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How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Chile, Latin America, Torture, War on Terror.
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Published on Monday, February 18, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

The Latin American Exception

by Greg Grandin

(Max Fisher — The Washington Post)

The map tells the story.  To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.

Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set.  It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria.  The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture.  Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”

No region escapes the stain.  Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center.  Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia.  Not even social-democratic Scandinavia.  Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses.  No region, that is, except Latin America.

What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.”  Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area.  It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”

Two, Three, Many CIAs 

How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)?  After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”

In the region, this meant three things.  First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense.  They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.  Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support.  Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag.  Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.

When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques — and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks.  In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces.  Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage.  Then 9/11 happened.

“Oh My Goodness”

In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers.  “Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important.” Indeed.

This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got.  Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende.  Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point?  After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.

There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” — an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.

“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.”  Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere.  Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”

“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”

A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers.  On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused.

Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit.  As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”

Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains.  Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.”  His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”

Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.

Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment… caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”

Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets.  Rahma froze to death.

And so the Open Society report goes… on and on and on.

Territorio Libre 

Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments.  Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command.  As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.

But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side.  His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history.  It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model — think of it as Reaganism on steroids — that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years.  Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been.

Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela.  Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S.  In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another.  In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.

In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region.  Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war.

Brazil’s “Smokescreen”

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.

A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.

“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said.  It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law.  “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”

In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act.  It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.

Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.”  The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.

One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” — that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties  – “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.”  In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many.  One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.

Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse.

In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez.  Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.”  But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”

There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place!  It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington.  The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez.

Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War

Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched.  It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico.  The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years.  Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom — the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America — can operate more or less at will.  A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.

Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations.  U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic.  The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.

But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine.  Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.

© 2013 Greg Grandin
Greg Grandin

Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, Fordlandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

US Media Yet Again Conceals Newsworthy Government Secrets February 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in War on Terror.
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Published on Thursday, February 7, 2013 by The Guardian

The collective self-censorship over a US drone base in Saudi Arabia is but the latest act of government-subservient ‘journalism’

by Glenn Greenwald

The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.

The Washington Post this week admitted it was part of an “informal arrangement” to conceal from its readers a US drone base in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy

One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered – thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower – that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper’s publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The “national security” excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.

The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret “black sites” where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: “the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials.”

In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not – as President Obama falsely claimed – “our diplomat”, but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis’ status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis – that he was a CIA agent – did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure “pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA“.

The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming “at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk”. But as the Guardian’s Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, “Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence” and “disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk”.

And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.

But the Post admitted that it – along with multiple other US media outlets – had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:

“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

The “other news organization” which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT – in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen – reported that Brennan “work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes”. As the paper’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which “had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA”, but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.

The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT’s Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT’s disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):

“Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.”

As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted, “the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates.” Gawker’s Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:

“In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren’t protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce.”

In an article on the controversy over this self-censorship, the Guardian this morning quotes Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University:

“The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger. The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”

The same dynamic drives most of these acts of US media self-censorship. It has nothing to do with legitimate claims of national security. Indeed, none of these facts – once they were finally reported – ultimately resulted in any harm. Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.

There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That’s when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: “most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations.”

As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.

Recall the extraordinary 2009 BBC debate over WikiLeaks in which former NYT executive editor Bill Keller proudly praised himself for concealing information the Obama administration told him to conceal, prompting this incredulous reply from the BBC host: “Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: ‘What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,’ and you get clearance, then?” Keller’s admission also prompted this response from former British diplomat Carne Ross, who was also on the program: “It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the US Government.”

After the Guardian published the truth about Raymond Davis, former Bush DOJ laywer Jack Goldsmith, in 2011, defended the New York Times’ concealment of it by hailing what he called “the patriotism of the American press“. He quoted former Bush CIA and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden as saying that “American journalists display ‘a willingness to work with us’ . . . but with the foreign press ‘it’s very, very difficult’”. Goldsmith said that while foreign media outlets will more readily report on secret US government acts (he named The Guardian, Al Jazeera and WikiLeaks), US national security journalists with whom he spoke justified their eagerness to cooperate with the US government by “expressly ascrib[ing] this attitude to ‘patriotism’ or ‘jingoism’ or to being American citizens or working for American publications.”

That is the key truth. The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency’s vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama’s assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative “informal” agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.

© 2013 the Guardian
Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Extraordinary Rendition Report Finds More Than 50 Nations Involved In Global Torture Scheme February 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: the following article on the Bush/Obama torture regime uses the words “mistake” and “blunder” to describe the infamous barbarism.  Next time you are about to get a traffic ticket or are charged with robbing a bank, tell the judge it was just a mistake or a blunder, and you are certain to be excused.  After all, if government officials can “mistakenly” violate constitutional and international law, you certainly should be able to do the same for “minor” offenses.

 

Joshua Hersh

joshua.hersh@huffingtonpost.com

Posted: 02/04/2013 11:14 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/05/2013 9:26 am EST

 

Extraordinary Rendition

More than 50 nations played a role in the extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects in the years after 9/11, a new report has found. The program, started under President George W. Bush, involved shipping suspects off to foreign prisons and CIA “black sites,” where they often faced torture. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/File)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were quietly moved to secret prisons abroad and often tortured, involved the participation of more than 50 nations, according to a new report to be released Tuesday by the Open Society Foundations.

The OSF report, which offers the first wholesale public accounting of the top-secret program, puts the number of governments that either hosted CIA “black sites,” interrogated or tortured prisoners sent by the U.S., or otherwise collaborated in the program at 54. The report also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were at some point subjected to extraordinary rendition.

The number of nations and the names of those detained provide a stark tally of a program that was expanded widely — critics say recklessly — by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has been heavily condemned in the years since. In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, condemned the CIA’s detention and interrogation efforts as “terrible mistakes.”

Although Bush administration officials said they never intentionally sent terrorism suspects abroad in order to be tortured, the countries where the prisoners seemed to end up — Egypt, Libya and Syria, among others — were known to utilize coercive interrogation techniques.

Extraordinary rendition was also a factor in one of the greatest intelligence blunders of the Bush years. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national and top al Qaeda operative who was detained in Pakistan in late 2001, was later sent by the U.S. to Egypt. There, under the threat of torture, he alleged that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda in biological and chemical warfare. He later withdrew the claim, but not before the U.S. invaded Iraq in part based on his faulty testimony.

When he came into office, President Barack Obama pledged to end the U.S. government’s use of torture and issued an executive order closing the CIA’s secret prisons around the world.

But Obama did not fully end the practice of rendition, which permits the U.S. to circumvent any due process obligations for terrorism suspects. Instead, the administration said it was relying on the less certain “diplomatic assurances” of host countries that they would not torture suspects sent to them for pretrial detention.

This decision, the OSF report concludes, was tantamount to continuing the program, since in the absence of any public accounting, it was impossible to measure the accuracy of those “assurances.”

Without any public government records to read, Amrit Singh, the OSF’s top legal analyst for national security and counterterrorism and the new report’s author, turned to news reports, the investigations of a global network of human rights organizations, and the proceedings of a handful of foreign courts that have investigated their own countries’ practices.

What Singh saw was a hasty global effort, spearheaded by the United States in the months after 9/11, to bypass longstanding legal structures in order to confront the emerging threat of international terrorism.

