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Sullivan’s defense of presidential assassinations October 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Africa, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, Kenya, War on Terror.
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Saturday, Oct 2, 2010 09:03 ET

By Glenn Greenwald

 

(updated below)

During the Bush-era torture debates, I was never able to get past my initial incredulity that we were even having a “debate” over whether the President has the authority to torture peopleAndrew Sullivan has responded to some of the questions I posed about his defense of Obama’s assassination program, and I realize now that throughout this whole assassination debate, specific legal and factual issues aside, my overarching reaction is quite similar:  I actually can’t believe that there is even a “debate” over whether an American President — without a shred of due process or oversight — has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.  The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be — such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power — that, no matter how many times I see it, it’s still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

Moreover, it’s almost impossible to ignore how similar are the rhetoric and rationale between (a) Bush supporters who justified presidential torture and (b) Obama supporters who now justify presidential due-process-free assassinations.  Please read Daniel Larison’s argument about that, responding to Sullivan’s post.  He’s exactly right. 

The central rhetorical premise of Bush defenders was that if they just scream “Terrorist!!’ and “we’re at war!!!!” enough times, and loudly enough, then it would make basic precepts of due process, Constitutional safeguards and the rule of law disappear.  If they demonized their targets enough (this is a really bad Terrorist who wants to kill Americans, with nukes if he can!!) — or manipulatively invoked 9/11 enough times (note Andrew’s prominent display of a smoldering WTC photo strategically placed at the top of his argument) — then it would mean that anything goes, that no compliance with law is or should be required to do anything to them (a claim that always led to the unanswerable question:  if it’s really so obvious that this is a really bad Terrorist, then why not prove it in court?). 

And if you just toss enough insult-strawmen at those who insist upon basic rights even when “we’re at war!!,” then you can marginalize them to the point of invisibility (I wasn’t around in 2003 and thus never got to be accused by Andrew of being a Far-Leftist-pacifist-unwilling-to-fight-the-menace-of-Islamic-Evil, so I guess it’s nice that I’m making up for that now.  I always thought a “pacifist” was one who opposes the use of force under all circumstances, even self-defense [a view to which I do not subscribe]; I never knew that one becomes a “pacifist” by believing that the President lacks the power to order his own citizens assassinated far from any battlefield without due process).  Just read Andrew’s post to see how reliant he is on these same tactics to justify Obama’s program:  quite ironic, given how often he has had these same tactics used against him during his steadfast, eloquent opposition to torture.

In any event, I was going to address a few of Andrew’s specific claims, because some of them are factually inaccurate (I don’t believe that’s intentional, but merely the by-product of the fact that Andrew doesn’t write about the legal issues raised here very often).  And I still will do that below, but before I do:  as I was writing this, I received an email from a Kenyan lawyer, David Majanja, that so perfectly illustrates how far America has fallen on these issues of basic liberty as compared to much of the rest of the world, and what authoritarian extremists many Americans have become on these questions, that I want to feature it first. 

As Majanja noted in his email to me, Kenya faces a massive threat from terrorism.  Radicals bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and attacked an Israeli-owned tourist resort and Israeli airliner in Mombasa in 2002, and that country has repeatedly been under Terrorist threats for the last decade.  Nonetheless, consider this court decision that was just issued in Nairobi on Thursday.  A Kenyan Muslim, Mohamed Sulemein, was detained in August — without any charges or due process — by Kenyan anti-terrorism agents (the ATPU), accused of having participated in the horrific June World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda, which killed 74 innocent people.  He had his passport seized and was told he would be sent to Uganda without any opportunity to contest the accusations against him.  His wife filed a habeas corpus petition in a Kenyan court, demanding that “he be treated in accordance with the laws and Constitution of Kenya,” which, among other things, guarantees the right to be charged with a crime within 24 hours of arrest and not to be shipped outside the country without a hearing. 

The Kenyan Court agreed, and ruled that the due-process-free extradition of this accused Terrorist to Uganda was illegal and unconstitutional.  Just read what the court said to see what’s so profoundly absent from American political thought; this, to me, is the crux of all of these debates, including the one over presidential assassinations:

The person whose rights were denied there is accused of Terrorist acts every bit as reprehensible and dangerous as the accusations aimed at Anwar Awlaki.  His rights were denied to a far less extreme degree than what is being done to Awlaki (rendition to Uganda for trial v. being targeted for due-process-free assassination).  Kenya faces a Terrorism threat at least equal to what the U.S. faces, and several times has suffered atrocious attacks on its soil.  But they are nonetheless able to recognize that citizens “are not exempted from the ordinary protections of law” by virtue of being a Terrorism suspect, and that “the preservation of liberties [even for Terrorist suspects] is the only way to reinforce this country’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights.”  If only that recognition were equally widespread in the U.S., which still holds itself out as “the leader of the free world.”

