Brennan and Kiriakou, Drones and Torture February 6, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Abu Zubaydah, amy goodman, Anwar al-Awlak, assassination, Democracy Now, denis moynihan, hit list, indefinite detention, john brennan, john kiriakou, lawrence wilkerson, roger hollander, torture, war on terror, waterboarding
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Posted on Feb 6, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
By Amy Goodman
John Brennan and John Kiriakou worked together years ago, but their careers have dramatically diverged. Brennan is now on track to head the CIA, while Kiriakou is headed off to prison. Each of their fates is tied to the so-called war on terror, which under President George W. Bush provoked worldwide condemnation. President Barack Obama rebranded the war on terror innocuously as “overseas contingency operations,” but, rather than retrench from the odious practices of his predecessor, Obama instead escalated. His promotion of Brennan, and his prosecution of Kiriakou, demonstrate how the recent excesses of U.S. presidential power are not transient aberrations, but the creation of a frightening new normal, where drone strikes, warrantless surveillance, assassination and indefinite detention are conducted with arrogance and impunity, shielded by secrecy and beyond the reach of law.
John Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and a case officer. In 2002, he led the team that found Abu Zubaydah, alleged to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaida. Kiriakou was the first to publicly confirm the use of waterboarding by the CIA, in a 2007 interview with ABC’s Brian Ross. He told Ross: “At the time, I felt that waterboarding was something that we needed to do. … I think I’ve changed my mind, and I think that waterboarding is probably something that we shouldn’t be in the business of doing.” Kiriakou says he found the “enhanced interrogation techniques” immoral, and declined to be trained to use them.
Since the interview, it has become known that Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times, and that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, without charge. Kiriakou will soon start serving his 30-month prison sentence, but not for disclosing anything about waterboarding. He pled guilty to disclosing the name of a former CIA interrogator to a journalist, with information that the interrogator himself had posted to a publicly available website.
Meanwhile, John Brennan, longtime counterterrorism advisor to Obama, is expected to receive Senate confirmation as the new director of central intelligence. I recently asked Kiriakou what he thought of Brennan:
“I’ve known John Brennan since 1990. I worked directly for John Brennan twice. I think that he is a terrible choice to lead the CIA. I think that it’s time for the CIA to move beyond the ugliness of the post-September 11th regime, and we need someone who is going to respect the Constitution and to not be bogged down by a legacy of torture. I think that President Obama’s appointment of John Brennan sends the wrong message to all Americans.”
Obama has once already considered Brennan for the top CIA job, back in 2008. Brennan withdrew his nomination then under a hail of criticism for supporting the Bush-era torture policies in his various top-level intelligence positions, including head of the National Counterterrorism Center.
What a difference four years makes. With the killing of Osama bin Laden notched in his belt, Obama seems immune from counterterror criticism. John Brennan is said to manage the notorious “kill list” of people that Obama believes he has the right to kill anytime, anywhere on the planet, as part of his “overseas contingency operations.” This includes the killing of U.S. citizens, without any charge, trial or due process whatsoever. Drone strikes are one way these assassinations are carried out. U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen by a drone strike, then, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed the same way.
I asked Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, what he thought of Brennan. He told me: “What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process and have an attorney general who has said that due process does not necessarily include the legal process. Those are really scary words.”
While Kiriakou goes to prison for revealing a name, the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism is launching a project called “Naming the Dead,” hoping “to identify as many as possible of those killed in U.S. covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.” The BIJ reports a “minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.” John Brennan should be asked about each of them.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.
Welcome to Boston, Mr. Rumsfeld. You Are Under Arrest. September 23, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, abu ghraib photos, alberto gonzalez, andy worthington, bagram, binyam mohamed, camp cropper, CIA torture, Dick Cheney, dilawar, donald rumsfeld, donald vance, general daniel mcneill, general geoffrey miller, general john gardner, general taguba, geneva conventions, George W. Bush, Guantanamo, International law, janis karpinski, jay bybee, jose padilla, judge gladys kessler, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, lawrence wilkerson, lindsey graham, lyndie england, nathan ertel, nuremberg, obama administration, ralph lopez, roger hollander, torture, torture techniques, universal jurisdiction, War Crimes, waterborading, william colby, willie brand
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September 23, 2011
By Ralph Lopez
Torture Room, Abu Ghraib
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters in 2004of photos withheld by the Defense Department from Abu Ghraib, “The American public needs to understand, we’re talking about rape and murder here…We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We’re talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges.” And journalist Seymour Hersh says: “boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has.”
Rumsfeld resigned days before a criminal complaintwas filed in Germany in which the American general who commanded the military police battalion at Abu Ghraib had promised to testify. General Janis Karpinski in an interview with Salon.comwas asked: “Do you feel like Rumsfeld is at the heart of all of this and should be held completely accountable for what happened [at Abu Ghraib]?”
Karpinski answered: “Yes, absolutely.” In the criminal complaint filed in Germany against Rumsfeld, Karpinski submitted 17 pages of testimonyand offered to appear before the German prosecutor as a witness. Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, who participated in the hearings on Abu Ghraib, said of Rumsfeld: “There was no way Rumsfeld didn’t know what was going on. He’s a guy who wants to know everything.”
And Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the official Army investigation into Abu Ghraib, said in his report:
“there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Abu Ghraib Prisoner Smeared with Feces
In a puzzling and incriminating move, Camp Cropper base commander General John Gardner ordered Nathan Ertel released on May 17, 2006, while keeping Donald Vance in detention for another two months of torture. By ordering the release of one man but not the other, Gardner revealed awareness of the situation but prolonged it at the same time.
It is unlikely that Gardner could act alone in a situation as sensitive as the illegal detention and torture of two Americans confirmed by the FBI to be working undercover in the national interest, to prevent American weapons and munitions from reaching the hands of insurgents, for the sole purpose of using them to kill American troops. Vance and Ertel suggest he was acting on orders from the highest political level.
The forms of torture employed against the Americans included “techniques” which crop up frequently in descriptions of Iraqi and Afghan prisoner abuse at Bagram, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib. They included “walling,” where the head is slammed repeatedly into a concrete wall, sleep deprivation to the point of psychosis by use of round-the-clock bright lights and harsh music at ear-splitting volume, in total isolation, for days, weeks or months at a time, and intolerable cold.
The 7th Circuit ruling is the latest in a growing number of legal actions involving hundreds of former prisoners and torture victims filed in courts around the world. Criminal complaints have been filed against Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials in Germany, France, and Spain. Former President Bush recently curbed travel to Switzerlanddue to fear of arrest following criminal complaints lodged in Geneva. “He’s avoiding the handcuffs,” Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters. And this month Canadian citizens forced Bush to cancel an invitation-only appearance in Toronto.
And the Mayor of London threatened Bush with arrest for war crimes earlier this year should he ever set foot in his city, saying that were heto land in London to “flog his memoirs,” that “the real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again.”
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief-of-Staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson surmised on MSNBCearlier this year that soon, Saudi Arabia and Israel will be “the only two countries Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest will travel too.”
Abu Ghraib: Dog Bites
What would seem to make Rumsfeld’s situation more precarious is the number of credible former officials and military officers who seem to be eager to testify against him, such as Col. Wilkerson and General Janis Karpinsky.
In a signed declaration in support of torture plaintiffs in a civil suit naming Rumsfeld in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Col. Wilkerson, one of Rumsfeld’s most vociferous critics, stated:“I am willing to testify in person regarding the content of this declaration, should that be necessary.” That declaration, among other things, affirmed that a documentary on the chilling murder of a 22-year-old Afghan farmer and taxi driver in Afghanistan was “accurate.” Wilkerson said earlier this yearthat in that case, and in the case of another murder at Bagram at about the same time, “authorization for the abuse went to the very top of the United States government.”
The young farmer’s name was Dilawar. The New York Times reported on May 20, 2005:
“Four days before [his death,] on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Mr. Dilawar set out from his tiny village of Yakubi in a prized new possession, a used Toyota sedan that his family bought for him a few weeks earlier to drive as a taxi.
On the day that he disappeared, Mr. Dilawar’s mother had asked him to gather his three sisters from their nearby villages and bring them home for the holiday. However, he needed gas money and decided instead to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, about 45 minutes away, to look for fares.”
Dilawar’s misfortune was to drive past the gate of an American base which had been hit by a rocket attack that morning. Dilawar and his fares were arrested at a checkpoint by a warlord, who was later suspected of mounting the rocket attack himself, and then turning over randam captures like Dilawar in order to win trust.
“Guards at Bagram routinely kneed prisoners in their thighs — a blow called a “peroneal strike”…Whenever a guard did this to Dilawar, he would cry out, “Allah! Allah!” Some guards apparently found this amusing, and would strike him repeatedly to show off the behavior to buddies.
One military policeman told investigators, “Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. … It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.”"Dilawar was shackled from the ceiling much of the time, with his feet barely able to touch the ground. On the last day of his life, after 4 days at Bagram, an interpreter who was present said his legs were bouncing uncontrollably as he sat in a plastic chair. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
The New York Times reported that on the last day of his life, four days after he was arrested:
“Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar’s face.
“Come on, drink!” the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. “Drink!”
At the interrogators’ behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
“Leave him up,” one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.”
The next time the prison medic saw Dilawar a few hours later, he was dead, his head lolled to one side and his body beginning to stiffen. A coroner would testify that his legs “had basically been pulpified.”The Army coroner, Maj. Elizabeth Rouse, said: “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.” She testified that had he lived, Dilawar’s legs would have had to be amputated.
Despite the military’s false statement that Dilawar’s death was the result of “natural causes,” Maj. Rouse marked the death certificate as a “homicide” and arranged for the certificate to be delivered to the family. The military was forced to retract the statement when a reporter for the New York Times, Carlotta Gall, tracked down Dilawar’s family in Afghanistan and was given a folded piece of paper by Dilawar’s brother. It was the death certificate, which he couldn’t read, because it was in English.
The practice of forcing prisoners to stand for long periods of time, links Dilawar’s treatment to a memo which bears Rumsfeld’s own handwriting on that particular subject. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request, the memo may show how fairly benign-sounding authorizations for clear circumventions of the Geneva Conventions may have translated into gruesome practice on the battlefield.
The memo, which addresses keeping prisoners “standing” for up to four hours, is annotated with a note initialed by Rumsfeld reading: “”I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” Not mentioned in writing anywhere is anything about accomplishing this by chaining prisoners to the ceiling. There is evidence that, unable to support his weight on tiptoe for the days on end he was chained to the ceiling, Dilawars arms dislocated, and they flapped around uselessly when he was taken down for interrogation. The National Catholic Reporter writes “They flapped like a bird’s broken wings”
Contradicting, on the record, a February 2003 statement by Rumsfeld’s top commander in Afghanistan at the time, General Daniel McNeill, that “we are not chaining people to the ceilings,” is Spc. Willie Brand, the only soldier disciplined in the death of Dilawar, with a reduction in rank. Told of McNeill’s statement, Brand told Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes: “Well, he’s lying.” Brand said of his punishment: “I didn’t understand how they could do this after they had trained you to do this stuff and they turn around and say you’ve been bad”
Dilawar’s daughter and her grandfather
Binyam Mohamed was seized by the Pakistani Forces in April 2002 and turned over to the Americans for a $5,000 bounty. He was held for more than five years without charge or trial in Bagram Air Force Base, GuantÃ¡namo Bay, and third country “black” sites.
