Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA? December 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History.
Tags: allen dulles, assassination, bay of pigs, cia, cia history, cia interrogations, Cuba, cuba invasion, David Petraeus, eavesdropping, eric holder, george tenet, harry truman, history, james douglass, john durham, john kennedy, kennedy assassination, leon paneta, lucien vandenbroucke, michael hayden, michael mukasey, porter goss, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, sidney souers, torture, torture memoranda, truman library, truman papers, warren commission
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In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors-the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to “reverse Attorney General Holder’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.”
Panetta reportedly was also dead set against reopening the investigation-as he was against release of the Justice Department’s “torture memoranda” of 2002, as he has been against releasing pretty much anything at all-the President’s pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding. Panetta is even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first faculties to fail. Perhaps he heard “error” when the President said “era.”
As for the benighted seven, they are more to be pitied than scorned. No longer able to avail themselves of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest-not to mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.
Three of the seven-George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden-were themselves involved, in one way or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal eavesdropping. In this light, the most transparent part of the letter may be the sentence in which they worry: “There is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”
When asked about the letter on the Sunday TV talk shows on Sept. 20, Obama was careful always to respond first by expressing obligatory “respect” for the CIA and its directors. With Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, though, Obama did allow himself a condescending quip. He commented, “I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an institution that they helped to build.”
That quip was, sadly, the exception to the rule. While Obama keeps repeating the mantra that “nobody is above the law,” there is no real sign that he intends to face down Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs-no sign that anyone has breathed new life into federal prosecutor John Durham, to whom Holder gave the mandate for further “preliminary investigation.” What is generally forgotten is that it was former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who picked Durham two years ago to investigate CIA’s destruction of 91 tapes of the interrogation of “high-value detainees.”
Durham had scarcely been heard from when Holder added to Durham’s job-jar the task of conducting a preliminary investigation regarding the CIA torture specialists. These are the ones whose zeal led them to go beyond the already highly permissive Department of Justice guidelines for “harsh interrogation.”
Durham, clearly, is proceeding with all deliberate speed (emphasis on “deliberate”). Someone has even suggested-I trust, in jest-that he has been diverted to the search for the money and other assets that Bernie Maddow stashed away.
In any case, do not hold your breath for findings from Durham anytime soon. Holder appears in no hurry. And President Obama keeps giving off signals that he is afraid of getting crosswise with the CIA-that’s right, afraid.
Not Just Paranoia
In that fear, President Obama stands in the tradition of a dozen American presidents. Harry Truman and John Kennedy were the only ones to take on the CIA directly. Worst of all, evidence continues to build that the CIA was responsible, at least in part, for the assassination of President Kennedy. Evidence new to me came in response to things I included in my article of Dec. 22, “Break the CIA in Two.”
What follows can be considered a sequel that is based on the kind of documentary evidence after which intelligence analysts positively lust.
Unfortunately for the CIA operatives who were involved in the past activities outlined below, the temptation to ask Panetta to put a SECRET stamp on the documentary evidence will not work. Nothing short of torching the Truman Library might conceivably help. But even that would be a largely feckless “covert action,” copy machines having long since done their thing.
In my article of Dec. 22, I referred to Harry Truman’s op-ed of exactly 46 years before, titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence,” in which the former President expressed dismay at what the Central Intelligence Agency had become just 16 years after he and Congress created it.
The Washington Post published the op-ed on December 22, 1963 in its early edition, but immediately excised it from later editions. Other media ignored it. The long hand of the CIA?
Truman wrote that he was “disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment” to keep the President promptly and fully informed and had become “an operational and at times policy-making arm of the government.”
The Truman Papers
Documents in the Truman Library show that nine days after Kennedy was assassinated, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say in the op-ed. He noted, among other things, that the CIA had worked as he intended only “when I had control.”
In Truman’s view, misuse of the CIA began in February 1953, when his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, named Allen Dulles CIA Director. Dulles’ forte was overthrowing governments (in current parlance, “regime change”), and he was quite good at it. With coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) under his belt, Dulles was riding high in the late Fifties and moved Cuba to the top of his to-do list.
Accustomed to the carte blanche given him by Eisenhower, Dulles was offended when young President Kennedy came on the scene and had the temerity to ask questions about the Bay of Pigs adventure, which had been set in motion under Eisenhower. When Kennedy made it clear he would NOT approve the use of U.S. combat forces, Dulles reacted with disdain and set out to mousetrap the new President.
Coffee-stained notes handwritten by Allen Dulles were discovered after his death and reported by historian Lucien S. Vandenbroucke. They show how Dulles drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the use of U.S. combat forces. In his notes Dulles explains that, “when the chips were down,” the new President would be forced by “the realities of the situation” to give whatever military support was necessary “rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”
Additional detail came from a March 2001 conference on the Bay of Pigs, which included CIA operatives, retired military commanders, scholars, and journalists. Daniel Schorr told National Public Radio that he had gained one new perception as a result of the “many hours of talk and heaps of declassified secret documents:”
“It was that the CIA overlords of the invasion, Director Allen Dulles and Deputy Richard Bissell had their own plan on how to bring the United States into the conflict…What they expected was that the invaders would establish a beachhead…and appeal for aid from the United States…
“The assumption was that President Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct American involvement, would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots. American forces, probably Marines, would come in to expand the beachhead.
“In fact, President Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion collapsed,” added Schorr.
The “enterprise” which Dulles said could not fail was, of course, the overthrow of Fidel Castro. After mounting several failed operations to assassinate him, this time Dulles meant to get his man, with little or no attention to what the Russians might do in reaction. Kennedy stuck to his guns, so to speak; fired Dulles and his co-conspirators a few months after the abortive invasion in April 1961; and told a friend that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.”
The outrage was mutual, and when Kennedy himself was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it must have occurred to Truman that the disgraced Dulles and his outraged associates might not be above conspiring to get rid of a President they felt was soft on Communism-and, incidentally, get even.