* * * * *

As for Andrew’s specific claims:  I realize that it’s not possible for him to address every point I made and that he made a good faith effort to answer the questions I asked, but I was still disappointed to see him ignore these questions, because these are the same ones I could never get Bush supporters to answer either:  (1) would you also be comfortable with having a GOP President — such as Sarah Palin — vested with the unchecked power to order American citizens killed far from any battlefield, with no due process and no obligation to prove the accusations?; (2) Andrew says that the President does not have the right to kill American citizens on U.S. soil, but what rationale can justify that limitation once you endorse the view that the President can order citizens killed anywhere they are found via the mere accusation of Terrorism?; (3) shouldn’t the long and disturbing record of serious error and/or abuse on the part of both the Bush and Obama administrations — whereby numerous individuals, a majority, have been falsely accused of Terrorism — lead a rational person to refuse to vest faith in the President’s ability to decide who is a Terrorist without due process or oversight?; and (4) how could Bush’s oversight-free detention or eavesdropping of citizens be so dangerous, whereas Obama’s oversight-free killing of them isn’t?

Then there are several factually inaccurate assertions.  Andrew claims that Obama has “expanded judicial review of this kind of military action,” which is the only reason Awlaki’s case is in court.  The claim that these assertions of power are being reviewed by courts due to Obama’s beneficence is absolutely false; they’re in court because Obama — like Bush — has been sued for acting illegally and unconstitutionally, and Obama — like Bush — has asserted that no courts can review his conduct due to secrecy and standing (see this article from the Obama-friendly TPM site — headlined:  “Expert consensus:  Obama mimics Bush on state secrets” — to see how identical the conduct is).  Obama’s argument is the exact opposite of what Andrew claims:  it’s that courts have no right and no power to review his decisions about which citizens are assassinated. 

Then Andrew cites Ex parte Quirin [1942]  to claim that “it is utterly uncontroversial that the military can kill a US citizen abroad if he is waging a treasonous war against the United States,” but even that case — long considered quite radical and a favorite of the Yoo/Addington camp — came only after the defendants were charged in a military commission of being saboteurs, and the Supreme Court merely held that military commissions constitute sufficient due process for the offenses with which they were charged.  Here’s what the Court actually said (emphasis added):

The President, as President and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, by Order of July 2, 1942, appointed a Military Commission and directed it to try petitioners for offenses against the law of war and the Articles of War . . . On July 3, 1942, the Judge Advocate General’s Department of the Army prepared and lodged with the Commission the following charges against petitioners, supported by specifications: . . . The Commission met on July 8, 1942, and proceeded with the trial, which continued in progress while the causes were pending in this Court . . .As announced in our per curiam opinion we have resolved those questions by our conclusion that the Commission has jurisdiction to try the charge preferred against petitioners. . . .

We are concerned only with the question whether it is within the constitutional power of the national government to place petitioners upon trial before a military commission for the offenses with which they are charged. . . . Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. . . . We hold only that those particular acts constitute an offense against the law of war which the Constitution authorizes to be tried by military commission. 

 

Aside from the fact that these defendants were caught in the act of engaging in hostilities — not sleeping or driving in a car with their parents, as Awlaki might be doing when he’s killed — this case doesn’t remotely justify assassinating citizens without any due process, and I really hope Andrew would retract the suggestion that it does.  The whole point of Ex parte Quirin — as anyone can see — is that these defendants were given due process:  a military tribunal which the court found constitutionally adequate under the circumstances.  That’s the opposite of Obama’s due-process-free assassinations.

Then Andrew says this:

I agree that the Obama administration’s decision to shut down inspection of the evidence behind the decision to regard Awlaki as someone waging an active war against the US under “state secrets” is a step way too far. I think the president has a duty to explain in court why he believes this person must be treated as an active enemy at war with the US, and therefore treated as all such enemies in wartime as someone to be killed.

