CIA Torture Whistleblower Sentenced to 30 Months January 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Torture.
Tags: Bush torture, CIA torture, jacob chamberlain, john kiriakou, obama administration, Ralph Nader, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, torture, waterboarding, whistleblower
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Sentencing exemplifies the ‘second McCarthy era’ against US whistleblowers by the Obama administration
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison on Friday for what critics of his prosecution are calling trumped-up charges by the Department of Justice for his exposure of the spy agency’s torture program established by the former Bush administration.
In a letter urging President Barack Obama to pardon the whistleblower, several high profile civil rights defenders including Ralph Nader and retired CIA officer Raymond McGovern stated:
[Kiriakou] is an anti-torture whistleblower who spoke out against torture because he believed it violated his oath to the Constitution. He never tortured anyone, yet he is the only individual to be prosecuted in relation to the torture program of the past decade. [...]
The interrogators who tortured prisoners, the officials who gave the orders, the attorneys who authored the torture memos, and the CIA officers who destroyed the interrogation tapes have not been held professionally accountable.
Please, Mr. President, do not allow your legacy to be one where only the whistleblower goes to prison.
“He [was] prosecuted not by the Bush administration but by Obama’s,” added Robert Shetterly, an artist and activist who pointed to the fact that President Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined, despite pledges during his first presidential campaign to protect whistleblowers.
“The CIA leadership was furious that I blew the whistle on torture and the Justice Department never stopped investigating me…” – John Kiriakou
Such protections, then Senator Obama said, were vital “to maintain integrity in government.”
In October, Kiriakou was charged by the DoJ for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) for releasing the name of an officer implicated in a CIA torture program to the media. Federal prosecutors had originally charged Kiriakou for violations against the Espionage Act—which held a sentence of up to 35 years—but a plea agreement saw those charges lessened.
Kiriakou was the first employee of the CIA to publicly acknowledge and describe details of the torture program that thrived under the Bush administration.
“There is a legal definition of whistleblower and I meet that legal definition,” Kiriakou told Firedoglake in an interview Thursday.
I was the first person to acknowledge that the CIA was using waterboarding against al Qaeda prisoners. I said in 2007 that I regarded waterboarding as torture and I also said that it was not the result of rogue CIA officers but that it was official US government policy. So, that’s whistleblowing. That’s the definition of whistleblowing. [...]
The CIA leadership was furious that I blew the whistle on torture and the Justice Department never stopped investigating me from December 2007…They found their opportunity and threw in a bunch of trumped up charges they knew they could bargain away and finally found something with which to prosecute me. [...]
I don’t think I am overstating this when I say I feel like we’re entering a second McCarthy era where the Justice Department uses the law as a fist or as a hammer not just to try and convict people but to ruin them personally and professionally because they don’t like where they stand on different issues… they can convict anybody of anything if they put their minds to it.
On the eve of the sentencing, Americans Who Tell the Truth and the Government Accountability Project unveiled a portrait of Kiriakou by Shetterly, the latest in the AWTT portrait series. Kiriakou was heralded for his opposition to “this country’s flagrant use of torture and its attempt to justify that use.”
Honoring a ‘Terror War’ Architect May 13, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Education, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: boston university, Condoleezza Rice, dan berrigan, drone missiles, edollhus towns, fordham, inquisition, jesuits, john brennan, ray mcgovern, rendition, roger hollander, steve almond, timothy cardinal dolan, torture, War Crimes
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Since even readers of the New York Times are aware of deputy national security adviser John Brennan’s open identification with torture, secret prisons and other abuses of national and international law, Fordham University’s invitation to him to give the commencement address on May 19 brought, well, shock and awe to many Fordham students, faculty and alumni.
It now turns out we didn’t know the half of it. Piling outrage upon indignity, Fordham announced this week that Brennan will enjoy pride of place among the “eight notables” on whom it will confer honorary degrees at commencement. The others receiving a Doctorate in Humane Letters, honoris causa, include Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), and Brooklyn congressman Edolphus Towns.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan Unlike his co-recipients, Brennan is widely known for his advocacy of kidnapping-for-torture (aka “extraordinary rendition”) and killing “militants” (including U.S. citizens) with “Hellfire” missiles fired by “Predator” and “Reaper” drone aircraft.
These practices and “Special Forces” operations guarantee an indefinite supply of anti-U.S. militants for what is now known as the “new normal” in the kind of wars that former Gen. and now CIA Director David Petraeus has said our grandchildren will still be fighting.
The endless supply of “insurgents” engendered by the violent tactics so beloved of Brennan makes Americans less secure. But there is no sign that Brennan recognizes that — or cares. Not that some of Brennan’s co-honorees are all that great, either.
Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is best known for his outspokenness on pelvic issues, his stalwart defense of the first nine months of life, and his deafening silence on the taking of life in war. Since by all evidence he is far more interested in birth control than death control, it is impossible to know where Dolan or his fellow bishops stand on the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He abjures any attempt to offer moral guidance on issues like war, preferring to defer — as the Fordham Jesuits do — to a good Jesuit-trained Catholic like Brennan to make decisions on such issues.
Edolphus Towns’s claim to distinction, in Fordham’s pre-commencement publicity, relates to his bringing “millions of dollars” to his district. Unmentioned is Towns’s membership in the Congressional Unmanned Systems (Drone) Caucus, which serves as a lobbying arm for drones — a new cash cow for the defense-industrial-congressional complex.
O Tempora, O Mores!
Since John Brennan has been accorded the dual honor of commencement speaker cum Doctorate of Humane Letters honoris causa, let’s try to piece together why Fordham’s Trustees decided to single him out for such glory. What, in other words, is the causa behind the honores? Why does George Orwell have a smirk on his face; and why are many past and present Jesuits holding their noses — Justice Jesuits like Rupert Mayer, Pedro Arupe, Dean Brackley and Dan Berrigan?
Could it be that Brennan is being honored for his role in serving up fraudulent intelligence to “justify” attacking Iraq in 2003? Or is it perhaps his open advocacy of kidnapping Muslim clerics off the streets of Milan (he calls it “extraordinary rendition”) and rendering them to “friendly” intelligence services more practiced at torture techniques than the CIA?
Is it the secret prisons he favored for “enhanced” interrogation techniques; or maybe his role in promoting illegal eavesdropping on Americans? Or could it be his stalwart defense of the intentional drone killing of American citizens without charge or judicial process? Or is it the aggregate set of abuses. And could intelligent Jesuits actually believe these approaches are okay because they are “keeping us safe?”
This would mean the teaching of moral theology at Fordham has changed markedly. Five decades ago, torture was very clearly put in the same category as slavery and rape — always “intrinsically evil” — no gray areas. I wonder where Fordham’s moral theologians now put remote-control drone killings of people on the hunch they are “militants.”
The causa of the honores could have a simpler explanation, one that risks damage to the mystique of Jesuit sophistication — no, not sophistry. Maybe the Fordham Jesuits and Trustees get their news from Fox. Perhaps their thought process was simply this: Brennan is a Fordham alumnus; he works in the White House; isn’t that enough?
This is hardly the first time a Jesuit university has succumbed to the “prestige virus” and given a proven scoundrel high honors at a commencement. There are, sad to say, numerous examples, but one comes immediately to mind.
It is George W. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who, according to ABC News, chaired White House deliberations in 2002 and 2003 at which CIA torture techniques were “almost choreographed” by the most senior national security officials. The objective was to determine which particular technique, or combination, might be most effectively applied to which “high-value detainee.”
Rice gave the commencement address at Boston College on May 22, 2006, and was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (yes, George Orwell, that is ironic.).
An onlooker would be permitted the reasonable inference that one causa of the honores must be the promoting of torture that Rice and Brennan held in common. Maybe an objective history of the Inquisition, and the Jesuit role in it, was not included in the books available at Jesuit seminaries.
Or, worse still, maybe it is the case that ingrained habits — like jesuitically justifying torture — can apply for renewal after several centuries. Habits die slowly. Has torture and killing of innocents now entered some sort of gray area in moral theology because a Jesuit-trained, White House functionary now says these things are necessary to “keep us safe?”
O Tempora, O Morons!
It remains to be seen whether what happened when the hapless Jesuits of Boston College invited Rice turns out to be a harbinger of what is in store at Fordham next Saturday. Ten days before the commencement at BC, Steve Almond, adjunct professor of English, resigned in protest. Here are excerpts from his letter to BC’s president, Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.:
“I am writing to resign … as a direct result of your decision to invite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation.
“Many members of the faculty and student body already have voiced their objection to the invitation, arguing that Rice’s actions as secretary of state are inconsistent with the broader humanistic values of the university and the Catholic and Jesuit traditions from which those values derive.
“But I am not writing this letter simply because of an objection to the war against Iraq. My concern is more fundamental. Simply put, Rice is a liar. She has lied to the American people knowingly, repeatedly, often extravagantly over the past five years, in an effort to justify a pathologically misguided foreign policy. …
“This is the woman to whom you will be bestowing an honorary degree, along with the privilege of addressing the graduating class of 2006. … Honestly, Father Leahy, what lessons do you expect her to impart to impressionable seniors? … that it is acceptable to lie to the American people for political gain? …
“I cannot, in good conscience, exhort my students to pursue truth and knowledge, then collect a paycheck from an institution that displays such flagrant disregard for both. I would like to apologize to my students and prospective students. I would also urge them to investigate the words and actions of Rice, and to exercise their own First Amendment rights at her speech.”
