn Greenwald, Digby, Valtin, The Talking Dog, Candace Gorman...these people are on my blogroll for a reason!). I would like to see the Obama Administration be a little more proactive on this front, but in any case, Guantanamo is closing. We need to make this as smooth (and just) as possible.

And Michele Bachmann, just yikes.

Obama & Geneva


"On Friday, lawyers for 30 detainees filed a motion accusing the
Obama administration of violating the Geneva Conventions
in its
treatment of the estimated 240 prisoners remaining at the controversial prison

Obama has vowed to close the camp within the next 12 months, and has
ordered individual reviews of the cases against each of the remaining
prisoners." [emphasis suppplied]

Hmm...all is not well at Guantanamo.

Update: Details:

"Lawyers for 30 detainees are seeking 'to end respondent's violation of
certain provision of the Third Geneva Convention,' a court filing obtained by
AFP said Thursday.

The attorneys argue the violations -- such as detention in solitary
confinement for 22 hours a day -- are part of an established policy against
their terror-suspected clients at the remote US naval base in southern

A Pentagon report said last month that conditions for the 240 men who
remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay are in line with the Geneva Conventions -- a
review that was harshly criticized by rights groups.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents
some Guantanamo prisoners, said detainees 'continue to be held in inhumane
conditions that violate US obligations under the Geneva Conventions, the US
Constitution and international human rights law.'"

3,000 Documents, or 3 Torture Memos?

[I hope it is not too tiresome to cross-post my recent diary at TalkLeft here...it is a synthesis of my two previous posts, basically, but I think it is far more coherent]

3,000 Documents, or 3 Torture Memos?

Now, look. I don't want to be pegged as a conspiracy theorist. But I find what the Obama Administration has done over the past few days with regards to some important torture-related issues a little strange.

The first event was the massive withholding of documents pertaining to the interrogation tapes (all 92 of them) that the CIA (criminally) destroyed. The ACLU asked for the documents, and their Blog of Rights covers it:

"Today we were expecting a list of documents pertaining to the contents of the
interrogation tapes destroyed by the CIA. We've been waiting for it all day, and
at 5:20 p.m., we got zilch, save a letter from the DOJ telling the Judge
presiding over the case that they won't turn over anything.
These 3,000 documents include summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to the destruction of the tapes. Also withheld: the list of witnesses who may have viewed the tapes or had custody of the tapes before their destruction."

This stuck out to me because I remembered that there was a bit of excitement a few weeks ago as to what those documents contained. mcjoan wrote at the time:

"The most encouraging bit from the letter: 'The CIA intends to produce all of the
information requested to the Court and to produce as much information as
possible on the public record to the Plaintiffs.' It would appear that the CIA
under Panetta intends to cooperate fully in this."

Well the exact opposite happened! Here is what we will get: "The CIA will provide these lists to the Court for in camera review on March 26, 2009." It is not mcjoan's fault that the CIA completely lied, but it will be our fault if we continue to believe them.

Following directly upon this news of the massive withholding of evidence from the public (and another promise broken), the Justice Department moved to declassify three torture memos from the Bush-era. These memos will detail the legal framework for torture and the permitted techniques. It will be the abstract version of what is detailed in the 3,000 documents Obama doesn't want you to see about tapes destroyed so you could not see torture in action.

The statute of limitations on torture is pretty short (8 years). And Obama is clearly going to take his time in revealing what happened. The call for action is going to have to come from outside his Administration.

I think it is important to keep track of the steady stream of B.S. on accountability and general detention/interrogation issues from the Obama Administration because there is almost certainly a strategy behind it. Is it a coincidence that news of three new torture memos coming out follows directly on the witholding of 3,000 documents? We know Obama does not care about investigating Bush, and his administration does not seem morally squeamish about using the "you were just following orders" excuse. What is frustrating is that the Obama Administration doesn't mind revealing the legal frameworks for torture - documentation for the record books, I suppose - but they are totally unable to come to grips with the actual torture done to detainees. Let's throw out Binyam's case. Hide the actual evidence. Deny habeas corpus to non-Afghanis that are to this day held at Bagram.

It feels to me that the Obama Administration on the subject of interrogation and detention policy is playing a media game. One well-publicized commendable thing comes on the heels of another in a series of legal actions that defend Bush executive power or deny justice to the victims of torture. The drip drip of information completely controlled by the Obama Administration becomes (hypothetically) our consolation for the lack of criminal prosecutions or a "day in court" for people like Binyam Mohamed.

Well, I don't think the executive branch should be allowed to control our access to such information, or grant such immunity to our Bushco criminals. It wouldn't be a bad thing to have an independent investigation in charge of what is leaked and what is not, who is tried and who is not, what evidence is revealed and what is not. We really don't need something as shameful, embarrassing and criminal as what happened over these past 8 years controlled by White House spin doctors.