 

But this is the crux of the whole dispute.  Once one concedes this, what disagreement is left with critics of Obama’s conduct?  What Andrew says Obama has a “duty” to do — “explain in court why he believes this person must be treated as an active enemy at war with the US” — is precisely that which Obama is steadfastly refusing to do.  Rather than indict or charge Awlaki, or even respond to his lawsuit with evidence of his guilt, he’s simply asserting the right to kill him without any oversight.  Indeed, before Awlaki’s father filed suit, that’s exactly what Obama has been trying to do:  kill this American citizen without any due process whatsoever (along those lines, Andrew’s announcement that he’s “sick of the left treating Obama as if he has done nothing to change the dictatorial, illegal and indecent policies of his predecessor” is very odd, given that Andrew himself — in a post from several weeks ago which he entitled “The Untamed Prince” — called for the prosecution of Barack Obama as a war criminal, and wrote:  “Obama as executive quickly co-opted the kind of blanket secrecy and protection of the national security apparatus from the rule of law that plagued us in the Bush-Cheney administration“; those are Andrew’s words, not the words of “the left”).

But the most telling part of his response is where Andrew replies to my question about how he knows that Awlaki is actually an “Al Qaeda Terrorist” who deserves to die:

There is much public information about Awlaki, and I urge readers to go to Wiki and examine the public record and sources in detail to make their own minds up. . . . But seriously, is Glenn honestly saying that a man who has committed treason, has had multiple direct contacts with al Qaeda, including the 9/11 mass-murderers, has been directly connected with inciting American citizens to kill others in terror attacks is not, self-evidently, an al Qaeda terrorist who poses a direct and imminent threat to innocent human beings, motivated by a poisonous religious ideology that was responsible for the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11?

 

This is what we’re reduced to in America:  trial by Wikipedia.  Apparently, as long as there are enough links on your Wikipedia page to other accused Terrorists, then the President can wave his imperial wand and impose the death penalty on you.  Aside from the fact that most of what is on “Wiki” comes from unproven government accusations, and aside from the fact that it’s almost all rank guilt by association (Andrew:  “Witnesses report he was a spiritual adviser to and met with two 9/11 mass-murderers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar“), this claim raises the painfully obvious question:  if the evidence is so clear and overwhelming that Awlaki is a Terrorist who deserves the death penalty, then why are Obama — and his supporters — so afraid to indict him and prove these claims in court?  That was always the quandary posed by Bush’s assertion that he could eavesdrop or detain with no judicial oversight, but was doing so only on obvious Terrorists:  if it’s so clear that they’re Terrorists, why won’t you go to court and convince a court that they’re Terrorists?

As for Andrew’s claim that Awlaki “has committed treason,” I’ll say this:  he may or may not have.  But we have this document called “the Constitution,” and it makes as clear as can be that no President has the power to simply decree that someone is guilty of that crime.  Right in Article III, Section 3, it explicitly makes clear what must be done if one is to be punished as a traitor:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

 

What possible justification exists for ignoring that Constitutional provision?  Even if we are at war, there is, manifestly, no “war exception” to the Constitution.  “War” is not, and never has been, a cognizable excuse for disregarding Constitutional guarantees — at least not in a republic that still adheres to the rule of law.

In general, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the deprivation of “life or liberty . . . without due process of law.”  But because of how serious a crime Treason is, the Constitution imposes heightened requirements on proving it in court.  It’s not something that is presidentially declared by anonymous press leaks or reading a Wikipedia page.  If the rule of law means anything, it’s that explicit Constitutional protections like this one don’t get to be swatted away by yelling “War!!!” or “Terrorist!” or by putting emotionally powerful pictures of 9/11 on your blog.  As the Kenyan judge put it: “the preservation of liberties [even for Terrorist suspects] is the only way to reinforce this country’s commitment to the rule of law.”  If you’re willing to vest the President with the power to order your fellow citizens murdered as a Traitor without a shred of due process, then, by definition, you simply do not believe in these core principles.

UPDATE:  In response to numerous reader emails, Andrew posts a couple more brief thoughts on all of this here.

Also worth reading on this:  (1) Harper‘s Scott Horton, who says he originally thought the objections of civil libertarians in the Awlaki case were overblown, but has now concluded — in light of the Obama DOJ’s brief — that the Obama program is the embodiment of “tyranny”:  “When the executive claims the power to take the life of a citizen without recourse to law and legal process, and seeks to sustain that under vague claims of commander-in-chief authority, that claim is in its essence tyrannical”; and (2) former CIA officer and current novelist Barry Eisler, who examines other dubious claims made by Sullivan in defense of Obama’s program.

 

A Memorial Poem: Not for the Feint of Heart September 17, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Art, Literature and Culture, Genocide, Racism, War.
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BEFORE I START THIS POEM
by Emmanuel Ortiz

Before I start this poem,
I’d like to ask you to join me in
a moment of silence
in honour of those who died
in the World Trade Centre
and the Pentagon
last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you
a moment of silence
for all of those who have been
harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed
in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both
Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
for the tens of thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of
U.S.-backed Israeli forces
over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence
for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo
against the country.