In his op-ed of December 22, 1963 Truman warned: “The most important thing…was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions.” It is a safe bet that Truman had the Bay of Pigs fiasco uppermost in mind.
Truman called outright for CIA’s operational duties [to] be terminated or properly used elsewhere.” (This is as good a recommendation now as it was then, in my view.)
On December 27, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman had appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter applauding Truman’s outspokenness and blaming Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than I tried to set up for you.” Souers specifically lambasted the attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ invading Cuba with a handful of men and without air cover.”
Souers also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into causing “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” and added:
With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”
Clearly, CIA’s operational tail was wagging the substantive dog-a serious problem that persists to this day. For example, CIA analysts are super-busy supporting operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan; no one seems to have told them that they need to hazard a guess as to where this is all leading and whether it makes any sense.
That is traditionally done in a National Intelligence Estimate. Can you believe there at this late date there is still no such Estimate? Instead, the President has chosen to rely on he advice of Gen. David Petraeus, who many believe will be Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential election.
Fox Guarding Henhouse?
In any case, the well-connected Dulles got himself appointed to the Warren Commission and took the lead in shaping the investigation of JFK’s assassination. Documents in the Truman Library show that he then mounted a targeted domestic covert action of his own to neutralize any future airing of Truman’s and Souers’ warnings about covert action.
So important was this to Dulles that he invented a pretext to get himself invited to visit Truman in Independence, Missouri. On the afternoon of April 17, 1964 he spent a half-hour trying to get the former President to retract what he had said in his op-ed. No dice, said Truman.
No problem, thought Dulles. Four days later, in a formal memo for his old buddy Lawrence Houston, CIA General Counsel from 1947 to 1973, Dulles fabricated a private retraction, claiming that Truman told him the Washington Post article was “all wrong,” and that Truman “seemed quite astounded at it.”
No doubt Dulles thought it might be handy to have such a memo in CIA files, just in case.
A fabricated retraction? It certainly seems so, because Truman did not change his tune. Far from it. In a June 10, 1964 letter to the managing editor of Look magazine, for example, Truman restated his critique of covert action, emphasizing that he never intended the CIA to get involved in “strange activities.”
Dulles and Dallas
Dulles could hardly have expected to get Truman to recant publicly. So why was it so important for Dulles to place in CIA files a fabricated retraction. My guess is that in early 1964 he was feeling a good bit of heat from those suggesting the CIA might have been involved somehow in the Kennedy assassination. Indeed, one or two not-yet-intimidated columnists were daring to ask how the truth could ever come out with Allen Dulles on the Warren Commission. Prescient.
Dulles feared, rightly, that Truman’s limited-edition op-ed might yet get some ink, and perhaps even airtime, and raise serious questions about covert action. Dulles would have wanted to be in position to flash the Truman “retraction,” with the hope that this would nip any serious questioning in the bud. The media had already shown how co-opted-er, I mean “cooperative”-it could be.
As the de facto head of the Warren Commission, Dulles was perfectly positioned to exculpate himself and any of his associates, were any commissioners or investigators-or journalists-tempted to question whether the killing in Dallas might have been a CIA covert action.
Did Allen Dulles and other “cloak-and-dagger” CIA operatives have a hand in killing President Kennedy and then covering it up? The most up-to-date-and, in my view, the best-dissection of the assassination appeared last year in James Douglass’ book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. After updating and arraying the abundant evidence, and conducting still more interviews, Douglass concludes the answer is Yes.
This article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.
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).
Publish and Be Damned, Mr Cheney April 21, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture, Uncategorized.
Tags: bush interrogation, Dick Cheney, general myers, geneva conventions, interrogation logs, michael hayden, Osama bin laden, philippe sands, roger hollander, torture, torture memos, War Crimes, waterboarding, waterboarding videos
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Published on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by The Guardian/UK
Dick Cheney wants classified material released to show that torture ‘worked’. Let’s see it all – waterboarding videos included
Dear Mr Cheney,
Last night, you appeared on Fox News’ Hannity show, calling for an “honest debate” on the benefits of the Bush Administration’s “bold” interrogation programme. You seem unhappy with last week’s publication of four new legal memos authorising torture, so you referred to reports that have not yet been declassified “that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity”. You told Hannity:
“I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country.”
Of course, you have a terrific track record on the intelligence material that you have seen and read. I recall that, back in August 2002, you told a Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
Now, you seem keen that we should be able to see the reports you read showing all the benefits of interrogations to be made public. But why stop there? Let’s have those reports. Let’s also have the interrogation logs. Let’s have the videos and audio tapes of the actual interrogations, assuming they haven’t all been destroyed (in the meantime, you may want to take a quick peek at this, Christopher Hitchens writing in Vanity Fair, to see what waterboarding actually looks like in practice, and its effects on one of our more robust journalists. Why not call for the declassification of the waterboarding videos, so we can see for ourselves what information was gleaned in the moments and hours and days after the waterboarding was carried out?
I hope you’ll excuse me if I am a tad sceptical. I recall, for example, that when I testified before the House Judiciary Committee last summer, Congressman Trent Franks reported that waterboarding was used on only three men and that, in each case, it had lasted no more than one minute. That gave a grand total of three minutes of waterboarding. What’s all the fuss about, Congressman Franks seemed to be saying. It seems that the source on whom he relied – Michael Hayden, who happened to be the former head of the CIA – wasn’t entirely accurate. This week’s news reports that two of those men were waterboarded on no less than 266 occasions.
And, more to the point, as I report in my book Torture Team, I made some inquiries about your administration’s claim that the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantánamo back in the autumn of 2002 had produced a great deal of useful material. It turns out that it didn’t. I met with the head of al-Qahtani’s exploitation team. Had the new interrogation techniques produced anything useful, I asked him? He chose his words with care.
“There was a lot of data of interest”, he said. “It was contextual in nature, confirming in nature. Did it help us catch Osama bin Laden? No.”