Professor Almond was hardly alone. About a third of Boston College’s faculty members signed a letter objecting to Rice’s appearance. And here is how the New York Times reported the commencement event:
“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered the commencement address on Monday at Boston College to an audience that included dozens of students and professors who stood, turned their backs and held up signs to protest the war in Iraq.
“A small plane flew overhead twice, pulling a sign that said, in red letters, ‘Your War Brings Dishonor.’ Outside Alumni Stadium, where 3,234 students received diplomas, protesters marched up Beacon Street holding signs reading ‘No Blood For Oil’ and ‘We’re Patriotic Too.’”
“Inside, however, Ms. Rice received a standing ovation when she was introduced, and she drew applause throughout her address.”
Daniel Berrigan, S.J.’s Sad Prophecy
In his autobiography, To Dwell in Peace, Daniel Berrigan wrote of “the fall of a great enterprise” — the Jesuit university. He recorded his “hunch” that the university would end up “among those structures whose moral decline and political servitude signalize a larger falling away of the culture itself.”
Berrigan lamented “highly placed” churchmen and their approval of war, “uttered … with sublime confidence, from on high, from highly placed friendships, and White House connections.”
“Thus compromised,” warned Berrigan, “the Christian tradition of nonviolence, as well as the secular boast of disinterested pursuit of truth — these are reduced to bombast, hauled out for formal occasions, believed by no one, practiced by no one.”
The good news is that, despite an out-of-touch president, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., and his trustees, there remain people of strong conscience at Fordham — people immunized against the “prestige virus” infecting what some have come to call the Vichy Jesuits. There are students and alumni with a good sense of history; people aware not only of the Inquisition, but also of more recent history in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, when the Catholic and Lutheran churches could not find their voice.
Many Fordham people know they cannot in good conscience remain silent on such matters; they know that what is at stake is the very soul of our country. Justice-oriented students are now finalizing plans for specific actions at commencement. A new Facebook page briefly outlining the planning to date has already drawn intense interest — negative as well as positive. It appears that many students abhor the unpleasantness inevitably attached to witnessing to the abuses in which the main commencement speaker has had such a key role.
In addition, many of the faculty are signing on to a letter to President McShane requesting a sit-down with Brennan before commencement. They want to ask him how he justifies his support for the kind of cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques (aka, torture) that are banned by domestic and international law.
Meanwhile, many supporters of justice-oriented students are also planning appropriate protest actions. One activity is “Stop the Drone Week at Fordham.”
It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that, as Saturday goes, so goes Fordham.
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).
Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us January 9, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War on Terror.
Tags: 9/11 commission, Abdulmutallab, al-balawi, anti-americanism, cia, civilian casualties, corporate media, counter terrorism, extremists, foreign policy, gaza, helen thomas, Homeland Security, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, israel, israel lobby, janet napolitano, john brennan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, lee hamilton, Media, michael scheuer, Middle East, muslim, Palestinians, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, suicide attack, suicide bomb, suicide bomber, terrorism, war on terror
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Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day.
After Obama briefly addressed L’Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote “must do better” on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about channeling “intelligence streams,” fixing “no-fly” lists, deploying “behavior detection officers,” and buying more body-imaging scanners.
Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.
She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.
Thomas: “Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”
Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”
Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”
Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”
Brennan: “I think this is a – long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”
Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”
Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how evil al Qaeda continues to pervert a religion and entice and exploit impressionable young men.
There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.
I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President limited himself to a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:
“It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”
But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to “justice and progress”?
Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do is “communicate clearly to Muslims” that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and its allies, that brings “misery and death”? Does any informed person not know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that for “misery and death”?
Rather than a failure to communicate, U.S. officials are trying to rewrite recent history, which seems to be much easier to accomplish with the Washington press corps and large segments of the American population than with the Muslim world.
But why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of motive?
Peeking Behind the Screen
We witnessed a similar phenomenon when the 9/11 Commission Report tiptoed into a cautious discussion of possible motives behind the 9/11 attacks. To their credit, the drafters of that report apparently went as far as their masters would allow, in gingerly introducing a major elephant into the room:
“America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” (p. 376)
When asked later about the flabby way that last sentence ended, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, explained that there had been a Donnybrook over whether that paragraph could be included at all.
The drafters also squeezed in the reason given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as to why he “masterminded” the attacks on 9/11:
“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed … from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”
Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney also has pointed to U.S. support for Israel as one of the “true sources of resentment”? This unique piece of honesty crept into his speech to the American Enterprise Institute on May 21, 2009.
Sure, he also trotted out the bromide that the terrorists hate “all the things that make us a force for good in the world.” But the Israel factor did slip into the speech, perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement of the Israeli albatross adorning the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Very few pundits and academicians are willing to allude to this reality, presumably out of fear for their future career prospects.
Former senior CIA officer Paul Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the few willing to refer, in his typically understated way, to “all the other things … including policies and practices that affect the likelihood that people … will be radicalized, and will try to act out the anger against us.” One has to fill in the blanks regarding what those “other things” are.