Before I begin this poem:
two months of silence
for the Blacks under Apartheid
in South Africa,
where homeland security
made them aliens
in their own country.

Nine months of silence
for the dead in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, where death rained
down and peeled back
every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence
for the millions of dead
in Vietnam–a people, not a war-
for those who know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives’ bones buried in it,
their babies born of it.

A year of silence
for the dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war … ssssshhhhh ….
Say nothing .. we don’t want them to
learn that they are dead.

Two months of silence
for the decades of dead
in Colombia, whose names,
like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off
our tongues.

Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence
for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence
for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence
for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew
a moment of peace
45 seconds of silence
for the 45 dead
at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence
for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves
far deeper in the ocean
than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing
or dental records
to identify their remains.
And for those who were
strung and swung
from the heights of
sycamore trees
in the south, the north,
the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of
indigenous peoples
from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots
like Pine Ridge,
Wounded Knee,
Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers,
or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced
to innocuous magnetic poetry
on the refrigerator
of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence?

And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be
the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been

Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about
what causes poems like this
to be written

And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th poem
for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem
for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977

This is a September 13th poem
for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem
for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem
for every date that falls
to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories
that were never told
The 110 stories that history
chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC,
The New York Times,
and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem
for interrupting this program.
And still you want
a moment of silence
for your dead?
We could give you
lifetimes of empty:

The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces
of nameless children
Before I start this poem
We could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit

If you want a moment of silence,
put a brick through
the window of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses,
the jailhouses, the Penthouses and
the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt
fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered

You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Now,
Before this poem begins.

Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the
second hand
In the space
between bodies in embrace,

Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all
Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin
at the beginning of crime.
But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002

Emmanuel Ortiz (born 1974) is a Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American activist and spoken-word poet. He has worked with the Minnesota Alliance for the Indigenous Zapatistas (MAIZ) and Estación Libre and as a staff member of the Resource Centre of the Americas.[1] Ortiz has performed his poetry at numerous readings, political rallies, activist conferences, and benefits. His works appeared in The Roots of Terror a reader published by Project South, as well as others. His readings of his poems have appeared on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!. [2] His controversial poem, Moment of Silence, circulated the internet a year after September 11th, 2001. [3][4]

Sept. 11: A Day Without War September 8, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Peace, War, War on Terror.
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(Roger’s note: It is one thing to oppose terrorism, which is the tactic of attacking civilians.  However, it makes no sense to wage war against a tactic.  What a war on terrorism is in reality is an excuse for permanent war, since a tactic can never be totally erased.  What inspires acts of terrorism is perhaps a more rational target.  And, as Walt Kelly through the voice of Pogo famously said, “we have encountered the enemy, and it is us.”  Any right minded, sane, moral individual will oppose terrorist tactics.  What is insidious are the war mongering political and religious leaders of virtually all nations who play on our repugnance with terrorist tactics to manipulate public opinion and justify their ongoing push for permanent war and domination.)
Published on Wednesday, September 8, 2010 by TruthDig.comby Amy Goodman

The ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States should serve as a moment to reflect on tolerance. It should be a day of peace. Yet the rising anti-Muslim fervor here, together with the continuing U.S. military occupation of Iraq and the escalating war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), all fuel the belief that the U.S. really is at war with Islam.

Sept. 11, 2001, united the world against terrorism. Everyone, it seemed, was with the United States, standing in solidarity with the victims, with the families who lost loved ones. The day will be remembered for generations to come, for the notorious act of coordinated mass murder. But that was not the first Sept. 11 to be associated with terror:

Sept. 11, 1973, Chile: Democratically elected President Salvadore Allende died in a CIA-backed military coup that ushered in a reign of terror under dictator Augusto Pinochet, in which thousands of Chileans were killed.

Sept. 11, 1977, South Africa: Anti-apartheid leader Stephen Biko was being beaten in a police van. He died the next day.

Sept. 11, 1990, Guatemala: Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was murdered by the U.S.-backed military.

Sept. 9-13, 1971, New York: The Attica prison uprising occurred, during which New York state troopers killed 39 prisoners and guards and wounded hundreds of others.

Sept. 11, 1988, Haiti: During a mass led by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the St. Jean Bosco Church in Port-au-Prince, right-wing militiamen attacked, killing at least 13 worshippers and injuring at least 77. Aristide would later be twice elected president, only to be ousted in U.S.-supported coup d’etats.

