Wash Post: Obama Drafting Orders to Defy Habeas Corpus June 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice.
Tags: al-Qaeda, carl levin, civil liberties, constitution, dafna linzer, doj, eric holder, executive order, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, Guantanamo detainees, habeas corpus, interrogation techniques, josh mitteldorf, justice department, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, lindsey graham, military commissions, Obama, peter finn, preventive detention, prolonged detention, roger hollander, russell feingold, terrorism suspects, torture
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ProPublica and Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.
Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.
After months of internal debate over how to close the military facility in Cuba, White House officials are increasingly worried that reaching quick agreement with Congress on a new detention system may be impossible. Several officials said there is concern in the White House that the administration may not be able to close the prison by the president’s January deadline.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that there is no executive order and that the administration has not decided whether to issue one. But one administration official suggested that the White House is already trying to build support for an order.
“Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order,” the official said. Such an order could be rescinded and would not block later efforts to write legislation, but civil liberties groups generally oppose long-term detention, arguing that detainees should be prosecuted or released.
The Justice Department has declined to comment on the prospects for a long-term detention system while internal reviews of Guantanamo detainees’ cases are underway. One task force, which is assessing detainee policy, is expected to complete its work by July 21.
In a May speech, President Obama broached the need for a system of long-term detention and suggested that it would include congressional and judicial oversight. “We must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can’t be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone,” he said.
Some of Obama’s top legal advisers, along with a handful of influential Republican and Democratic lawmakers, have pushed for the creation of a “national security court” to supervise the incarceration of detainees deemed too dangerous to release but who cannot be charged or tried.
But the three senior government officials said the White House has turned away from that option, at least for now, because legislation establishing a special court would be difficult to pass and likely to fracture Obama’s party. These officials, as well as others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.
On the day Obama took office, 242 men were imprisoned at Guantanamo. In his May speech, the president outlined five strategies the administration would use to deal with them: criminal trials, revamped military tribunals, transfers to other countries, releases and continued detention.
Since the inauguration, 11 detainees have been released or transferred, one prisoner committed suicide, and one was moved to New York to face terrorism charges in federal court.
Administration officials said the cases of about half of the remaining 229 detainees have been reviewed for prosecution or release. Two officials involved in a Justice Department review of possible prosecutions said the administration is strongly considering criminal charges in federal court for Khalid Sheik Mohammed and three other detainees accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The other half of the cases, the officials said, present the greatest difficulty because these detainees cannot be prosecuted in federal court or military commissions. In many cases the evidence against them is classified, has been provided by foreign intelligence services or has been tainted by the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. agreed with an assessment offered during congressional testimony this month that fewer than 25 percent of the detainees would be charged in criminal courts and that 50 others have been approved for transfer or release. One official said the administration is hoping that as many as 70 Yemeni citizens will be moved, in stages, into a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia.
Three months into the Justice Department’s reviews, several officials involved said they have found themselves agreeing with conclusions reached years earlier by the Bush administration: As many as 90 detainees cannot be charged or released.
The White House has spent months meeting with key congressional leaders in the hope of reaching agreement on long-term detention, although public support for such a plan has wavered as lawmakers have sought to prevent detainees from being transferred to their constituencies.
Lawyers for the administration are now in negotiations with Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) over separate legislation that would revamp military commissions. A senior Republican staff member said that senators have yet to see “a comprehensive, detailed policy” on long-term detention from the administration.
“They can do it without congressional backing, but I think there would be very strong concerns,” the staff member said, adding that “Congress could cut off funding” for any detention system established in the United States.
Concerns are growing among Obama’s advisers that Congress may try to assert too much control over the process. This week Obama signed an appropriations bill that forces the administration to report to Congress before moving any detainee out of Guantanamo and prevents the White House from using available funds to move detainees onto U.S. soil.
“Legislation could kill Obama’s plans,” said one government official involved. The official said an executive order could be the best option for the president at this juncture.
Under one White House draft that was being discussed this month, according to administration officials, detainees would be imprisoned at a military facility on U.S. soil, but their ongoing detention would be subject to annual presidential review. U.S. citizens would not be held in the system.
Such detainees — those at Guantanamo and those who may be captured in the future — would also have the right to legal representation during confinement and access to some of the information that is being used to keep them behind bars. Anyone detained under this order would have a right to challenge his detention before a judge.
Officials say the plan would give detainees more rights and allow them a better chance than they have now at Guantanamo to one day end their indefinite incarceration.
But some senior Democrats see long-term detention as tantamount to reestablishing the Guantanamo system on U.S. soil. “I think this could be a very big mistake, because of how such a system could be perceived throughout the world,” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) told Holder.
One administration official said future transfers to the United States for long-term detention would be rare. Al-Qaeda operatives captured on the battlefield, which the official defined as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly the Horn of Africa, would be held in battlefield facilities. Suspects captured elsewhere in the world could be transferred to the United States for federal prosecution, turned over to local authorities or returned to their home countries.
“Going forward, unless it’s an extraordinary case, you will not see new transfers to the U.S. for indefinite detention,” the official said.
Instituting long-term detention through an executive order would leave Obama vulnerable to charges that he is willing to forsake the legislative branch of government, as his predecessor often did. Bush’s detention policies suffered defeats in the courts in part because they lacked congressional approval and tried to exclude judicial oversight.
“There is no statute prohibiting the president from doing this through executive order, and so far courts have not ruled in ways that would bar him from doing so,” said Matthew Waxman, who worked on detainee issues at the Defense Department during Bush’s first term. But Waxman, who waged a battle inside the Bush administration for more congressional cooperation, said that the “courts are more likely to defer to the president and legislative branch when they speak with one voice on these issues.”
Tawfiq bin Attash, who is accused of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and who was held at a secret CIA prison, could be among those subject to long-term detention, according to one senior official.
Little information on bin Attash’s case has been made public, but officials who have reviewed his file said the Justice Department has concluded that none of the three witnesses against him can be brought to testify in court. One witness, who was jailed in Yemen, escaped several years ago. A second witness remains incarcerated, but the government of Yemen will not allow him to testify.
Administration officials believe that testimony from the only witness in U.S. custody, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, may be inadmissible because he was subjected to harsh interrogation while in CIA custody.
“These issues haven’t morphed simply because the administration changed,” said Juan Zarate, who served as Bush’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“The challenge for the new administration is how to solve these legal questions of preventive detention in a way that is consistent with the Constitution, legitimate in the eyes of the world and doesn’t create security loopholes that cause Congress to worry,” Zarate said.
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Washington Post staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, amrit singh, amy goodman, bagram, baltasar garzon, bethine church, bush administration, bush six, carl levin, church committee, cia assassination, cia videotapes, COINTELPRO, denis moynihan, detainees, Diane Feinstein, Dick Cheney, enhanced interrogation, frank church, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, independent prosecutor, John Conyers, martin luther king, Nancy Pelosi, nuremburg, patrick leahy, pentagon photos, president obama, roger hollander, rumsfeld, senate armed services, torture, torture memos, waterboarding, watergate, william hayes
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Published on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 by TruthDig.com
The Senate interest in investigation has backers in the U.S. House, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers, D-Mich., who told The Huffington Post recently, “We’re coming after these guys.”
Amrit Singh, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Pentagon’s photos “provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib. Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.” The ACLU also won a ruling to obtain documents relating to the CIA’s destruction of 92 videotapes of harsh interrogations. The tapes are gone, supposedly, but notes about the content of the tapes remain, and a federal judge has ordered their release.