Singh condemned the consequences of that effort in the report’s introduction. “By enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law — including, in particular, the norm against torture,” she wrote.

“Responsibility for this damage does not lie solely with the United States,” Singh added, “but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out.”

The list of those nations includes a range of American allies (Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany) and familiar Middle Eastern partners in the messy fight against radical Islam (Jordan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates). Their alleged levels of participation vary widely, from countries like Poland, which agreed to host CIA black-site prisons, to nations like Portugal and Finland, which merely allowed their airspace and airports to be used for rendition flights.

A few of the nations involved, such as Australia and Sweden, have begun a process of public accounting and compensation for their roles in the process. Others, including Italy and Macedonia, have recently become embroiled in trials of local officials and CIA agents in absentia over their actions.

 

Human Rights Watch decries U.S. prison system January 31, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 10:25 AM EST

The NGO’s World Report criticizes mass incarceration and U.S. record of torture and extrajudicial killing

By

 

Human Rights Watch decries U.S. prison system (Credit: Shutterstock)

Human Rights Watch Thursday published its annual World Report, in which it lays out a pointed critique of the U.S. prison system. The enormous prison population  — the largest in the world at 1.6million — “partly reflects harsh sentencing practices contrary to international law,” notes the report.

The 2013 World Report, a 665-page tome which assesses human rights progress in the past year in 90 countries, highlights particular issues undergirding the U.S.’s blighted carceral system. It notes that “practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities.” Via HRW:

Research in 2012 found that the massive over-incarceration includes a growing number of elderly people whom prisons are ill-equipped to handle, and an estimated 93,000 youth under age 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons. Hundreds of children are subjected to solitary confinement. Racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately represented in the prison population.

HRW cite statistics often used to show racial disparities in the U.S. prison system. For example, while whites, African Americans and Latinos have comparable rates of drug use, African Americans are arrested for drug offenses, including possession, at three times the rate of white men.

“The United States has shown little interest in tackling abusive practices that have contributed to the country’s huge prison population,” said Maria McFarland, deputy U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, it is society’s most vulnerable – racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, immigrants, children, and the elderly – who are most likely to suffer from injustices in the criminal justice system.”

Although noting some progress in 2012 (both D.C. and Connecticut joined the ranks of 16 states to have abolished the death penalty), HRW also stressed continuing injustices in U.S. immigration policies, labor issues and treatment of minorities, women, the disabled and HIV positive individuals. The report was particularly critical when reviewing the U.S.’s counterterrorism policies. The NGO noted in a statement:

Both the Obama administration and Congress supported abusive counterterrorism laws and policies, including detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, restrictions on the transfer of detainees held there, and prosecutions in a fundamentally flawed military commission system.  Attacks by US aerial drones were carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, with important legal questions about the attacks remaining unanswered.

The administration has taken no steps toward accountability for torture and other abuses committed by US officials in the so-called “war on terror,” and a Justice Department criminal investigation into detainee abuse concluded without recommending any charges. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completed a more than 6,000-page report detailing the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but has yet to seek the report’s declassification so it can be released to the public.

The World Report explicitly mentions Obama’s signing of the NDAA in 2011 (an act he repeated this year), noting, “The act codified the existing executive practice of detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, and required that certain terrorism suspects be initially detained by the military if captured inside the U.S..”

Next week, the lawsuit against Obama over the NDAA’s definite detention provision will be back in federal court as plaintiffs including Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky seek an injunction prohibiting indefinite detention of civilians without charge or trial.

Comments from HRW’s McFarland point out what’s at stake for the president here: “The Obama administration has a chance in its second term to develop with Congress a real plan for closing Guantanamo and definitively ending abusive counterterrorism practices,” McFarland said. “A failure to do so puts Obama at risk of going down in history as the president who made indefinite detention without trial a permanent part of U.S. law.”

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com. More Natasha Lennard.

John Brennan’s new power May 22, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: Picture Mr. Brennan enters the Oval Office and informs the President that it is time to sit down and decide who they are going to kill today.  This is how a president spends his time?  Surreal.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 07:34 AM EST, www.salon.com

 

President Obama’s counter-terrorism chief has “seized the lead” in secretly determining who will die by US drone

By

In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaks in Washington. )Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

(updated below)

In November, 2008, media reports strongly suggested that President Obama intended to name John Brennan as CIA Director. But controversy over Brennan’s recent history — he was a Bush-era CIA official who expressly advocated “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition — forced him to “withdraw” from consideration, as he publicly issued a letter citing “strong criticism in some quarters” of his CIA advocacy.

Undeterred by any of that unpleasantness, President Obama instead named Brennan to be his chief counter-Terrorism adviser, a position with arguably more influence that he would have had as CIA chief. Since then, Brennan has been caught peddling serious falsehoods in highly consequential cases, including falsely telling the world that Osama bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with U.S. forces entering his house and “used his wife as a human shield,” and then outright lying when he claimed about the prior year of drone attacks in Pakistan: “there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” Given his history, it is unsurprising that Brennan has been at the heart of many of the administration’s most radical acts, including claiming the power to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA without due process and the more general policy of secretly targeting people for death by drone.

Now, Brennan’s power has increased even more: he’s on his way to becoming the sole arbiter of life and death, the unchecked judge, jury and executioner of whomever he wants dead (of course, when Associated Press in this report uses the words “Terrorist” or “al-Qaida operative,” what they actually mean is: a person accused by the U.S. Government, with no due process, of involvement in Terrorism):

White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure for both military and CIA targets.

The effort concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults with the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the target list, making the Pentagon’s role less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government goes after terrorists. . . .

Brennan’s effort gives him greater input earlier in the process, before making final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan’s office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials. . . .

Some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of “how easy it has become to kill someone,” one said. The U.S. is targeting al-Qaida operatives for reasons such as being heard in an intercepted conversation plotting to attack a U.S. ambassador overseas, the official said. . . .

Human rights and civil liberties groups have argued for the White House to make public the legal process by which names end up on the targeting lists.

“We continue to believe, based on the information available, that the (drone) program itself is not just unlawful but dangerous,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It is dangerous to characterize the entire planet as a battlefield.”

Shrinking the pool of people deciding who goes on the capture/kill list means fewer people to hold accountable, said Mieke Eoyang from Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.

“As a general principle, if people think someone is checking their work, they are more careful,” Eoyang said. “Small groups can fall victim to group-think.”

Needless to say, all of this takes place in total secrecy, with no legal framework and no oversight of any kind. Indeed, even after they had Brennan publicly defend the CIA drone program, the Obama administration continue to insist in federal court that the program is too secretive even to confirm its existence. It’s just a tiny cadre of National Security State officials who decide, in the dark, whom they want dead, and then — once the President signs off — it is done. This is the Change with which the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has gifted us: ”some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of ‘how easy it has become to kill someone.’”

Reuters previously described the secret process used to determine which human beings, including American citizens, would be targeted for due-process-free death-by-CIA: they “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials” with “no public record” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules” — an actual death panel, though one invented by the White House rather than established by law. And now John Brennan has even more control over the process, and fewer checks, when issuing these death sentence decrees.