“They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they’d electrocute me. Maybe castrate me…
One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. “I told you I was going to teach you who’s the man,” [one] eventually said.
They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists. I asked for a doctor.”
I was in Morocco for 18 months. Once they began this, they would do it to me about once a month. One time I asked a guard: “What’s the point of this? I’ve got nothing I can say to them. I’ve told them everything I possibly could.”
“As far as I know, it’s just to degrade you. So when you leave here, you’ll have these scars and you’ll never forget. So you’ll always fear doing anything but what the US wants.”
Later, when a US airplane picked me up the following January, a female MP took pictures. She was one of the few Americans who ever showed me any sympathy. When she saw the injuries I had she gasped. They treated me and took more photos when I was in Kabul. Someone told me this was “to show Washington it’s healing”.
The obvious question for any prosecutor in Binyam’s case is: Who does “Washington” refer to? Rumsfeld? Cheney? Is it not in the national interest to uncover these most depraved of sadists at the highest level? US Judge Gladys Kessler, in her findings on Binyam made in relation to a Guantanamo prisoner’s petition, found Binyam exceedingly credible. She wrote:
“His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one foreign prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in plots to imperil Americans. The government does not dispute this evidence.”
Obama: Torturers’ Last Defense
The prospect of Rumsfeld in a courtroom cannot possibly be relished by the Obama administration, which has now cast itself as the last and staunchest defender of the embattled former officials, including John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, Judge Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and others. The administration employed an unprecedented twisting of arms in order to keep evidence in a lawsuit which Binyam had filedin the UK suppressed, threatening an end of cooperation between the British MI5 and the CIA. This even though the British judges whose hand was forced puzzled that the evidence “contained “no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.” The judges suggested another reason for the secrecy requested by the Obama administration, that it might be “politically embarrassing.”
The Obama Justice Department’s active involvement in seeking the dismissal of the cases is by choice, as the statutory obligation of the US Attorney General to defend cases against public officials ends the day they leave office. Indeed, the real significance of recent court decisions, the one by the 7th Circuit and yet another against Rumsfeld in a DC federal court, may be the clarification the common misconception that high officials are forever immune for crimes committed while in office, in the name of the state. The misconception persists despite just a moment of thought telling one that if this were true, Hermann Goering, Augusto Pinochet, and Charles Taylor would never have been arrested, for they were all in office at the time they ordered atrocities, and they all invoked national security.
Andy Worthington writes that:
“As it happens, one of the confessions that was tortured out of Binyam is so ludicrous that it was soon dropped…The US authorities insisted that Padilla and Binyam had dinner with various high-up members of al-Qaeda the night before Padilla was to fly off to America. According to their theory the dinner party had to have been on the evening of 3 April in Karachi … Binyam was meant to have dined with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Sheikh al-Libi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla.” What made the scenario “absurd,” as [Binyam's lawyer] pointed out, was that “two of the conspirators were already in U.S. custody at the time — Abu Zubaydah was seized six days before, on 28 March 2002, and al-Libi had been held since November 2001.”"
The charges against Binyam were dropped, after the prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, resigned. He told the BBC later that he had concerns at the repeated suppression of evidence that could prove prisoners’ innocence.
The litany of tortures alleged against Rumsfeld in the military prisons he ran could go on for some time. The new photographic images from Abu Ghraib make it hard to conceive of how the methods of torture and dehumanization could have possibly served a national purpose.
The approved use of attack dogs, sexual humiliation, forced masturbation, and treatments which plumb the depths of human depravity are either documented in Rumsfeld’s own memos, or credibly reported on.
The techniques devised in the system, called R2I – resistance to interrogation – match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.
One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: “It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn’t know what they were doing.”"
Torture Now Aimed at Americans, Programs Designed to Obtain False Confessions, Not Intelligence
The worst of the worst is that Rumsfeld’s logic strikes directly at the foundations of our democracy and the legitimacy of the War on Terror. The torture methods studied and adopted by the Bush administration were not new, but adopted from the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program (SERE) which is taught to elite military units. The program was developed during the Cold War, in response to North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet Bloc torture methods. But the aim of those methods was never to obtain intelligence, but to elicit false confessions. The Bush administration asked the military to “reverse engineer” the methods, i.e. figure out how to break down resistance to false confessions.
In the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee reportwhich indicted high-level Bush administration officials, including Rumsfeld, as bearing major responsibility for the torture at Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, and Bagram, the Committee said:
“SERE instructors explained “Biderman’s Principles” — which were based on coercive methods used by the Chinese Communist dictatorship to elicit false confessions from U.S. POWs during the Korean War — and left with GTMO personnel a chart of those coercive techniques.”
The Biderman Principles were based on the work of Air Force Psychiatrist Albert Biderman, who wrote the landmark “Communist Attempts to Elecit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War,” on which SERE resistance was based. Biderman wrote:
“The experiences of American Air Force prisoners of war in Korea who were pressured for false confessions, enabled us to compile an outline of methods of eliciting compliance, not much different, it turned out, from those reported by persons held by Communists of other nations. I have prepared a chart showing a condensed version of this outline.”
The chart is a how-to for communist torturers interested only in false confessions for propaganda purposes, not intelligence. It was the manual for, in Biderman’s words, “brainwashing.” In the reference for Principle Number 7, “Degradation,” the chart explains:
“Makes Costs of Resistance Appear More Damaging to Self-Esteem than Capitulation; Reduces Prisoner to “Animal Level…Personal Hygiene Prevented; Filthy, Infested Surroundings; Demeaning Punishments; Insults and Taunts; Denial of Privacy”
Appallingly, this could explain that even photos such as those of feces-smeared prisoners at Abu Ghraib might not, as we would hope, be only the individual work of particularly demented guards, but part of systematic degradation authorized at the highest levels.
Exhibit: Abu Ghraib, Female POW
This could go far toward explaining why the Bush administration seemed so tone-deaf to intelligence professionals, including legendary CIA Director William Colby, who essentially told them they were doing it all wrong. A startling level of consensus existed within the intelligence community that the way to produce good intelligence was to gain the trust of prisoners and to prove everything they had been told by their recruiters, about the cruelty and degeneracy of America, to be wrong.
But why would the administration care about what worked to produce intelligence, if the goal was never intelligence in the first place? What the Ponzi scheme of either innocent men or low-level operatives incriminating each other DID accomplish, was produce a framework of rapid successes and trophies in the new War on Terror.
And now, American contractors Vance and Ertel show, unless there are prosecutions, the law has effectively changed and they can do it to Americans. Jane Mayer in the New Yorker describes a new regime for prisoners which has become coldly methodical, quoting a report issued by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, titled “Secret Detentions and Illegal Transfers of Detainees.” In the report on the CIA paramilitary Special Activities Division detainees were “taken to their cells by strong people who wore black outfits, masks that covered their whole faces, and dark visors over their eyes.”
Mayer writes that a former member of a C.I.A. transport team has described the “takeout” of prisoners as:
“a carefully choreographed twenty-minute routine, during which a suspect was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and transported by plane to a secret location.”
A person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, referring to cavity searches and the frequent use of suppositories, likened the treatment to “sodomy.” He said, “It was used to absolutely strip the detainee of any dignity. It breaks down someone’s sense of impenetrability.”
Of course we have seen these images before, in the trial balloon treatment of Jose Padilla, the first American citizen arrested and declared “enemy combatant” in the first undeclared war without end. The designation placed Padilla outside of his Bill of Rights as an American citizen even though he was arrested on American soil. Padilla was kept in isolation and tortured for nearly 4 years before being released to a civilian trial, at which point according to his lawyer he was useless in his own defense, and exhibited fear and mistrust of everyone, complete docility, and a range of nervous facial tics.
Jose Padilla in Military Custody
Rumsfeld’s avuncular “golly-gee, gee-whiz” performances in public are legendary. Randall M. Schmidt, the Air Force Lieutenant General appointed by the Army to investigate abuses at Guantanamo, and who recommended holding Rumsfeld protege and close associate General Geoffrey Miller “accountable” as the commander of Guantanamo, watched Rumsfeld’s performance before a House Committee with some interest. “He was going, “My God! Did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy’s head and telling him all his buddies knew he was a homosexual?’ “
But General Taguba said of Rumsfeld: “Rummy did what we called “case law’ policy — verbal and not in writing. What he’s really saying is that if this decision comes back to haunt me I’ll deny it.”
Taguba went on: “Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There’s no way he’s suffering from C.R.S.–Can’t Remember sh*t.”
Miller was the general deployed by Rumsfeld to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib in 2003 after Rumsfeld had determined they were being too “soft” on prisoners. He said famously in one memo “you have to treat them like dogs.” General Karpinski questioned the fall of Charles Graner and Lyndie England as the main focus of low-level “bad apple” abuse in the Abu Ghraib investigations. “Did Lyndie England deploy with a dog leash?” she asks.
Exhibit: Dog deployed at Abu Ghraib, mentally-ill prisoner
Abu Ghraib prisoner in “restraint” chair, screaming “Allah!!”
Rumsfeld’s worry now is the doctrine of Universal Jurisdiction, as well as ordinary common law. The veil of immunity stripped in civil cases would seem to free the hand of any prosecutor who determines there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed based on available evidence. A grand jury’s bar for opening a prosecution is minimal. It has been said “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.” Rumsfeld, and the evidence against him, would certainly seem to pass this test.
The name Dilawar translates to English roughly as “Braveheart.” Let us pray he had one to endure the manner of his death. But the more spiritual may believe that somehow it had a purpose, to shock the world and begin the toppling of unimaginable evil among us. Dilawar represented the poorest of the poor and most powerless, wanting only to pick up his three sisters, as his mother had told him to, for the holiday. The question now is whether Americans will finally draw a line, as the case against Rumsfeld falls into place and becomes legally bulletproof. Andy Worthington noted that the case for prosecutors became rock solid when Susan Crawford, senior Pentagon official overseeing the Military Commissions at GuantÃ¡namo — told Bob Woodward that the Bush administration had “met the legal definition of torture.”
As Rumsfeld continues his book tour and people like Dilawar are remembered, it is not beyond the pale that an ambitious prosecutor, whether local, state, or federal, might sense the advantage. It is perhaps unlikely, but not inconceivable, that upon landing at Logan International Airport on Wed., Sept. 21st, or similarly anywhere he travels thereafter, Rumsfeld could be greeted with the words such as: “Welcome to Boston, Mr. Secretary. You are under arrest.”
Take action — click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Prosecute Rumsfeld NOW for torture!