I took that as a no, confirmation that there was little to back up the usual, bullish overstatements made by your administration back in June 2004 to justify the move to abuse.
So, I’m somewhat sceptical about your claim. Perhaps waterboarding and the other techniques of torture you approved did produce information. On the basis of my conversations with seasoned interrogators, I doubt, however, that it was reliable or particularly useful.
And even if it was, that would not justify the move to torture. As you well know, such acts are never justified in law, under US law or international law. The move to torture has heaped shame on the United States, exposing its servicemen and women and intelligence officers to even greater dangers around world. It has emboldened those who seek to do us harm, serving as the primary tool of recruitment across the globe.
As you speak to the wonders of waterboarding, I wonder whether you have ever reflected on the consequences of your words and actions for others. If waterboarding isn’t torture (or even cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) when you decide to use on it others, then why should other nations not resort to its use, even against Americans who may be detained overseas, at some point in the future. I once had a chance to put that question to General Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, until 2005, in respect of a raft of lesser techniques.
“Are you comfortable with all of these techniques being used on American personnel?”, I asked him.
“Not in this memo,” he replied without pause.
He is right and, with respect, you are wrong. The acts you authorised constitute torture, with all the consequences of criminality that follows. Bring on that honest debate, I say. Put your money where your mouth is. Call for all the evidence – all of it – to be put before the US Congress or an independent investigation.
CIA Waterboarded al-Qaida Suspects 266 Times April 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: abu zubayday, cia interrogation, geneva conventions, jay bybee, john rizzo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, marcy wheeler, matthew weaver, michael hayden, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, torture, torture memos, War Crimes, waterboarding
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Published on Monday, April 20, 2009 by The Guardian/UK
Torture technique outlawed by Obama was used extensively on 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and alleged terror commander Abu Zubaydah
The CIA waterboarded two al-Qaida terror suspects a total of 266 times, according to a report that suggests the use of the torture technique was much more extensive than previously thought.
The documents showed waterboarding was used 183 times on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who admitted planning the 9/11 attacks, the New York Times reported today.
The US Justice Department memos released last Thursday showed that waterboarding, which the US now admits is torture, was used 83 times on the alleged al-Qaida senior commander Abu Zubaydah, the paper said. A former CIA officer claimed in 2007 that Zubaydah was subjected to the simulated drowning technique for only 35 seconds.
The numbers were removed from most of the memos over the weekend. But bloggers, including Marcy Wheeler from empytwheel, discovered that the figure had not been blanked out from one of the memos.
Barack Obama has banned waterboarding and overturned a Bush administration policy that it did not amount to torture.
The president did not intend to prosecute Bush administration officials who devised the policies that led to such interrogations, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said yesterday.
Asked on Sunday about the fate of those officials, Emanuel told ABC’s This Week programme that Obama believed they “should not be prosecuted either and that’s not the place that we go”.
Michael Hayden, who led the CIA under Bush, said the public release of the memos would make it harder to get useful information from suspected terrorists being detained by the US.
“I think that teaching our enemies our outer limits, by taking techniques off the table, we have made it more difficult in a whole host of circumstances I can imagine, more difficult for CIA officers to defend the nation,” Hayden said on Fox News Sunday.
He disputed an article in the New York Times on Saturday that said Zubaydah had revealed nothing new after being waterboarded, saying that he believed that after unspecified “techniques” were used Zubaydah revealed information that led to the capture of another terrorist suspect, Ramzi Binalshibh.
One of the released memos was a 2002 justice department briefing memo written by assistant attorney general Jay Bybee and sent to John Rizzo, the acting general counsel for the CIA, spelling out in detail how waterboarding should be practised. It specifically refers to the interrogation of Zubaydah using the water technique.
“In this procedure,” Bybee said, “the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and the mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds … this causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual’s blood.
“This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased efforts to breath. This effect plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic’, ie the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs.”
After the 20 to 40 seconds, the cloth is lifted and the individual is allowed three or four full breaths before the procedure is repeated.
The memo went on to say that “we also understand that a medical expert will be present throughout this phase and the procedure will be stopped if deemed medically necessary to prevent severe mental or physical harm to Zubaydah”.
A footnote to another 2005 justice department memo released last week said waterboarding was used both more frequently and with a greater volume of water than the CIA rules permitted.
The Differing Views of the ‘Rule of Law’ in Spain and the US April 14, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: Alberto Gonzales, baltasar garzon, CIA torture, constitution, Criminal Justice, david addington, Diane Feinstein, doj, douglas feith, eric holder, geneva conventions, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, jay bybee, jay rockerfeller, jim white, john brennan, john yoo, justice department, leon panetta, michael hayden, michael isikof, Obama, olc torture memos, rachel maddow, roger hollander, scott horton, spanish justice, stephen kappes, torture, torture memos, war criminals, william haynes
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Published on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 by Salon.com
Scott Horton reports this morning that, in Spain, “prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates [John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Doug Feith and William Haynes] over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo.” Spain not only has the right under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture to prosecute foreign officials for torturing its citizens, but it — like the U.S. — has the affirmative obligation to do so. (Indeed, the Bush administration itself insisted just last year that the U.S. the right to criminally prosecute foreign officials for ordering acts of torture even in the absence of an accusation that any of the victims were American).
As Hilzoy argues, however, the primary obligation for these prosecutions lies with the country whose officials authorized the war crimes — the United States:
It is a requirement of law, the law that the Constitution requires Obama, as President, to faithfully execute. He should not outsource his Constitutional obligations to Spain.
That the U.S. has the legal obligation under the U.S. Constitution, our own laws and international treaties to commence criminal investigations is simply undeniable. That is just a fact. Yet it’s hard to overstate how far away we are from fulfilling our legal obligations to impose accountability on our own torturers and war criminals.