In December 2002, when the Bush torture program was well under way, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed off on a series of harsh interrogation techniques described in a memo written by William Hayes II (one of the “Bush Six” being investigated by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon). At the bottom of the memo, under his signature, Rumsfeld scrawled: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” Rumsfeld zealously classified information in his years in government.
A similar crisis confronted the U.S. public in the mid-1970s. While the Watergate scandal was unfolding, widespread evidence was mounting of illegal government activity, including domestic spying and the infiltration and disruption of legal political groups, mostly anti-war groups, in a broad-based, secret government crackdown on dissent. In response, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities was formed. It came to be known as the Church Committee, named after its chairman, Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church. The Church Committee documented and exposed extraordinary activities on the CIA and FBI, such as CIA efforts to assassinate foreign leaders, and the FBI’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence) program, which extensively spied on prominent leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It is not only the practices that are similar, but the people. Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., general counsel to the Church Committee, noted two people who were active in the Ford White House and attempted to block the committee’s work: “Rumsfeld and then [Dick] Cheney were people who felt that nothing should be known about these secret operations, and there should be as much disruption as possible.”
Church’s widow, Bethine Church, now 86, continues to be very politically active in Idaho. She was so active in Washington in the 1970s that she was known as “Idaho’s third senator.” She said there needs to be a similar investigation today: “When you think of all the things that the Church Committee tried to straighten out and when you think of the terrific secrecy that Cheney and all of these people dealt with, they were always secretive about everything, and they didn’t want anything known. I think people have to know what went on. And that’s why I think an independent committee [is needed], outside of the Congress, that just looked at the whole problem and everything that happened.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Anatomy of Bush’s Torture ‘Paradigm’ April 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, against all enemies, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, andrew card, anti-torture, carl levin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainee abuse, Dick Cheney, doj, donald rumsfeld, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, executive order, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tenet, habaes corpus, human rights, human rights violations, international red cross, iraq detaines, jack goldsmith, james schlesinger, John Ashcroft, John McCain, John Walker Lindh, john yoo, justice department, military commissions, office legal counsel, olc, prisoners of war, radack, ray mcgovern, ricardo sanchez, richard clarke, richard myers, roger hollander, senate armed services, special prosecutor, steven bradbury, suspected terrorists, Taliban, torture, torture memos, torture techniques, waterboarding, william j. haynes
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www.consortiumnewscom, April 14, 2009
The prose of the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on torture seems colorless. It is at the same time obscene — almost pornographic.
The 41-page ICRC report depicts scenes of prisoners forced to remain naked for long periods, sometimes in the presence of women, often with their hands shackled over their heads in “stress positions” as they are left to soil themselves.
The report’s images of sadism also include prisoners slammed against walls, locked in tiny boxes, and strapped to a bench and subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding.
How could it be that we Americans tolerate the kind of leaders who would subject others to systematic torture — yes, that’s what the official report of the international body charged with monitoring the Geneva agreements on the treatment of prisoners concludes — torture.
Over the past week I have been asked to explain how this could have happened; who authorized the torture in our name? The Red Cross report lacks the earmarks of rogues or “rotten apples” at the bottom of some barrel.
This is what I have been telling those who ask:
Rather than Harry Truman’s famous motto on his Oval Office desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” this was a case of “The Buck Starts Here.” President George W. Bush set the tone and created the framework, with strong support from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The first hints of what was in store came from the President himself in the White House bunker late on Sept. 11, 2001, at a meeting with his closest national security advisers after his TV address to the nation about the terrorist attacks that morning.
The vengeful bunker mentality prevailing at that meeting comes through clearly in the report of one of the participants, Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies. Describing the President as confident, determined, forceful, Clarke provides the following account of what President Bush said:
“We are at war.… Nothing else matters. … Any barriers in your way, they’re gone.”
When, later in the discussion, Secretary Rumsfeld noted that international law allowed the use of force only to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush nearly bit his head off.
“No,” the President yelled in the narrow conference room, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”
‘Taking the Gloves Off’
In the weeks that followed, the air in Washington hung heavy with demons of retribution. Afghanistan was invaded in October 2001, and during a prisoner uprising on Nov. 25, a CIA officer was killed there.
A young American citizen, John Walker Lindh, was discovered among the prisoners in the area. There was not the slightest evidence that Lindh had anything to do with the killing.
But documents show that U.S. Joint Special Operations troops were told that the office of the Defense Secretary’s counsel (William J. Haynes II, was Pentagon general counsel at the time) had authorized an Army intelligence officer “to take the gloves off and ask whatever he wanted” of Lindh.
Despite urgent intervention by Justice Department ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack, Lindh was not properly read his rights. Instead, the FBI agent on the scene ad-libbed in an offhand way, “You have the right to an attorney. But there are no attorneys here in Afghanistan.”
Lindh had been seriously wounded in the leg. Despite that, U.S. troops put a hood over him, stripped him naked, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, and threatened him with death.
Parts of his humiliating ordeal were captured on film (a practice that became tragically familiar with the photos of Abu Ghraib).
In her book, Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of John Walker Lindh, attorney Radack comments that official documents pertaining to this case provide “the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.”
(Because she protested, Radack was fired as Justice Department legal ethics advisor, put under criminal investigation, and even added to the “no-fly” list.)
End-Run Around Geneva
But the Bush administration was just getting started.
On Jan. 18, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the President that the Justice Department had issued a formal legal opinion concluding that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) does not apply with respect to al Qaeda.
Gonzales added that he understood that Bush had “decided that GPW does not apply and, accordingly, that al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are not prisoners of war under the GPW.”
On Jan. 19, 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told combat commanders that the President had “determined that al-Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defense are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the President to reconsider his decision and to conclude, instead, that the GPW does apply to both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Powell’s protest was couched in bureaucratic politeness, rather than in anger and outrage. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cowardice in the Time of Torture.”]
The next step took the form of the fateful memorandum of Jan. 25, 2002, signed by Alberto Gonzales but drafted by counsel to the Vice President David Addington. That memo outlined for the President “the ramifications of your decision and the Secretary’s [Powell’s] request for reconsideration.”
It described a “new paradigm” that, the writers claimed “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners, and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
Gonzales and Addington urged the President to disregard Powell’s misgivings and move ahead. But they cloaked their argument in lawyerly language that obscured what was to come.
The lawyers argued that it was “appropriate” and “consistent with military necessity” to waive Geneva regarding the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but they inserted assurances that the prisoners would be treated “humanely” and “in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
Brushing aside Powell’s objections, President Bush adopted the Gonzales/Addington language and signed a memorandum to that effect on Feb. 7, 2002. The memo went to Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
The memo amounted to an executive order, although it was not labeled as such. In it, the President alludes fulsomely to Justice Department opinions and recommendations, as well as “facts” supplied by the Defense Department.
Bush then takes clear responsibility for the decision to spurn Geneva: “I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”
The Feb. 7, 2002, memo bears the Orwellian title “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In it, Bush lifts verbatim the language from the Gonzales/Addington memo of Jan. 25, 2002, and makes it his own.
Bush claimed, for example, “the war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm [that] requires new thinking in the law of war.”
Bush then tries to square a circle, directing (twice in the two-page memo) that “detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
The smoking-gun memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, was released to the media, together with other documents, by Gonzales on June 22, 2004, but it did not receive the attention it deserved until recently.