RELEVANT US CODE:
a. Conspiracy to torture in violation of the U.S. Code, in both Title 18, Section 2340
b. Conspiracy to commit war crimes including torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, murder, mutilation or maiming and intentionally causing serious bodily injury in violation of Title 18, Section 2441
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley:
email: Email address removed
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108 -1518
Phone: (617) 727-2200 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (617) 727-2200 end_of_the_skype_highlighting//Here is the contact info for members of the Boston City Council, which could pass a resolution directing the Police Commissioner to arrest Rumsfeld on sight (google Brattleboro Resolution, George W. Bush):
And Gov. Duval Patrick has an obligation to order the state police to do the same: CONTACT FORM
Local District Attorneys
Berkshire County: District Attorney David F. Capeless
Elected November 2006
OFFICE ADDRESS: P.O. Box 973
888 Purchase Street
New Bedford, MA 02741
PHONE: (508) 997-0711 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (508) 997-0711 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (508) 997-0396
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.bristolda.com
Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter
Appointed March 2004
Elected November 2004
OFFICE ADDRESS: 7 North Street
P.O. Box 1969
Pittsfield, MA 01202-1969
PHONE: (413) 443-5951 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (413) 443-5951 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (413) 499-6349
Internet Address: http://www.mass.gov/…
Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe
Elected November 2002
OFFICE ADDRESS: P.O.Box 455
3231 Main Street
Barnstable, MA 02630
PHONE: (508) 362-8113 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (508) 362-8113 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (508) 362-8221
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.mass.gov/…
Essex County: District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett
Elected November 2002
OFFICE ADDRESS: Ten Federal Street
Salem, MA 01970
PHONE: (978) 745-6610 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (978) 745-6610 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (978) 741-4971
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.mass.gov/…
Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni
OFFICE ADDRESS: Hall of Justice
50 State Street
Springfield, MA 01103
PHONE: (413) 747-1000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (413) 747-1000 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (413) 781-4745
Middlesex County: District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, Jr.
Elected November 2006
OFFICE ADDRESS: 15 Commonwealth Avenue
Woburn, MA 01801
PHONE: (781) 897-8300 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (781) 897-8300 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: ((781) 897-8301
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.middlesexda.com
Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey
OFFICE ADDRESS: 45 Shawmut Ave.
Canton, MA 02021
PHONE: (781) 830-4800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (781) 830-4800 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (781) 830-4801
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.mass.gov/…
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan
HAMPSHIRE OFFICE ADDRESS: One Gleason Plaza
Northampton, MA 01060
PHONE: (413) 586-9225 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (413) 586-9225 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (413) 584-3635
FRANKLIN OFFICE ADDRESS: 13 Conway Street
Greenfield, MA 01301
PHONE: (413) 774-3186 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (413) 774-3186 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (413) 773-3278
Northwestern http://www.mass.gov/…< a href=”http://media.fastclick.net/w/click.here?sid=48406&m=6&c=1″ target=”_blank”><img src=”http://media.fastclick.net/w/get.media?sid=48406&m=6&tp=8&d=s&c=1″ width=300 height=250 border=1></Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz
Appointed November 2001
Elected November 2002
OFFICE ADDRESS: 32 Belmont Street
Brockton, MA 02303
PHONE: (508) 584-8120 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (508) 584-8120 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (508) 586-3578
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.mass.gov/…
Suffolk County: District Attorney Daniel F. Conley
Appointed January 2002
Elected November 2002
OFFICE ADDRESS: One Bulfinch Place
Boston, MA 02114
PHONE: (617) 619-4000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (617) 619-4000 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (617) 619-4009
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.mass.gov/…
Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr.
Elected November 2006
OFFICE ADDRESS: Courthouse – Room 220
2 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01608
PHONE: (508) 755-8601 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (508) 755-8601 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX: (508) 831-9899
INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.worcesterda.com
Tags: adel hassan hamad, al-Qaeda, bagram, cheney, Colin Powell, Criminal Justice, detainees, enemy combatant, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, International law, jason leopold, lawrence wilkerson, rendition, roger hollander, rumsfeld, Taliban, torture, war on terror
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Friday 09 April 2010
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once declared that individuals captured by the US military in the aftermath of 9/11 and shipped off to the Guantanamo Bay prison facility represented the “worst of the worst.”
During a radio interview in June 2005, Rumsfeld said the detainees at Guantanamo, “all of whom were captured on a battlefield,” are “terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, [Osama Bin Laden's] body guards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th hijacker, 9/11 hijacker.”
But Rumsfeld knowingly lied, according to a former top Bush administration official.
And so did then Vice President Dick Cheney when he said, also in 2002 and in dozens of public statements thereafter, that Guantanamo prisoners “are the worst of a very bad lot” and “dangerous” and “devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.”
Now, in a sworn declaration obtained exclusively by Truthout, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell during George W. Bush’s first term in office, said Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld knew the “vast majority” of prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror were innocent and the administration refused to set them free once those facts were established because of the political repercussions that would have ensued.
“By late August 2002, I found that of the initial 742 detainees that had arrived at Guantánamo, the majority of them had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review,” Wilkerson’s declaration says. “Secretary Powell was also trying to bring pressure to bear regarding a number of specific detentions because children as young as 12 and 13 and elderly as old as 92 or 93 had been shipped to Guantánamo. By that time, I also understood that the deliberate choice to send detainees to Guantánamo was an attempt to place them outside the jurisdiction of the US legal system.”
He added that it became “more and more clear many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military.”
For Cheney and Rumsfeld, and “others,” Wilkerson said, “the primary issue was to gain more intelligence as quickly as possible, both on Al Qaeda and its current and future plans and operations but increasingly also, in 2002-2003, on contacts between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s intelligence and secret police forces in Iraq.”
“Their view was that innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror and the capture of the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks, or other acts of terrorism,” Wilkerson added. “Moreover, their detention was deemed acceptable if it led to a more complete and satisfactory intelligence picture with regard to Iraq, thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country.”
Documents have been released over the past year that showed how in 2002 several high-value detainees were tortured and forced to make statements that linked Iraq to al-Qaeda and 9/11, which the Bush administration cited as intelligence to support its invasion of the country in March 2003. But the confessions were utterly false.
Wilkerson’s declaration was made in support of a lawsuit filed by Adel Hassan Hamad, a 52-year-old former Guantanamo detainee who is suing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Joint Chief of Staff Richard Myers, and a slew of other Bush administration officials for wrongfully imprisoning and torturing him.
Hamad was arrested in his apartment in Pakistan in July 2002, rendered to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for three months, where he says he was tortured, and then transferred to Guantanamo, where he was interrogated daily and subjected to even more torture by US military personnel.
At Bagram, according to Hamad’s lawsuit, “dogs were set upon [him] while watching United States military personnel laughed and mocked him.” Moreover, he was forced to stand for three days without “sleep or food” and eventually collapsed. He was then sent to a hospital where it took him two weeks to recover.
“Mr. Hamad was not given notice of the basis for his detention until more than two years after first being detained, when a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) was convened in November 2004,” according to the lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle earlier this week. “Not until March 2005, nearly three full years after initially being detained, was Mr. Hamad officially labeled an ‘enemy Combatant’ by the flawed CSRT process,” according to the lawsuit.
“However, this determination drew a rare dissenting opinion that acknowledged his enemy combatant status determination was unwarranted and, as such, would have ‘unconscionable results,’” the lawsuit states. “The basis for Mr. Hamad’s enemy combatant determination was simply because of his association as an employee of two organizations for whom he had done humanitarian and charity work (one of which he had left years before), and nothing more.
“In fact, a second CSRT was ordered for Mr. Hamad in November of 2007, one month before he was ultimately released to the Sudan. This was unusual, and indicates that the government recognized that the initial CSRT determination of Mr. Hamad was not accurate.”
While Hamad was detained, his wife gave birth to a daughter who died some time later because the family did not have any money to pay for medical care. He has five other children.
Since he has been released, Hamad says he suffers from emotional, physical and psychological injuries and he is seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages. Similar lawsuits against former Bush administration officials, however, have been dismissed in other jurisidictions.
Wilkerson said he “made a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred because knowledge that I served in an Administration that tortured and abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the record clear on what occurred.”
“I am also extremely concerned that the Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes. I am willing to testify in person regarding the content of this declaration, should that be necessary,” he added.
Gwynne Skinner, an assistant professor of clinical law at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon and a member of Hamad’s legal team, said WIlkerson’s declaration was originally intended to be filed in support of Hamad’s habeas corpus case, which was still pending in federal court in Washington, DC, along with more than 100 others, even though Hamad and the other former Guantanamo prisoners have already been released.
But US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed the cases, stating the former prisoners’ transfers rendered their habeas lawsuits moot. Attorneys for the detainees were upset because they had hoped the court would make a decision that would ultimately clear the peitioners’ names, lift travel restrictions, and the stigma that comes from being detained at Guantanamo.
Still, Skinner said Wilkerson’s declaration is signficant because it marks the first time a Bush administration official is willing to state, under oath, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others knew many of the prisoners were innocent when they were sent to Guantanamo.
Wilkerson said detainees like Hamad were of little concern to Cheney.
The Office of Vice President Dick Cheney “had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent, or that there was a lack of any useable evidence for the great majority of them,” Wilkerson said in the 9-page declaration. Cheney’s position, Wilkerson asserted, “could be summed up as ‘the end justifies the means.’”
Cheney, and his daughter Liz, have been vocal critics of President Obama’s efforts to shut down Guantanamo. Obama signed an executive order immediately after he was sworn into office and set a one-year deadline to close the facility. But he missed the date, due in part, to Congress’ refusal to earmark funds that would have allowed the administration to close the prison and move some detainees to a supermax prison in Illinois.
Cheney said last year that the only alternative the Bush administration had to setting up Guantanamo was to kill the prisoners detained there.
“If you don’t have a place where you can hold these people, the only other option is to kill them, and we don’t operate that way,” Cheney said.
It is not news that the majority of the initial 742 prisoners who were detained at Guantanamo were innocent of the crimes that they were accused of.
Indeed, in February of 2006, the National Journal reviewed the case files of 132 prisoners who filed habeas corpus petitions and the redacted CSRT transcripts of 314 others and concluded that “most of the ‘enemy combatants’ held at Guantanamo… are simply not the worst of the worst of the terrorist world” as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush had claimed.
“Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies,” according to an investigative report published by the National Journal. “Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time. And much of the evidence — even the classified evidence — gathered by the Defense Department against these men is flimsy, second-, third-, fourth- or 12th-hand. It’s based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars.”
The Journal noted that a common thread among many of the detainees is that a majority of them “were not caught by American soldiers on the battlefield. They came into American custody from third parties, mostly from Pakistan, some after targeted raids there, most after a dragnet for Arabs after 9/11.”
That’s a point Wilkerson made in his declaration and said it likely applied to Hamad’s case as well.
“With respect to the assertions by Mr. Hamad that he was wrongfully seized and detained, it became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all,” Wilkerson said in his declaration. “I soon realized from my conversations with military colleagues as well as foreign service officers in the field that many of the detainees were, in fact, victims of incompetent battlefield vetting.
“There was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan. The vetting problem, in my opinion, was directly related to the initial decision not to send sufficient regular army troops at the outset of the war in Afghanistan, and instead, to rely on the forces of the Northern Alliance and the extremely few US Special Operations Forces (SOF) who did not have the necessary training or personnel to deal with battlefield detention questions or even the inclination to want to deal with the issue.
“A related problem with the initial detention was that predominantly US forces were not the ones who were taking the prisoners in the first place. Instead, we relied upon Afghans, such as General [Abdul Rashid] Dostums forces, and upon Pakistanis, to hand over prisoners whom they had apprehended, or who had been turned over to them for bounties, sometimes as much as $5,000 per head.
“Such practices meant that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to US forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money. I recall conversations with serving military officers at the time, who told me that many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives.”
In Hamad’s case, Wilkerson said that he has “no reason to believe that any more thorough process was used to determine whether his seizure or transfer to Guantanamo was justified.”