If anything, Sept. 11 is a day to remember the victims of terror, all victims of terror, and to work for peace, like the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Formed by those who lost loved ones on 9/11/2001, their mission could serve as a national call to action: “[T]o turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging our common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, we work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.”

Our “Democracy Now!” news studio was blocks from the twin towers in New York City. We were broadcasting live as they fell. In the days that followed, thousands of fliers went up everywhere, picturing the missing, with phone numbers of family members to call if you recognized someone. These reminded me of the placards carried by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. Those are the women, wearing white headscarves, who courageously marched, week after week, carrying pictures of their missing children who disappeared during the military dictatorship there.

I am reminded, as well, by the steady stream of pictures of young people in the military killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and now, with increasing frequency (although pictured less in the news), who kill themselves after multiple combat deployments.

For each of the U.S. or NATO casualties, there are literally hundreds of victims in Iraq and Afghanistan whose pictures will never be shown, whose names we will never know.

While angry mobs continue attempts to thwart the building of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (in a vacant, long-ignored, damaged building more than two blocks away), an evangelical “minister” in Florida is organizing a Sept. 11 “International Burn the Koran Day.” Gen. David Petraeus has stated that the burning, which has sparked protests around the globe, “could endanger troops.” He is right. But so does blowing up innocent civilians and their homes.

As in Vietnam in the 1960s, Afghanistan has a dedicated, indigenous, armed resistance, and a deeply corrupt group in Kabul masquerading as a central government. The war is bleeding over into a neighboring country, Pakistan, just as the Vietnam War spread into Cambodia and Laos.

Right after Sept. 11, 2001, as thousands gathered in parks around New York City, holding impromptu candlelit vigils, a sticker appeared on signs, placards and benches. It read, “Our grief is not a cry for war.”

This Sept. 11, that message is still-painfully, regrettably-timely.

Let’s make Sept. 11 a day without war.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Documents Back Saudi Link to Extremists, but May Never Be Used in 9/11 Suit June 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, George W. Bush, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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(Roger’s note: in reading this article we should remember that 15 of the 19  9/11 terrorists were Saudi and that there are serious allegations about the historical relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud; here is one source on the latter: http://www.newsaic.com/f911chap3-2.html)
Published: June 23, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/world/middleeast/24saudi.html

WASHINGTON — Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.

The case has put the Obama administration in the middle of a political and legal dispute, with the Justice Department siding with the Saudis in court last month in seeking to kill further legal action. Adding to the intrigue, classified American intelligence documents related to Saudi finances were leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. The Justice Department had the lawyers’ copies destroyed and now wants to prevent a judge from even looking at the material.

The Saudis and their defenders in Washington have long denied links to terrorists, and they have mounted an aggressive and, so far, successful campaign to beat back the allegations in federal court based on a claim of sovereign immunity.

Allegations of Saudi links to terrorism have been the subject of years of government investigations and furious debate. Critics have said that some members of the Saudi ruling class pay off terrorist groups in part to keep them from being more active in their own country.

But the thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents compiled by lawyers for the Sept. 11 families and their insurers represented an unusually detailed look at some of the evidence.

Internal Treasury Department documents obtained by the lawyers under the Freedom of Information Act, for instance, said that a prominent Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, heavily supported by members of the Saudi royal family, showed “support for terrorist organizations” at least through 2006.

A self-described Qaeda operative in Bosnia said in an interview with lawyers in the lawsuit that another charity largely controlled by members of the royal family, the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia, provided money and supplies to the terrorist group in the 1990s and hired militant operatives like himself.

Another witness in Afghanistan said in a sworn statement that in 1998 he had witnessed an emissary for a leading Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, hand a check for one billion Saudi riyals (now worth about $267 million) to a top Taliban leader.

And a confidential German intelligence report gave a line-by-line description of tens of millions of dollars in bank transfers, with dates and dollar amounts, made in the early 1990s by Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz and other members of the Saudi royal family to another charity that was suspected of financing militants’ activities in Pakistan and Bosnia.

The new documents, provided to The New York Times by the lawyers, are among several hundred thousand pages of investigative material obtained by the Sept. 11 families and their insurers as part of a long-running civil lawsuit seeking to hold Saudi Arabia and its royal family liable for financing Al Qaeda.

Only a fraction of the documents have been entered into the court record, and much of the new material is unknown even to the Saudi lawyers in the case.

The documents provide no smoking gun connecting the royal family to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And the broader links rely at times on a circumstantial, connect-the-dots approach to tie together Saudi princes, Middle Eastern charities, suspicious transactions and terrorist groups.