On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released, without dissent, the summary of their committee’s report on the abuse of detainees.
The report’s first subhead was: Presidential Order Opens Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques, and the first words of the first sentence of the first paragraph were, “On Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating…”
Referring to the “President’s order,” the first paragraph adds that “the decision to replace well-established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees.”
“Conclusion Number One” of the Senate Armed Services Committee report states: “Following the President’s determination [of Feb. 7, 2002], techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
Once Bush had opened the door with his Feb. 7, 2002, memo, other actions followed to implement the President’s “new paradigm.”
White House lawyers worked with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel to develop constitutional theories about expansive presidential powers that effectively let Bush operate beyond the law.
The OLC traditionally is the office that tells presidents the limits of their constitutional authorities. However, in this case, Yoo collaborated with Gonzales, Addington and other White House lawyers in hammering out arguments that the administration could use to implement harsh interrogations of al Qaeda suspects.
On Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo and his OLC superior, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, issued an opinion that so narrowly defined “torture” that it cleared the way for a variety of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, which creates a near-drowning experience.
As the legal framework for Bush’s torture policies took shape, senior officers and lower-level participants in the interrogations understood that the basis for the newly permitted harsh tactics stemmed from a presidential decision.
In a report on Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger indicated that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq, instituted a “dozen interrogation methods beyond” the Army’s standard practice under the Geneva Convention.
Sanchez said he based his decision on “the President’s memorandum,” which he said allowed for “additional, tougher measures” against detainees, according to the Schlesinger report.
An FBI e-mail of May 22, 2004, from a senior FBI agent in Iraq stated that President Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
The FBI official sought guidance in confronting an unwelcome dilemma. He asked if FBI personnel in Iraq were required to report the U.S. military’s harsh interrogation of detainees when such treatment violated Bureau standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.
In sum, abundant evidence indicates that the torture techniques applied in the jail cells and interrogation chambers — the “alternative set of procedures” about which Bush boasted publicly on Sept. 6, 2006 — resulted directly from Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo and implementing actions by his administration.
Interrogators also were egged on by comments from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld regarding the “tough” treatments they favored.
One fig leaf left covering the otherwise exposed role of Bush and his top aides remains the clever inclusion of the word “humane” in the memo that made possible what the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned as “inhuman” treatment of terror suspects in U.S. custody.
There’s also the-Justice-Department-told-me-it-was-legal excuse, though the evidence is now clear that the Bush administration essentially stage-managed the Yoo-Bybee opinions.
For instance, when the Yoo-Bybee opinions were withdrawn by Bybee’s OLC successor, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, Addington and other administration officials successfully pressured Goldsmith to resign and then welcomed a new OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, who reinstated the key opinions in May 2005.
And – as the evidence built of illegal torture in 2006 – the Bush administration pushed the “Military Commissions Act” through the Republican-controlled Congress with phrasing that granted a degree of retroactive immunity.
The law states that “no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”
That provision was interpreted as a broad amnesty for U.S. officials, including President Bush and other senior executives who may have authorized torture, murder or other violations of human rights.
The law also granted Bush the authority “to interpret the meaning and the application of the Geneva Conventions.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Shame on Us All.”]
However, there remain legal questions about whether the law’s language would prevent prosecutions under pre-existing anti-torture laws.
The sudden appearance of the damning report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, initially given to the CIA’s acting general counsel on Feb. 14, 2007, greatly complicates any rotten-apples-at-the-bottom-of-the-barrel-type disingenuousness.
In a departure from the usual diplomatic parlance, the ICRC minces not a word in referring to those who authorized torture. In the report itself, the Red Cross calls on current U.S. authorities “to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, to prevent such abuses from happening again.”
What do you suppose is holding Attorney General Eric Holder back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate, with a view toward rubbing out, once and for all, this shameful stain on our collective conscience?
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years, he now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
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Obama Continues Bush Policy of Deadly Air Strikes in Pakistan January 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, amy goodman, Benazir Bhutto, bob schiefer, carl levin, cia, Democracy Now, face the nation, fata, India, isi, joseph biden, pakistanis, pakstan, predator drones, president obama, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, robert gibbs, roger hollander, Sahar Shafqat, Taliban, us milliles, Yousaf Raza Gilani, Zardari
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www.democracynow.org, January 30, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Pakistan, where outrage continues to mount over the US military’s first act of war approved by President Obama. Last Friday, unmanned US Predator drones fired missiles at houses in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, killing as many as twenty-two people, including at least three children.
The United States has carried out thirty such drone attacks on alleged al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistani territory since last summer, killing some 250 people, according to a tally by Reuters.
The Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday that US drone attacks were “counterproductive” and ended up uniting local communities with militants. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that such strikes will continue and that Pakistani officials are aware of US policy on this matter.
- ROBERT GATES: Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al-Qaeda wherever al-Qaeda is, and we will continue to pursue them.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Has that decision been transmitted to the Pakistan government?
ROBERT GATES: Yes, sir.
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani officials, however, deny there’s any agreement with the United States to secretly allow drone attacks inside Pakistan. Defense Secretary Gates’s comments on the missile attacks were the first to publicly acknowledge the strikes since last Friday. This is an excerpt of last Friday’s White House press briefing with, well, the new press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
- REPORTER: And other US officials have confirmed these Predator drone air strikes, Pakistan. What is it about cannot confirming whether the President was consulted—
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.
REPORTER: How does that compromise operational security?
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.
REPORTER: Don’t you think it’s justifiable curiosity, Robert, about the President’s first military action—
ROBERT GIBBS: I think there are many things that you should be justifiably curious about, but I’m not going to get into talking about—
REPORTER: If other members of the US government are confirming this, why is it that you can’t comment?
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Joseph Biden also refused to comment Sunday as to whether the United States would notify Pakistan before sending forces into their territory. He was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer.
- BOB SCHIEFFER: Last week, an American drone apparently attacked an al-Qaeda force, or what they thought was an al-Qaeda force, in the territorial part of Pakistan, a cross-border operation. It’s my understanding that the President, the previous president, gave our US forces and the CIA permission to go across that border, to go after al-Qaeda if it became necessary on the ground. Does President Obama—will he continue that policy?
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Bob, as you know, I can’t speak to any particular attack. I can’t speak to any particular action. It’s not appropriate for me to do that.
But I can say that the President of the United States said during his campaign and in the debates that if there is an actionable target of a high-level al-Qaeda personnel, that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that.
But here’s the good news. The good news is that in my last trip—and I’ve been to Pakistan many times and that region many times—there is a great deal more cooperation going on now between the Pakistan military in an area called the FATA, the Federally Administered Territory—Waziristan, North Waziristan—all that area we hear about, that is really sort of ungovernable—not sort of, it’s been ungovernable for the Pakistani government. That’s where the bad guys are hiding. That’s where the al-Qaeda folks are, and some other malcontents.
And so, what we’re doing is we’re in the process of working with the Pakistanis to help train up their counterinsurgency capability of their military, and we’re getting new agreements with them about how to deal with cross-border movements of these folks. So we’re making progress.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Would you have notified them before any of these cross-border movements, because, as you well know, there is a fear that there would be leaks on something like that, and there might be a temptation not to? Exactly what is our policy on that?