The barriers to these prosecutions are numerous, but one of the principal obstacles is that CIA Director Leon Panetta has been emphatically demanding that there be no investigations of any government officials whose conduct was declared legal by DOJ lawyers (i.e., the very individuals the Spanish are now investigating for war crimes). And it’s not surprising that Panetta has taken this position given that at least two of his top deputies at the CIA are among those implicated, to one degree or another, in the torture regime, as John Sifton detailed earlier this month at The Daily Beast:
The New York Times reported that Leon Panetta, the current CIA director, has taken the position that “no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.” Yet a number of CIA officials implicated in the torture program not only remain at the highest levels of the agency, but are also advising Panetta. Panetta’s attempt to suppress the issue is making Bush’s policy into the Obama administration’s dirty laundry.
Take Stephen Kappes. At the time of the worst torture sessions outlined in the ICRC report, Kappes served as a senior official in the Directorate of Operations-the operational part of the CIA that oversees paramilitary operations as well as the high-value detention program. (The directorate of operations is now known as the National Clandestine Service.) Panetta has kept Kappes as deputy director of the CIA-the number two official in the agency.
And why is it that Stephen Kappes was made the number 2 officials at the CIA despite his being in a key CIA position during the implementation of America’s torture regime? Because the two most important Senate Democrats on intelligence matters – Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein — insisted that he be so empowered as a condition for their supporting Panetta’s nomination, after both of them first demanded that Kappes actually be made CIA Director. Here’s what Andrea Mitchell reported back in January:
NBC News has learned that Senate Democrats — including Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller, who are the incoming and outgoing Intelligence chairmen — have privately recommended a career CIA officer to head the agency.
Democratic sources indicate that both have recommended deputy CIA Director Steve Kappes, a veteran CIA intelligence officer who is widely credited with getting the Libyans to give up their nuclear program.
Just to give a sense for how our political class thinks about torture, here is what Mitchell appended to the end of her report: “One potential downside for Kappes: Like former counter-terror chief John Brennan, some critics says [sic] he had line authority over controversial decisions involving interrogation and detention.” So Kappes’ connection to the CIA’s torture program was a “potential downside” to his becoming CIA Director. A potential downside. Once Obama chose Panetta rather than Kappes, Rockefeller and Feinstein agreed to support Panetta’s nomination only once they were given assurances that Kappes would become Panetta’s deputy.
This Thursday will be a very significant test for how much influence the anti-accountability camp exerts within the Obama administration and for how serious Obama’s pledges of transparency were, as that day is the latest deadline for the Obama DOJ either to release the three key OLC torture-authorizing memos, release them in heavily redacted form, or refuse to release them at all. It has been widely reported that a “war” has broken out within the Obama administration over their release, with key Bush-era intelligence officials — such as Obama’s top counter-terrorism aide John Brennan and ex-CIA Director Michael Hayden — demanding the ongoing concealment of the memos. Those torture memos are reputed to be among the most vivid torture documents of the Bush era, and thus will almost certainly fuel the flames of investigations and prosecution — both here and internationally. That is what has prompted the “war” over their disclosure. It’s hardly a surprise that if you empower the very people most connected to the Bush CIA, there will be substantial forces blocking any attempt to bring accountability under the rule of law for the crimes that were committed.
Just think about what all this means: not only are we failing to investigate or indict those who authorized torture, but we haven’t even reached the point yet where we’ve decided that these crimes are bad enough that those implicated ought to be barred from serving in the highest positions in our Government. While Spain proceeds to fulfill the Obama administration’s duties to investigate and prosecute our war criminals, some of those most implicated remain in positions of high authority within our own intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies — thanks to Senate Democrats such as Feinstein and Rockefeller.
Our political class has simply never come to terms with how severe are these war crimes and how acquiescent to and outright supportive so many officials from both parties — and so many of our media stars — were. That’s why huge numbers, arguably majorities, of Americans want criminal investigations to commence, but our political class remains virtually unified against them — notwithstanding that they are legally required — because, as has been conclusively proven over and over, the last thing our political and media elites care about is the “rule of law.” That will become more apparent as other countries, such as Spain, demonstrate that they actually take things like that seriously.
* * * * *
On a related note, Rachel Maddow last night potently eviscerated Barack Obama for his attempts to deny Bagram detainees any rights of any kind, and she and Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff then discussed the significance of Thursday’s deadline for the release of the OLC torture memos:
UPDATE: In comments, Jim White highlights a fact from Horton’s story that I intended but neglected to mention: the Spanish “advised the Americans that they would suspend their investigation if at any point the United States were to undertake an investigation of its own into these matters.” As White points out, that is how war crimes investigations are intended to proceed under numerous treaty provisions by which the U.S. has bound itself: namely, the country whose officials commit the crimes have the primary obligation to investigate and hold the criminals accountable. But other treaty signatories are not only entitled, but required, to commence such proceedings if the violating country refuses or otherwise fails to do so.
Thus, the only way to object to what Spain is doing here is if one: (a) suffers from total ignorance of the basic provisions of Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture; (b) believes that the U.S. has no obligation to abide by its treaties even though the U.S. Constitution provides that such treaties are “the supreme law of the land”; and/or (c) believes that the U.S. need not abide by rules we impose on other countries, such as when we prosecuted other countries’ leaders for war crimes in the past. None of those is a particularly noble excuse.
Tags: aclu, Alberto Gonzales, arlen spector, Barack Obama, cass sunstein, cia, dawn johnsen, dawn johnsen nomination, dawn johnson, doj, eric holder, john yoo, judiciary committee, justice department, larry tribe, laurence tribe, michael hayden, obama lawyers, office legal counsel, office of legal counsel, olc, republican filibuster, roger hollander, scott horton, scott horton daily beast, supreme court, torture memoirs, torture memorandum, warrantless surveilance, warrantless wiretapping
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The GOP is threatening an ugly fight over an Obama Justice Department appointee who wants to disclose more Bush-era torture memos.