Remember in the Bush era when little things like the Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping and military commissions were the Radical and Lawless Assaults Trampling on Our Constitution and Our Values? Now, all those things are completely normalized — controversies over those policies are like quaint and obsolete relics of a more innocent era — and we now have things like unelected Death Sentence Czars instead.

* * * * *

Charles Davis has two good posts — one here and one here — on the desperate mental gymnastics invoked by some Obama fanatics to justify (and, when that fails, ignore) all of this.

 

UPDATE: I was on Al Jazeera yesterday debating the potential de-listing of the MeK as a Terrorist group, and that can be seen here (because of technical issues, my participation began at 19:40). I was also interviewed yesterday by Anti War Radio about Obama’s detention policies and the recent court case invalidating the NDAA’s detention powers, and that can be heard here.

Who–and What–Are Behind the “Official History” of the Bin Laden Raid? August 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Media, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: This is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.  Given the total capitulation of  the mainstream media to the corporate, partisan political and industrial-military intersts, the kind of journalism found in whowhatwhy,com and a handful of other Internet sites are the Zamizdat of today.  

 

Published on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 by WhoWhatWhy.com

  by Russ Baker

The establishment media just keep getting worse. They’re further and further from good, tough investigative journalism, and more prone to be pawns in complicated games that affect the public interest in untold ways. A significant recent example is The New Yorker’s vaunted August 8 exclusive on the vanquishing of Osama bin Laden.

The piece, trumpeted as the most detailed account to date of the May 1 raid in Abbottabad Pakistan, was an instant hit. “Got the chills half dozen times reading @NewYorker killing bin Laden tick tock…exquisite journalism,” tweeted the digital director of the PBS show Frontline.  The author, freelancer Nicholas Schmidle, was quickly featured on the Charlie Rose show, an influential determiner of “chattering class” opinion. Other news outlets rushed to praise the story as “exhaustive,” “utterly compelling,” and on and on.

To be sure, it is the kind of granular, heroic story that the public loves, that generates follow-up bestsellers and movie options. The takedown even has a Hollywood-esque code name: “Operation Neptune’s Spear”

Here’s the introduction to the mission commander, full of minute details that help give it a ring of authenticity and the most intimate reportorial access:

James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower. That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle. (Others SEALs had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP7.) A “blowout kit,” for treating field trauma, was tucked into the small of James’s back. Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside. He wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat.

On and on went the “tick-tock.” Yet as Paul Farhi, a Washington Post reporter, noted, that narrative was misleading in the extreme, because the New Yorker reporter never actually spoke to James—nor to a single one of James’s fellow SEALs (who have never been identified or photographed–even from behind–to protect their identity.) Instead, every word of Schmidle’s narrative was provided to him by people who were not present at the raid. Complains Farhi:

…a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.

That didn’t trouble New Yorker editor David Remnick, according to Farhi:

Remnick says he’s satisfied with the accuracy of the account. “The sources spoke to our fact-checkers,” he said. “I know who they are.”

But we don’t.

On a story of this gravity, should we automatically join in with the huzzahs because it has the imprimatur of America’s most respected magazine? Or would we be wise to approach it with caution?

***

Most of us are not the trusting naïfs we once were. And with good reason.

The list of consequential events packaged for us by media and Hollywood in unsatisfactory ways continues to grow. It starts, certainly, with the official version of the JFK assassination, widely discredited yet still carried forward by most major media organizations. (For more on that, see this.) More and more people realize that the heroic Woodward & Bernstein story of Nixon’s demise is deeply problematical. (I’ve written extensively on both of these in my book Family of Secrets.)

And untold millions don’t think we’ve heard the real (or at least complete) story of the phenomenal, complex success of those 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. Skeptics now include former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who recently speculated that the hijackers may have been able to enter the US and move freely precisely because American intelligence hoped to recruit them as double agents—and that an ongoing cover-up is designed to hide this. And then, of course, there are the Pentagon’s account of the heroic rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, which turned out to be a hoax, and the Pentagon’s fabricated account of the heroic battle death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, who turned out to be a victim of friendly fire. These are just a few from scores of examples of deceit perpetrated upon the American people. Hardly the kind of track record to inspire confidence in official explanations with the imprimatur of the military and the CIA.

Whatever one thinks of these other matters, we’re certainly now at a point where we ought to be prudent in embracing authorized accounts of the latest seismic event: the dramatic end to one of America’s most reviled and storied nemeses.

The bin Laden raid presents us with every reason to be cautious. The government’s initial claims about what transpired at that house in Abbottabad have changed, then changed again, with no proper explanation of the discrepancies. Even making allowances for human error in such shifting accounts, almost every aspect of what we were told requires a willing suspension of disbelief—from the manner of Osama’s death and burial to the purported pornography found at the site. (For more on these issues, see previous articles we wrote on the subject, here, here and here.)

Clarke’s theory will seem less outrageous later, as we explore Saudi intelligence’s crucial, and bizarre, role at the end of bin Laden’s life—working directly with the man who now holds Clarke’s job.

Add to all of this the discovery that the reporter providing this newest account wasn’t even allowed to talk to any raid participants—and the magazine’s lack of candor on this point—and you’ve got an almost unassailable case for treating the New Yorker story with extreme caution.

***

We might begin by asking the question: Who provided The New Yorker with its exclusive, and what was their agenda in doing so? To try and sort out Schmidle’s sources, I read through the piece carefully several times.

One person who spoke to the reporter, and who is identified by name is John O. Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. Brennan is quoted directly, briefly, near the top, describing to Schmidle pre-raid debate over whether such an operation would be a success or failure:

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President’s advisers began an “interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you’re going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there.”

The mere fact of Schmidle’s reliance on Brennan at all should send up a flare for the cautious reader. After all, that’s the very same Brennan who was the principal source of incorrect details in the hours and days after the raid. These included the claim that the SEALs encountered substantial armed resistance, not least from bin Laden himself; that it took them an astounding 40 minutes to get to bin Laden, and that the White House got to hear the soldiers’ conversations in real time.

Here’s a Washington Post account from Brennan published on May 3, less than 48 hours after the raid:

Half an hour had passed on the ground, but the American commandos raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideaway had yet to find their long-sought target.

…The commandos swept methodically through the compound’s main building, clearing one room and then another as they made their way to the upper floors where they expected to find bin Laden. As they did so, Obama administration officials in the White House Situation Room listened to the SEAL team’s conversations over secure lines.

“The minutes passed like days,” said John O. Brennan, the administration’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled.”

Finally, shortly before 2 a.m. in Pakistan, the commandos burst into an upstairs room.Inside, an armed bin Laden took cover behind a woman, Brennan said. With a burst of gunfire, one of the longest and costliest manhunts in modern history was over.

.. The commandos moved inside, and finally reached bin Laden’s upstairs living quarters after nearly 40 minutes on the ground.

Osama bin Ladens compound in Abbottabad Pakistan where he was killed in a raiding operation by US Navy-SEALS.

Almost all that turns out to be hogwash—according to the new account produced by The New Yorker three months later. An account that, again, it seems, comes courtesy of Brennan. The minutes did not pass like days. Bin Laden was not armed, and did not take cover behind a woman. And the commandoes most certainly were not on the ground for 40 minutes. Some of them were up the stairs to the higher floors almost in a flash, and it didn’t take long for them to run into and kill bin Laden.

