Hurrah for Mr. Levinson and his principled stand.
Now the thousands of other Lavabit E-mail users know to blame the NSA for screwing them over.
News and Opinion
Roger’s note: The Senate Committee’s torture report is about to be released, possibly tomorrow. Bush and the CIA already are waging a campaign to discredit it, so we can assume it will speak at least a degree of truth to the brutal Bush/Cheney torture regime. What we can also, unfortunately, assume is that those responsible for those legal and moral crimes against humanity, will not soon if ever be brought to justice.
If you click on this link immediately below, you will see the complete Interactive Infographic that identifies all the major criminals, beginning with then President Bush, and by clicking on each one you can read the part they played in this infamy. Please note that President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, both sworn to uphold the Constitution, are as well legally and morally complicit in these crimes for their failure to do their sworn duty, that is, to prosecute the criminals.
Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations. Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka. The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward. Your charges are sure to be dropped.
According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse
According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.
Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.
The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”
Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.
“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”
And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”
As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:
The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.
“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”
It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.
White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.
Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.
Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.
Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.
“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.
News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.
Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:
Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.
These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.
As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.
Days before Bradley – now Chelsea – Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq, the Obama Department of Justice filed a petition in federal court arguing that the perpetrators of those crimes - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al – enjoy “absolute immunity” against criminal charges or civil liability. The filing came in a suit brought by Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan, who alleges that the planning and waging of the Iraq war under false pretenses constituted a “crime of aggression” under a law used in the Nuremberg trials. With neither Congress nor Obama willing to hold Bush & Co. accountable for the Iraq catastrophe, supporters see the suit as a last-chance tactic to force the issue back into the public eye – an effort the Obama adminstration clearly opposes. More, all dispiriting, on the increasingly flawed Bush-Obama-lesser-of-two-evils thesis, and the current culture of impunity.
Offering the elusive explanation that he wanted to avoid “being complicit in crimes against the American people,” Lavabit founder Ladar Levison has suspended operations, evidently the first time a service provider has publicly closed down rather than cooperate with court-ordered government surveillance. In a statement on his site, Levison notes, “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot….the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise.” He also suggests he is preparing a legal fight, offers a link to a legal defense fund – “Defending the Constitution is expensive!” – and ends with a warning. More on the implications for other possible NSA targets here.
“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
Roger’s note: I want you to picture Bush and Cheney reading this letter. Notice the arrogance, the smugness, the disgusting grins as they dismiss these heartfelt letter with less concern than they would flicking an annoying fly of the table. They are impervious to moral criticism, they act with virtually complete impunity. It is frustrating, it is infuriating that so much power is in the hands of such reduced human beings. It is our present reality. They coined the phrase “axis of evil.” Ironic.
“How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” Bob Dylan
To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young
I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.
|To read Chris Hedges’ recent interview with Tomas Young, click here.|
I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.
I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
Please circulate this message widely among your friends and family.
Statement by Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq
Confronting the lies about the Iraq invasion
Ten years ago, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq. The history of how this invasion came about has been largely falsified by both the right-wing supporters of the invasion and the liberal commentators who opposed the war.
500,000 rally against looming war on Jan 18, 2003
The core argument of the professional liberal commentators and historians is that Bush hoodwinked the country and the general public, with the help of a supplicant media, by scaring people into thinking that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the Bush administration had to invade to defend America and its people.
The fallacious handwringing liberal position was typified in the recent 10th-anniversary account of the war by Micah Sifry, published by the National Memo.
“But 10 years ago, it was not a good time to be a war skeptic in America. It rarely is. The vast majority of ‘smart’ and ‘serious’ people had convinced themselves that in the face of Saddam Hussein’s alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, the prudent thing to do was to go to war to remove him from power,” writes Sifry.
This is a fanciful and false account.
The “country” was not hoodwinked. There was no general feeling that the U.S. must strike first or be engulfed by Saddam Hussein’s military.