But no worries. Secretary Napolitano has a fix for this unmentionable conundrum. It’s called “counter-radicalization,” which she describes thusly:
“How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they’re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values and so forth … around the globe?”
Better communication. That’s the ticket.
Hypocrisy and Double Talk
But Napolitano doesn’t acknowledge the underlying problem, which is that many Muslims have watched Washington’s behavior closely for many years and view pious U.S. declarations about peace, justice, democracy and human rights as infuriating examples of hypocrisy and double talk.
So, Washington’s sanitized discussion about motives for terrorism seems more intended for the U.S. domestic audience than the Muslim world.
After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships; how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the U.S. military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how U.S. mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents.
The purpose of U.S. “public diplomacy” appears more designed to shield Americans from this unpleasant reality, offering instead feel-good palliatives about the beneficence of U.S. actions. Most American journalists and politicians go along with the charade out of fear that otherwise they would be accused of lacking patriotism or sympathizing with “the enemy.”
Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Salon.com’s Glen Greenwald, for example, has complained loudly about “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.,” and how it is taboo to point this out.
Greenwald recently called attention to a little-noticed Associated Press report on the possible motives of the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab. The report quoted his Yemeni friends to the effect that the he was “not overtly extremist.” But they noted that he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza. (Emphasis added)
Former CIA specialist on al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, has been still more outspoken on what he sees as Israel’s tying down the American Gulliver in the Middle East. Speaking Monday on C-SPAN, he complained bitterly that any debate on the issue of American support for Israel and its effects is normally squelched.
Scheuer added that the Israel Lobby had just succeeded in getting him removed from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for saying that Obama was “doing what I call the Tel Aviv Two-Step.”
More to the point, Scheuer asserted:
“For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn’t hurt us in the Muslim world … is to just defy reality.”
Beyond loss of work, those who speak out can expect ugly accusations. The Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which is considered the voice of the settler movement, weighed in strongly, branding Scheuer’s C-SPAN remarks “blatantly anti-Semitic.”
As for media squelching, I continue to be amazed at how otherwise informed folks express total surprise when I refer them to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s statement about his motivation for attacking the United States, as cited on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report. Here is the full sentence (shortened above):
“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”
One can understand how even those following such things closely can get confused. On Aug. 30, 2009, five years after the 9/11 Commission Report was released, readers of the neoconservative Washington Post were given a diametrically different view, based on what the Post called “an intelligence summary:”
“KSM’s limited and negative experience in the United States – which included a brief jail-stay because of unpaid bills – almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist … He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country.”
Apparently, the Post found this revisionist version politically more convenient, in that it obscured Mohammed’s other explanation implicating “U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” It’s much more comforting to view KSM as a disgruntled visitor who nursed his personal grievances into justification for mass murder.
An unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the U.S. identification with Israel’s policies appeared five years ago in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004. Contradicting President George W. Bush, the board stated:
“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.
“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”
Getting back to Abdulmutallab and his motive in trying to blow up the airliner, how was this individual without prior terrorist affiliations suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents?
If, as John Brennan seems to suggest, al Qaeda terrorists are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” how are they also able to jump-start a privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al Qaeda/Persian Gulf?
As indicated above, the young Nigerian seems to have had particular trouble with Israel’s wanton slaughter of more than a thousand civilians in Gaza a year ago, a brutal campaign that was defended in Washington as justifiable self-defense.
Moreover, it appears that Abdulmutallab is not the only anti-American “terrorist” so motivated. When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda announced that they were uniting into “al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula,” their combined rhetoric railed against the Israeli attack on Gaza.
And on Dec. 30, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian physician, killed seven American CIA operatives and one Jordanian intelligence officer near Khost, Afghanistan, when he detonated a suicide bomb.
Though most U.S. media stories treated al-Balawi as a fanatical double agent driven by irrational hatreds, other motivations could be gleaned by carefully reading articles about his personal history.
Al-Balawi’s mother told Agence France-Presse that her son had never been an “extremist.” Al-Balawi’s widow, Defne Bayrak, made a similar statement to Newsweek. In a New York Times article, al-Balawi’s brother was quoted as describing him as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor.”
So what led al-Balawi to take his own life in order to kill U.S. and Jordanian intelligence operatives?
Al-Balawi’s widow said her husband “started to change” after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His brother said al-Balawi “changed” during last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. (Emphasis added)
When al-Balawi volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza, he was arrested by Jordanian authorities, his brother said.
It was after that arrest that the Jordanian intelligence service apparently coerced or “recruited” al-Balawi to become a spy who would penetrate al Qaeda’s hierarchy and provide actionable intelligence to the CIA.
“If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you,” the brother said in explaining why al-Balawi would turn to suicide attack.
“My husband was anti-American; so am I,” his widow told Newsweek. Her two little girls would grow up fatherless, but she had no regrets.