Wilkerson said that he discussed the Guantanamo detainees issue regularly with Powell and, based on those discussions, Wilkerson discovered that “President Bush was involved in all of the Guantanamo decision-making.”
“My own view is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so,” Wilkerson said. “Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell called the president’s ‘cowboy instincts,’ Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President’s acquiescence.”
Wilkerson said issues revolving around efforts to repatriate individuals wrongfully detained at Guantanamo came up during the morning briefings chaired by Powell that he and about 50 to 55 senior State Department officials attended beginning in August 2002 after the prison facility was opened.
“At the briefing, Secretary Powell would question Ambassador Pierre Prosper (Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes), Cofer Black (Coordinator for Counter Terrorism), and Beth Jones (Assistant Secretary for Eurasia), or other senior personnel for information about specific progress in negotiating detainee releases,” Wilkerson said. “A number of these conversations arose because Secretary Powell received frequent phone calls from British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who had consulted with Secretary Powell frequently about repatriating the British Guantánamo detainees …
“I also know that several other foreign ministers spoke with Secretary Powell urging him to repatriate their countries’ citizens. During these morning briefings, Secretary Powell would express frustration that more progress had not been made with detainee releases.”
During one particular meeting, Wilkerson said, Ambassador Prosper, the point person on negotiating the transfer of detainees to other countries, “would discuss the difficulty he encountered in dealing with the Department of Defense, and specifically Donald Rumsfeld, who just refused to let detainees go.”
Wilkerson said it was “politically impossible” to release detainees, even the ones Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other senior officials knew were innocent.
“The concern expressed was that if they were released to another country, even an ally such as the United Kingdom, the leadership of the Defense Department would be left without any plausible explanation to the American people, whether the released detainee was subsequently found to be innocent by the receiving country, or whether the detainee was truly a terrorist and, upon release were it to then occur, would return to the war against the US,” he said. “Another concern was that the detention efforts at Guantánamo would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were. Such results were not acceptable to the
Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DOD.”
A spokesman for Rumsfeld said Wilkerson’s claims are untrue. Peggy Cifrino, Powell’s spokeswoman, said the former Secretary of State, “has not seen Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration and, therefore, cannot provide a comment.”
Still, what Wilkerson described may have very well been an issue in Hamad’s case, although as Jim White pointed out in a blog post, the Pentagon appears to have had a policy in place to “justify the long-term detention and interrogation of innocent civilians.”
According to Hamad’s lawsuit, the Pentagon had cleared him for release in November 2005, according to a redacted copy of his clearance decision his attorneys cited in their complaint.
But he was not freed from Guantanamo until December 2007. His attorneys said they were notified via email in March 2007 that Hamad was eligible to be sent back home to Sudan and it was during negotiations with the Sudanese government that they discovered he was eligible for release a full two years earlier.
About 183 detainees, many of whom have already been cleared for release, remain at Guantanamo. A majority of them have never been charged with a crime.
Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan November 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, bagram, bagram air base, bin Laden, Blackwater, christina rocca, cia, counterterrorism, Dick Cheney, drone missiles, erik prince, geneva convention, jeremy scahill, jsoc, kestral, kestral logistics, lawrence wilkerson, leon paneta, mcchrystal, mercenaries, military contractors, military intelligence, mullah mohammed omar, pakistan, pakistan war, pakistani government, paramilitaries, paramilitary, predator missiles, roger hollander, roger noriega, rumsfeld, secret war, select, Taliban, the nation, tis, total inteligence, vision americas, xe, xe services
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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.”
Everyone Should See ‘Torturing Democracy’ May 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Democracy, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan War, alberto mora, bagram, bill moyers, bill moyers journal, bush administration, cheney, christian century, cia interrogation, CIA torture, Colin Powell, detainees, enhanced interrogation, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Iraq war, lawrence wilkerson, michael wiship, military commissions, nuremberg, Petraeus, roger hollander, rule of law, sere, sherry jones, stuart couch, thomas romig, torture, torture techniques, torturing democracy, War Crimes, war criminals, waterboarding
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In all the recent debate over torture, many of our Beltway pundits and politicians have twisted themselves into verbal contortions to avoid using the word at all.
During his speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute last week — immediately on the heels of President Obama’s address at the National Archives — former Vice President Dick Cheney used the euphemism “enhanced interrogation” a full dozen times.
Smothering the reality of torture in euphemism of course has a political value, enabling its defenders to diminish the horror and possible illegality. It also gives partisans the opening they need to divert our attention by turning the future of the prison at Guantanamo Bay into a “wedge issue,” as noted on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times.
According to the Times, “Armed with polling data that show a narrow majority of support for keeping the prison open and deep fear about the detainees, Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantanamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles.”
No political party would dare make torture a cornerstone of its rejuvenation if people really understood what it is. And lest we
forget, we’re not just talking about waterboarding, itself a trivializing euphemism for drowning.
If we want to know what torture is, and what it does to human beings, we have to look at it squarely, without flinching. That’s just what a powerful and important film, seen by far too few Americans, does. Torturing Democracy was written and produced by one of America’s outstanding documentary reporters, Sherry Jones. (Excerpts from the film are being shown on the current edition of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS — check local listings, or go to the program’s website at PBS.org/Moyers, where you can be linked to the entire, 90-minute documentary.)
A longtime colleague, Sherry Jones and the film were honored this week with the prestigious RFK Journalism Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Torturing Democracy was cited for its “meticulous reporting,” and described as “the definitive broadcast account of a deeply troubling chapter in recent American history.”
Unfortunately, as events demonstrate, the story is not yet history; the early chapters aren’t even closed. Torture still is being defended as a matter of national security, although by law it is a war crime, with those who authorized and executed it liable for prosecution as war criminals. The war on terror sparked impatience with the rule of law — and fostered the belief within our government that the commander-in-chief had the right to ignore it.
Torturing Democracy begins at 9/11 and recounts how the Bush White House and the Pentagon decided to make coercive detention and abusive interrogation the official U.S. policy on the war on terror. In sometimes graphic detail, the documentary describes the experiences of several of the men held in custody, including Shafiq Rasul, Moazzam Begg and Bisher al-Rawi, all of whom eventually were released. Charges never were filed against them and no reason was ever given for their
years in custody.
The documentary traces how tactics meant to train American troops to survive enemy interrogations — the famous SERE program (“Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape”) — became the basis for many of the methods employed by the CIA and by interrogators at Guantanamo and in Iraq, including waterboarding (which inflicts on its victims the terror of imminent death), sleep and sensory deprivation, shackling, caging, painful stress positions and sexual humiliation.
“We have re-created our enemy’s methodologies in Guantanamo,” Malcolm Nance, former head of the Navy’s SERE training program, says in Torturing Democracy. “It will hurt us for decades to come. Decades. Our people will all be subjected to these tactics, because we have authorized them for the world now. How it got to Guantanamo is a crime and somebody needs to figure out who did it, how they did it, who authorized them to do it… Because our servicemen will suffer for years.”
In addition to its depiction of brutality, Torturing Democracy also credits the brave few who stood up to those in power and said, “No.” In Washington, there were officials of conviction horrified by unfolding events, including Alberto Mora, the Navy’s top civilian lawyer, Major General Thomas Romig, who served as Judge Advocate General of the US Army from 2001 to 2005 and Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, a former senior prosecutor with the Office of Military Commissions.
Much has happened since the film’s initial telecast on some public television stations last fall. Once classified memos from the Bush administration have been released that reveal more details of the harsh techniques used against detainees whose guilt or innocence is still to be decided.
President Obama has announced he will close Guantanamo by next January, with the specifics to come later in the summer. That was enough to set off hysteria among Democrats and Republicans alike who don’t want the remaining 240 detainees on American soil — even in a super maximum security prison, the kind already holding hundreds of terrorist suspects. The president also triggered criticism from constitutional and civil liberties lawyers when he suggested that some detainees may be held indefinitely, without due process.
But in an interview with Radio Free Europe this week, General David Petraeus, the man in charge of the military’s Central Command, praised the Guantanamo closing, saying it “sends an important message to the world” and will help advance America’s strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In another revealing and disturbing development, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, has suggested what is possibly as scandalous a deception as the false case Bush and Cheney made for invading Iraq. Colonel Wilkerson writes that in their zeal to prove a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein during the months leading up to the Iraq war, one suspect held in Egypt, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was water tortured until he falsely told the interrogators what they wanted to hear.
That phony confession that Wilkerson says was wrung from a broken man who simply wanted the torture to stop was then used as evidence in Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations shortly before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Colin Powell says the CIA vetted everything in his speech and that Wilkerson’s allegation is only speculation. We’ll never know the full story — al-Libi died three weeks ago in a Libyan prison. A suicide.
Or so they say.
No wonder so many Americans clamor for a truth commission that will get the facts and put them on the record, just as Torturing Democracy has done. Then we can judge for ourselves.
As the editors of the magazine The Christian Century wrote this week, “Convening a truth commission on torture would be embarrassing to the U.S. in the short term, but in the long run it would demonstrate the strength of American democracy and confirm the nation’s adherence to the rule of law… Understandably, [the President] wants to turn the page on torture. But Americans should not turn the page until they know what is written on it.”
Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers. Research provided by editorial producer Rebecca Wharton.
The Facts Thwart Rehab of Colin Powell May 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Casey Sheehan, cheney, Cindy Sheehan, Colin Powell, counterinsurgency, George Bush, george tenet, good samaritan, guernica, gulf war, gulf war syndrome, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, james baker, jay rockerfeller, john mclaughlin, kamasiyah, lawrence wilkerson, leon panetta, prophet isaiah, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, rumsfeld, wmds
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Watching retired Gen. Colin Powell refer to the parable of the Good Samaritan during Sunday’s Memorial Day ceremonies on the Mall in Washington, it struck me that Powell was giving hypocrisy a bad name.
Those familiar with the Good Samaritan story and also with the under-reported behavior of Gen. Powell, comeback kid of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), know that the two do not mesh.
Powell’s well-documented disregard for those who have borne the brunt of the battle places him in the company of the priest and the Levite – in the Good Samaritan parable – who, seeing the man attacked by robbers on the side of the road, walked right on by.
Sadly, Powell has a long record of placing the wounded and the vulnerable on his list of priorities far below his undying need to get promoted or to promote himself. Powell’s rhetoric, of course, would have us believe otherwise.
At the Memorial Day event, Powell hailed our “wounded warriors” from Iraq and Afghanistan as the cameras cut to several severely damaged veterans. Lauding the “love and care” they receive from their families, Powell noted in passing that some 10,000 parents are now full-time care providers for veterans not able to take care of themselves.
It was a moving ceremony, but only if you were able to keep your eye on the grand old flag and stay in denial about thousands of wasted American lives, not to mention tens and tens of thousands wasted Iraqi lives – as well as many thousands more incapacitated for life – and not ask WHY.
The wounded warriors’ former commander in chief, President George W. Bush, argued that the deaths were “worth it.” They were casualties suffered in pursuit of a “noble cause.”
Some claim that to suggest that those troops killed and wounded were killed and wounded in vain is to dishonor their memory, belittle their sacrifice, and inflict still more pain on their loved ones.
But Bush never could explain what the “noble cause” was, despite months and months of vigils by those camping outside the Bush house in Crawford asking that question. Our hearts certainly go out to the wounded, and to the families of the killed or wounded.