The opposite was true. The people of this country—and the world—mobilized in unprecedented numbers prior to a military conflict under the banner: “Stop the War Before it Starts.”
An unprecedented, massive anti-war movement
In the months prior to the invasion, I was the central organizer of the mass anti-war actions in Washington, D.C., that brought many hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of the capital in repeated demonstrations—on Oct. 26, 2002; Jan. 18, 2003; and March 15, 2003.
The Jan. 18, 2003, demonstration filled up a vast expanse of the Mall west of the Capitol building, which houses the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Washington Post described the Jan. 18 demonstration as the largest anti-war protest since the end of the Vietnam War.
In addition to the Washington demonstrations, there were mass anti-war protests in cities throughout the United States, on both the east and west coasts and nearly everywhere in between.
Thousands of organizations and millions of individuals were participants and organizers in this grassroots global movement.
On Feb. 15, 2003, there were coinciding demonstrations in more than 1,000 cities in almost every country—including many hundreds of cities and towns in the United States.
The rise of a global anti-war movement of such magnitude—before the actual start of military hostilities—was without precedent in human history. Mass anti-war movements and even revolutions have occurred inside one or more of the warring countries at the time of their defeat or perceived defeat, but the Iraq anti-war movement of 2002-2003 was in anticipation of a war and before the gruesome impact of the slaughter could be seen and felt.
The depth of the movement was breathtaking for the organizers and the participants. Millions went into the streets over and over and over again. They knew that they were in a race against time. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were likewise racing to go to war, not because Iraq was getting stronger or closer to having weapons of mass destruction but because this global grassroots anti-war movement had the potential to shake the political status quo to its very foundations
In February 2003, The New York Times described the global anti-war movement as the world’s “second super-power.”
Why the race toward war
It was under these circumstances that the “mass media” went into overdrive to promote the war. Anti-war voices on television were booted off the air. The airwaves were filled up with the obviously bogus imagery that Iraq in league with unspecified “Muslim terrorists” was about to engulf the United States in a nuclear mushroom cloud. The message was that war was inevitable and that protests were futile.
Bush rushed hundreds of thousands of troops to Kuwait in a race to launch the invasion that they knew was likely to destroy the Iraqi military in a few weeks.
The Democratic Party leaders in Congress had already acquiesced to Bush and Cheney’s war demands. Even though the calls and letters to Congress against the war were running 200 to 1, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, by lopsided margins, passed resolutions on Oct. 11, 2002, authorizing Bush to use the armed forces of the United States against Iraq.
The Iraq invasion was a criminal enterprise. Millions of Iraqis died, more than five million were forced into the miserable life of refugees, thousands of U.S. troops were killed and tens of thousands of others suffered life-changing physical and mental injuries.
Today, Bush and Cheney are writing books and collecting huge speaking fees. They are shielded from prosecution by the current Democratic-led government.
The war in Iraq was not simply a “mistake” nor was it the consequence of a hoodwinked public. It was rather a symptom of the primary reality of the modern-day political system in the U.S. This system is addicted to war. It relies on organized violence, or the threat of violence, to maintain the dominant position of the United States all over the world. The U.S. has invaded or bombed one country after another since the end of the so-called Cold War. It has military bases in 130 countries and spends more on lethal violence than all other countries combined. Yes, in the United States the adult population is encouraged to vote every two or four years for one of two ruling-class parties that enforce the global projection of U.S. empire with equal vigor when they take turns at the helm. And this is labeled the exercise of “democracy” and proof that the United States is indeed the land of the free.
The invasion of Iraq succeeded in creating mass human suffering and death. What Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld failed to anticipate was that the Iraqi people, like all people everywhere, would never willingly accept life under occupation. It was the unanticipated resistance of the Iraqi people that eventually forced the withdrawal of the occupation forces nine long years later.