For another take, consider this account from NBC News’ Pentagon correspondent—also reported the week after the raid— two days after Brennan told the Washington Post a completely different story. This one appears to be based on a briefing from military officials who would have been likely to have good knowledge of the operational details:

According to the officials’ account, as the first SEAL team moved into the compound, they took small-arms fire from the guest house in the compound. The SEALs returned fire, killing bin Laden’s courier and the courier’s wife, who died in the crossfire. It was the only time the SEALs were shot at.

The second SEAL team entered the first floor of the main residence and could see a man standing in the dark with one hand behind his back. Fearing he was hiding a weapon, the SEALs shot and killed the lone man, who turned out to be unarmed.

As the U.S. commandos moved through the house, they found several stashes of weapons and barricades, as if the residents were prepared for a violent and lengthy standoff — which never materialized.

The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden’s sons. The Americans immediately shot and killed the 19-year-old son, who was also unarmed, according to the officials.

Hearing the shots, bin Laden peered over the railing from the floor above. The SEALs fired but missed bin Laden, who ducked back into his bedroom. As the SEALs stormed up the stairs, two young girls ran from the room.

One SEAL scooped them up and carried them out of harm’s way. The other two commandos stormed into bin Laden’s bedroom. One of bin Laden’s wives rushed toward the Navy SEAL, who shot her in the leg.

Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fired two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head. Although there were weapons in that bedroom, bin Laden was also unarmed when he was shot.

Instead of a chaotic firefight, the U.S. officials said, the American commando assault was a precision operation, with SEALs moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor.

In fact, most of the operation was spent in what the military calls “exploiting the site,” gathering up the computers, hard drives, cellphones and files that could provide valuable intelligence on al-Qaida operatives and potential operations worldwide.

The U.S. officials describing the operation said the SEALs carefully gathered up 22 women and children to ensure they were not harmed. Some of the women were put in “flexi-cuffs” the plastic straps used to bind someone’s hands at the wrists, and left them for Pakistani security forces to discover.

***

Given that Brennan’s initial version of the raid was strikingly erroneous, his later account to The New Yorker is suspect as well. So who else besides Brennan might have been Schmidle’s sources? At one point in his piece, he cites an unnamed counterterrorism official:

A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. “Everything they were working on was closely held,” the official said.

Later, that same unnamed counterterrorism official is again cited, this time seeming to continue Brennan’s narrative of the meeting before the raid, in which participants disagreed on the likely success of such a mission:

That day in Washington, Panetta convened more than a dozen senior C.I.A. officials and analysts for a final preparatory meeting. Panetta asked the participants, one by one, to declare how confident they were that bin Laden was inside the Abbottabad compound. The counterterrorism official told me that the percentages “ranged from forty per cent to ninety or ninety-five per cent,” and added, “This was a circumstantial case.”

From the story’s construction, one could reasonably conclude that the unnamed counterterrorism official is indeed still just Brennan. If not, who could it be? How many different white House counterterrorism officials would have debriefed the SEALs, if indeed that is even their role? How many would have been privy to that planning meeting? And how many different officials would have gotten authorization to sum up the events of that important day for this New Yorker writer? Also, it’s an old journalistic trick to quote the same source, on and off the record— thereby giving the source extra cover when discussing particularly delicate matters.

So, we don’t know whether the article was based on anything more than Brennan, under marching orders to clean up the conflicting accounts he originally put out.

UNEXPLAINED DISPUTES

It’s curious that the source chooses to emphasize the fundamental disagreement over whether the raid was a good idea. Presumably, there was a purpose in emphasizing this, but the New Yorker’s “tick-tock”, which is very light on analysis or context, doesn’t tell us what it was. It may have been intended to show Obama as brave, inclined toward big risks (thereby running counter to his reputation)—we can only guess.

This internal discord will get the attention of anyone who remembers all the assertions from intelligence officials over the years that bin Laden was almost certainly already dead—either of natural causes or killed at some previous time.

Here’s a bit more from The New Yorker on officials’ doubts going into the raid:

Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.’s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center’s director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Those doubts are particularly interesting for several reasons: the CIA has had a long history of disputes between its covert action wing, which tends to advocate activity, and its analysis section, historically prone to caution. The action wing also has a history of publicizing its being right—when it could purport to be right—and covering up its failures. So when an insider chooses to make public these disagreements, we should be willing to consider motives.

This dispute can also be seen as an intriguing prologue to the rush to dump Bin Laden’s body and not provide proof to the public that it was indeed bin Laden. What if it wasn’t bin Laden that they killed? Would the government announce that after such a high-stakes operation? (“While we thought he’d be there, we accidentally killed someone else instead”? Seems unlikely.)

***

Now, let us go to the next antechamber of this warren of shadowy entities and unstated agendas.

Who exactly wanted bin Laden shot rather than taken alive and interrogated—and why? There’s been much discussion about the purported reasons for terminating him on sight, but the fact remains that he would have been a source of tremendous intelligence of real value to the safety of Americans and others.

Yet, early in the piece, Schmidle writes:

If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan.

That was the plan? Whose plan? We’ve never been explicitly told by the White House that such a decision had been made. In fact, we’d previously been informed that  the president was glad to have the master plotter taken alive if he was unarmed and did not resist. So, that’s a huge and problematical discrepancy that is only heightened by Schmidle’s misleadingly matter-of-fact treatment of the matter.

GET ME RIYADH

If the justification for killing Osama presented in The New Yorker warrants concern, the account of how—and why—they disposed of his body ought to send alarm bells clanging.

At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one—that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.

So what do we learn about this from The New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners—get ready–the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.

Here’s Schmidle’s account:

All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea—a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.

Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions— arrived at in advance—are not theirs to make.

Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden—and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.

Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.

Also please consider this important caveat: As we noted in a previous article, the claim that the body had already been positively identified via DNA has been disputed by a DNA expert who said that insufficient time had elapsed before the sea burial to complete such tests.

King Abdullah meets John Brennan, assistant to the US President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

The line about Brennan himself having been a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia is just sort of dropped in there. No recognition of what it means that a person of that background was put into that position after 9/11, no recognition that a person of that background and those fraught personal connections is controlling this narrative. He’s not just a “counterterrorism expert”—he is a longtime member of an agency whose mandate includes the frequent use of disinformation. And one who has his own historic direct links to the Saudi regime, a key and problematical player in the larger chess game playing out.

It’s relevant to note that Brennan is not only a career CIA officer (they say no one ever really leaves the Agency, no matter their new title) but one with a lot of baggage. He was deputy director of the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, after which Obama initially planned to name him CIA director. That appointment was pulled, in part due to criticism from human rights advocates over statements he had made in support of sending terrorism suspects to countries where they might be tortured.

Of course, there could have been other sources besides Brennan. In addition to the unnamed “counterterrorism official” previously cited, the New Yorker mentions a “special operations officer,” as in:

…according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid.

Subsequent quotes from him indicate that this had to be a supervisory special ops officer. His comments are surprising:

“This wasn’t a hard op,” the special-operations officer told me. “It would be like hitting a target in McLean”—the upscale Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.President Barack Obama listening to John Brennans report.