Until recently, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, often considered the “brains” of the department, has been known mostly to legal experts. But for the past eight years, it was the epicenter of allegations of political manipulation and, worse, the source of infamous memoranda on torture. In tapping Eric Holder as attorney general, President Obama has promised to restore standards of professionalism to the department. For Republicans, this is tantamount to a declaration of partisan war.
On March 19, the nomination of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to head the OLC was endorsed by the Judiciary Committee with every Republican voting against her and Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) abstaining. The nomination was to have been brought to the Senate floor for a vote on Monday and then again on Wednesday, but it has been held back. Republican leaders, it appears, are playing with the notion of making Johnsen the target of their first filibuster.
The highly credentialed Johnsen is an improbable target, and OLC was long viewed as an obscure post. But Johnsen served as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League. Antiabortion groups have targeted Johnsen over the last three weeks with a massive telephone, email, and letter-writing campaign, demanding that senators oppose her nomination. Johnsen is labeled a “radical, pro-abortion activist,” although her views on the abortion issue line up very closely with the mainstream. While the noise surrounding the Johnsen nomination appears on the surface to be about the abortion issue—over which her position at OLC would have very little influence—discussions with Republican stalwarts reveal that their main concerns lie elsewhere.
The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance, which would clip the wings of the imperial presidency. Even more menacingly (from their perspective), she is committed to shining a light on some of the darkest skeletons of the Bush years. Already, publication of OLC memoranda authorizing torture, approving warrantless surveillance, and pronouncing the First and Fourth Amendments a dead letter in connection with domestic military operations has rocked the public. More memos, potentially even more disturbing, I have learned, are about to be made public soon. Yet these are difficult issues on which to attack Johnsen, other than through vague suggestions that she is “weak on national security.” Hence the steady stream of accusations linked to her largely irrelevant views about abortion rights.
Will the Republicans attempt to filibuster the Johnsen nomination? The threat is sufficiently serious to have provoked the editors of the New York Times to editorialize in support of Johnsen on Thursday. Calling the operation of OLC in the Bush era “lawless,” the editors wrote, “Ms. Johnsen is superbly qualified and has fought for just the sort of change the office needs.”
The controversy surrounding Johnsen provides a flashpoint for President Obama’s nominees for administration legal posts. Unsurprisingly, they look an awful lot like Barack Obama—strong legal credentials, an academic bent, and liberal attitudes balanced by a strong commitment to political pragmatism.
Obama’s top picks start with a couple of well-known Washington names. Eric Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, was a career Justice Department attorney who spent his formative years as a prosecutor in the department’s Public Integrity Section (much-criticized for abuse under Bush). He spent time as a U.S. attorney, a judge, and ran the Justice Department for a while as deputy attorney general in the Clinton years. Obama’s White House counsel, Greg Craig, is a Washington fixture at the powerhouse Williams & Connolly law firm. The former foreign-policy aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy and State Department official has handled high-profile cases from Clinton’s impeachment defense to representing the father of Elian Gonzales. In the way of Washington, he is also has ties to powerful Republicans, including Karl Rove and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, whom he successfully represented in a sensitive FBI investigation into the leaking of classified data.
But delving deeper into the list, the names are less known for pragmatic politics and inside-the-Beltway experience than for pure intellectual firepower. Nearly a quarter of all Obama nominees have a Harvard degree. No fewer than 11 Harvard Law School faculty members drew appointments in the Obama team, including the dean, Elena Kagan, who was also deputy domestic-policy adviser to President Clinton. He also tapped Yale’s law-school dean, Harold Koh, widely thought to be a possible Supreme Court appointment, to serve as the principal lawyer at the State Department. Obama has mined the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Georgetown. All these schools are being forced to scramble as professors announce the cancellation of classes and prepare to depart for Washington.
A scan of the names involved makes clear that Obama is not looking for any particular ideological line—the candidates tapped range from centrist conservatives to traditional liberals. But he clearly is seeking individuals highly regarded by their peers who are on top of the issues for which they will have responsibility.
The trio of appointments Obama announced for the OLC underscores this point. In addition to Johnsen, Obama chose Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman as her two deputies. The three nominees have similar histories. Each served in the OLC in prior administrations before departing for academia. And over the last eight years, each spent a good deal of time and energy studying and criticizing the conduct of the OLC in the Bush years. Barron and Lederman co-authored a highly regarded two-part historical study of presidential powers, which demolished the underpinnings of the most significant OLC memoranda authored by John Yoo, including the famous torture memorandum. The three may well have been the Bush OLC’s most vocal critics, highlighting its departure from traditions and practices of earlier administrations. All three were also sharply critical of the Bush team’s devotion to secrecy in the formation of legal policy. It is therefore unsurprising that the Obama team has moved very quickly to publish the previously secret opinions that their Bush predecessors issued and to overturn those decisions. It would be hard to identify three lawyers more knowledgeable about the subject than Johnsen, Barron, and Lederman.
In the coming two weeks, their push for transparency will result in the publication of more Bush-era OLC memos, including the specific approvals granted for waterboarding, extended isolation, and other torture techniques—memos that the Bush administration has sought to keep secret. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and Obama adviser John Brennan are said to have “gone to the mat” to keep the opinions secret, but Obama sided with his designated OLC team and upheld the decision to declassify and publish them.
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars and Supreme Court advocates, and Obama’s former teacher, is often mentioned as an adviser in the background, a gray eminence, counseling Obama on appointments and policy choices. He is widely believed to covet an appointment to the Supreme Court, though, at 67 years old, he might be passed over for a younger person. While Tribe is a regular target of the right and closely connected to an array of liberal causes, those familiar with his role in the recent appointments process say that he has steadily advised Obama to avoid ideological confrontations and stressed pragmatism as an important quality for appointees.