Are we starting to get the picture of what the United States is up against in the Muslim world?
Does Helen Thomas deserve an adult answer to her question about motive? Has President Obama been able to assimilate all this?
Or is the U.S. political/media establishment incapable of confronting this reality and/or taking meaningful action to alleviate the underlying causes of the violence?
Is the reported reaction of a CIA official to al-Balawi’s attack the appropriate one: “Last week’s attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day.”
Revenge has not always turned out very well in the past.
Does anyone remember the brutal killing of four Blackwater contractors on March 31, 2004, when they took a bad turn and ended up in the wrong neighborhood of the Iraqi city of Fallujah – and how U.S. forces virtually leveled that large city in retribution after George W. Bush won his second term the following November?
If you read only the Fawning Corporate Media, you would blissfully think that the killing of the four Blackwater operatives was the work of fanatical animals who got – along with their neighbors – the reprisal they deserved. You wouldn’t know that the killings represented the second turn in that specific cycle of violence.
On March 22, 2004, Israeli forces assassinated the then-spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sheikh Yassin – a withering old man, blind and confined to a wheelchair. (Emphasis added)
That murder, plus sloppy navigation by the Blackwater men, set the stage for the next set of brutalities. The Blackwater operatives were killed by a group that described itself as the “Sheikh Yassin Revenge Brigade.”
Pamphlets and posters were all over the scene of the attack; one of the trucks that pulled around body parts of the mercenaries had a large poster photo of Yassin in its window, as did store fronts all over Fallujah.
We can wish Janet Napolitano luck with her “counter-radicalization” project and President Obama with his effort to “communicate clearly to Muslims,” but there will be no diminution in the endless cycles of violence unless legitimate grievances are addressed on all sides.
It would certainly also help if the American people were finally let in on the root causes for what otherwise gets portrayed as unprovoked savagery by Muslims.
This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.
Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA? December 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History.
Tags: roger hollander, torture, Cuba, history, cia, David Petraeus, eric holder, assassination, george tenet, michael mukasey, bay of pigs, cia interrogations, john kennedy, michael hayden, john durham, ray mcgovern, harry truman, leon paneta, porter goss, torture memoranda, eavesdropping, cia history, cuba invasion, kennedy assassination, truman library, truman papers, allen dulles, lucien vandenbroucke, warren commission, sidney souers, james douglass
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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).
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 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.
Anatomy of Bush’s Torture ‘Paradigm’ April 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, against all enemies, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, andrew card, anti-torture, carl levin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainee abuse, Dick Cheney, doj, donald rumsfeld, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, executive order, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tenet, habaes corpus, human rights, human rights violations, international red cross, iraq detaines, jack goldsmith, james schlesinger, John Ashcroft, John McCain, John Walker Lindh, john yoo, justice department, military commissions, office legal counsel, olc, prisoners of war, radack, ray mcgovern, ricardo sanchez, richard clarke, richard myers, roger hollander, senate armed services, special prosecutor, steven bradbury, suspected terrorists, Taliban, torture, torture memos, torture techniques, waterboarding, william j. haynes
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www.consortiumnewscom, April 14, 2009
The prose of the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on torture seems colorless. It is at the same time obscene — almost pornographic.
The 41-page ICRC report depicts scenes of prisoners forced to remain naked for long periods, sometimes in the presence of women, often with their hands shackled over their heads in “stress positions” as they are left to soil themselves.
The report’s images of sadism also include prisoners slammed against walls, locked in tiny boxes, and strapped to a bench and subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding.
How could it be that we Americans tolerate the kind of leaders who would subject others to systematic torture — yes, that’s what the official report of the international body charged with monitoring the Geneva agreements on the treatment of prisoners concludes — torture.
Over the past week I have been asked to explain how this could have happened; who authorized the torture in our name? The Red Cross report lacks the earmarks of rogues or “rotten apples” at the bottom of some barrel.
This is what I have been telling those who ask:
Rather than Harry Truman’s famous motto on his Oval Office desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” this was a case of “The Buck Starts Here.” President George W. Bush set the tone and created the framework, with strong support from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The first hints of what was in store came from the President himself in the White House bunker late on Sept. 11, 2001, at a meeting with his closest national security advisers after his TV address to the nation about the terrorist attacks that morning.
The vengeful bunker mentality prevailing at that meeting comes through clearly in the report of one of the participants, Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies. Describing the President as confident, determined, forceful, Clarke provides the following account of what President Bush said:
“We are at war.… Nothing else matters. … Any barriers in your way, they’re gone.”
When, later in the discussion, Secretary Rumsfeld noted that international law allowed the use of force only to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush nearly bit his head off.
“No,” the President yelled in the narrow conference room, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”
‘Taking the Gloves Off’
In the weeks that followed, the air in Washington hung heavy with demons of retribution. Afghanistan was invaded in October 2001, and during a prisoner uprising on Nov. 25, a CIA officer was killed there.