The Endless B.S. of the CIA

Reading this article from the ACLU Blog of Rights I was reminded of something. I thought to myself, hey, weren't people excited by the potential upside of the revelation that the CIA had 92 (not two: they forgot the "9," apparently, honest mistake) interrogation tapes? And yeah, they were (from mcjoan):

"The most encouraging bit from the letter: 'The CIA intends to produce all of the information requested to the Court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the Plaintiffs.' It would appear that the CIA under Panetta intends to cooperate fully in this."

Yeah...well, that didn't actually happen:

"Today we were expecting a list of documents pertaining to the contents of
the interrogation tapes destroyed by the CIA. We’ve been waiting for it all day,
and at 5:20 p.m., we got zilch, save a letter from the DOJ telling the Judge presiding over the case that they won’t turn over anything.

These 3,000 documents include summaries, transcripts, reconstructions
and memoranda relating to the destruction of the tapes. Also withheld: the list
of witnesses who may have viewed the tapes or had custody of the tapes before
their destruction."

The material will be reviewed, but in private, for the protection of the CIA.

The CIA destroyed evidence of criminal acts, and the evidence of that evidence is being held out of our reach - by the Obama Administration.

I think it is important to keep track of the steady stream of B.S. on accountability and general detention/interrogation issues from the Obama Administration because there is almost certainly a strategy behind it. Is it a coincidence that news of three new torture memos coming out follows directly on the witholding of 3,000 documents? We know Obama does not care about investigating Bush, and his administration does not seem morally squeamish about using the "you were just following orders" excuse. What is frustrating is that the Obama Administration doesn't mind revealing the legal frameworks for torture - documentation for the record books, I suppose - but they are totally unable to come to grips with the actual torture done to detainees. Let's throw out Binyam's case. Hide the actual evidence. Deny habeas corpus to non-Afghanis that are to this day held at Bagram.

This quote has left a great impression on me, from ex-CIA John Gannon regarding the interrogation tapes: "'To a spectator it would look like torture,' he said. 'And torture is wrong.'”

Gannon did not actually view these tapes - this is his speculation. Knowing what we know though, especially about the particular detainees on the tapes, what he says is most likely the case. And that question - who could look at those tapes and think this was the right thing to do? - is not one we seem collectively willing to answer. So I guess it can just happen again. "Oh well."

It is wrong that the CIA destroyed evidence, and it is wrong that they tortured (and tortured and tortured and tortured...). But let's give 'em a pass huh? Hey Mr. Obama - that's not right either.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NYT Editorial on the Rule of Law

Two things in particular I liked here:

"But the break does not always seem complete enough. Even as they dropped
the 'enemy combatant' terminology, Mr. Obama’s lawyers did not seem to rule out
indefinite military detentions for terrorism suspects and their allies. They
drew a definition of association with Al Qaeda that is too broad (simply staying
in a 'safe house,' for example). Worse, they seemed to adopt Mr. Bush’s position
that the “battlefield” against terrorism is the planet. That became the legal
pretext for turning criminal defendants into lifelong military captives

Well put. And this is important too:

"Mr. Obama also should stop resisting an investigation of Mr. Bush’s policies on
terrorism, state secrets, wiretapping, detention and interrogation. We know he
is struggling with many Bush-created disasters — in the economy, in foreign
policy and on and on. But understanding all that has gone wrong is the only way
to ensure that abuses will truly end. That investigation should be done calmly rather than under the pressure of some new, shocking revelation."

With news that three more torture memos are to be released this week, it seems like it's time to stop being side-tracked by media torture revelation rollercoasters. We must simply begin a comprehensive, no-immunity granted investigation. Because we are running out of time, as Daphne Eviatar points out on the Rachel Maddow show:

"MADDOW: So of the big potential crimes that could be investigated from
the Bush era, which of them would pose or could pose statute of limitations
EVIATAR: Well, the biggest one really is torture.
There is an eight-year statute of limitations when it comes to prosecuting
torture. And we know and there‘s been strong evidence that there was
torture including waterboarding and all sorts of bizarre humiliations of
detainees at Abu Ghraib and possibly also at Guantanamo Bay starting very early
on in 2002.
Now if you give that eight years, that means by 2010 it could be too late to prosecute."

Yes, as Eviatar points out, the statute of limitations could be extended, and John Conyers is working to do that, but it would be better to operate within existing law than hope that Congress will before 2010 vote to extend the statute of limitations. It would take an immense amount of political capital to do that.

If I were cynical...I would suggest that perhaps this is part of the Obama "avoid investigations" strategy - reveal a few memos at a time, and above all take one's time in everything related to detention and interrogation - a year to close Guantanamo, six months to review interrogation and rendition, etc. Before you know it, 2010 rolls around, and the test of integrity - do you have the will to prosecute? - is now null.

We already know that there is some truly f*ked up stuff in those memos, and that the regulatory processes that would normally prevent a CIA torture program were distorted and ignored by the executive branch. Take this for instance from the Newsweek article quoted above:

"'I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program,'
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more
than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel
panels had seen the Red Cross report. But the CIA insisted that the report be
treated as if it had higher than top-secret classification, precluding any
public discussion of its contents."