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: I always try to be completely candid with you, but I can’t respond to that question. I’m not going to respond to that question.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You’re not going to respond to that question.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Biden, being interviewed by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back from break, we’ll speak with a Pakistani activist and scholar about the first military attack in the Obama administration, the unmanned drone attack in Pakistan. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, prepares to head to the region next week, I’m joined now here in the firehouse studio by Pakistani political scientist Sahar Shafqat.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. What about this unmanned drone attack? Where did it happen? What about the denials, on both sides, of US-Pakistani cooperation?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: The attacks happened in FATA, which is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It’s this no man’s land, literally, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, colonial-era sort of administrative region.
The denials, I think, are part of this drama that is sort of in mutually agreed-upon play that both the US and Pakistan are engaged in, which is the US is going to engage—carry out these drone attacks; the Pakistani government will deny that they had any knowledge and will express outrage for domestic consumption.
But they’re very deeply unpopular, and I should add that they have caused a humanitarian crisis within Pakistan. In Bajaur, for example, it’s estimated that about 300,000 people have fled the region, which is about half the population there. And it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain where that region is.
SAHAR SHAFQAT: That is in part of FATA, which is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Bajaur is one of the agencies within that.
AMY GOODMAN: Right next to Afghanistan.
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Right next to Afghanistan, yes. It’s a series of about ten or eleven different agencies within this—what Vice President Biden called the no man’s land, this ungovernable land. It’s supposed to have autonomy. And this has been, as I said, a colonial-era legacy, which successive Pakistani governments have more or less respected. This, of course, changed dramatically after 9/11, when the Pakistani government was forced to intervene, because Taliban and al-Qaeda had fled there from Afghanistan, so—which was a radical change in policy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, right now, this latest attack, what do you know about it? We have learned so far that something like twenty-two people were killed, three of them children.
SAHAR SHAFQAT: I don’t know much more than that, much more than what you know. But I will also add that it’s disappointing, from my perspective, and I think from Pakistanis’ perspective, that the new administration, which clearly has recognized that there were terrible mistakes made in the Bush era that have to be now sort of corrected with policy changes, has refused to acknowledge that there were serious mistakes that have been made in the US policy towards Pakistan and has in fact made clearly a decision to continue US policy towards Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of Richard Holbrooke, who’s headed to the region now?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Richard Holbrooke, I think—I mean, there are many sort of reasons to object to his involvement, which, you know, sort of pertain to his past, but I do want to point out one additional thing, which is that he has been named the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Originally, he was supposed to be named envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The Indian government lobbied very fiercely to have that designation removed, because they did not want to be lumped in with Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that, from my view, is unfortunate, because, you know, throughout, for example, Obama’s campaign, he noted that the solution to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan must involve some kind of solution between India and Pakistan, as well, that India is part of this equation. And I agree with that. And so, it’s disappointing that the sort of official designation for Richard Holbrooke is not going to include India at all in this equation.
AMY GOODMAN: The level of support for President Obama before he became president and now?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: In Pakistan? He was definitely more popular before the attacks on Friday, a week ago. And, in fact, the prime minister of Pakistan had more or less guaranteed to the Pakistani public that when President Obama comes into office, these drone attacks are going to stop. So he has, of course, been extremely embarrassed by this action, and there have already been mass protests against US bombing. And I think a lot of disillusionment has set in, because there were hopes that there would be some kind of policy correction, policy change, and that appears to not be the case at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Sahar Shafqat, what about the attacks on Mumbai and the links to Pakistan?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: Well, you know, again, none of that investigation has been made public, so I can only speculate on who exactly was involved. But to the best of our knowledge, we—I think it’s safe to say that, somehow or the other, the Pakistani security establishment was involved, either indirectly or directly or even through sort of—in a way of having knowledge of it and letting it happen. And again, this—
AMY GOODMAN: What makes you say that?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: You know, the groups that have been alleged to be involved are creations of ISI, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliated social group, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. And just as an example of how the security establishment tends to patronize and help out these groups, when the Jamaat-ud-Dawa was declared by the United Nations as a terrorist organization, the government took a few days to sort of act, and when they eventually seized the assets of this group, they discovered, lo and behold, that all the money had been taken out of the accounts. I don’t think this was an accident. I think this was an opportunity given to this group to sort of, you know, clear out its money and regroup eventually. Unfortunately, the ISI and other security, you know, agencies in Pakistan have always worked against the interests of the people of Pakistan, and I think this is another instance in which they, again, either directly or indirectly have done that.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, where it is now under Zardari, the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto?
SAHAR SHAFQAT: The lawyers’ movement is the most hopeful development in Pakistan in the last, I would say, probably couple of decades. Unfortunately, the movement has been weakened since the civilian government took office almost a year ago. And I should note that the United States has remained sort of steadfastly against the restoration of the judiciary and especially of the chief justice. My hope is that now that we have a former constitutional expert as the new US president, that he will see the importance of maintaining the rule of law and of restoring the judiciary.
The latest announcement by the lawyers’ movement leadership is that there will be a long march on March 9th and that there will be a sit-in until the judiciary is restored, until the chief justice is restored. And most recently, one of the major opposition party leaders, Nawaz Sharif, announced that he is going to participate and support this long march fully.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Sahar Shafqat, Pakistani activist and scholar. She specializes in comparative politics, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, armed services, Barack Obama, bush administration, carl levin, cia secret prisons, doj, eric holder, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, harry reid, house judiciary, jason leopold, John Conyers, justice department, mukasey, Nancy Pelosi, rendition, roger hollander, special counsel, torture, us attorney, war on terror, warcrimes, warrantless surveillance
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As President Barack Obama reverses some of ex-President George W. Bush’s most controversial “war on terror” policies, a consensus seems to be building among Democratic congressional leaders that further investigations are needed into Bush’s use of torture and other potential crimes.
On Wednesday – the first working day of the Obama administration – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would support funding and staff for additional fact-finding by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which last month released a report tracing abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, decision to exclude terror suspects from Geneva Convention protections.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who issued that report, echoed Reid’s comments, saying “there needs to be an accounting of torture in this country.” Levin, D-Michigan, also said he intends to encourage the Justice Department and incoming Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate torture practices that took place while Bush was in office.
Two other key Democrats joined in this growing chorus of lawmakers saying that serious investigations should be conducted.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, a former federal prosecutor and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a floor speech, “As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.”
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters: “Looking at what has been done is necessary.”
On Jan. 18, two days before Obama’s inauguration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support for House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’s plan to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers.”
In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Pelosi specifically endorsed a probe into the politicization of the Justice Department, but didn’t spell out a position on Conyers’s plan to examine the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, which could prove embarrassing to Pelosi and other Democratic leaders who were briefed by the CIA about these tactics.
Still, when Wallace cited Obama’s apparent unwillingness to investigate the Bush administration, Pelosi responded: “I think that we have to learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the — for example, the Justice Department, to go unreviewed. Past is prologue. We learn from it. And my views on the subject — I don’t think that Mr. Obama and Mr. Conyers are that far apart.”
The emerging consensus among top congressional Democrats for some form of investigation into Bush’s controversial policies has surprised some progressives who had written off the leadership long ago for blocking impeachment hearings and other proposals for holding Bush and his subordinates accountable.
In 2006, for instance, Pelosi famously declared that “impeachment is off the table,” and prior to Election 2008, the Democratic leadership largely acquiesced to Bush’s demands for legislation that supported his “war on terror” policies, including a compromise bill granting legal immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted in Bush’s warrantless wiretaps.
A Changed Tone
Since the election – in which the Democrats increased their congressional majorities and won the White House – key Democrats have begun releasing more information about Bush’s abuses of power.