Another legal academic said to figure in Obama’s inner circle is Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, who until recently was a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School. Sunstein has been appointed to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, while his wife Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, serves as chief on the National Security Council as head of international organizations. Sunstein is associated with the notion of judicial minimalism, arguing that decisions should be taken on the narrowest possible case-specific grounds so as to preserve a broader range of options in future cases. The executive orders that Obama issued in his first two days in office were widely seen as following Sunstein’s minimalist approach in confronting a range of national-security issues on which Obama has pledged changes.
Unlike Obama, a professor of law, George W. Bush was noted for a sharp disdain for lawyers. He liked to make disparaging jokes about attorneys in pinstripes and tasseled loafers. “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass,” he barked as the war on terror got under way, according to former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. Through the Bush administration, appointment to high-level legal positions was usually a reward for faithful service—as personified by Alberto Gonzales, who as counsel to the president and attorney general arguably held the two most powerful legal posts. Gonzales’ entire career, as a partner at the prestigious Houston firm of Vinson & Elkins, in Texas state government, and finally in Washington, was marked by service to a single client: George W. Bush.
The Bush administration’s overriding concern was for political loyalty. It demanded individuals who would unquestioningly implement the White House’s directives. The notion of independent professional judgment was derided as counterproductive at best and a cloak for liberal activism at worst. To that end, selecting the best and the brightest was not advisable. Where prior administrations looked for the top graduates from the nation’s elite law schools, the Bush team scoured schools not found in a list of the top-100 law schools (and sometimes not even ABA-accredited), but with strong ties to the religious right and the Republican Party. Justice Department officials openly asked job candidates whether they had worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign and contributed money and quickly rejected those whose offense was support for John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries. Membership in the movement’s conservative legal organization, the Federalist Society, was also a plus if not essential—in recently disclosed emails, former Bush-era U.S. attorney and Civil Rights Division Director Bradley Schlozman (whose case is now under review for the possible filing of criminal charges) called them “ideological comrades.” The result was a Justice Department filled with political hacks in appointed positions and a historically unprecedented level of politicization in its decision-making process.
The Obama nominees, presenting the sharpest possible contrast, have drawn sputtering fire from Republicans in Congress and have come under broad attack from religious-right leaders who previously had strong influence in Justice Department picks. Dawn Johnsen is an interesting test case. If the Republicans opt for a filibuster or move to line up a unanimous GOP vote in opposition, it will be a shot across the bow of the Obama Justice Department.
Scott Horton is a law professor and writer on legal and national-security affairs for Harper’s magazine and the American Lawyer, among other publications.
Coming Soon: Declassified Bush-Era Torture Memos March 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
Tags: aclu, al qaeda detainees, bush administration, CIA torture, Diane Feinstein, doj, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, freedom of information, interrogation techniques, justice department, mark hosenball, michael hayden, michale isikoff, roger hollander, torture, torture memos, truth commission, waterboarding
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Published on Sunday, March 22, 2009 by Newsweek
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify-and publicly release-three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against “high value” Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the memos were “ugly” and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a “truth commission” on torture.
Because of an executive order signed by President Obama on Jan. 22 banning such aggressive tactics, deputies to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. concluded there was no longer any reason to keep the interrogation memos classified. But current and former intel officials pushed back, arguing that any public release might still compromise “sources and methods.” According to the administration official, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden was “furious” about the prospect of disclosure and tried to intervene directly with Obama officials. But the White House has sided with Holder. Faced with a court deadline in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding the memos filed by the ACLU, Justice lawyers asked for a two-week extension “because the memoranda are being reviewed for possible release.” (White House, Justice and CIA spokesmen all declined to comment.)
The debate about torture ramped up again last week with an account in the New York Review of Books about a secret International Red Cross report that was delivered to the CIA in February 2007. The report, according to journalist Mark Danner, quotes detainees describing, often in gruesome detail, how they were locked in coffin-size boxes; swung by towels around their necks into plywood walls; and forced to stand naked for days while their arms were shackled above their heads.
“I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program,” Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report. But the CIA insisted that the report be treated as if it had higher than top-secret classification, precluding any public discussion of its contents. That’s why declassification of the memos is significant, administration officials say: it would remove, at long last, the veil of secrecy about how detainees in the war on terror were actually treated.
Red Cross Described ‘Torture’ at CIA Jails March 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice.
Tags: abu zubaida, al qaeda captives, Amnesty International, bin Laden, black site prisons, bush administration, cia dedtainees, cia detainees, cia interrogation, cia prisons, counterterrorism, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, human rights, internatinal red cross, International law, joby warrick, julie tate, michael hayden, peter finn, president obama, red cross, roger hollander, tawfiq bin attash, torture, waterboarding
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Published on Monday, March 16, 2009 by the Washington Post
During interrogations, the captives were routinely beaten, doused with cold water and slammed head-first into walls. Between sessions, they were stripped of clothing, bombarded with loud music, exposed to cold temperatures, and deprived of sleep and solid food for days on end. Some detainees described being forced to stand for days, with their arms shackled above them, wearing only diapers.
Secret Report Implies That U.S. Violated International Law
The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration’s treatment of al-Qaeda captives “constituted torture,” a finding that strongly implied that CIA interrogation methods violated international law, according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document.
The report, an account alleging physical and psychological brutality inside CIA “black site” prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
The findings were based on an investigation by ICRC officials, who were granted exclusive access to the CIA’s “high-value” detainees after they were transferred in 2006 to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 14 detainees, who had been kept in isolation in CIA prisons overseas, gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding, or simulating drowning.
At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by ICRC guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group’s strict policy of neutrality in conflicts. A copy of the report was obtained by Mark Danner, a journalism professor and author who published extensive excerpts in the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books, released yesterday. He did not say how he obtained the report.
“The ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture,” Danner quoted the report as saying.
Many of the details of alleged mistreatment at CIA prisons had been reported previously, but the ICRC report is the most authoritative account and the first to use the word “torture” in a legal context.
The CIA declined to comment. A U.S. official familiar with the report said, “It is important to bear in mind that the report lays out claims made by the terrorists themselves.”