Whoops! Here’s a Special Ops guy saying the Special Ops raid was actually no big deal! Shouldn’t that, if a valid assessment, get more attention? Especially given the endless praise and frequent statements of how difficult the operation was. I mean, the toughness and diciness of the Abbottabad mission is the prime reason we want to read the New Yorker’s account in the first place!

To further underline the point, consider that this fellow is not alone in his assessment:

In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions.”…. He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.”

Why would a person overseeing an operation like this deflate the bubble of adoration? It doesn’t seem helpful to the interests of Special Operations – and it doesn’t seem credible, either. So there’s presumably a reason that this person is—again speaking to The New Yorker after this important exclusive has been carefully considered and strategized. We just don’t know what it is, and the magazine doesn’t even bother to wonder.

***

Most of the other sources seem to play bit roles. One is “a senior adviser to the President” whose only comment is that Obama decided not to trust the Pakistanis with advance notice of the raid—which we already knew.  Another— named—source is Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, who does not evince any intimate knowledge of the raid itself.

The New Yorker also includes a few other officials who brief Schmidle on general background, like a “senior defense department official” explaining the overall relationship between Special Operations and CIA personnel, and a named former CIA counsel explaining that the Abottabad raid amounted to “a complete incorporation of JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] into a C.I.A. operation.”

That’s only slipped into the article, but it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the piece, along with a brief mention of the way in which former Iraq/Afghan commander General David Petraeus has gone to CIA while CIA director Panetta has been made Defense Secretary. (For more on these important but confusing games of high-level musical chairs, which were not deeply scrutinized in the conventional media, see our WhoWhatWhy pieces here and here.)

This may sound too technical for your taste, but the takeaway point is that fundamental realignments are afoot in that vast, massively-funded, powerful and secretive part of the US government that is treated by the corporate press almost as if it does not exist. The tales of internal intrigue that we do not hear would begin to provide us with the real narratives that are not ours to have.

In the New Yorker piece, we do learn lots of things we did not know before—for example, that Special Ops considered tunneling in or coming in by foot rather than helicopter. We learn that CIA director Robert Gates wanted to drop massive bombs on the house. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared that view—Cartwright is one of the few who is directly identified as a source for Schmidle. That’s important stuff, and worth more than brief mention. And, once again, we need more effort to try and understand why we are being told these things.

“WE REALLY DIDN’T KNOW…WHAT WAS GOING ON”

About two-thirds of the article is a sort of scene-setter, a prologue to on-the-ground story we’ve all been waiting for. But when the big moment arrives, The New Yorker’s Schmidle instead punts:

Meanwhile, James, the squadron commander, had breached one wall, crossed a section of the yard covered with trellises, breached a second wall, and joined up with the SEALs from helo one, who were entering the ground floor of the house. What happened next is not precisely clear. “I can tell you that there was a time period of almost twenty to twenty-five minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on,” Panetta said later, on “PBS NewsHour.”

Until this moment, the operation had been monitored by dozens of defense, intelligence, and Administration officials watching the drone’s video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS. None of them had any previous knowledge of the house’s floor plan, and they were further jostled by the awareness that they were possibly minutes away from ending the costliest manhunt in American history; as a result, some of their recollections—on which this account is based—may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.

Schmidle claims that the SEALs’ “recollections—on which this account is based”—are subject to dispute. But as I’ve noted, the article is NOT based on their recollections, but on what some source claims to Schmidle were their recollections. Why the summary may be imprecise and thus subject to dispute after it has been filtered by a person controlling the scenario, must be asked. Perhaps this is why The New Yorker is not permitted to speak directly to the SEALs—because of what they could tell the magazine.

Now, killing the men who lived in the compound: First, the SEALs shot and killed the courier, who they say was armed, and his wife, who they say was not, when they emerged from the guesthouse. Then they killed the courier’s brother inside the main house, who they say was armed. Then they moved up the stairs:

…three SEALs marched up the stairs. Midway up, they saw bin Laden’s twenty-three-year-old son, Khalid, craning his neck around the corner. He then appeared at the top of the staircase with an AK-47. Khalid, who wore a white T-shirt with an overstretched neckline and had short hair and a clipped beard, fired down at the Americans. (The counterterrorism official claims that Khalid was unarmed, though still a threat worth taking seriously. “You have an adult male, late at night, in the dark, coming down the stairs at you in an Al Qaeda house—your assumption is that you’re encountering a hostile.”) At least two of the SEALs shot back and killed Khalid.

Ok, that’s pretty strange. First, Schmidle asserts that Khalid bin Laden was armed and fired with an AK-47. Then he quotes the “counterterrorism official” saying that Khalid was unarmed. Why does The New Yorker first run the “Khalid was armed” claim as a fact, and then include Brennan’s disclaimer? What’s really going on here, even from the New Yorker’s editorial standpoint?

Here’s another such instance: a dispute over where Osama was when they first saw him:

Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft [codename for Osama]. (The counterterrorism official asserts that the SEAL first saw bin Laden on the landing, and fired but missed.)

What’s the purpose of all this? How good is intelligence work when they can’t reconstruct whether the singular focus of the operation was first spotted peeking out from a doorway, or standing on the landing above them?

And then one of the most interesting passages, about the kill:

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.)

Uh-oh. So who is this Special Operations officer? He is directly disputing the administration’s claim on what surely matters greatly—what were President Obama’s intentions here? And did they always plan to just ignore them? That The New Yorker just drops this in with no further analysis or context is, simply put, shocking.

It seems almost as if Panetta, Obama, and the people in the story who most closely approximate actual representatives of the public in a functioning democracy, were basically cut off from observing what went down that day—or from influencing what transpired.

Consider this statement from Panetta, not included in the New Yorker piece:

“Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

Panetta’s “lost 25 minutes” needs to be seen in the context of a man with civilian roots, notwithstanding two mid-60s years as a Lt. in military intel: Former Congressman, Clinton White House budget chief and Chief of Staff, credentials with civil rights and environment movements—a fellow with real distance from the true spook/military mojo.

Taken together, here’s what we have: President Obama did not know exactly what was going on. He did not decide that bin Laden should be shot. And he did not decide to dump his body in the ocean. The CIA and its Special Ops allies made all the decisions.

Then Brennan, the CIA’s man, put out the version that CIA wanted. (Keep in mind that, as noted earlier, CIA was really running the operation—with Special Ops under its direction).

What we’re looking at, folks, is the reality of democracy in America: A permanent entrenched covert establishment that marches to its own drummer or to drummers unknown. It’s exactly the kind of thing that never gets reported. Too scary. Too real. Better to dismiss this line of inquiry as too “conspiracy theory.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, let me add this rather significant consideration. It is the background of Nicholas Schmidle, the freelancer who wrote the New Yorker piece. It may give us insight into how he landed this extraordinary exclusive on this extraordinarily sensitive matter—information again, significantly, not shared by The New Yorker with its readers:

Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr.

Schmidle’s father is Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr.  General Schmidle served as Commanding Officer of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (Experimental)—that’s essentially Special Operations akin to Navy SEALs. In recent years, he was “assistant deputy commandant for Programs and Resources (Programs)”—where, among other things, he oversaw “irregular warfare.” (See various, including contract specs here on “Special Operations,” and picture caption here) In 2010, he moved into another piece of this, when Obama appointed him deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command. Cumulatively, this makes the author’s father a very important man in precisely the sort of circles who care how the raid is publicly portrayed—and who would be quite intimate with some of the folks hunkering down with Obama in the Situation Room on the big day.