Brian Becker was the lead organizer of the largest anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C., between Oct. 26, 2002, and the start of the Iraq invasion on March 19, 2003. The October demonstration drew 200,000 people. Less than two months later, on Jan. 18, 2003, approximately 500,000 demonstrated again in what the Washington Post called the “largest anti-war demonstration” in Washington, D.C., since the end of the Vietnam War. On Feb. 15, 2003, millions of people demonstrated in nearly 1,000 cities around the world, including several hundred cities and towns in the United States. On March 15, just four days before the start of the invasion, 100,000 demonstrated once gain in Washington, D.C.
If the US and UK governments truly want to rebuke the role that kidnapping, torture and prolonged detention without trial played—and in some cases continues to play—in their declared “war against terrorism” than they must go beyond words and release the still disclosed internal reports that document such abuses.
Ben Emmerson: failure to release intelligence reports shows seeming unwillingness by UK and US to face up to international crimes. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
That’s the argument of Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, who spoke out on Monday against the secrecy and denial that persists within both governments.
Perpetrators and architects of such programs should be held accountable and face justice, he declared in both an official report and in a speech delivered Monday.
“Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,” Emmerson writes in the report written for the the U.N. Human Rights Council, which he will present Tuesday.
Prefacing the report in Geneva on Monday, Emmerson criticized “a policy of de facto immunity for public officials who engaged in acts of torture, rendition and secret detention, and their superiors and political masters who authorized these acts.”
Citing the hypocrisy of such secrecy and the damage done to the reputation of both countries abroad, Emmerson continued:
“Words are not enough. Platitudinous repetition of statements affirming opposition to torture ring hollow to many in those parts of the Middle East and North Africa that have undergone, or are undergoing, major upheaval, since they have first-hand experience of living under repressive regimes that used torture in private whilst making similar statements in public.”
“The scepticism of these communities can only be reinforced if western governments continue to demonstrate resolute indifference to the crimes committed by their predecessor administrations.”
Shortly before the speech in Geneva, Emmerson told the Guardian it was time for “a reckoning with the past”. He added:
“In South America it took up to 30 years before the officials responsible for crimes like these were held fully accountable. With the conspiracy organised by ther Bush-era CIA it has taken a decade, but the campaign for securing the right to truth has now reached a critical point.
“The British and American governments are sitting on reports that reveal the extent of the involvement of former governments in these crimes. If William Hague is serious about pursuing a policy of ethical counter-terrorism, as he says he is, then the first thing the British government needs to do is to release the interim report of the Gibson Inquiry immediately.”
And Reuters adds:
Emmerson, an international lawyer from Britain, has served since August 2011 in the independent post set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2005 to probe human rights violations committed during counter-terrorism operations worldwide.
The “war on terror” waged by Bush after al Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 led to “gross or systematic” violations involving secret prisons for Islamic militant suspects, clandestine transfers and torture, Emmerson said.
Under Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Department of Justice would not prosecute any official who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by its Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush era on interrogation.
But Emmerson said that using a “superior orders defense” and invoking secrecy on national security grounds was “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes”.
Roger’s note: the United States government has a long history of disgraceful behavior, and the Bush/Cheney torture regime is one of the most heinous. We need to be constantly reminded, and we need to acknowledge that the Obama government’s disregard of its constitutional obligation to prosecute constitutes legal and moral complicity.
Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of them should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under U.S. domestic law and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
However, the architects of the torture program didn’t care, and still don’t care, because for them the disgraceful memos written by Yoo were designed to be a “golden shield,” a guarantee that, whatever they did, they were covered, because they had legal advice telling them that torture was not torture.
Barack Obama came into office promising to ban the use of torture. His administration released the second Yoo and Bybee “torture memo” and three later “torture memos” from 2005 as part of a court case in April 2009. That, however, was the end of the Obama administration’s flirtation with accountability. In court, every avenue that lawyers have tried to open up has been aggressively shut down by the government, citing the “state secrets doctrine,” another “golden shield” for torturers, which prohibits the discussion of anything the government doesn’t want discussed, for spurious reasons of national security.