But I think that the surest way to dishonor them all is to avoid examining the real reasons for their loss, and to use lessons learned so that their own sons and daughters will not be sacrificed so glibly.
I lost many good Army colleagues and other friends in Vietnam. Back then, generals and politicians – the military and civilian leaders who promoted Powell and the careerists like him – helped to obscure the real reasons behind that carnage, too. And that was even before the corporate media became quite so fawning.
As the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and the casualties continue to mount, I feel an obligation to do what I can to help spread some truth around – however painful that may be. For truth is not only the best disinfectant, it is the best protection against such misadventures happening again…and again.
It is, I suppose, understandable that only the bravest widows and widowers – and parents like Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey Sheehan was killed in Sadr City on April 4, 2004 – have been able to summon enough courage out of their grief to challenge the vacuous explanations of Bush and people like Powell.
You can see it in microcosm in the Sheehan family. Casey’s father, Pat Sheehan, cannot agree that Casey’s death was in vain. Pat told me that Casey met an honorable death, since he was sent to rescue comrades pinned down by hostile forces in Sadr City.
No one can be sure what was going through Casey’s mind. And only later did it become clear that, rather than “volunteering” for an ill-conceived rescue mission, Casey, a truck mechanic, was ordered onto that open truck by superiors unwilling to risk their own hides. (This is what one of Casey’s comrades on the scene later told his mother.)
But let us assume that Casey was nonetheless eager to rescue his comrades. This still begs the question that I asked Pat Sheehan: Why were Casey and his comrades in Iraq in the first place? What was the “noble cause?” Pat’s reaction, or lack thereof, almost made me regret having asked him. Remembering it almost makes me want to stop this essay here. Almost.
With ministers, priests and rabbis officiating at funerals and other memorial services for “the fallen” and spinning their own renditions of “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” – “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” – small wonder that even those who should know better choose this escape from reality. There is so much pain out there…and if denial helps, well…
It does not help when it comes to charlatans like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell – the latter now trying to re-establish his poster-boy status with an eagerly cooperative FCM.
Aside from those whose TVs are stuck at Fox News and radios at Rush Limbaugh, fewer and fewer Americans now believe the lingering lies. Even funeral directors and preachers tread sparingly with the once-familiar rhetoric – used cynically in Washington to facilitate further careless carnage – that these dead “must not have died in vain.”
Isaiah on the Mall
Besides the Good Samaritan parable, Powell quoted from Isaiah about bringing comfort to the people. Surely Isaiah did not mean this to be done with lies on top of lies. Isaiah was no shrinking violet. He got himself killed for speaking out bluntly against lies that in his time justified the oppression of those on the margins.
I imagine this is what Isaiah would say to us now:
“Hear this, Americans. It is time to be not only sad, but also honest. You must summon the courage to handle the truth, which is this: our young warriors and (literally) countless Iraqis died in vain, and there is no excuse for their needless sacrifice. Nothing will bring them back – least of all meretricious rhetoric that is an insult to their memory.
“Their sacrifice was in vain, hear? Our task now is two-fold: (1) Bury the dead with respect and care for the wounded and their families; and (2) ensure that the truth gets out, so that a war built on lies will not soon happen again.”
Isaiah, I think, would add that this is also precisely why we owe it to the “fallen” and their families to hold to account those responsible for sending them into battle “on false pretenses,” to quote then-Senate Intelligence Committee head, Jay Rockefeller last June.
After a five-year investigation and a bipartisan vote approving the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Rockefeller summed it up:
“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”
There is plenty of blame to go around – to be shared by an adolescent president who liked to dress up and call himself a “war president,” and openly savored presiding over what he called “the first war of the 21st Century.”
Not to mention the power-hungry, sadistic bent of the men he chose to be vice president and secretary of defense and the treachery of CIA seniors George Tenet and John McLaughlin.
But there would have been no war, no dead, no limb-less bodies, no loved ones for whom to recall Isaiah’s words of comfort or mention the Good Samaritan, if Colin Powell had a conscience – if he had not chosen to “walk right on by.”
Let’s face it; neither the Texas Air National Guard’s most famous pilot nor the five-times-draft-deferred former vice president had the credibility to lead the country into war – especially one based on a highly dubious threat.
They needed the credibility of someone who had worn the uniform with some distinction – someone who, though never in command of a major Army combat unit, had been good at briefing the media while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the glorious Gulf War in 1991, which most Americans have been led to believe was virtually casualty-free.
Actually, since we are trying to spread some truth around, this is worth a brief digression.
The Casualty-Lite Gulf War
According to Powell’s memoir, My American Journey, before the attack on Iraq Powell was warned by his British counterpart, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir David Craig, about the risks involved in bombing Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction” installations. After Powell told him that this was indeed part of the plan, Craig expressed particular worry about release of agents from biological installations: “A bit risky that, eh?”
Powell writes that he told Craig the attendant risk of release was worth it and: “If it heads south, just blame me.”
Powell writes he was “less concerned” about chemical exposures. He should have been more concerned, not less. As the hostilities ended, U.S. Army engineers blew up chemical agents at a large Iraqi storage site near Kamasiyah. About 100,000 U.S. troops were downwind.
Many of those troops are now among the 210,000 veterans suffering from nervous and other diseases – and FINALLY now receiving disability payments for what came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome.
Far from his pre-war posture of “just blame me,” Powell joined Pentagon and CIA efforts to cover up this tragedy. When reports of the horrible fiasco at Kamasiyah hit the media, he erupted in macho outrage saying that, were he still on active duty, he would “rape and pillage” throughout the government to find those responsible. Of course, Kamasiyah happened during his watch. Typically, the FCM reported his macho remark, and then gave him a pass.
Despite numerous veterans’ pleas for support, Powell, in effect, went AWOL on the issue of Gulf War illnesses, never acknowledging that he shared any of the responsibility.
He took no interest and, in effect, made a huge contribution to the unconscionable delay in recognizing Gulf War illnesses for what they are. One out of every four troops deployed to the Gulf in 1991 are now receiving the benefits to which they have long been entitled – no thanks to Gen. Powell.
You didn’t know that? Thank the FCM and its persistent romance with Gen. Powell. Sorry for the digression; just had to get that off my chest.
Back to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld quest for someone to sell the attack on Iraq, someone whom the media loved, someone with military credentials who would do what he was told.
Perhaps they had read Powell’s memoir, in which he brags about his subservience to the “wisdom” of those up the line. They needed someone who was not too bright but could be eloquent – someone who was so used to taking orders that he would squander his own credibility for his boss, if the boss would just ask.
Not too bright? Apparently, during the three years between when Powell and I, as fledgling infantry officers, had been instructed at Fort Benning on counterinsurgency, the Army’s understanding of how to fight it had improved. Either that, or Powell was not able to master the key learnings of the course.
Here is what Powell writes in his memoir about how he bought into his superiors’ notion about how to win hearts and minds – what Powell calls “counterinsurgency at the cutting edge”:
“However chilling this destruction of homes and crops reads in cold print today, as a young officer I had been conditioned to believe in the wisdom of my superiors, and to obey. I had no qualms about what we were doing. This was counterinsurgency at the cutting edge. Hack down the peasants’ crops, thus denying food to the Viet Cong…It all made sense in those days.”
“Duty, Honor, Country” is what I remember made sense in those days. That was the watchword for young Army officers in the early Sixties – not supreme faith in the wisdom of superiors and blind obedience. But most of the rest of us did not make it beyond colonel.
Small wonder that the hapless Powell was easy prey for Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. They needed him to sell the war to the American people and, they hoped, to the rest of the world.
It is hard to fathom what “wisdom” Powell saw in his superiors’ decisions; what is clear is that he lacked the courage to challenge them, whether out of blind faith, a highly exaggerated – and dubiously moral – notion of obedience, a lack of conscience, or simple cowardice.
Tell lies to support the White House decision for war on Iraq? No problem. As was his wont, Powell saluted sharply, even though four days prior to his Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. speech he and his chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, had decided that some of the “intelligence” the White House had conjured up to “justify” war was pure “bull—t,” according to Wilkerson. Powell ended up using it anyway.
Powell and his handlers were acutely aware that war would be just weeks away after Powell spoke. One small but significant sign of this was what seemed to me the earliest cover-up related to the soon-to-begin attack on Iraq.
It was a literal cover-up, accomplished even before Powell conducted his post-speech press briefing in the customary spot in front of the Security Council wall adorned with a reproduction of Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, Guernica.
Prior to the press conference, that wall hanging had been covered up by another fabric. Some PR person had recognized the impropriety of trying to justify a new war of aggression with Guernica as backdrop. As usual with Powell, the speech and press conference went swimmingly, and the gullible or shameless (your choice) FCM was embarrassingly generous with their accolades.
Once it became clear — by mid-2003 — that there were no WMD stockpiles or mobile bio-weapons labs or anything else that had been conjured up in the U.N. speech, Powell smoothly shifted the blame to the CIA, and his fans in the FCM transformed Powell into a noble victim, now tragically suffering from a “blot on my record” for no real fault of his own.
Though it is abundantly clear that then-CIA Director George Tenet and his accomplice/deputy John McLaughlin did play a treacherous role, no CIA director has ever made a secretary of state worth his salt do anything – and certainly not help start an unnecessary war.
Besides, it is a safe bet that what was already clear to us Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) was at least equally clear to Powell. On the afternoon of Powell’s U.N. speech, we formally warned President Bush that the evidence adduced by Powell fell far short of justifying an attack on Iraq and that such an attack would be a huge fillip to terrorism around the world.
And since it was obvious that Powell had thrown in his lot with those rolling the juggernaut to war, we urged the president to “widen the circle of your advisers beyond those clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason, and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
Why Powell simply saluted, in full knowledge that his imprimatur would grease the skids to a highly dubious war can be debated. It may be as simple as the clues he provided in his memoir about honoring the “wisdom of superiors” and his penchant to obey, even when it made little sense and even when lots of folks would lose their homes and their lives.
Who was the colonel in Vietnam who insisted he was duty bound to destroy a village in order to save it from the communists? Powell was cut from similar cloth, albeit with a greater sense of subtlety and a much better knack for PR.
In April 2006, Powell admitted to journalist Robert Scheer that top State Department experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that the president followed the misleading advice of Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim.
It may simply be that by the time other generals promote you to general (the current system) you have distinguished yourself first and foremost by saluting smartly – by obeying and not asking too many questions.
But why Powell acquiesced is less important than THAT he went along. Though perhaps not the brightest star in the galaxy, he certainly was aware he was being co-opted, and that he needed not only to bless the war but also to wax enthusiastic about it, in order to remain welcome in the White House.
Surely he had learned something since his days in Vietnam – something about the “wisdom” of superiors, and of blind obedience. He could have said no, but he just did not have it in him to do so.
Powell’s stature (especially with the FCM) made his blessing of the Iraq War especially valuable to Cheney/Rumsfeld and the war-hungry neocons.
“The Only Guy Who Could Perhaps Have Stopped It”
Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the quintessential Republican elder statesman, former Secretary of State James Baker – hero of the Florida escapade that stopped the recount in Florida and, with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush.