Saudi lawyers and supporters say that the links are flimsy and exploit stereotypes about terrorism, and that the country is being sued because it has deep pockets and was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers.

“In looking at all the evidence the families brought together, I have not seen one iota of evidence that Saudi Arabia had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks,” Michael Kellogg, a Washington lawyer representing Prince Muhammad al-Faisal al-Saud in the lawsuit, said in an interview.

He and other defense lawyers said that rather than supporting Al Qaeda, the Saudis were sworn enemies of its leader, Osama bin Laden, who was exiled from Saudi Arabia, his native country, in 1996. “It’s an absolute tragedy what happened to them, and I understand their anger,” Mr. Kellogg said of the victims’ families. “They want to find those responsible, but I think they’ve been disserved by their lawyers by bringing claims without any merit against the wrong people.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Two federal judges and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled against the 7,630 people represented in the lawsuit, made up of survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and family members of those killed, throwing out the lawsuit on the ground that the families cannot bring legal action in the United States against a sovereign nation and its leaders.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide this week whether to hear an appeal, but the families’ prospects dimmed last month when the Justice Department sided with the Saudis in their immunity claim and urged the court not to consider the appeal.

The Justice Department said a 1976 law on sovereign immunity protected the Saudis from liability and noted that “potentially significant foreign relations consequences” would arise if such suits were allowed to proceed.

“Cases like this put the U.S. government in an extremely difficult position when it has to make legal arguments, even when they are the better view of the law, that run counter to those of terrorist victims,” said John Bellinger, a former State Department lawyer who was involved in the Saudi litigation.

Senior Obama administration officials held a private meeting on Monday with 9/11 family members to speak about progress in cracking down on terrorist financing. Administration officials at the meeting largely sidestepped questions about the lawsuit, according to participants. But the official who helped lead the meeting, Stuart A. Levey, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has been outspoken in his criticism of wealthy Saudis, saying they have helped to finance terrorism.

Even if the 9/11 families were to get their trial in the lawsuit, they might have difficulty getting some of their new material into evidence. Some would most likely be challenged on grounds it was irrelevant or uncorroborated hearsay, or that it related to Saudis who were clearly covered by sovereign immunity.

And if the families were to clear those hurdles, two intriguing pieces of evidence in the Saudi puzzle might still remain off limits.

One is a 28-page, classified section of the 2003 joint Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. The secret section is believed to discuss intelligence on Saudi financial links to two hijackers, and the Saudis themselves urged at the time that it be made public. President George W. Bush declined to do so.

Kristen Breitweiser, an advocate for Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, said in an interview that during a White House meeting in February between President Obama and victims’ families, the president told her that he was willing to make the pages public.

But she said she had not heard from the White House since then.

The other evidence that may not be admissible consists of classified documents leaked to one of the law firms representing the families, Motley Rice of South Carolina, which is headed by Ronald Motley, a well-known trial lawyer who won lucrative lawsuits involving asbestos and tobacco.

Lawyers for the firm say someone anonymously slipped them 55 documents that contained classified government material relating to the Saudi lawsuit.

Though she declined to describe the records, Jodi Flowers, a lawyer for Motley Rice, said she was pushing to have them placed in the court file.

“We wouldn’t be fighting this hard, and we wouldn’t have turned the material over to the judge, if we didn’t think it was really important to the case,” she said.

Obama Plays Hamlet; Shredders Hum April 23, 2009

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by Ray McGovern

Well, well.  The New York Times has finally put a story together on the key role played by two faux psychologists in helping the Bush administration devise ways to torture people.  We should, I suppose, be thankful for small favors.

Apparently, a NY Times exposé requires a 21-month gestation period.  The substance of the Wednesday’s lead story on torture had already appeared in an article in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/07/torture200707

Katherine Eban, a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about public health, authored that article and titled it  “Rorschach and Awe.”  It was the result of a careful effort to understand the role of psychologists in the torture of detainees in Guantanamo.

She identified the two psychologists as James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who she reported were inexperienced in interrogations and “had no proof of their tactics’ effectiveness” but nevertheless sold the Bush administration on a plan to subject detainees to “psychic demolition”-essentially severing them from their personalities and scaring them “almost to death.”

 “The aim of torture is to destroy a person as a human being, to destroy their identity and soul. It is more evil than murder… ” — Inge Genefke – (1938-)  Danish Doctor & Human Rights Activist

In Wednesday’s Times, reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti plow much of the same ground.  Please don’t misunderstand.  They deserve considerable praise for finally pushing their article past the Times’ timorous censors, but let’s not pretend the startling revelations are new.