Feinstein versus anonymous? Talk about having no one to root for. Feinstein says "hey, we were completely deceived! Ain't that something!" and the anonymous official (from which Administration? Obama's?) says that people were briefed in detail. Since the role of these intelligence committees is to provide oversight, it is extremely important to lay blame at their feet as well and make sure that future committees are given the tools and privileges they need to actually conduct oversight and blow whistles when needed. Why is it seemingly not a big deal that the intelligence committees completely sucked at their job? We could have put children in the position of Feinstein and co. and they would've done a better job. So I think the role of the intelligence committees must be reevaluated as well.

That there are serious problems in the way we conducted the "war on terror" during the Bush Administration is now clear as day. Instead of waiting for some sort of critical mass of flashy news leaks from the Obama Administration, we should encourage criminal investigations to begin now. It wouldn't be a bad thing to have an independent investigation in charge of what is leaked and what is not, who is tried and who is not, what evidence is revealed and what is not. We really don't need something as shameful, embarrassing and criminal as what happened over these past 8 years controlled by White House spin doctors.

Update/Correction: I thought these three torture memos were going to be released this week. I was wrong and should've read more carefully. Yeesh. According to Newsweek: "But the White House has sided with Holder. Faced with a court deadline in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding the memos filed by the ACLU, Justice lawyers asked for a two-week extension 'because the memoranda are being reviewed for possible release.'"

Noble, but the slow-going continues.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Panetta in Pakistan

From Press TV:

"Central Intelligence Agency Chief Leon Panetta has arrived in Islamabad on
a visit to discuss the US strategy on the war against terror.

Panetta held talks with Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani and Lieutenant General
Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence
(ISI), on Saturday."

Do you think this was discussed? And how so?

"Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, both to obtain confessions in
criminal cases and against political and ideological opponents. Most acts of
torture are aimed at producing a confession during the course of a criminal
investigation. However, acts of torture by military and intelligence agencies
often are intended for punishment. Torture often follows illegal abductions or
'disappearances' by Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
agency or military. Torture is often used to frighten the detainee into
compliance. If the detainee is released, it is usually on the understanding that
if he fails to do what is demanded or expected of him, a further abduction and
torture will follow. In this manner, the victim of custodial abuse can be kept
in a state of fear often for several years. Most often, the threat of torture is
enough to ensure compliance to the demands of the intelligence agencies.

Neither high social standing nor public profile deters the ISI or other
state agencies from perpetrating torture if they deem it in the interest of
'national security'-the relative anonymity of a victim only simplifies matters
for the torturers."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wilkerson, Bagram, & Guantanamo

This week former SoS Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson penned a very revealing, and sad, editorial on the situation at Guantanamo and the Bush administration. The key revelation being that some in the Bush Administration, including of course Rumsfeld and Cheney, realized they were carelessly picking up innocents in Afghanistan but chose nonetheless to plunk them down in Guantanamo - and keep them there. Not a big surprise if you know some of the detainees' stories.

As Daphne Eviatar points out, while Obama's team has made some changes, the premise is basically the same - and the results are likely the same as well. There are over 600 people sitting in the prison at Bagram, without the same "privileges" given to those at Guantanamo - they cannot challenge their detention in the US courts, nor are they given the marginal process of a tribunal to determine if they are even combatants. And unlike Guantanamo, Obama has given no indication that he is going to shut down Bagram, a prison with a major expansion in the works.

And in OTHER NEWS, Elena Kagan was just confirmed as Solicitor General. Her belief is that those at Bagram do not deserve due process. Presumably, we could pick up a Muslim on the moon, if someone on Earth suggested (for whatever reason) that we do so, take them to Bagram, and never present them with an opportunity to find out why exactly they are in Afghanistan. The framework that resulted in the detention of innocents remains.

In the liberal heart (well, in many) there is a lot of goodwill, still, toward Obama right now - and justifiably so, as his campaign challenged Bush torture and detention policies. But the reality is that a lot is unclear and change hasn't exactly happened. For example, the Justice Department is arguing that those at Bagram were picked up on the battlefield in Bagram. And they're not saying who at Bagram wasn't picked up in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Kagan has argued in her confirmation hearing that someone picked up in the Philippines for suspected financing of Al-Qaeda is part of the battlefield - and can be held indefinitely (by the US of course). Annnnd....where are they going to be held, exactly, I ask? The CIA is now allowed to detain people short-term, but not long term. It seems likely to me and within Obama's frameworks that people captured outside Afghanistan could be plunked in Bagram, as before, without habeas corpus. What legal gymnastics can we look forward to that will justify that?

The Obama Administration needs to take steps to ensure that it doesn't create unjust hells for the innocent and Muslim. They haven't even begun to do so. Yes, I know reviews take time...but they are close to creating Guantanamo 2.0.

Update: Also, my diary on the state secrets privilege and Obama PR has now made the TalkLeft reclist. It's not exactly current, but it does demonstrate the ability of the Obama team to talk a crock and scream "national security!!!" if they need to.

Update 2: The kicker is that the US reserves the right to detain with impunity, and when they screw up, refuse responsibility. It's shameful that when we go wrong we don't at least allow people to sue in court.