A young American citizen, John Walker Lindh, was discovered among the prisoners in the area. There was not the slightest evidence that Lindh had anything to do with the killing.
But documents show that U.S. Joint Special Operations troops were told that the office of the Defense Secretary’s counsel (William J. Haynes II, was Pentagon general counsel at the time) had authorized an Army intelligence officer “to take the gloves off and ask whatever he wanted” of Lindh.
Despite urgent intervention by Justice Department ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack, Lindh was not properly read his rights. Instead, the FBI agent on the scene ad-libbed in an offhand way, “You have the right to an attorney. But there are no attorneys here in Afghanistan.”
Lindh had been seriously wounded in the leg. Despite that, U.S. troops put a hood over him, stripped him naked, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, and threatened him with death.
Parts of his humiliating ordeal were captured on film (a practice that became tragically familiar with the photos of Abu Ghraib).
In her book, Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of John Walker Lindh, attorney Radack comments that official documents pertaining to this case provide “the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.”
(Because she protested, Radack was fired as Justice Department legal ethics advisor, put under criminal investigation, and even added to the “no-fly” list.)
End-Run Around Geneva
But the Bush administration was just getting started.
On Jan. 18, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the President that the Justice Department had issued a formal legal opinion concluding that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) does not apply with respect to al Qaeda.
Gonzales added that he understood that Bush had “decided that GPW does not apply and, accordingly, that al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are not prisoners of war under the GPW.”
On Jan. 19, 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told combat commanders that the President had “determined that al-Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defense are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the President to reconsider his decision and to conclude, instead, that the GPW does apply to both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Powell’s protest was couched in bureaucratic politeness, rather than in anger and outrage. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cowardice in the Time of Torture.”]
The next step took the form of the fateful memorandum of Jan. 25, 2002, signed by Alberto Gonzales but drafted by counsel to the Vice President David Addington. That memo outlined for the President “the ramifications of your decision and the Secretary’s [Powell’s] request for reconsideration.”
It described a “new paradigm” that, the writers claimed “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners, and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
Gonzales and Addington urged the President to disregard Powell’s misgivings and move ahead. But they cloaked their argument in lawyerly language that obscured what was to come.
The lawyers argued that it was “appropriate” and “consistent with military necessity” to waive Geneva regarding the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but they inserted assurances that the prisoners would be treated “humanely” and “in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
Brushing aside Powell’s objections, President Bush adopted the Gonzales/Addington language and signed a memorandum to that effect on Feb. 7, 2002. The memo went to Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
The memo amounted to an executive order, although it was not labeled as such. In it, the President alludes fulsomely to Justice Department opinions and recommendations, as well as “facts” supplied by the Defense Department.
Bush then takes clear responsibility for the decision to spurn Geneva: “I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”
The Feb. 7, 2002, memo bears the Orwellian title “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In it, Bush lifts verbatim the language from the Gonzales/Addington memo of Jan. 25, 2002, and makes it his own.
Bush claimed, for example, “the war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm [that] requires new thinking in the law of war.”
Bush then tries to square a circle, directing (twice in the two-page memo) that “detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
The smoking-gun memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, was released to the media, together with other documents, by Gonzales on June 22, 2004, but it did not receive the attention it deserved until recently.
On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released, without dissent, the summary of their committee’s report on the abuse of detainees.
The report’s first subhead was: Presidential Order Opens Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques, and the first words of the first sentence of the first paragraph were, “On Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating…”
Referring to the “President’s order,” the first paragraph adds that “the decision to replace well-established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees.”
“Conclusion Number One” of the Senate Armed Services Committee report states: “Following the President’s determination [of Feb. 7, 2002], techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
Once Bush had opened the door with his Feb. 7, 2002, memo, other actions followed to implement the President’s “new paradigm.”
White House lawyers worked with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel to develop constitutional theories about expansive presidential powers that effectively let Bush operate beyond the law.
The OLC traditionally is the office that tells presidents the limits of their constitutional authorities. However, in this case, Yoo collaborated with Gonzales, Addington and other White House lawyers in hammering out arguments that the administration could use to implement harsh interrogations of al Qaeda suspects.
On Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo and his OLC superior, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, issued an opinion that so narrowly defined “torture” that it cleared the way for a variety of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, which creates a near-drowning experience.
As the legal framework for Bush’s torture policies took shape, senior officers and lower-level participants in the interrogations understood that the basis for the newly permitted harsh tactics stemmed from a presidential decision.
In a report on Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger indicated that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq, instituted a “dozen interrogation methods beyond” the Army’s standard practice under the Geneva Convention.
Sanchez said he based his decision on “the President’s memorandum,” which he said allowed for “additional, tougher measures” against detainees, according to the Schlesinger report.