Besides Levin’s findings on mistreatment of detainees, Conyers published a 487-page report entitled “Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the Presidency of George W. Bush” that calls for the creation of a blue-ribbon panel and independent criminal probes into the Bush administration’s conduct in the “war on terror.”
Conyers urged the Attorney General to “appoint a Special Counsel or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance.”
Last year, Bush’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as special counsel to investigate whether the destruction of CIA videotapes that depicted interrogators waterboarding alleged terrorist detainees violated any laws. Durham was not given the authority to probe whether the interrogation techniques themselves violated anti-torture laws.
“At present, the Attorney General has agreed only to appoint a special U.S. Attorney to determine whether the destruction of videotapes depicting the waterboarding of a detainee constituted violations of federal law,” Conyers’s report said.
“Despite requests from Congress, that prosecutor has not been asked to investigate whether the underlying conduct being depicted – the waterboarding itself or other harsh interrogation techniques used by the military or the CIA – violated the law. … Appointment of a special counsel would be in the public interest (e.g., it would help dispel a cloud of doubt over our law enforcement system).”
Additional evidence about the Bush administration’s actions is expected to become available in the coming weeks as the Obama administration loosens the secrecy that has surrounded Bush’s “war on terror,” a phrase that Obama and his team have effectively dropped from Washington’s lexicon.
Obama’s aides have indicated that there soon may be a “public airing” of secret Justice Department legal opinions and other documents that provided the underpinning for the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation policies.
Levin also indicated that he expects to release the full Armed Services Committee report – covering an 18-month investigation – in about two or three weeks. Levin added that he would ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct its own investigation of torture as implemented by the CIA.
Meanwhile, Republicans have grown increasingly worried that Holder, as Attorney General, will launch a criminal investigation into Bush’s interrogation policies. They delayed a vote on his nomination demanding that he respond to questions about whether he intends to investigate and/or prosecute Bush administration officials.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he wants to ask Holder whether he intends to investigate the Bush administration and intelligence officials for torture
Last week, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder was asked about the practice of waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning that the Bush administration has acknowledged using against three terror suspects. Holder answered that “waterboarding was torture.”
Cornyn said Holder’s view means there is a possibility that investigations might be on the horizon.
“Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon their understanding of what the law was,” Cornyn said Wednesday.
If Obama Doesn’t Prosecute Bush’s Torture Team, We’ll Pay a Big Price Down the Road January 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Alberto Gonzales, Barack Obama, bush administration, carl levin, cheney, cia secret sites, civil liberties, david addington, democracy, doj, eric holder, George Bush, guatanamo, International law, James Bybee, john yoo, justice department, Karl Rove, linda segura, nuremberg, patriot act, rendition, roger hollander, rule of law, rumsfeld, scott horton, special prosecutor, torture, War Crimes, waterboarding, william haynes
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December 7, 2008
“How did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep and blasted music at them? Were these actions the result of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that’s not the case.”
– Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 17, 2008
It was a short but significant report in Newsweek last week, and it began like this:
Despite the hopes of many human rights advocates, the new Obama Justice Department is not likely to launch major new criminal probes of harsh interrogations and other alleged abuses by the Bush administration. But one idea that has currency among some top Obama advisers is setting up a 9/11-style commission that would investigate counterterrorism policies and make public as many details as possible. “At a minimum, the American people have to be able to see and judge what happened,” said one senior adviser, who asked not to be identified for talking about policy matters. The commission would be empowered to order the U.S. intelligence agencies to open their files for review and question senior officials who approved “waterboarding” and other controversial practices.
The article, written by Michael Isikoff, came at the heels of another report by the Associated Press, which quoted a pair of anonymous Obama advisors as saying that there was little-to-no chance that an Obama Justice Department would try to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture. The same report quoted Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as saying that members of the Bush administration would not face war crimes charges in the United States. “These things are not going to happen.”
Common consensus is that the Bush administration has been the most lawless in U.S. history. From its illegal invasion of Iraq to the corporate-assisted, warrantless wiretapping of its own constituents, the Bush White House seems never to have held a view of the law from below. And, since long before the election of Barack Obama, a number of groups and individuals have called for accountability, from a vocal network of people calling for impeachment for Bush’s illegal and fraudulent invasion of Iraq, to, this summer, the bluntly labeled campaign, Send Karl Rove to Jail.
But if ever there was a stain on the fabric of American democracy that must be deserving of prosecution, it is the dark legacy of torture left by the Bush administration. From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to the CIA’s “secret sites,” proof abounds that the U.S. government engaged in systematic torture that was approved by top government officials. Ironically, a central laboratory for this corrosion of the country’s moral and legal code was the very office charged with defending the rule of law: the Department of Justice.
“It is these attorneys — Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, James Bybee, David Addington and William Haynes — who provided the legal basis for much of the torture and abuse that occurred at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other U.S. detention facilities around the globe,” Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, writes in the recently published The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book. In Ratner’s view, the prosecution of these attorneys, as well as Bush, Cheney and the rest, is a critical part of not just imposing accountability on those who approved and carried out torture in the name of the American people, but in dismantling a legal framework that could lead to more torture in the future.
‘This Was an Assault on the Law Itself’
Members of the legal and human rights community are currently grappling with the question of how to hold the Bush administration accountable for its crimes. In a recent cover story of Harper’sMagazine, human rights legal scholar Scott Horton lays out the rationale for pursuing the crimes of the Bush administration. The good news is there is plenty of historical precedent for going after government torturers in the United States. The bad news is that they have been uneven, at best. From an Army captain who was court-martialed for imposing the “water cure” on Filipinos during the Spanish-American War (”He was forced to pay a $50 fine”) to Japanese military officials tried for war crimes (including waterboarding) after World War II — some of whom were sentenced to death, the severity of the sanction has depended on who is meting it out.
Prosecuting the torturers of accused “terrorists” in far-away places may not inspire a call to action by Americans now — especially when a few token prosecutions of soldiers have taken place (most famously, Abu Ghraib Army Reservists Cpl. Charles Graner and Pfc. Lynndie England). But a policy systematically designed to subvert the law should be intolerable to those who place any kind of faith in American democracy. Horton’s article — parts of which should be required reading — discusses how, during the Nuremberg trials, “the Americans and Soviets … wanted to prosecute the people who had created the legal framework for the Nazi regime, but British and French leaders objected.”
“Consequently, the United States, acting on its own, convened a separate Nuremberg tribunal to try lawyers, judges and legal policymakers,” thereby establishing “the principal that policymakers who occurred the mandatory prohibitions of international law against harming prisoners in wartime could be prosecuted as war criminals, no matter how many internal memos they had written to the contrary.”
This leads to a critical point: “The key issue that Scott pointed out in his article,” Ratner says, “is that this was an assault on the law itself.” If legal opinions that sanctioned torture are left untouched, it sets a dangerous precedent. As Ratner recently wrote on his blog, “If laws can be broken with impunity today, they can and will be broken with impunity tomorrow. Not just laws against torture and war crimes, but any and all laws; any and all limits on government.”
“The only way to prevent this from happening again,” he tells me, “is to have prosecutions that will send a deterrence message” to future administrations.