The Times ought to allow the likes of Shane and Mazzetti to publish these stories when they are fresh.  Alternatively, the once-known-as “newspaper of record” might at least report the findings of the likes of Eban, rather than ignoring them for nearly two years.

It’s pretty much all out there now, isn’t it?  Not only the Times’ better-late-than-never exposé, but also:

  • The (leaked) text of the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the torture of “high-value” detainees;
  • The too-slick-by-half “legal opinions” under Department of Justice letterhead;
  • The findings of the 18-month investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee highlighting that it was President George W. Bush’s dismissal of Geneva (in his executive order of February 7, 2002) that “opened the door” to abuse of detainees.

The North/Gonzales Memorial Shredder

One issue of some urgency has been overlooked in the media, but probably not by those complicit in torture by the CIA and other parts of the government.  That issue is the need to protect evidence from being shredded.  There has been no sign that either Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair or CIA Director Leon Panetta has proscribed the destruction of documents/tapes/etc. relating to torture, while decisions on if and how to proceed are being worked out.

Many will remember how Oliver North (when the crimes of Iran-Contra were being uncovered) and Alberto Gonzales (when White House involvement in the Valerie Plame affair was becoming clearer) made such good use of the days of hiatus between the announced decision to investigate and the belated order to safeguard all evidence from destruction.

One would think that Attorney General Eric Holder, or President Barack Obama himself, would have long since issued such an order.  Indeed, the absence of such an order would suggest they would just as soon avoid as many of the painful truths about torture as they can.  The issue would seem particularly urgent in the wake of Obama’s gratuitous get-out-of-jail free card issued to CIA personnel complicit in torture.  They might well draw the (erroneous) conclusion that they have been, in effect, pardoned by the president and thus are within the law in destroying relevant evidence-to the degree that being within the law matters any more.

Better Shred Than Dead

And what about the president’s decision not to prosecute those in CIA who engaged in torture?  What is going on here?

Retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told Frontline on December 13, 2005 that “up to 100 detainees had died while in detention.  Of that 100, some 27 have been declared officially homicides.”  Those running Bush administration interrogations are no doubt aware by now that the War Crimes Act (18 U.S. Code 2441) passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 provides that the death penalty can be given to those responsible for the deaths of detainees.

And yet, the President Obama struck not an angry, but rather a defensive tone on the recent release of the four torture documents issued by the Mafia-style lawyers of the Justice Department.  This seems rather odd coming from a professor of constitutional law.  The president and his advisers have appeared almost apologetic in explaining/justifying the release.

In the face of Rush Limbaugh/Dick Cheney-type charges that the revelations endanger national security, the White House explains that most of the information was already in the public domain (in the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for example).  Hey, Mr. constitutional law professor and now president, how about the fact that the Freedom of Information Act requires your administration to release such information.  How about acknowledging that you are just doing your sworn duty to enforce the law-or is that notion quaint, obsolete, or somehow passé these days?

Misplaced Loyalty or Fear?

It is highly unusual for the president to feel it necessary to visit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  Vivid in my memory is the visit by President George W. Bush on September 26, 2001, just two weeks after intelligence/defense/policy failures permitted the attacks of September 11.

For some time it remained something of a puzzle why the president felt it prudent to appear at CIA with his arm around then-CIA Director George Tenet, endorsing his leadership without reservation and bragging about having the best intelligence service in the world.  In retrospect, it was a Faustian bargain. 

Former CIA Director and Medal of Freedom winner, George Tenet, can be forgiven for being somewhat apprehensive these days-especially in the wake of the article by Shane and Mazzetti.  But let’s leave aside for now the obviously heinous misdeeds-like running George W. Bush’s global Gestapo complete with secret prisons and torture chambers, a criminal enterprise that Tenet shoe-horned into the operations directorate of the CIA.

Let’s pick a case of simpler, more familiar white-collar crime-Scooter Libby-style perjury and obstruction of justice.  Those who remember Watergate and other crimes will be aware that the cover-up constitutes an additional-and often more provable-crime, especially when it involves perjury and obstruction of justice.

Until now, Bush has managed to escape blame for his outrageous inactivity before 9/11 because his subordinates-first and foremost, Tenet-have covered up for him.  Faustian bargain? Call it mutual blackmail, if you prefer the vernacular.

Tenet gave the president enough warning to warrant, to compel some sort of action on his part. But Tenet’s lackadaisical management of the CIA and intelligence community was at least as important a factor in the success of the attacks of 9/11.