In his book The War Within, Bob Woodward wrote: “Powell…didn’t think [Iraq] was a necessary war, and yet he had gone along in a hundred ways, large and small…He had succumbed to the momentum and his own sense of deference – even obedience – to the president…Perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, Powell had become the ‘closer’ for the president’s case on war.”
On Oct. 19, 2008, Tom Brokaw asked Powell about this on “Meet the Press;” Brokaw alluded to Woodward’s revelations and how Baker had grilled Powell when he appeared before the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Here’s Brokaw quoting Woodard’s book:
“‘Why did we go into Iraq with so few people?’ Baker asked. … ‘Colin just exploded at that point,’ [former Secretary of Defense William] Perry recalled later. ‘He unloaded,’ [former White House Chief of Staff and now CIA Director Leon] Panetta added, ‘He was angry. He was mad as hell.’… Powell left [the Iraq Study Group meeting].
“Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly. ‘He’s the only guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.’”
I added the bold, so you wouldn’t miss it.
Powell responded to Brokaw’s question by again pointing his finger at the CIA – “a lot of the information that the intelligence community provided us was wrong” – and then insisting that his war role wasn’t that consequential.
Stung by Baker’s observation, Powell said, “I also assure you that it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped” going to war.
Unlike the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to help a stranger in trouble, Powell simply looked to his own convenience, carefully protecting his status within the Bush administration and keeping his place at fashionable Washington dinner parties.
Whether he could have stopped the war or not, the truth is that Colin Powell didn’t even try. He would not risk his reputation for all those victims – Iraqi and American – who have died or suffered horribly from an unnecessary war. The blot on his record was self-inflicted; the FCM is likely to run out of Clorox trying to remove the stain.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
How Torture Trapped Colin Powell May 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, carl ford, cheney, cia, cia interrogation, cia interrogators, CIA torture, Colin Powell, curveball, george tenet, Guantanamo, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, iraqi wmd, lawrence wilkerson, lindsey graham, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, saddam hussein, torture, torture confession, waterboarding, wmds
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www.consortiumnews.com, May 18, 2009
Four days before trying to sell the invasion of Iraq to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell was ready to scrap dubious allegations about Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda but was dissuaded by top CIA officials who cited a new “bombshell” that now appears to have been derived from torture, a top Powell aide says.
Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was then Powell’s chief of staff, said the key moment occurred on Feb. 1, 2003, as the two men labored at the CIA over Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council set for Feb. 5.
“Powell and I had a one-on-one — no one else even in the room — about his angst over what was a rather dull recounting of several old stories about Al Qa’ida-Baghdad ties [in the draft speech],” Wilkerson said. “I agreed with him that what we had was bull___t, and Powell decided to eliminate all mention of terrorist contacts between AQ and Baghdad.
“Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the [CIA] director’s Conference Room: a high-level AQ detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between AQ and Baghdad, including Iraqis training AQ operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.”
Though Tenet and McLaughlin wouldn’t give Powell the identity of the al-Qaeda source, Wilkerson said he now understands that it was Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who later claimed he gave the CIA false information in the face of actual and threatened torture.
Not realizing that the new intelligence was tainted, “Powell changed his mind and this information was included in his UNSC presentation, along with some more general information from the previous text about Baghdad’s terrorist tendencies,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson’s account underscores how the Bush administration’s reliance on harsh interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects influenced the rush to war with Iraq, while also pointing out how the need to justify the war gave impetus to the use of torture for extracting information.
Sealing the Deal
Powell, whose credibility essentially sealed the deal for war as far as millions of Americans were concerned, also appears to have let himself be manipulated by senior CIA officials who kept him in the dark about crucial details, including the fact that the Defense Intelligence Agency doubted al-Libi’s credibility.
“As you can see, nowhere were we told that the high-level AQ operative had a name, or that he had been interrogated [in Egypt] with no US personnel present or much earlier rather than just recently (the clear implication of Tenet’s breathtaking delivery),” Wilkerson said.
“And not a single dissent was mentioned (later we learned of the DIA dissent) … All of this was hidden from us – the specific identity, we were informed, due to the desire to protect sources and methods as well as a cooperative foreign intelligence service. …
“As for me in particular, I learned the identity of al-Libi only in 2004 and of the DIA dissent about the same time, of al-Libi’s recanting slightly later, and of the entire affair’s probably being a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication – to at least a certain extent – only after I began to put some things together and to receive reinforcement of the ‘fabrication’ theme from other examples.”
Among those other examples, Wilkerson said, was the case of an Iraqi “defector” codenamed Curveball, who supplied false intelligence about mobile labs for making biological and chemical weapons, and various Iraqi walk-ins who spun bogus stories about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
Though some of those sources appear to have concocted their tales after being recruited by the pro-invasion exiles of the Iraqi National Congress, al-Libi told his stories – he later claimed – to avoid or stop torture, a central point in the current debate about whether torture saved American lives.
For those of you distracted by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) spotlight on “what-did-Pelosi-know-about-torture-and-when-did-she- know-it,” please turn off the TV long enough to ponder the case of the recently departed al-Libi, who reportedly died in a Libyan prison, a purported suicide.
The al-Libi case might help you understand why, even though information from torture is notoriously unreliable, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the sycophants running U.S. intelligence ordered it anyway.
In short, if it is untruthful information you are after, torture can work just fine! As the distinguished Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham put it during a Senate hearing on May 13 — with a hat-tip to the Inquisition — “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.”
All you really need to know is what you want the victims to “confess” to and then torture them, or render them abroad to “friendly” intelligence services toward the same end.
Poster Child for Torture
Al-Libi, born in 1963 in Libya, ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was detained in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, and then sent to a U.S. detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was deemed a prize catch, since he would know of any Iraqi training of al-Qaeda.
The CIA successfully fought off the FBI for first rights to interrogate al-Libi. FBI’s Dan Coleman, who “lost” al-Libi to the CIA (at whose orders, I wonder?), said, “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist sent there in summer 2002, told the Senate, “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful.
“The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
CIA interrogators elicited some “cooperation” from al-Libi through a combination of rough treatment and threats that he would be turned over to Egyptian intelligence with even greater experience in the torture business.
By June 2002, al-Libi had told the CIA that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that soon found its way into other U.S. intelligence reports. Al-Libi’s claim was well received even though the DIA was suspicious.
“He lacks specific details” about the supposed training, the DIA observed. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”
Despite his cooperation, al-Libi was still shipped to Egypt where he underwent more abuse, according to a declassified CIA cable from 2004 when al-Libi recanted his earlier statements. The cable reported that al-Libi said Egyptian interrogators wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”
According to the CIA cable, al-Libi said his interrogators did not like his responses and “placed him in a small box” for about 17 hours. After he was let out of the box, al-Libi was given a last chance to “tell the truth.”
When his answers still did not satisfy, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and fell on his back” and then was “punched for 15 minutes.”
And, as Sen. Graham noted, that stuff really works! For it was then that al-Libi expanded on his tales about collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq, adding that three al-Qaeda operatives had gone to Iraq “to learn about nuclear weapons.” Afterwards, he said his treatment improved.
Al-Libi’s stories misinformed Colin Powell’s U.N. speech, which sought to establish a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda to justify invading Iraq.
Al-Libi recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the CIA, a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission.
Bear in mind that before the attack on Iraq on March 19, 2003, polls showed that some 70 percent Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had operational ties with al-Qaeda and thus was partly responsible for the attacks of 9/11.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
George Bush relied on al-Libi’s false confession for his crucial speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just a few days before Congress voted on the Iraq War resolution. Bush declared, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”
Colin Powell relied on it for his crucial speech to the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003. He said: “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”
For a while, al-Libi was practically the poster boy for the success of the Cheney/Bush torture regime; that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he thought would stop the torture.
In his disingenuous memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet sought to defend the CIA’s use of the claims made by al-Libi in the run-up to the Iraq war, suggesting that al-Libi’s later recantation may not have been genuine.
“He clearly lied,” Tenet writes in his book. “We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that Al Qaeda members received training in Iraq or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true.”
Really; that’s what Tenet writes.
Tenet’s stubborn faith in the CIA’s “product” reflects the reality that he is not a disinterested observer. If there was a CIA plan to extract a false confession, it’s likely he was a key participant.
After all, he devoted 2002-03 to the mission of manufacturing a “slam-dunk” case for invading Iraq in order to please his bosses. He had both the motive and the opportunity to commit this crime.
Well, if al-Libi is now dead — strangely our embassy in Tripoli was unable to find out for sure — this means the world will never hear his own account of the torture he experienced and the story he made up and then recanted.
And we will all be asked to believe he “committed suicide” even though it is apparently true that al-Libi was a devout Muslim and Islam prohibits suicide.
Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of the Gaddafi regime, explained to Newsweek, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.”
He added that, throughout Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”
Am I suggesting…?
Anatomy of a Crime
Commenting on what he called the “Cheney interrogation techniques,” Col. Wilkerson, writing for The Washington Note on May 13, made the following observations:
“…as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but on discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq to al-Qaeda.
“So furious was this effort on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the advanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet.
“This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.”
Stung by Wilkerson’s criticism of her father, Liz Cheney, who worked in the State Department during the last administration, lashed out at Wilkerson, charging he has made “a cottage industry out of fantasies” about the former Vice President.
All that Ms. Cheney could manage in rebuttal, though, was to point out that al-Libi was not among the three al-Qaeda figures that the U.S. has admitted to waterboarding.
After his article in The Washington Note, I asked Col. Wilkerson for a retrospective look at how it could have been that the torture-derived information from al-Libi was not recognized for what it was and thus kept out of Secretary Powell’s speech at the UN.
Since al-Libi had been captured over a year before the speech and had been put at the tender mercies of the Egyptian intelligence service, should he and Powell not have suspected that al-Libi had been tortured?
Wilkerson responded by e-mail with the comments cited above regarding Tenet and McLaughlin interrupting Powell’s evaluation of the Iraqi WMD intelligence with their new – vaguely sourced –“bombshell.”
I asked Col. Wilkerson: “Were there no others from the State Department with you at CIA headquarters on Feb. 1, 2003. Was INR [State’s very professional, incorruptible intelligence unit] not represented? He answered:
“When I gathered ‘my team’ – some were selected for me, such as Will Toby from Bob Joseph’s NSC staff and John Hannah from the VP’s office – in my office at State to give them an initial briefing and marching orders, I asked Carl [Ford, head of INR] to attend. I wanted Carl – or even more so, one of his deputies whom I knew well and trusted completely, Tom Fingar – to be on ‘my team’.
“Carl stayed after the meeting and I asked him straightforwardly to come with me or to send someone from INR. Carl said that he did not need to come nor to send anyone because he had the Secretary’s ear (he was right on that) and could weigh in at any time he wanted to.
“Moreover, he told me, the Secretary knew very well where INR stood, as did I myself (he was right on that too).
“As I look back, I believe one of my gravest errors was in not insisting that INR send someone with me.
“Fascinating and completely puzzling at first was the total absence of a Department of Defense representative on my team; however, after 3-4 days and nights I figured out … DoD was covering its own butt, to an extent, by having no direct fingerprints on the affair — and being directly wired into Cheney’s office, Rumsfeld’s folks knew they were protected by Toby and Hannah.