Often using the detainee’s own words, the report offers a harrowing view of conditions at the secret prisons, where prisoners were told they were being taken “to the verge of death and back,” according to one excerpt. During interrogations, the captives were routinely beaten, doused with cold water and slammed head-first into walls. Between sessions, they were stripped of clothing, bombarded with loud music, exposed to cold temperatures, and deprived of sleep and solid food for days on end. Some detainees described being forced to stand for days, with their arms shackled above them, wearing only diapers.
“On a daily basis . . . a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room,” the report quotes detainee Tawfiq bin Attash, also known as Walid Muhammad bin Attash, as saying. Later, he said, he was wrapped in a plastic sheet while cold water was “poured onto my body with buckets.” He added: “I would be wrapped inside the sheet with cold water for several minutes. Then I would be taken for interrogation.”
ICRC officials did not dispute the authenticity of the excerpts, but a spokesman expressed dismay over the leak of the material. “We regret information attributed to the ICRC report was made public in this manner,” spokesman Bernard Barrett said.
“The ICRC has been visiting the detainees formerly held by the CIA,” he added, “at Guantanamo since 2006. Any concerns or observations the ICRC had when visiting the detainees are part of a confidential dialogue.”
President George W. Bush acknowledged the use of coercive interrogation tactics on senior al-Qaeda captives detained by the CIA in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but he insisted that the measures complied with U.S. and international law. Former CIA director Michael V. Hayden confirmed last year that the measures included the use of waterboarding on three captives before 2003.
President Obama outlawed such practices within hours of his inauguration in January. But Obama has expressed reluctance to conduct a legal inquiry into the CIA’s policies.
The report gives a graphic account of the treatment of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, a Saudi-born Palestinian who was the first alleged senior al-Qaeda operative seized after Sept. 11 — a characterization of his role that is disputed by his attorneys, who describe him as having a different philosophy of jihad than bin Laden.
Abu Zubaida was severely wounded during a shootout in March 2002 at a safe house he ran in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and survived thanks to CIA-arranged medical care, including multiple surgeries. After he recovered, Abu Zubaida describes being shackled to a chair at the feet and hands for two to three weeks in a cold room with “loud, shouting type music” blaring constantly, according to the ICRC report. He said that he was questioned two to three hours a day and that water was sprayed in his face if he fell asleep.
At some point — the timing is unclear from the New York Review of Books report — Abu Zubaida’s treatment became harsher. In July 2002, administration lawyers approved more aggressive techniques.
Abu Zubaida said interrogators wrapped a towel around his neck and slammed him into a plywood wall mounted in his cell. He was also repeatedly slapped in the face, he said. After the beatings, he was placed in coffinlike wooden boxes in which he was forced to crouch, with no light and a restricted air supply, he said.
“The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in my leg and stomach became very painful,” he told the ICRC.
After he was removed from a small box, he said, he was strapped to what looked like a hospital bed and waterboarded. “A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe,” Abu Zubaida said.
After breaks to allow him to recover, the waterboarding continued.
“I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless,” he said. “I though I was going to die.”
In a federal court filing, Abu Zubaida’s attorneys said he “has suffered approximately 175 seizures that appear to be directly related to his extensive torture — particularly damage to Petitioner’s head that was the result of beatings sustained at the hands of CIA interrogators and exacerbated by his lengthy isolation.”
Danner said the organization’s use of the word “torture” has important legal implications.
“It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and degrading,’ ” Danner said in a telephone interview. “The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law.”
He discounted the possibility that the detainees fabricated or embellished their stories, noting that the accounts overlap “in minute detail,” even though the detainees were kept in isolation at different locations.
Human rights groups echoed his assessment.
“These reports are from an impeccable source,” said Geneve Mantri, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International. “It’s clear that senior officials were warned from the very beginning that the treatment that detainees were subjected to amounted to torture. This story goes even further and deeper than many us of suspected. The more details we find out, the more shocking this becomes.”
Tags: binyam mohamed, british government, british intelligence, british national security, cia, dahlia lithwick, dana milbank, David Miliband, department of defense, dod, dominic grieve, foreign office, geneva conventions, geneva standards, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, house of commons, International law, jacqui smith, journalism, journalistic ethics, m15, media complicity, media ethics, micael mcconnell, michael hayden, president obama, roger hollander, state secrets privilege, tom friedman, torture, us media, War Crimes
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(updated below – Update II)
Binyam Mohamed is the British resident who, two weeks ago, was released from Guantanamo and returned to Britain after seven years of detention, often in brutal conditions. Since his return, compelling evidence has been steadily emerging that British agents were knowingly complicit in Mohamed’s torture while in U.S. custody — including the discovery of telegrams sent by British intelligence officers to the CIA asking the CIA to extract information from him. How does a country with a minimally healthy political class and a pretense to the rule of law react to such allegations of criminality? From the BBC:
MPs have demanded a judicial inquiry into a Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s claims that MI5 was complicit in his torture. . . .
[Mohamed's] allegations are being investigated by the government, but the Foreign Office said it did not condone torture.
Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the “extremely serious” claims should also be referred to the police. . . .
Daniel Sandford, BBC Home Affairs correspondent, said Mr Mohamed’s claims would be relatively simple to substantiate.
“As time progresses it will probably become quite apparent whether indeed these are true telegrams and I think it’s unlikely they’d be put into the public domain if they couldn’t eventually be checked back.”
The Conservatives have called for a police inquiry into his allegations of British collusion.
Mr Grieve called for a judicial inquiry into the allegations.
“And if the evidence is sufficient to bring a prosecution then the police ought to investigate it,” he added.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said there was a “rock solid” case for an independent judicial inquiry. . . .
Shami Chakrabati, director of campaign group Liberty said: “These are more than allegations – these are pieces of a puzzle that are being put together.
“It makes an immediate criminal investigation absolutely inescapable.”
New revelations by Guantánamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, claiming that British intelligence played a central role in his torture and interrogation, must be answered by the government, the former shadow home secretary David Davis said last night. . . .