An FBI e-mail of May 22, 2004, from a senior FBI agent in Iraq stated that President Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
The FBI official sought guidance in confronting an unwelcome dilemma. He asked if FBI personnel in Iraq were required to report the U.S. military’s harsh interrogation of detainees when such treatment violated Bureau standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.
In sum, abundant evidence indicates that the torture techniques applied in the jail cells and interrogation chambers — the “alternative set of procedures” about which Bush boasted publicly on Sept. 6, 2006 — resulted directly from Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo and implementing actions by his administration.
Interrogators also were egged on by comments from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld regarding the “tough” treatments they favored.
One fig leaf left covering the otherwise exposed role of Bush and his top aides remains the clever inclusion of the word “humane” in the memo that made possible what the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned as “inhuman” treatment of terror suspects in U.S. custody.
There’s also the-Justice-Department-told-me-it-was-legal excuse, though the evidence is now clear that the Bush administration essentially stage-managed the Yoo-Bybee opinions.
For instance, when the Yoo-Bybee opinions were withdrawn by Bybee’s OLC successor, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, Addington and other administration officials successfully pressured Goldsmith to resign and then welcomed a new OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, who reinstated the key opinions in May 2005.
And – as the evidence built of illegal torture in 2006 – the Bush administration pushed the “Military Commissions Act” through the Republican-controlled Congress with phrasing that granted a degree of retroactive immunity.
The law states that “no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”
That provision was interpreted as a broad amnesty for U.S. officials, including President Bush and other senior executives who may have authorized torture, murder or other violations of human rights.
The law also granted Bush the authority “to interpret the meaning and the application of the Geneva Conventions.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Shame on Us All.”]
However, there remain legal questions about whether the law’s language would prevent prosecutions under pre-existing anti-torture laws.
The sudden appearance of the damning report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, initially given to the CIA’s acting general counsel on Feb. 14, 2007, greatly complicates any rotten-apples-at-the-bottom-of-the-barrel-type disingenuousness.
In a departure from the usual diplomatic parlance, the ICRC minces not a word in referring to those who authorized torture. In the report itself, the Red Cross calls on current U.S. authorities “to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, to prevent such abuses from happening again.”
What do you suppose is holding Attorney General Eric Holder back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate, with a view toward rubbing out, once and for all, this shameful stain on our collective conscience?
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years, he now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
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Cowardice in the Time of Torture April 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, Torture.
Tags: al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, bronx, bronxites, Colin Powell, cowadice, david addington, Dick Cheney, douglas feith, eric holder, geneva conventions, John Ashcroft, john yoo, legal torture, nation of cowards, president obama, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, rule of law, special prosecutor, Taliban, torture, torture memos, waterboarding
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Published on Sunday, April 5, 2009 by ConsortiumNews.com
I used to take a certain pride by association with prominent Bronxites who have “made it.” Cancel that for Attorney General Eric Holder and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
You might think that as African-Americans, they would be especially outraged by torture, given what blacks have suffered at the hands of white torturers in this country and abroad.
Why is it that they seem to value more their admittance into a privileged white-dominated ruling class than doing the right thing? How else to explain their stunning reluctance to hold torturers accountable and thus remove the stain of torture from our nation’s soul and reputation?
One might say that Attorney General Holder is proving himself to be part of that “nation of cowards” that he called the United States in a different context, i.e. our unwillingness to address the issue of race. What about when the victims of torture are Muslims? Where’s Holder’s courage then?
Surely, I was not the only one stunned by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s public admission that he helped authorize waterboarding of detainees. But, on reflection, there seems to have been a method to his madness; and, so far at least, the method seems to be working.
Have Holder and Colin Powell forgotten from their days growing up in the Bronx the typical reaction of bullies when caught in the act? “Okay, so waddaya gonna do ‘bout it!” It was an attempt at intimidation, and it was generally effective with those who felt not quite up to the challenge.
Looks very much as if Cheney sized up Holder correctly. During his confirmation hearings, Holder manfully agreed with Sen. Patrick Leahy that waterboarding, which subjects a person to the panicked gag reflex of drowning, is torture.
But Holder has been out to lunch since then, no doubt leaving Cheney and his torture-friendly friends smirking at having been correct in taking the measure of the new Attorney General. Call it chutzpah, intimidation, bullying – whatever; it does seem to be working.
Cheney endorsing waterboarding; Holder labeling it torture; and – Hello? Anyone home? Deafening silence.
Never mind that Holder, like President Barack Obama, took a solemn oath to faithfully execute the laws of the land. Why are they still afraid of Dick Cheney, whom even the neo-con editors of the Washington Post in 2005 branded “Vice President for Torture?”
Holder seems to be taking his cue from the pitiable Colin Powell, now traversing the country giving lucrative speeches on leadership. Powell knew he was welcome into the club, or in this case the White House, only as long as he toed the line and was willing to offer up what was left of his reputation to the Bush/Cheney war effort.