“When we all arrived at CIA, we were given the NIC [National Intelligence Council] spaces and staff. [But] I could not even get on a computer!! Protests to Tenet and McLaughlin got me perfunctory CIA-blah blah about security clearances, etc. — and me with 7 days and nights to prepare a monumentally important presentation! …
“[It took] 24 hours before George or John acknowledged I could be on a computer…. From there on, it was a madhouse.
“But at the end of the day, had I had an INR rep, had I had better support, had I been more concerned with WHAT I was assembling rather than HOW on earth I would assemble it and present it on time, I’m not sure at all it would have made any difference in the march to war.”
Not the Only Crime
So there you have it folks, the anatomy of a crime — one of several such, I might add.
Mention of Carl Ford and Tenet and McLaughlin remind me of another episode that has gone down in the annals of intelligence as almost equally contemptible. This one had to do with CIA’s furious attempt to prove there were mobile biological weapons labs of the kind Curveball had described.
Remember, Tenet and McLaughlin had been warned about Curveball long before they let then-Secretary of State Powell shame himself, and the rest of us, by peddling Curveball’s wares at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.
But the amateur attempts at deception did not stop there. After the war began, CIA intrepid analysts, still “leaning forward,” misrepresented a tractor-trailer found in Iraq outfitted with industrial equipment as one of the mobile bio-labs.
On May 28, 2003, CIA analysts cooked up a fraudulent six-page report claiming that the trailer discovered earlier in May was proof they had been right about Iraq’s “bio-weapons labs.”
They then performed what could be called a “night-time requisition,” getting the only Defense Intelligence Agency analyst sympathetic to their position to provide DIA “coordination,” (which was subsequently withdrawn by DIA).
On May 29, President George W. Bush, visiting Poland, proudly announced on Polish TV, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.” [For a contemporaneous debunking of the CIA-DIA report, see Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Matrix.”]
When the State Department’s Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts realized that this was not some kind of Polish joke, they “went ballistic,” according to Carl Ford, who immediately warned Powell there was a problem.
Tenet must have learned of this quickly, for he called Ford on the carpet, literally, the following day. No shrinking violet, Ford held his ground. He told Tenet and McLaughlin, “That report is one of the worst intelligence assessments I’ve ever read.”
This vignette — and several like it — are found in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who say Ford is still angry over the fraudulent paper.
Ford told the authors: “It was clear that they [Tenet and McLaughlin] had been personally involved in the preparation of the report… It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.”
Too bad Carl Ford made the incorrect assumption that he could rely on his credibility and entrée with Secretary Powell to thwart the likes of Tenet and McLaughlin, as they peddled their meretricious wares at CIA headquarters — with Col. Wilkerson left to twist in the wind, so to speak.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. He served in all four directorates of the CIA, mostly as an analyst, and is now a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Obama Returns to Bush Era on Guantánamo May 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: andy worthington, coerice interrogations, Criminal Justice, david addington, Dick Cheney, enemy combatant, eric holder, George Bush, guananamo, guantanamo bribery, Guantanamo detainees, guantanamo kangaroo court, guantanamo suspicious prisoners, human rights, lawrence wilkerson, military commissions, military tribunals, Obama, Robert Gates, roger hollander, senate appropriations, torture, torture confessions, torture evidence
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Published on Tuesday, May 5, 2009 by The Future of Freedom Foundation
Two distressing pieces of news emerged last week regarding the Obama administration’s plans to close Guantánamo, and both were delivered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Discussing what would happen to the remaining 241 prisoners, Gates announced that the question was “still open” as to what the government should do with “the 50 to 100 – probably in that ballpark – who we cannot release and cannot try.” He also announced that the much-criticized military commission trial system, suspended for four months by Barack Obama on his first day in office, was “still very much on the table.”
Both admissions indicate that when it comes to Guantánamo, it is beginning to appear that the much-vaunted change promised by Barack Obama on the campaign trail has actually involved nothing more than imposing a closing date on Guantánamo while maintaining the Bush administration’s approach to the men still held there.
Back in Bush’s day, for example, those “who we cannot release and cannot try” were sometimes referred to as those who were “too dangerous to release but not guilty enough to prosecute” – essentially because the supposed evidence against them was the fruit of torture or other abuse.
As someone who has studied the story of Guantánamo and its prisoners in detail over the last three years, I’m aware that much of the information compiled by the Bush administration for use against the prisoners at Guantánamo was obtained through torture or coercion and is, therefore, unreliable, and that other, equally unreliable information was secured through the bribery of other prisoners.
As a National Journal investigation revealed in 2006, one prisoner, described by the FBI as a notorious liar, made false allegations against 60 prisoners in Guantánamo in exchange for more favorable treatment, and in February this year the Washington Post published the sobering tale of another informant, whose copious confessions should have set alarm bells ringing. In both cases, however, there is no indication that the officials responsible for compiling the information examined by the president’s review team have acknowledged that a substantial number of allegations against the prisoners are actually worthless.
Moreover, the defense secretary’s talk of 50 to 100 suspicious prisoners (above and beyond those regarded as demonstrably dangerous) is at odds with repeated intelligence assessments reported over the years, which have indicated that the total number of prisoners with any meaningful connection to international terrorism is between 35 and 50. To this should be added the recent revelation by Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, that “no more than a dozen or two of the detainees” held in Guantánamo ever had any worthwhile intelligence.
In addition, the defense secretary’s talk of reviving the military commissions is a distressing development for the many critics of the novel trial system invented by Dick Cheney and David Addington, who hoped that the administration would resist all calls to reinstate them, and would, instead, move the relatively few prisoners regarded as genuinely dangerous to the mainland to face trials in federal court.
However, on Saturday, after speaking to Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported that, despite declaring that, as president, he would “reject the Military Commissions Act,” and stating that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” President Obama was indeed considering reviving the commissions.
As the Times described it,
Administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.
As a result, they said, decision-makers were considering whether to tinker with the rules regarding the use of coercive interrogations and hearsay, in what the Times described as “walk[ing] a tightrope of granting the suspects more rights yet stopping short of affording them the rights available to defendants in American courts.”
The “tightrope” analogy, though apt, is also something of an understatement. Almost universally derided in their seven-year history, the commissions demonstrated, above all, that inventing a legal system from scratch was a poor substitute for respecting the laws which have served the Republic well for over 200 years.
Nor can it be claimed that the federal court system is incapable of dealing with terrorism cases. As was explained in a 2008 report by Human Rights First, “In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts” (PDF), over 100 terrorism cases have been prosecuted successfully in the federal courts in the last 15 years.
Moreover, last Thursday, as Robert Gates was telling the Senate that the military commissions were still “on the table,” the Justice Department was taking a very different line in the case of Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident who was held in extreme isolation for nearly six years without charge or trial as an “enemy combatant” in a U.S. naval brig, until he was returned to the federal justice system by the Obama administration.
As al-Marri accepted a plea agreement and admitted that he had been sent to the United States as an al-Qaeda “sleeper agent,” Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the result “reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which this nation was founded and the rule of law.”
To remove the stain that Guantánamo has left on the reputation of the United States as a nation founded on the rule of law, Mr. Holder’s words should be repeated to him every time that the administration attempts to turn back the clock to the days of George W. Bush, with its dangerous talk of finding new ways to justify holding prisoners without charge or trial and its willingness to revive a trial system despised as nothing more than a “kangaroo court.”
Obama Plays Hamlet; Shredders Hum April 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11.
Tags: 9/11, Abu Ghraib, Alberto Gonzales, bin Laden, bruce jesen, CIA torture, Dennis Blair, doj, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tent, Guantanamo, international red cross, interrogation, james elmer mitchell, john d. rockerfeller, justice department, kathleen rockerfeller, lawrence wilkerson, leon panetta, office of legal counsel, olc, ollie norh, president obama, ray mcgovern, richard reid, roger hollander, shoe-bomber, torture, torture justification, torture memos, torture techniques, War Crimes, zacarias moussaoui
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Published on Thursday, April 23, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
Well, well. The New York Times has finally put a story together on the key role played by two faux psychologists in helping the Bush administration devise ways to torture people. We should, I suppose, be thankful for small favors.
Apparently, a NY Times exposé requires a 21-month gestation period. The substance of the Wednesday’s lead story on torture had already appeared in an article in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/07/torture200707
Katherine Eban, a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about public health, authored that article and titled it “Rorschach and Awe.” It was the result of a careful effort to understand the role of psychologists in the torture of detainees in Guantanamo.
She identified the two psychologists as James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who she reported were inexperienced in interrogations and “had no proof of their tactics’ effectiveness” but nevertheless sold the Bush administration on a plan to subject detainees to “psychic demolition”-essentially severing them from their personalities and scaring them “almost to death.”
|”The aim of torture is to destroy a person as a human being, to destroy their identity and soul. It is more evil than murder… ” — Inge Genefke – (1938-) Danish Doctor & Human Rights Activist|
In Wednesday’s Times, reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti plow much of the same ground. Please don’t misunderstand. They deserve considerable praise for finally pushing their article past the Times’ timorous censors, but let’s not pretend the startling revelations are new.
The Times ought to allow the likes of Shane and Mazzetti to publish these stories when they are fresh. Alternatively, the once-known-as “newspaper of record” might at least report the findings of the likes of Eban, rather than ignoring them for nearly two years.
It’s pretty much all out there now, isn’t it? Not only the Times’ better-late-than-never exposé, but also:
- The (leaked) text of the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the torture of “high-value” detainees;
- The too-slick-by-half “legal opinions” under Department of Justice letterhead;
- The findings of the 18-month investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee highlighting that it was President George W. Bush’s dismissal of Geneva (in his executive order of February 7, 2002) that “opened the door” to abuse of detainees.
The North/Gonzales Memorial Shredder
One issue of some urgency has been overlooked in the media, but probably not by those complicit in torture by the CIA and other parts of the government. That issue is the need to protect evidence from being shredded. There has been no sign that either Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair or CIA Director Leon Panetta has proscribed the destruction of documents/tapes/etc. relating to torture, while decisions on if and how to proceed are being worked out.
Many will remember how Oliver North (when the crimes of Iran-Contra were being uncovered) and Alberto Gonzales (when White House involvement in the Valerie Plame affair was becoming clearer) made such good use of the days of hiatus between the announced decision to investigate and the belated order to safeguard all evidence from destruction.
One would think that Attorney General Eric Holder, or President Barack Obama himself, would have long since issued such an order. Indeed, the absence of such an order would suggest they would just as soon avoid as many of the painful truths about torture as they can. The issue would seem particularly urgent in the wake of Obama’s gratuitous get-out-of-jail free card issued to CIA personnel complicit in torture. They might well draw the (erroneous) conclusion that they have been, in effect, pardoned by the president and thus are within the law in destroying relevant evidence-to the degree that being within the law matters any more.
Better Shred Than Dead
And what about the president’s decision not to prosecute those in CIA who engaged in torture? What is going on here?
Retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told Frontline on December 13, 2005 that “up to 100 detainees had died while in detention. Of that 100, some 27 have been declared officially homicides.” Those running Bush administration interrogations are no doubt aware by now that the War Crimes Act (18 U.S. Code 2441) passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 provides that the death penalty can be given to those responsible for the deaths of detainees.
And yet, the President Obama struck not an angry, but rather a defensive tone on the recent release of the four torture documents issued by the Mafia-style lawyers of the Justice Department. This seems rather odd coming from a professor of constitutional law. The president and his advisers have appeared almost apologetic in explaining/justifying the release.