You can see a photo of Gen. Schmidle on a 2010 panel about “Warring Futures.” Event co-sponsors include Slate magazine and the New America Foundation, both of which, according to Nicholas Schmidle’s website, have also provided Schmidle’s son with an ongoing perch (with Slate giving him a platform for numerous articles from war zones and the foundation employing him as a Fellow.) These parallel relationships grow more disturbing with contemplation.

***

So let’s get back to the question, Who is driving this Ship of State?

First, consider this passage:

Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later. Just before four o’clock, Panetta announced to the group in the Situation Room that the helicopters were approaching Abbottabad.

John Brennan and Obama

To be really useful reporting here, rather than just meaningless “color”, we’d need some context. Was the golf game’s purpose to blow off steam at an especially tense time? Did Obama not think it important enough for him to be constantly present in the hours leading up to the raid? Is this typical of his schedule when huge things are happening?  We desperately need a more realistic sense of what presidents do, how much they’re really in charge, or, instead, figureheads for unnamed individuals who make most of the critical decisions.

Here’s something just as strange: we are told the President took a commanding role in determining key operational tactics, but then didn’t seem interested in important details, after the fact.

Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could “fight their way out of Pakistan.”

Now, consider the following climactic New Yorker account of Obama meeting with the squadron commander after it’s all over, with bin Laden dead and the troops home and safe. Schmidle decides to call the commander “James…the names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.” The anecdote will feature a canine, one who, in true furry dog story fashion, had already been introduced early in the New Yorker piece, as “Cairo” (it’s not clear whether the dog’s name, too, was changed):

As James talked about the raid, he mentioned Cairo’s role. “There was a dog?” Obama interrupted. James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.

“I want to meet that dog,” Obama said.

“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog’s muzzle was left on.

Here’s the ending:

Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him.

Why did the president not want to ask for specifics on the most important parts of the operation—but seemed so interested in a dog that participated? While it is certainly plausible that this happened, we should be wary of one of the oldest p.r. tricks around—get people cooing over an animal, while the real action is elsewhere.

Certainly, Obama’s reaction differs dramatically from that of other previous presidents who always demanded detailed briefings and would have stayed on top of it all throughout—including fellow Democrats JFK, Carter and Clinton. At minimum, it shows a degree of caution or ceremony based upon a desire not to know too much—or an understanding that he may not ask. Does anyone doubt that Bill Clinton would have been on watch 24/7 during this operation, parsing legal, political and operational details throughout, and would have demanded to know who felled America’s most wanted?Nicholas Schmidle

Summing up about the reliability of this account, which is now likely to become required reading for every student in America, long into the future:

  • It is based on reporting by a man who fails to disclose that he never spoke to the people who conducted the raid, or that his father has a long background himself running such operations (this even suggests the possibility that Nicholas Schmidle’s own father could have been one of those “unnamed sources.”)
  • It seems to have depended heavily on trusting second-hand accounts by people with a poor track record for accurate summations, and an incentive to spin.
  • The alleged decisions on killing bin Laden and disposing of his body lack credibility.
  • The DNA evidence that the SEALs actually got their man is questionable.
  • Though certain members of Congress say they have seen photos of the body (or, to be precise, a body), the rest of us have not seen anything.
  • Promised photos of the ceremonial dumping of the body at sea have not materialized.
  • The eyewitnesses from the house—including the surviving wives—have disappeared without comment.

We weren’t allowed to hear from the raid participants. And on August 6, seventeen Navy SEALs died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. We’re told that fifteen of them came, amazingly, from the same SEAL Team 6 that carried out the Abbottabad raid—but that none of the dead were present for the raid. We do get to hear the stories of those men, and their names.

Of course, if any of those men had been in the Abbottabad raid—or knew anything about it of broad public interest, we’d be none the wiser—because, the  only  “reliable sources” still available (and featured by the New Yorker) are military and intelligence professionals, coming out of a long tradition of cover-ups and fabrications.

Meanwhile, we have this president, this one who according to the magazine article didn’t ask about the core issues—why this man was killed, who killed him, under whose orders, what would be done with the body.

Well, he may not want answers. But we ought to want them.  Otherwise, it’s all just a game.

© 2011 WhoWhatWhy.com

FBI’s Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists May 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Democracy.
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FBI’s Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists

Monday 30 May 2011
by: Colin Moynihan  and Scott Shane, The New York Times News Service

For at least three years, counterterrorism agents monitored the comings and goings at Scott Crow’s home in Austin, Tex. (Photo: Caleb Bryant Miller / The New York Times)

AUSTIN, Texas — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and veteran organizer of anticorporate demonstrations, is among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the F.B.I.’s increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.

But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.

The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time — Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the air-conditioning on” — and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.

They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)

They asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, but backed off after an I.R.S. employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest earnings would not impress a jury even if his returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at Ecology Action of Texas, he said.)

They infiltrated political meetings with undercover police officers and informers. Mr. Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the F.B.I.

Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered and flattered by the government’s attention. “I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies.

“But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s just a big farce that the government’s created such paper tigers. Al Qaeda and real terrorists are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s outrageous that they would spend so much money surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in particular, and equating our actions with Al Qaeda.”

The investigation of political activists is an old story for the F.B.I., most infamously in the Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s Church Committee, and F.B.I. surveillance has been governed by an evolving set of guidelines set by attorneys general since 1976.

But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic terrorism, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. vowed never again to overlook terrorists hiding in plain sight. The Qaeda sleeper cells many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent.

The result, said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, has been a zeal to investigate political activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism.

“You have a bunch of guys and women all over the country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”

Complaints from the A.C.L.U. prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to assess the F.B.I.’s forays into domestic surveillance. The resulting report last September absolved the bureau of investigating dissenters based purely on their expression of political views. But the inspector general also found skimpy justification for some investigations, uncertainty about whether any federal crime was even plausible in others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism.”

Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. But he said that investigations are conducted only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes.

“We do not open investigations based on individuals who exercise the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic operations strictly forbid such actions.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow attracted the bureau’s attention. He has deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests.

He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, Tex., to protest its environmental record. Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried banners to the roof of the company’s offices, while others wearing business suits arrived in chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police officers to sort real executives from faux ones.

“It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the suits, who escaped while 36 other protesters were arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. But that one got their attention.”

It got the attention of the F.B.I. as well, evidently, leading to the three-year investigation that focused specifically on Mr. Crow. The surveillance documents show that he also turned up in several other investigations of activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.

For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow comes across as more amiable than combative. He dropped out of college, toured with an electronic-rock band and ran a successful Dallas antiques business while dabbling in animal rights advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy of anarchism, he sold his share of the business and decided to become a full-time activist.

Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and run an annual training camp for protesters. (The camps invariably attracted police infiltrators who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a network of nonprofit organizations created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century. But Mr. Crow, whose e-mail address contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”

“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”

This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports to F.B.I. bosses occasionally seem petulant. One agent calls “nonviolent direct action,” a phrase in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron.” Another agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, Ann Harkness, who have been together for 24 years, writing that “outwardly they did not appear to look right for each other.” At a training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”

Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a number of catalogs from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”

Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such F.B.I. busywork might deter further efforts to keep watch over him. The last documents he has seen mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure any investigations that are still open.