‘We Owe the American People a Reckoning’
How to do this is the most pressing — and difficult — question. Horton considers the various forms such prosecutions might take, from the International Criminal Court (too dependent on the support of the United States) to foreign courts (viable, but “true justice cannot be compelled from without”), to domestic courts (unlikely, because prosecuting war crimes are rarely done against those at the top of the chain of command). Ultimately, he settles on a model of the truth-and-reconciliation commissions carried out in South America and South Africa. Although they have had imperfect results in the past — “In some cases, a bargain was struck under which the truth about past misconduct was divulged in exchange for a pardon” — the value of the commissions largely lies in the educational benefits a commission might bestow on the public. But beyond that, a “commission plus special prosecutor,” as Horton calls it, could be carried out in public, in order to “find the facts, weigh them, and if the facts warrant, make a formal recommendation for the appointment of a prosecutor.”
For Ratner, the models that have been suggested thus far don’t go far enough. In his view, the only way to restore the rule of law is to pursue criminal investigation and prosecution. “People have been pulling their punches when it comes to seeking full prosecutions,” he says, “because of the feeling that is not politically feasible.” It may be true in the end, “but unless you demand it, you’re not going to get it.” Failing to try, he says is “the worst defeatism you can have.”
Indeed, given the destruction of the past eight years to the fabric of American democracy, to shy away from torture prosecutions would seem profoundly — and dangerously — shortsighted. Obama has stated that as a country, the United States does not torture — most recently in an interview with 60 Minutes – and much of the support he gained as a candidate from the legal and human rights community was based on his vocal opposition to the Military Commissions Act. Although his opposition to torture has been unequivocal in tone, Obama has been hesitant to state in solid terms what exactly he would do about the torture that already took place. Responding to the question this summer, from a reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News, Obama responded:
What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my attorney general immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can’t prejudge that because we don’t have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You’re also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.
So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment — I would want to find out directly from my attorney general — having pursued, having looked at what’s out there right now — are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it’s important — one of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings, and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law — and I think that’s roughly how I would look at it.
It’s hard to imagine the lawlessness of the Bush administration falling short of “exceptional.” But regardless, whether Eric Holder, Obama’s pick for attorney general, would take this on is questionable. “Everybody has advice for Holder,” Slate legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick recently wrote, “starting with shuttering Guantanamo and repairing detention and interrogation policies; recalibrating the legal limits on information-gathering by intelligence agencies; doing away with provisions of the Patriot Act that encroach on civil liberties; and restoring the integrity and independence of the Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president on the lawfulness of a proposed action.” But Holder has been known to criticize the violations committed by the Bush administration. “We owe the American people a reckoning,” he said in a speech in June.
Still, in Horton’s opinion, although torture is a federal crime and a federal prosecutor has the power to prosecute it, it is unlikely any U.S. attorney would possess the independence to do so. “Indeed,” says Horton, “so many high-level figures at Justice were involved in creating the legal mechanism for torture that the Justice Department has effectively disqualified itself as an investigative vehicle, even under a new administration.” Ratner agrees.
So what is a “reckoning”? And where are the consequences?
For Ratner, now is the time to push Obama, hard, on seeking independent prosecutions, “partisan witch hunt” concerns be damned. After all, Obama brings with him enormous moral credibility. Lifting the stain of torture is a project that could — and should — transcend partisan politics. “Obama could change this (discussion) as he changed the dialogue on race in this country,” suggests Ratner, “with a speech on torture.”
“People say that prosecuting torture is ‘looking backward,’ ” says Ratner, “but in my view, prosecutions are looking forward — looking forward so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Cheney Throws Down Gauntlet, Defies Prosecution for War Crimes December 19, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, antonio taguba, ashcroft, carl levin, cia, condoleezza, constitution, Dick Cheney, geneva convention, Guantanamo, human rights, Iraq, john yoo, justice department, marjorie cohn, mukasey, Obama, powel, presidential pardon, roger hollander, rumsfeld, senate, supreme court, Taliban, tenet, torture, War Crimes, waterboarding
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Vice President Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture. (Photo: Getty Images) www.truthout.org 19 December 2008 Dick Cheney has publicly confessed to ordering war crimes. Asked about waterboarding in an ABC News interview, Cheney replied, “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared.” He also said he still believes waterboarding was an appropriate method to use on terrorism suspects. CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the agency waterboarded three al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003.
by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
US courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone’s nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies.
Under the doctrine of command responsibility, enshrined in US law, commanders all the way up the chain of command to the commander in chief can be held liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.
Why is Cheney so sanguine about admitting he is a war criminal? Because he’s confident that either President Bush will preemptively pardon him or President-elect Obama won’t prosecute him.
Both of those courses of action would be illegal.
First, a president cannot immunize himself or his subordinates for committing crimes that he himself authorized. On February 7, 2002, Bush signed a memo erroneously stating that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But the Supreme Court made clear that Geneva protects all prisoners. Bush also admitted that he approved of high-level meetings where waterboarding was authorized by Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey says there’s no need for Bush to issue blanket pardons since there is no evidence that anyone developed the policies for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful. But noble motives are not defenses to the commission of crimes.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, said, “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Second, the Constitution will require President Obama to faithfully execute the laws. That means prosecuting lawbreakers. When the United States ratified the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, thereby making them part of US law, we agreed to prosecute those who violate their prohibitions.
The bipartisan December 11 report of the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Lawyers who wrote the memos that purported to immunize government officials from war crimes liability include John Yoo, Jay Bybee, William Haynes, David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. There is precedent in our law for holding lawyers criminally liable for participating in a common plan to violate the law.
Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin told Rachel Maddow that you couldn’t legalize what’s illegal by having a lawyer write an opinion.
The committee’s report also found that Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Those techniques migrated to Iraq and Afghanistan, where prisoners in US custody were also tortured.
Pardons or failures to prosecute the officials who planned and authorized torture would also be immoral. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving US flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of US combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
During the campaign, Obama promised to promptly review actions by Bush officials to determine whether “genuine crimes” were committed. He said, “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” but “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”
Two Obama advisers told the Associated Press that “there’s little – if any – chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.”
When he takes office, Obama should order his new attorney general to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those who ordered and authorized the commission of war crimes.
Obama has promised to bring real change. This must be legal and moral change, where those at the highest levels of government are held accountable for their heinous crimes. The new president should move swiftly to set an important precedent that you can’t authorize war crimes and get away with it.
War Crimes and Incompetence — the Real Shoes Thrown at Bush December 16, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, al-Qaeda, baghdad, bremer, Bush, Cabinet, carl levin, chris weigant, cia, congress, defense department, detainees, false confessions, geneva convention, Guantanamo, interrogation, Iraq, iraq reconstruction, islam, kucinich, looting, Muslims, Pentagon, powell, ricardo sanchez, saddam, shoes, stuart bowen, Taliban, terrorism, torture, War Crimes, wiretap
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Chris Weigant, December 16, 2008
UPDATE: This article was originally titled “Maybe Levin And Bowen Should Throw Shoes” but perhaps that was too provacative or considered radical (I wasn’t really suggesting they should attack President Bush, merely making a statement about the media’s priorities). Anyway, just wanted to set the record straight.
I know it’s a lot more interesting to talk about two shoes getting thrown at President Bush in Iraq, but two more important stories are getting ignored as a result. These are two metaphorical “shoes” thrown at Bush, by the Senate and by Bush’s own Inspector General in Iraq. And they’re going to have a much more lasting impact on how history sees our Iraq adventure than one video clip of a guy hucking his footwear at President Bush. Because they deal with torture, and the failure of the Iraq reconstruction effort.