True, in one brief spurt of behind-the-scenes assertiveness, Powell insisted that arch-prevaricator (and former CIA director) George Tenet sit behind him during Powell’s unforgettable/unforgivable speech at the UN on Feb. 5, 2003.
Could he have been so unaware as to think this might somehow shame the shameless Tenet into coming clean with the intelligence?
No way; and he knew it. Powell had already confided to then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that the case against Iraq was what in the Bronx we call a “crock.”
I know Powell. In the early 1980s, when he wore but one star as military assistant to the Secretary of Defense – and I was a CIA intelligence briefer – I used to do him the courtesy of pre-briefing him, to the extent I could, on what I was about to discuss during my early-morning one-on-ones with his boss, Casper Weinberger. I found Powell to be anything but naïve.
He and I had a good bit in common – growing up at about the same time a mile from each other in the Bronx, “Distinguished Military Graduates” commissioned via Army R.O.T.C. – he from City College in 1958, I from Fordham in 1961.
Initially, I was blissfully unaware of the many times he had compromised himself – in doing Weinberger’s bidding on Iran-Contra, for example. And so in 1989, I took a certain pride by association when Powell made it to the very top as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
That pride dissipated quickly as I watched Powell bend to those who were bent on launching a war of aggression on Iraq. Republican elder statesman James Baker, who was secretary of state under George H.W. Bush, has referred to Powell as the one person who could have stopped that war. Baker is right.
Caving on Torture
More to the point, Colin Powell betrayed the U.S. Army and the nation on the issue of torture.
When he got a whiff of the tortured reasoning for torture – being urged on the President by the likes of Alberto Gonzales and David Addington to somehow make torture “legal” – Powell took the coward’s way out.
He had his lawyer get in touch with the Mafia-type lawyers in the White House to ask them please, could they please ask the President to reconsider his decision to exempt al-Qaeda and the Taliban from the protections of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
Powell’s gentle demurral appears in a MEMORANUM FOR THE PRESIDENT, dated Jan. 25, 2002, drafted by Addington but signed by Gonzales. They included Powell’s argument in a paragraph at the bottom of a list of “negative” consequences of ignoring Geneva:
“A determination that Geneva does not apply to al Qaeda and the Taliban could undermine U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat, and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries.”
Powell got that right. Too bad he did not have the courage of his convictions. Too bad he lacked the guts to confront the President directly. Too bad, for he is perhaps the one person who could have stopped the torture and the debasement of the Army to which he owed so much.
Rather than put into play the wide respect he still enjoyed, in order to stop a war he knew to be illegal, Powell decided to trade in that respect for the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.
As the Executive Summary of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture, released on Dec. 12, 2008, indicates, President Bush threw in his lot with the early opinions of Addington and Gonzales.
(What most folks don’t realize is that this was long before everyone’s favorite bête noire John Yoo and associates served up their ex post facto “justifications.”)
Incorporating Addington’s language, the President signed an executive order on Feb. 7 that, in the words of the Senate committee, “opened the door” to torture.
Powell not only acquiesced in this but also allowed himself to be sucked into a series of discussions in the White House Situation Room regarding which torture techniques might be most appropriate to apply to which “high-value” detainee.
Those are the sessions that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft referred to in commenting, “history will not be kind” to us.
What brings this painful flashback to mind is Rachel Maddow’s interview with Colin Powell on April 2. Not surprisingly, he danced around her questions about the White House seminars on torture. Most telling of all, however, Powell could not bring himself to admit, even now, that waterboarding is torture.
On April 3, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, the fabulous fabricator of the fabled Saddam-al-Qaeda connection, upped the ante in the “so-wattaya gonna-do-‘bout-it” challenge, and held up to ridicule the timidity of Holder and the President.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Feith pretended to be shocked at the temerity of a Spanish court that seems to be on the verge of bringing criminal charges against Feith, Gonzales, Addington, John Yoo, and two other lawyers who served up the desired opinions on how the White House could make an end-run around domestic and international law and approve the systematic torture of detainees.
Disregarding the provisions of international law that clearly do apply, Feith makes liberal use of reductio ad absurdum to “prove” that Spain has no jurisdiction to put Americans on trial for torture.
More important, Feith is so cocksure of himself that he throws down the gauntlet at the feet of the new administration: “If President Barack Obama and the prosecutors see a crime to be prosecuted, they can act.”
What, I wonder, gives Feith such confidence that he will not one day rue having said that? Has it been his watching of a long line of timid officials – both Republicans and Democrats – who lack the courage of their convictions?
Clearly, the Cheneys and Feiths of this world are betting on Obama being cut of the same cloth. The President will prove them right if it turns out that his oft-repeated “No one is above the law” proves to be just rhetoric.
And it will remain just rhetoric, if Obama delays much longer in ordering the reluctant Holder to appoint a nonpartisan, independent special prosecutor to bring the torturers to justice and end this shameful chapter in American history once and for all.