[Mohamed's] allegations appear to contradict assertions by foreign secretary David Miliband and home secretary Jacqui Smith that the British government would never “authorise or condone” torture.
Davis said Mohamed’s testimony demanded a response from these ministers. “His revelations show that the government’s claims about its involvement in the interrogation of Mohamed are completely untenable,” Davis said. “Either Miliband or Smith should come to the House of Commons and reveal exactly what the government knew.”
Last night other public figures said there should be wider efforts to look into the allegations that the British government had colluded in Mohamed’s torture.
Notice what is missing from these accounts. There is nobody arguing that the dreary past should simply be forgotten in order to focus on the important and challenging future. There’s no snide suggestion that demands to investigate serious allegations of criminality are driven by petty vengeance or partisan score-settling. Nobody suggests that it’s perfectly permissible for government officials to commit serious crimes — including war crimes — as long as they had nice motives or were told that it was OK to do these things by their underlings, or that the financial crisis (which Britain has, too) precludes any investigations, or that whether to torture is a mere ”policy dispute.” Also missing is any claim that these crimes are State Secrets that must be kept concealed in order to protect British national security.
Instead, the tacit premise of the discussion is that credible allegations of criminality — even if committed by high government officials, perhaps especially then — compel serious criminal investigations. Imagine that. How shrill and radical.
If one stays immersed in American domestic political debates, it’s easy to lose sight of just how corrupted and rotted our political and media class is, because the most twisted ideas become enshrined as elite orthodoxies. Britain is hardly the paragon of transparency and adherence to international conventions; to the contrary, they’ve been with the U.S. every step of the way over the last eight years, enabling and partaking in many of the worst abuses. Yet this one single case of documented complicity in torture — mere complicity with, not actual commission of, the torture — is generating extreme political controversy and widespread demands across the political spectrum for judicial and criminal investigations. The British political class may not have wanted to see it, but when compelling evidence of criminality is rubbed in their faces, they at least pay lip service to the idea that crimes by government officials must be investigated and subjected to accountability.
By stark and depressing contrast, America’s political class and even most of its “journalists” — in the face of far, far greater, more heinous and more direct war criminality by their highest political leaders — are explicitly demanding that nothing be done and that it all be kept concealed. They’re surveying undeniable evidence of grotesque war crimes committed over many years by our government — including enabling legal theories that even Fred Hiatt described as “scary,” “lawless” and “disgraceful” — and are literally saying: ”just forget about that; it doesn’t matter.” Our country is plagued by “journalists” like The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, giggling with smug derision over the very few efforts to investigate these massive crimes — and then even lying on NPR by claiming that support for investigations is confined to “a small but very vocal minority within the Party – these are the same folks who were pushing for the impeachment of the President and the Vice President right up [dismissive chuckling] basically to the time of the Inauguration” (to see how flagrantly false is Milbank’s statement about support within the Party for investigations, see here and here and here; the NPR host, needless to say, said nothing to correct him).
The accountability-free, self-loving mentality that demands that nothing be done about America’s war crimes over the last eight years is hardly confined to America’s detention, surveillance and interrogation policies. This is exactly the same bloated, insular corruption that allows multi-billion-dollar insider frauds like this one not only to go unexamined but also to result in those responsible being further empowered with high government positions. It’s what lets someone like Tom Friedman think he can lecture us all with a straight face on the evils of overconsumption, the ravaging effects of our “growth model,” and the environment-destroying impact of consumerism as he lives in this house, financed by his heiress-wife’s shopping-center-developing company, his books urging unfettered globalization, and his columns urging various wars.
In sum, we have the only country, and the only results, that it’s possible to have given who has been wielding influence. And nothing expresses more vividly what they are than their explicit insistence that systematic war crimes committed by their own Government be immunized and forgotten, underscored by their bizarre feelings of “centrism”-smugness and Seriousness-superiority for expressing that definitively lawless and amoral view.
* * * * *
One other point about Mohamed: Last month, the Obama DOD claimed that it conducted an investigation and concluded that Guantanamo now fully comports with all Geneva standards. In a New York Times interview yesterday, President Obama claimed (for the first time, to my knowledge) that most of the problems with Bush’s detention policies were confined to what he called ”the steps that were taken immediately after 9/11,” and that most of those problems were fixed by CIA Director Michael Hayden and DNI Michael McConnell “by the time [Obama] took office” because Hayden and McConnell “were mindful of American values and ideals.”
Compare all of that to Binyam Mohamed’s post-release statements — supported by other corroborating evidence — that “conditions at the US detention camp in Cuba have worsened since President Barack Obama was elected. . . . “‘Since the election it’s got harsher,’ Mohamed told the newspaper.” Isn’t this something that the U.S. Government should be called upon to address?
UPDATE: Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick reviews, and dismantles, each of the justifications being offered by the Obama administration for keeping Bush crimes concealed and shielding them from investigations and prosecutions (h/t Bystander). It’s quite concise and well worth reading in its entirety (as is Digby’s discussion of that article).
UPDATE II: In comments, Cocktailhag writes:
It is something of an upside down world wherein journalists, as a class, comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, and see nothing odd about this.
At times I’ve wondered whether Watergate would have even been discovered by the mindless media we have today, but even worse, whether they all would have just explained it away.
It’s difficult to select what one thinks is the single most illustrative symbol of how our country now functions, but if I were forced to do so, I would choose the fact that it is America’s journalists — who claim to be devoted to serving as a check on Government and exposing its secrets — who are, instead, leading the way in demanding that the Government’s actions of the last eight years be concealed; in trying to quash efforts to investigate and expose those actions; and in demanding immunity for government lawbreakers. What kind of country does one expect to have where (with some noble exceptions) it is journalists, of all people, who take the lead in concealing, protecting and justifying government wrongdoing, and whose overriding purpose is to serve, rather than check, political power? ”Upside down world,” indeed.