In the face of Rush Limbaugh/Dick Cheney-type charges that the revelations endanger national security, the White House explains that most of the information was already in the public domain (in the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for example). Hey, Mr. constitutional law professor and now president, how about the fact that the Freedom of Information Act requires your administration to release such information. How about acknowledging that you are just doing your sworn duty to enforce the law-or is that notion quaint, obsolete, or somehow passé these days?
Misplaced Loyalty or Fear?
It is highly unusual for the president to feel it necessary to visit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Vivid in my memory is the visit by President George W. Bush on September 26, 2001, just two weeks after intelligence/defense/policy failures permitted the attacks of September 11.
For some time it remained something of a puzzle why the president felt it prudent to appear at CIA with his arm around then-CIA Director George Tenet, endorsing his leadership without reservation and bragging about having the best intelligence service in the world. In retrospect, it was a Faustian bargain.
Former CIA Director and Medal of Freedom winner, George Tenet, can be forgiven for being somewhat apprehensive these days-especially in the wake of the article by Shane and Mazzetti. But let’s leave aside for now the obviously heinous misdeeds-like running George W. Bush’s global Gestapo complete with secret prisons and torture chambers, a criminal enterprise that Tenet shoe-horned into the operations directorate of the CIA.
Let’s pick a case of simpler, more familiar white-collar crime-Scooter Libby-style perjury and obstruction of justice. Those who remember Watergate and other crimes will be aware that the cover-up constitutes an additional-and often more provable-crime, especially when it involves perjury and obstruction of justice.
Until now, Bush has managed to escape blame for his outrageous inactivity before 9/11 because his subordinates-first and foremost, Tenet-have covered up for him. Faustian bargain? Call it mutual blackmail, if you prefer the vernacular.
Tenet gave the president enough warning to warrant, to compel some sort of action on his part. But Tenet’s lackadaisical management of the CIA and intelligence community was at least as important a factor in the success of the attacks of 9/11.
Tenet should have been fired after 9/11. But President Bush needed Tenet, or at least Tenet’s silence, as much as Tenet needed Bush, or at least Bush’s forgiveness.
What developed might be described as a case of mutual blackmail disguised as bonhomie. Bush was keenly aware that Tenet had the wherewithal to let the world know how many warnings he had given the president and that this could reduce Bush to a criminally negligent, blundering fool.
George W. Bush would have had to kiss goodbye the role of cheerleader/war president-and so much else. Thus, Tenet had become critical to Bush’s political survival. And Tenet? All he needed was not to be blamed – not to be fired.
The bargain: I, George Bush, will keep you on and even praise your performance; you, George Tenet, will keep your mouth shut about all the warnings you gave me during the spring and summer of 2001. Tenet, it is clear, agreed.
On Sept. 26, 2001, the president motored out to CIA headquarters, puts his arm around Tenet and told the cameras, “We’ve got the best intelligence we can possibly have thanks to the men and women of the CIA.”
Tenet Goes Bush One Better
In his sworn testimony of April 14, 2004, before the 9/11 Commission, Tenet outdid himself trying to honor his bargain with Bush. The commissioners were interested in what the president had been told during the critical month of August 2001.
Answering a question from Commissioner Timothy Roemer, Tenet referred to the president’s long vacation (July 29-Aug. 30, 2001) in Crawford and insisted that he did not see the president at all in August.
“You never talked with him?” Roemer asked.
“No,” Tenet replied, explaining that for much of August he, too, was “on leave.”
That evening, a CIA spokesman called reporters to say that Tenet had misspoken, and that he had briefed Bush on Aug. 17 and 31, 2001. The spokesman played down the Aug. 17 briefing as uneventful and indicated that the second briefing took place after Bush had returned to Washington.
Funny how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit to Crawford. In his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” Tenet waxed eloquent about the “president graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and me trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna.”
But the visit was not limited to small talk. In his book Tenet writes: “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.”
The Aug. 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief contained the article “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US.” According to Ron Suskind’s The One-Percent Doctrine, the president reacted by telling the CIA briefer, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”
Clearly, Tenet needed to follow up on that. Was Tenet again in Crawford just one week later? According to a White House press release, President Bush on Aug. 25 told visitors to Crawford, “George Tenet and I” drove up the canyon “yesterday.”
If, as Tenet says in his memoir, it was the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB that prompted his visit on Aug. 17, what might have brought him back on Aug. 24? That was the day after Tenet had been briefed on Zacarias Moussaoui training to fly a 747 and other suspicion-arousing information.
The evidence is very strong that Tenet told Bush chapter and verse. The extraordinary lengths to which Tenet has gone to disguise that has the former CIA director skating very close to perjury – if not over the line.
Real Terrorists: Moussaoui and Reid
A note on Moussaoui: despite strong encouragement from FBI special agent/attorney Coleen Rowley at the time, the government never interviewed Moussaoui for information on a possible “second wave” of 9/11-type attacks.
Moussaoui knew Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber who almost downed an airliner on its way from London to the U.S., and might have provided forewarning, if he were asked in the three months between 9/11 and Reid’s attempt in December 2001. Given what amounted to a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, there is no telling, so to speak, what intelligence might have been elicited from Moussaoui.
It gets worse: it appears Reid was not effectively interviewed either. The nonchalant handling of Moussaoui and Reid greatly diminishes the credibility of arguments that torture was felt to be necessary because of the overweening fear of follow-up attacks. The administration claims it had to pull out all the stops-while in reality it failed to take rudimentary steps to acquire information from known terrorists already in U.S. custody.
Obama’s Faustian Bargain?
In a recent article on torture, http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/041409a.html, I asked what might be holding the Obama administration back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate all this, so that as a nation we could hold to account any proven guilty and put this shameful chapter of American history behind us once and for all.
A reader replied in an email offering this answer to what is holding the administration back: “John D. Rockefeller, IV, and the Democrats who knew [about the torture] and did nothing.” The sender signed the email: “Kathleen M. Rockefeller Uncowardly Cousin.”
The disclosures in the Shane/Mazzetti article, and plenty of other evidence suggest that this may not be far off the mark. The fact that so many Democratic leaders had complicit knowledge of the torture is no doubt one of the powerful forces working on our president.
Maybe, just maybe, the president insisted on releasing the torture memos with a view toward determining whether Americans really care, whether we would be appropriately outraged-so outraged that we would put inexorable pressure on him to hold everyone, repeat everyone, accountable.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, al-zawahiri, bush administration, Colin Powell, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, donald rumsfeld, gordon england, Guantanamo, Guantanamo detainees, intelligence gathering, interrogation, lawrence wilkerson, national security, obama administration, Osama bin laden, richard armitage, roger hollander, Rush Limbaugh, torture, war on terror
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Lawrence Wilkerson, www.thewashingtonnote.com, March 17, 2009
There are several dimensions to the debate over the U.S. prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed and, thus, of which the American people are almost completely unaware. For that matter, few within the government who were not directly involved are aware either.
The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.
This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, of the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and of the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to “just get the bastards to the interrogators”.
It did not help that poor U.S. policies such as bounty-hunting, a weak understanding of cultural tendencies, and an utter disregard for the fundamentals of jurisprudence prevailed as well (no blame in the latter realm should accrue to combat soldiers as this it not their bailiwick anyway).
The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.
But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.
For example, Ambassador Pierre Prosper, the U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, was under a barrage of questions and directions almost daily from Powell or Armitage to repatriate every detainee who could be repatriated.
This was quite a few of them, including Uighurs from China and, incredulously, citizens of the United Kingdom (“incredulously” because few doubted the capacity of the UK to detain and manage terrorists). Standing resolutely in Ambassador Prosper’s path was Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who would have none of it. Rumsfeld was staunchly backed by the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney. Moreover, the fact that among the detainees was a 13 year-old boy and a man over 90, did not seem to faze either man, initially at least.
The fourth unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals–in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.
Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.
Another unknown, a part of the fabric of the foregoing four, was the sheer incompetence involved in cataloging and maintaining the pertinent factors surrounding the detainees that might be relevant in any eventual legal proceedings, whether in an established court system or even in a kangaroo court that pretended to at least a few of the essentials, such as evidence.
Simply stated, even for those two dozen or so of the detainees who might well be hardcore terrorists, there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand. Falling back on “sources and methods” and “intelligence secrets” became the Bush administration’s modus operandi to camouflage this grievous failing.
But their ultimate cover was that the struggle in which they were involved was war and in war those detained could be kept for the duration. And this war, by their own pronouncements, had no end. For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years. Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.
In addition, it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way–from classified information or otherwise–that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.
This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.
Lastly, there is the now prevalent supposition, recently reinforced by the new team in the White House, that closing down our prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay would take some time and development of a highly complex plan. Because of the unfortunate political realities now involved–Cheney’s recent strident and almost unparalleled remarks about the dangers of pampering terrorists, and the vulnerability of the Democrats in general on any national security issue–this may have some truth to it.
But in terms of the physical and safe shutdown of the prison facilities it is nonsense. As early as 2004 and certainly in 2005, administration leaders such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, and John Bellinger, Legal Advisor to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and, later, to that same individual as Secretary of State, and others were calling for the facilities to be shut down. No one will ever convince me that as astute a man as Gordon England would have made such a call if he did not have a plan for answering it. And if there is not such a plan, is not its absence simply another reason to condemn this most incompetent of administrations? After all, President Bush himself said he would like to close GITMO.
Recently, in an attempt to mask some of these failings and to exacerbate and make even more difficult the challenge to the new Obama administration, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview from his home in McLean, Virginia. The interview was almost mystifying in its twisted logic and terrifying in its fear-mongering.
As to twisted logic: “Cheney said at least 61 of the inmates who were released from Guantanamo (sic) during the Bush administration…have gone back into the business of being terrorists.” So, the fact that the Bush administration was so incompetent that it released 61 terrorists, is a valid criticism of the Obama administration? Or was this supposed to be an indication of what percentage of the still-detained men would likely turn to terrorism if released in future? Or was this a revelation that men kept in detention such as those at GITMO–even innocent men–would become terrorists if released because of the harsh treatment meted out to them at GITMO? Seven years in jail as an innocent man might do that for me. Hard to tell.
As for the fear-mongering: “When we get people who are more interested in reading the rights to an Al Qaeda (sic) terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” Cheney said. Who in the Obama administration has insisted on reading any al-Qa’ida terrorist his rights? More to the point, who in that administration is not interested in protecting the United States–a clear implication of Cheney’s remarks.
But far worse is the unmistakable stoking of the 20 million listeners of Rush Limbaugh, half of whom we could label, judiciously, as half-baked nuts. Such remarks as those of the former vice president’s are like waving a red flag in front of an incensed bull. And Cheney of course knows that.
Cheney went on to say in his McLean interview that “Protecting the country’s security is a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people and we are not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” I have to agree but the other way around. Cheney and his like are the evil people and we certainly are not going to prevail in the struggle with radical religion if we listen to people such as he.
When–and if–the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.
On that revelation and those actions rests much of the credibility of our nation’s return to sobriety and our truest values. In fact, on such positive developments may ultimately rest our entire future as a free people. For there shall inevitably be future terrorist attacks. Al-Qa’ida has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks.
But al-Qa’ida will be back. Iraq, GITMO, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased U.S. support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qa’ida’s resilience, staying power and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Aman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.