“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”

© 2011 The New York Times Company
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Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan November 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Jeremy Scahill

The Nation, November 23, 2009

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.”

The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war–knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater’s involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said the source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.” The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. “It’s a very rudimentary operation,” says the source. “I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It’s very bare bones, and that’s the point.”

Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a “media-scouring/open-source network,” according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. “They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them,” he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater’s classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified “black” operations. “With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above ‘secret’–even though you have no business doing so,” said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that “do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” Blackwater, therefore, has access to “all source” reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don’t unless they ask.”

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to be the brave new world,” he says. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating under a classified mandate.”

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said. “So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?”

Pakistan’s Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.” Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls “Blackwater Vanilla,” and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. “Good or bad, there’s a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That’s probably a good thing,” said the source. “It’s the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they’re the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It’s not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They’re very good at what they do.”

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.” While he concurred with the military intelligence source’s description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral’s main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said. “You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting… and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, “There’s no real oversight. It’s not really on people’s radar screen.”

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by “a private American security contractor.” The statement said, “Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments.”

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft.” In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. “The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?” asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. “Let’s forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren’t about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory.”

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal’s elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war–which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan–there is a concomitant rise in JSOC’s power and influence within the military structure. “I don’t see how you can escape that; it’s just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it’s inevitable, I think,” Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, “I’m alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command,” under which JSOC operates. “That’s backward. But that’s essentially what we have today.”

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater’s 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators–which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater’s alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”

“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. “When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn’t tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, ‘Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?’ So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him–we rendered him home.”

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using “reprogrammed” funds “without explicit congressional authority or appropriation,” according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA’s authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end “near total dependence on CIA.” Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations…before publication” of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.’”

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater’s rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater “provides security for a US-backed aid project” in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. “We have no contracts in Pakistan,” Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. “We’ve been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there.”

Reports of Blackwater’s alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. “The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar,” he said. “That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities.” Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are “wildly incorrect,” saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has “found refuge from potential U.S. attacks” in Karachi “with the assistance of Pakistan’s intelligence service.”

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi’s Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, “The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in.”

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired “bungalows” in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established “for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” Its motto is: “Home for Defenders.” The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”

If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater’s alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. “Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we’re going to go as a nation that are dangerous,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. more…

Backlash grows against Obama’s preventive detention proposal May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Uncategorized.
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Glenn Greenwald
www.salon.com, May 25, 2009
(updated below - Update, Update II )
The backlash against President Obama’s extraordinary proposal for indefinite “preventive detention” — already widespread in the immediate aftermath of his speech — continues to grow.  On Friday, Sen. Russ Feingold sent a letter (.pdf) to Obama which, while praising some aspects of his speech, vowed to hold hearings on his detention proposal, and in the letter, Feingold rather emphatically highlighted the radical and dangerous aspects of Obama’s approach:

My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.
While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.  It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.
You have discussed this possibility only in the context of the current detainees at Guantanamo Bay, yet we must be aware of the precedent that such a system would establish. While the handling of these detainees by the Bush Administration was particularly egregious, from a legal as well as human rights perspective, these are unlikely to be the last suspected terrorists captured by the United States. Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security. Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.

Feingold’s last point — that the more Obama embraces radical Bush/Cheney polices, the more entrenched they become as bipartisan consensus — is critically important, and extends to other policies as well, from the use of state secrets to block judicial review of executive branch lawbreaking, the concealment of evidence of government crimes, the veneration of “looking-forward political harmony” over the rule of law in cases of extreme government lawbreaking, and the denial of habeas corpus rights to individuals we abduct and transport to a war zone (such as Bagram).
On Twitter on Friday, Rachel Maddow pointed to the civil liberties questionnaire from Charlie Savage which Obama answered during the Democratic primary and asked rhetorically:  “This is the same guy now proposing ‘prolonged detention’ without trial?”  The New York Times‘ William Glaberson wrote that Obama’s detention policy “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself”; observed that “in some countries, it is called ‘administrative detention,’ a designation with a slightly totalitarian ring”; and quoted the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner as pointing out that “holding detainees domestically under a new system of preventive detention would simply ‘move Guantánamo to a new location and give it a new name.’”  And on Meet the Press this Sunday, the same bizarre (though entirely understandable) pattern continued to assert itself whereby the hardest-core followers of George Bush can barely contain their admiration for Obama’s “counter-terrorism” policies (National Review‘s Rich Lowry:  “it’s kind of a funny debate because Obama has embraced the essentials of the Bush counterterrorism program. I think that program worked, I think it’s wise of him to do that and it, it reflects some admirable kind of flexibility and pragmatism”).
It’s a bit difficult to claim that what Obama is proposing is nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary, given that his own White House Counsel just last February told The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer that it would be “hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law.”  As acknowledged by two of the leading proponents of preventive detention — Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith and Obama’s Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal — the real purpose of preventive detention (contrary to what some are arguing) is not to classify and treat all detainees as “prisoners of war” (since some of them, by Obama’s own description, will get trials in real courts and others in military commissions), but rather, to give “the government an overwhelming incentive to use trials only when it is certain to win convictions and long sentences, and to place the rest in whatever detention system it creates” (h/t EJ).  I defy anyone to re-read that description of what this “preventive detention” system does and then claim that what is being described is a “justice system” in any meaningful sense of that term.
* * * * * 
On Friday, I spoke with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner about these issues and the transcript is here.
 
UPDATE:  In this morning’s New York Times, the aforementioned Charlie Savage examines Obama’s choice to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court in the context of executive power, noting that while Obama has rejected some of the most extreme Bush legal theories, his embrace of many of the same policies — denial of habeas rights at Bagram, revised military commissions, preventive detention — places Obama on what Savage called “his own collision course with the court.”
As Savage notes, Souter was a very reliable vote in favor of placing some limits on Bush’s executive power assertions (which were almost invariably 5-4 decisions against Bush).  Thus, replacing Souter with a justice who is more receptive to broad claims of executive power could shift the balance of the court on these questions.  
Savage examines the record, which reveals that one leading candidate — Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood — has some very impressive past statements that demonstrate her recognition of the need to impose real limits on executive power, including what would appear to be her opposition to Obama’s just-announced plan for military commissions (“‘the principle is well established that extraordinary tribunals, such as military commissions, are not authorized to operate if the normal courts are open for business,’ [Wood] wrote”).  By contrast, Obama’s Solicitor General — Elena Kagan — has, as Law Professor Darren Hutchinson also documents, repeatedly endorsed broad theories of executive power of the type that would fit in nicely with Bush’s OLC circa 2004.
That Obama may be motivated to seek out a Justice with much more permissive views of executive power than those to which the Bush-41-appointed Souter subscribed — all in order to ensure that the Court approves of his “counter-terrorism” policies — simply underscores the irony of what Obama is doing in this area.
 