Last Thursday, Carl Levin’s Senate Armed Services Committee released a report which basically called Bush and his entire National Security Council war criminals. Of note was the fact that the Senate committee voted for the report unanimously. Every single Republican (led by John McCain), along with all the Democrats, voted for this report. And the language the report uses is not the usual vague “mistakes were made” sort (which is often a necessity forced upon the such committees as a whole, by one party or another).
The report is titled “Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry Into The Treatment Of Detainees In U.S. Custody” [download PDF version]. From the opening paragraphs:
Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” cited “pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims” as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadist movement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.
The report goes on for 29 pages in great detail about what happened, and who authorized it. It does not mince words. It names names. It traces not only the orders for such treatment of prisoners from the very top of the chain of command, it also traces the legal opinions which were produced to provide cover for what is described as techniques “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” In other words, war crimes. The first three of nineteen conclusions read:
Senate Armed Services Committee Conclusions
Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE [Survival Evasion Resistance Escape] training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.
Conclusion 2: Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.
Conclusions on SERE Training Techniques and Interrogations
Conclusion 3: The use of techniques similar to those used in SERE resistance training — such as stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, and treating them like animals — was at odds with the commitment to humane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Using those techniques for interrogating detainees was also inconsistent with the goal of collecting accurate intelligence information, as the purpose of SERE resistance training is to increase the ability of U.S. personnel to resist abusive interrogations and the techniques used were based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions.
So, a bipartisan committee of the United States Senate has publicly released a summary of a report (the full report is still classified, although Committee Chairman Carl Levin has called for it to be declassified) unanimously, that details war crimes by the highest government officials in the land.
You’d think this would be news, in other words.
The second metaphorical “shoe” tossed at Bush came from his own Inspector General in Iraq, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. The report is titled: “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience.” The story was broken by the New York Times, and the entire lengthy article is worth reading.
An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.
The history, the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag — particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army — the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.
In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’ “
Mr. Powell’s assertion that the Pentagon inflated the number of competent Iraqi security forces is backed up by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of ground troops in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator until an Iraqi government took over in June 2004.
Among the overarching conclusions of the history is that five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the United States government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program on anything approaching this scale.
This report is scheduled to be given to Congress in February, and is still in draft form. But, as the article pointed out, the ramifications for the future are huge, considering that we’re going to be in Afghanistan for a while.
Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the history concludes, “the government as a whole has never developed a legislatively sanctioned doctrine or framework for planning, preparing and executing contingency operations in which diplomacy, development and military action all figure.”
Few remember it, but a Democratic candidate for president campaigned on creating just such a framework for rebuilding countries. Instead of always reinventing the wheel and eternally performing nation-building as an ad hoc exercise, why not create a department that could provide the needed planning and expertise, by professionals who had done this sort of thing before? His name was Dennis Kucinich, and he was roundly ridiculed for his “Department of Peace” proposal. It’s not looking so ridiculous now, is it?
Imagine, if you will, these two stories breaking under President Clinton’s watch. Would either one of them be greeting with a collective yawn by the mainstream media? This weekend’s Sunday morning talk shows, for instance, barely mentioned either story (most of the shows didn’t mention either story at all). I saw a lot of “Bush ducking shoes” headlines, but I must have missed all the “White House Accused Of War Crimes By Senate” or “Iraq Reconstruction An Enormous Failure” headlines. Outside of a few intrepid newspapers, neither story is getting much attention at all.
Maybe it’s just Bush fatigue. Some might say my insistence on the importance of these stories is nothing more than one last round of Bush-bashing. I disagree. Because these things were done in my name, and in every other Americans’ name. To be sure they never happen again, we must examine exactly what did happen. Those who don’t remember history are famously condemned to repeat it, and those who prefer not to even read such history in the first place are surely condemned to repeat it a whole lot faster.
Bush entered office trying to force a quick start to a recession, and he leaves office with the American economy in the worst shape it’s been in since the Great Depression. Bush entered the war in Iraq and we all watched Iraqis beating a fallen statue of Saddam Hussein with their shoes, and now Bush leaves office with Iraqi journalists throwing shoes at him. Bush took over Baghdad while ignoring looting and rampant destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, and then squandered billions of dollars on “reconstruction” that was largely ineffective. Bush ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and then watched an American city drown, and personally approved of torturing prisoners held by America. Bush ran on a standard Republican platform of “getting government out of people’s lives” and then presided over trying to wiretap every phone call and email in America. Bush also ran on “restoring the honor and dignity of the Oval Office,” and he exits still lying about how we went to war with Iraq (he’s been quoted more than once in the past few weeks — unchallenged by the interviewers — saying that Saddam Hussein was refusing to let weapons inspectors in, which is just flat-out lying).
I know that America is ready to move on. I know that everyone is much more interested in the future Obama administration than looking back at the Bush administration. But it is important to take one last look back at Bush’s legacy, to make sure these things are never again allowed to happen. Even the Senate all but accusing the White House of war crimes and the Inspector General in Iraq accusing the White House of massive incompetence don’t make the front pages, which I think is just wrong.
Perhaps Carl Levin or Stuart Bowen, Jr. should toss a shoe at the president. Because maybe then these stories would get the attention they deserve.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Tags: amy goodman, Argentina, balnket pardons, berlin, brandenburg gate, Bush, carl levin, Chile, counterterrorism, detainees, dictatorships, germany, Guantanamo, hitler, human rights, McCain, prisoners, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, us torturers, war on terrorism
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December 12, 2008
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Berlin, from East Berlin, that is. In fact, right around the corner is the theater where this is performed, the Bertolt Brecht Theatre.
We’re joined right now by a longtime German attorney to talk about a bipartisan Senate report that was released on Thursday that accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of being directly responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other US prisons.
The report stated, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
The report was released by Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican John McCain of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. It was based on a nearly two year Senate investigation. The report was issued as speculation is running high in Washington over whether President Bush will issue blanket pardons of officials involved in some of the administration’s more controversial counterterrorism programs.
I’m joined here in Berlin by human rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. He is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights. He has twice filed war crimes suits against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Wolfgang.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Hi, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Let’s start off by talking about the significance of this US Senate report. It’s interesting that it’s not only the Democrat Carl Levin but the former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, the report is fine, as many other reports which have been released during the last four years, but, one has to say, it only confirms the information which was already on the table. We had a lot of revelations by colleagues of yours, by Jane Mayer, by other investigative journalists. We had the book of Philippe Sands. And it’s the last report in a row. So what we are interested in is the consequences of all this. You know, where does it lead to? When does the new administration take the necessary measure to deal with these crimes? And they were crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Do we see any move in that direction with the Barack Obama—just what is being put out now, his selections for his cabinet? Of course, he’s not in power yet.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, we follow a vivid discussion right now in the US. Some people demand at least—and this is the minimum—some kind of truth commission with subpoena powers. But this is the absolute minimum. Yeah, and others, like Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, demand strongly prosecution in the US. And we from Europe follow this process very carefully, because if nothing happens in the US or if Bush files preemptive pardon, we know it’s our turn again here in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these lawsuits that you have filed against Donald Rumsfeld and also what most surprised you in the, I mean, US Senate report. You’ve been researching this for a long time, but it’s different when a body like the Senate says things like you have been saying.
WOLFGANG KALECK: No, actually, I’m very happy with the report. It’s another confirmation. And also, you know, it’s not only about dealing with these persons who are—some of them already left the administration. I’m not really interested in these persons, as such. I’m interested in a change of the attitude of the US military’s and the US Secret Service’s, and, of course, I’m interested in a restoration of the rule of law, and that requires investigation and prosecution. And we are very reluctant to have any firm opinion yet on that, because we have to wait for the 20th of January. But we will very carefully follow the first steps of the Obama administration.