Tenet should have been fired after 9/11. But President Bush needed Tenet, or at least Tenet’s silence, as much as Tenet needed Bush, or at least Bush’s forgiveness.

What developed might be described as a case of mutual blackmail disguised as bonhomie. Bush was keenly aware that Tenet had the wherewithal to let the world know how many warnings he had given the president and that this could reduce Bush to a criminally negligent, blundering fool.

George W. Bush would have had to kiss goodbye the role of cheerleader/war president-and so much else. Thus, Tenet had become critical to Bush’s political survival.  And Tenet? All he needed was not to be blamed – not to be fired.

The bargain: I, George Bush, will keep you on and even praise your performance; you, George Tenet, will keep your mouth shut about all the warnings you gave me during the spring and summer of 2001. Tenet, it is clear, agreed.

On Sept. 26, 2001, the president motored out to CIA headquarters, puts his arm around Tenet and told the cameras, “We’ve got the best intelligence we can possibly have thanks to the men and women of the CIA.”

Tenet Goes Bush One Better

In his sworn testimony of April 14, 2004, before the 9/11 Commission, Tenet outdid himself trying to honor his bargain with Bush. The commissioners were interested in what the president had been told during the critical month of August 2001.

Answering a question from Commissioner Timothy Roemer, Tenet referred to the president’s long vacation (July 29-Aug. 30, 2001) in Crawford and insisted that he did not see the president at all in August.

“You never talked with him?” Roemer asked.

“No,” Tenet replied, explaining that for much of August he, too, was “on leave.”

That evening, a CIA spokesman called reporters to say that Tenet had misspoken, and that he had briefed Bush on Aug. 17 and 31, 2001. The spokesman played down the Aug. 17 briefing as uneventful and indicated that the second briefing took place after Bush had returned to Washington.

Funny how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit to Crawford.  In his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” Tenet waxed eloquent about the “president graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and me trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna.”

But the visit was not limited to small talk.  In his book Tenet writes: “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.”

The Aug. 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief contained the article “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US.” According to Ron Suskind’s The One-Percent Doctrine, the president reacted by telling the CIA briefer, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”

Clearly, Tenet needed to follow up on that.  Was Tenet again in Crawford just one week later? According to a White House press release, President Bush on Aug. 25 told visitors to Crawford, “George Tenet and I” drove up the canyon “yesterday.”

If, as Tenet says in his memoir, it was the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB that prompted his visit on Aug. 17, what might have brought him back on Aug. 24?  That was the day after Tenet had been briefed on Zacarias Moussaoui training to fly a 747 and other suspicion-arousing information.

The evidence is very strong that Tenet told Bush chapter and verse.  The extraordinary lengths to which Tenet has gone to disguise that has the former CIA director skating very close to perjury – if not over the line.

Real Terrorists: Moussaoui and Reid

A note on Moussaoui:  despite strong encouragement from FBI special agent/attorney Coleen Rowley at the time, the government never interviewed Moussaoui for information on a possible “second wave” of 9/11-type attacks.

Moussaoui knew Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber who almost downed an airliner on its way from London to the U.S., and might have provided forewarning, if he were asked in the three months between 9/11 and Reid’s attempt in December 2001.  Given what amounted to a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, there is no telling, so to speak, what intelligence might have been elicited from Moussaoui.

It gets worse: it appears Reid was not effectively interviewed either.  The nonchalant handling of Moussaoui and Reid greatly diminishes the credibility of arguments that torture was felt to be necessary because of the overweening fear of follow-up attacks.  The administration claims it had to pull out all the stops-while in reality it failed to take rudimentary steps to acquire information from known terrorists already in U.S. custody.

Obama’s Faustian Bargain?

In a recent article on torture, http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/041409a.html, I asked what might be holding the Obama administration back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate all this, so that as a nation we could hold to account any proven guilty and put this shameful chapter of American history behind us once and for all.

A reader replied in an email offering this answer to what is holding the administration back: “John D. Rockefeller, IV, and the Democrats who knew [about the torture] and did nothing.”  The sender signed the email: “Kathleen M. Rockefeller Uncowardly Cousin.” 

The disclosures in the Shane/Mazzetti article, and plenty of other evidence suggest that this may not be far off the mark.  The fact that so many Democratic leaders had complicit knowledge of the torture is no doubt one of the powerful forces working on our president.

Maybe, just maybe, the president insisted on releasing the torture memos with a view toward determining whether Americans really care, whether we would be appropriately outraged-so outraged that we would put inexorable pressure on him to hold everyone, repeat everyone, accountable.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). 

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