UPDATE II:  When he introduced his proposal for preventive detention during  Thursday’s speech, Obama said he wants to “work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime, that our efforts are consistent with all values and our Constitution.”  But as CQ reports today (h/t EJ), key members of his own party are baffled by how any such preventive detention system could ever possibly be consistent with the Constitution:

President Obama may not get a lot of help from Congress in designing the detention system he says he wants: something that can hold people who haven’t committed any terrorists acts, but probably will, in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution.
So far, congressional Democrats have no idea how he can do that — which pretty much leaves him with the burden of figuring it out himself. . . .
The problem is, the congressional Democrats he’d consult on the issue don’t seem to have any suggestions for Obama on how to detain potentially dangerous people without violating the Constitution.
“I don’t know,” said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who would be likely to be involved in any discussions between Obama and Congress. . . .
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts gave Obama “credit for taking the issue on in a straightforward way,” but said only that “I’d be interested to see what he’s proposing” on a constitutional system of preventive detention. “Maybe he’s a smarter man than I,” McGovern said, but “I can’t think of a system that fits within the Constitution” . . . .
“That was one of the troubling moments in his speech, which was generally very strong on the rule of law,” said Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Either you have committed a crime, and we’re prosecuting you, or you haven’t. I know there’s no silver bullet, believe me, but I think he’s got some mixed messages.”

If incarcerating people with no charges and no trial indefinitely — while making clear that the imprisonment will likely last decades — isn’t unconstitutional, then it’s hard to imagine what would be.
 
 

 

Backlash grows against Obama’s preventive detention proposal May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
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Glenn Greenwald

www.salon.com, May 25, 2009

(updated below - Update II)

The backlash against President Obama’s extraordinary proposal for indefinite “preventive detention” — already widespread in the immediate aftermath of his speech — continues to grow.  On Friday, Sen. Russ Feingold sent a letter (.pdf) to Obama which, while praising some aspects of his speech, vowed to hold hearings on his detention proposal, and in the letter, Feingold rather emphatically highlighted the radical and dangerous aspects of Obama’s approach:

My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.

While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.  It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.

You have discussed this possibility only in the context of the current detainees at Guantanamo Bay, yet we must be aware of the precedent that such a system would establish. While the handling of these detainees by the Bush Administration was particularly egregious, from a legal as well as human rights perspective, these are unlikely to be the last suspected terrorists captured by the United States. Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security. Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.

Feingold’s last point — that the more Obama embraces radical Bush/Cheney polices, the more entrenched they become as bipartisan consensus — is critically important, and extends to other policies as well, from the use of state secrets to block judicial review of executive branch lawbreaking, the concealment of evidence of government crimes, the veneration of “looking-forward political harmony” over the rule of law in cases of extreme government lawbreaking, and the denial of habeas corpus rights to individuals we abduct and transport to a war zone (such as Bagram).

On Twitter on Friday, Rachel Maddow pointed to the civil liberties questionnaire from Charlie Savage which Obama answered during the Democratic primary and asked rhetorically:  “This is the same guy now proposing ‘prolonged detention’ without trial?”  The New York Times‘ William Glaberson wrote that Obama’s detention policy “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself”; observed that “in some countries, it is called ‘administrative detention,’ a designation with a slightly totalitarian ring”; and quoted the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner as pointing out that “holding detainees domestically under a new system of preventive detention would simply ‘move Guantánamo to a new location and give it a new name.’”  And on Meet the Press this Sunday, the same bizarre (though entirely understandable) pattern continued to assert itself whereby the hardest-core followers of George Bush can barely contain their admiration for Obama’s “counter-terrorism” policies (National Review‘s Rich Lowry:  “it’s kind of a funny debate because Obama has embraced the essentials of the Bush counterterrorism program. I think that program worked, I think it’s wise of him to do that and it, it reflects some admirable kind of flexibility and pragmatism”).

It’s a bit difficult to claim that what Obama is proposing is nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary, given that his own White House Counsel just last February told The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer that it would be “hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law.”  As acknowledged by two of the leading proponents of preventive detention — Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith and Obama’s Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal — the real purpose of preventive detention (contrary to what some are arguing) is not to classify and treat all detainees as “prisoners of war” (since some of them, by Obama’s own description, will get trials in real courts and others in military commissions), but rather, to give “the government an overwhelming incentive to use trials only when it is certain to win convictions and long sentences, and to place the rest in whatever detention system it creates” (h/t EJ).  I defy anyone to re-read that description of what this “preventive detention” system does and then claim that what is being described is a “justice system” in any meaningful sense of that term.

* * * * * 

On Friday, I spoke with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner about these issues and the transcript is here.

 

UPDATE:  In this morning’s New York Times, the aforementioned Charlie Savage examines Obama’s choice to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court in the context of executive power, noting that while Obama has rejected some of the most extreme Bush legal theories, his embrace of many of the same policies — denial of habeas rights at Bagram, revised military commissions, preventive detention — places Obama on what Savage called “his own collision course with the court.”

As Savage notes, Souter was a very reliable vote in favor of placing some limits on Bush’s executive power assertions (which were almost invariably 5-4 decisions against Bush).  Thus, replacing Souter with a justice who is more receptive to broad claims of executive power could shift the balance of the court on these questions.  

Savage examines the record, which reveals that one leading candidate — Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood — has some very impressive past statements that demonstrate her recognition of the need to impose real limits on executive power, including what would appear to be her opposition to Obama’s just-announced plan for military commissions (“‘the principle is well established that extraordinary tribunals, such as military commissions, are not authorized to operate if the normal courts are open for business,’ [Wood] wrote”).  By contrast, Obama’s Solicitor General — Elena Kagan — has, as Law Professor Darren Hutchinson also documents, repeatedly endorsed broad theories of executive power of the type that would fit in nicely with Bush’s OLC circa 2004.

That Obama may be motivated to seek out a Justice with much more permissive views of executive power than those to which the Bush-41-appointed Souter subscribed — all in order to ensure that the Court approves of his “counter-terrorism” policies — simply underscores the irony of what Obama is doing in this area.

 

UPDATE II:  When he introduced his proposal for preventive detention during  Thursday’s speech, Obama said he wants to “work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime, that our efforts are consistent with all values and our Constitution.”  But as CQ reports today (h/t EJ), key members of his own party are baffled by how any such preventive detention system could ever possibly be consistent with the Constitution:

President Obama may not get a lot of help from Congress in designing the detention system he says he wants: something that can hold people who haven’t committed any terrorists acts, but probably will, in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution.

So far, congressional Democrats have no idea how he can do that — which pretty much leaves him with the burden of figuring it out himself. . . .

The problem is, the congressional Democrats he’d consult on the issue don’t seem to have any suggestions for Obama on how to detain potentially dangerous people without violating the Constitution.

“I don’t know,” said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who would be likely to be involved in any discussions between Obama and Congress. . . .

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts gave Obama “credit for taking the issue on in a straightforward way,” but said only that “I’d be interested to see what he’s proposing” on a constitutional system of preventive detention. “Maybe he’s a smarter man than I,” McGovern said, but “I can’t think of a system that fits within the Constitution” . . . .

“That was one of the troubling moments in his speech, which was generally very strong on the rule of law,” said Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Either you have committed a crime, and we’re prosecuting you, or you haven’t. I know there’s no silver bullet, believe me, but I think he’s got some mixed messages.”

If incarcerating people with no charges and no trial indefinitely — while making clear that the imprisonment will likely last decades — isn’t unconstitutional, then it’s hard to imagine what would be.

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