AMY GOODMAN: And what most—what you think is most significant in the Senate report?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, there are strong conclusions, you know, like saying what we always were saying, that the US military and the CIA were using the methods of the old enemies in the Cold War, like waterboarding, which was used by North Korea, by North Vietnam and by China and the Soviet Union. So, this was already on the table. This is like ridiculous. But it’s good that it’s now being said by a congressional report, of course.
AMY GOODMAN: Your lawsuits that you’ve brought against Donald Rumsfeld—
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —together with the Center for Constitutional Rights—
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —explain what they are and where they’ve gone and why you, as a German attorney, are involved with this at all.
WOLFGANG KALECK: The Center approached us in Germany four years ago, when there was nearly total impunity in the US and no attempts at all to be seen that any other than the “rotten apples,” the twelve persons from the night shift in Abu Ghraib, should be sued for what happened in Abu Ghraib. And so, in 2004, we filed the first lawsuit here in Germany. Actually, it was linked with what you have been discussing right now, because many of the mother units of the acting persons in Abu Ghraib were stationed in Germany, so there was even a territorial connection. Four of the twelve persons—other than Rumsfeld, four of the twelve persons were stationed in Germany. So Germany—in our opinion, Germany had the obligation to pursue this. And against Rumsfeld, our complaint was based on the universal jurisdiction laws in Germany. So that was 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain universal jurisdiction.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Universal jurisdiction is when there is, yeah, no territorial link or no person, no citizen from the country, neither as an actor nor as a victim, as someone involved in the crime. So when there is no connection at all to the country, many countries in the world now have so-called universal jurisdiction laws, which allow them to investigate and prosecute if the state where the crime occurred and if the International Criminal Court won’t take the case. So—but this is only one side of the game.
The other side is what we always said. Yeah, we tried to blame Rumsfeld for—and others, of course, especially the lawyers—for what they’ve done in conducting the torture program, but we don’t have to forget that—and this is not about universal jurisdiction. This is about territorial jurisdiction and about personal jurisdiction. We have many, many European countries right now with pending lawsuits because of their involvement in the US torture program. So we have ongoing trials in Italy, in Spain. We have—even now in Bosnia, in Poland, we have brave prosecutors who are investigating against their own officials. We have parliamentary inquiries. We have criminal investigations in Denmark, in Holland, in many other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain a few of these?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Because I think there’s very little sense in the United States of what goes on outside of the United States.
WOLFGANG KALECK: You know that the CIA rendition program was called by one investigator of the Council of Europe a “spider’s web.” So, this is to demonstrate the power of the CIA, like covering the whole world with their stations and using air bases all over the world to kidnap people, to torture them and to bring them anywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: By rendition. You’re referring to extraordinary rendition.
WOLFGANG KALECK: By rendition, yeah. I’m referring to the CIA extraordinary rendition program. So, on one hand, this really seems like a very powerful demonstration. On the other hand, they leave traces. Everywhere they act, there is jurisdiction on their actions. So they acted in Italy, for example. They kidnapped a Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, and brought him to Egypt, where he was really brutally tortured. And a brave prosecutor in Italy investigated the case and now is standing on trial against not only CIA agents, but also against the heads of the Italian secret service who helped the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: But the CIA agents, of course, are not there. They’re being tried in absentia.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what does it mean? It means they can never return to Italy?
WOLFGANG KALECK: They can never return. There are arrest warrants, like there are arrest warrants in Germany against twelve CIA agents. So—
AMY GOODMAN: What happened here in Germany?
WOLFGANG KALECK: In Germany, it’s all because of the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped in Macedonia and then brought to Afghanistan and then returned to Germany. You know what? But what this means is, four years ago, everybody said suing—a lawsuit against US CIA agents, against US militarists, never brings you anywhere. And four years later, we find ourself in a situation where we have to say, this is, of course, not enough, but this is more than nothing. A lot has been happening. So, many, many lawyers, many prosecutors, many judges in several European countries took action, and I think there is more to come up. And it depends very much—there is much hope on the Obama administration, but it will depend very much if there is really something going on in the US. If not, I guess there will be more and more lawsuits here in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, your first lawsuit against Rumsfeld in 2004, that was thrown out by the German government.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, that was a nice one, because we filed the lawsuit in late 2004, and they were somehow revising our complaint, because it was a very strong, long complaint. And Rumsfeld announced at a certain point that he wouldn’t come to Germany because of that pending lawsuit. And he wanted to come to the Munich Security Conference on 11th of February in 2005, and so the German prosecutor filed the dismissal on the 10th of February, 2005, one day before, so that Rumsfeld could attend the Munich Security Conference, which he did. So, that was—
AMY GOODMAN: Was the US bringing a lot of pressure to throw this out?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, it seems so. It seems so, because there were also upcoming visits of Condoleezza Rice and re-elected President George Bush by that time.
This attitude of the Germans, which was obviously politically motivated, gave us a fair chance to file a new lawsuit in 2006, where actually not only the Center for Constitutional Rights and we, the Germans, filed the case, but fifty organizations all over the world backed the case. And so, yeah, you know that the case gained a lot of public attention and also initiated a discussion that international justice has to be more than special justice for fallen dictators from Southern countries or special tribunals for Africa. If international justice wants to be taken serious in the future, it has to go after the powerful perpetrators also of the West and the North.
AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, we’re sitting here in a studio in Berlin, East Berlin, to be exact. For those who are listening on radio, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. You’ll see the backdrop of this broadcast, significant buildings and monuments in Berlin. Can you talk about your concern—against the backdrop of this history, give us a quick one-minute tour of Berlin and its significant places. Even in the break, we were playing Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” The significance of Bertolt Brecht here, a theater right around the corner.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah. You know, we’re facing the Victory Column, where Barack Obama gave his speech in July. And this was actually a demonstration of war, because Germany was leading many wars in the past.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re showing that backdrop right now.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: This was where—the significance of that place, where Barack Obama spoke?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah. Berlin is full of monuments of war. And the Brandenburg Gate was the place, just where we’re sitting here—that was the first demonstration of Adolf Hitler when he was elected as a chancellor. So we have dealt a lot with impunity. And actually, you know, the Nazi—the whole chapter of the Nazi crimes was never, never really challenged by German justice. So, maybe we the Germans are not the best persons to tell others how to tackle impunity, but some of us learned a lot during the last years.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the wall coming down that divides where we are in East Berlin from West Berlin, that many people don’t even refer to east and west anymore, thinking of it as one united city now, the government back here at the Reichstag?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Now, that’s—the interesting thing for us with the fall of the wall is that it showed that history is open, and sometimes things may happen that you haven’t expected in years before. And that’s, you know, what we are also experiencing with our work against impunity in Southern America, because we deal with cases against Chilean and Argentinean military officers, where, thirty years after the crimes during the dictatorships in the ’70s, these people now find themselves on trial. And so, this is our hope, that the continuous work of human rights organizations, of lawyers and organizations all over the world will at some point result in investigation and prosecution against US torturers.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us today. Wolfgang Kaleck is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights, as we wrap up our trip through Sweden and Germany. We’ll be back in New York on Monday, and we’ll be dealing with the issue of extraordinary rendition there, as well.