The only other opportunity to stop the rot came three years ago, when an internal DoJ ethics investigation concluded, after several years of diligent work, that Yoo and Bybee were guilty of “professional misconduct” when they wrote and signed the memos. That could have led to their being disbarred, which would have been inconvenient for a law professor at UC Berkeley (Yoo) and a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Bybee). It also might well have set off ripples that would have led to Bush and Cheney and their lawyers.
However, at the last minute a long-time DoJ fixer, David Margolis, was allowed to override the report’s conclusions, claiming that both men were guilty only of “poor judgment,” which, he alleged, was understandable in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and which carried no sanctions whatsoever.
The United States has refused to extradite any of the men and women convicted in Italy, but the ruling is a reminder that not everyone around the world believes in Yoo’s and Bybee’s “golden shield.”
Moreover, although senior Bush administration officials — Bush and Cheney themselves and Donald Rumsfeld — have so far evaded accountability, their ability to travel the world freely has been hampered by their actions. In February 2011, for example, Bush called off a visit to Switzerland when he was notified that lawyers — at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights — had prepared a massive torture indictment that was to be presented to the Swiss government the moment he landed in the country.
The former president was told that foreign countries might take their responsibilities under the UN Convention Against Torture more seriously than America has and arrest him on the basis that his home country had failed to act on the clear evidence that he had authorized torture, which he had actually boasted about in his memoir, Decision Points, published in November 2010.
Most recently, lawyers seeking accountability have tried pursuing Bush in Canada. Last September, prior to a visit by the former president, CCR and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) submitted a 69-page draft indictment to Attorney General Robert Nicholson, along with more than 4,000 pages of supporting material setting forth the case against Bush for torture.
When that was turned down, the lawyers launched a private prosecution in Provincial Court in Surrey, British Columbia, on behalf of four Guantanamo prisoners — Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani, and Murat Kurnaz (all released, with the exception of bin Attash) — on the day of Bush’s arrival in Canada.
That avenue also led nowhere because the attorney general of British Columbia swiftly intervened to shut down the prosecution. Undeterred, however, CCR and CCIJ last week tried a new approach on behalf of those four men who, as Katherine Gallagher of CCR explained in the Guardian, “are all survivors of the systematic torture program the Bush administration authorized and carried out in locations including Afghanistan, Iraq, GuantÃ¡namo, and numerous prisons and CIA “black sites’ around the world.”
“Between them,” she added, “they have been beaten; hung from walls or ceilings; deprived of sleep, food, and water; and subjected to freezing temperatures and other forms of torture and abuse while held in U.S. custody.”
The new approach taken by the lawyers was to file a complaint with the UN Committee Against Torture, in which the four men “are asking one question: how can the man responsible for ordering these heinous crimes openly enter a country that has pledged to prosecute all torturers regardless of their position and not face legal action?”
As Gallagher explained, “Canada should have investigated these crimes. The responsibility to do so is embedded in its domestic criminal code that explicitly authorizes the government to prosecute torture occurring outside Canadian borders. There is no reason it cannot apply to former heads of state, and indeed, the convention has been found to apply to such figures including HissÃ¨ne HabrÃ© [the former president of Chad] and Augusto Pinochet.”
That is true, and it will be interesting to see how the UN Committee Against Torture responds. Probably the “golden shield” will not need to be invoked once more by the United States, as the Canadian government evidently has no wish to annoy its neighbor. Moreover, it has its own appalling track record when it comes to preserving human rights in the “war on terror,” as the cases of Omar Khadr in Guantanamo, and Mahar Arar and others who were tortured in Syria demonstrate. However, the submission is to be commended for reminding people that great crimes — committed by the most senior U.S. officials and their lawyers — still remain unpunished, and that that is a situation that ought to be considered a major disgrace rather than something to be brushed aside.
Roger’s note: Back in the fall of 2008, after the election and before the inauguration, I wrote an essay entitled “Plus ça change you can believe in.” Obama has not disappointed this cynical prediction. I would not have thought that he would have out Bushed Bush on warmongering, but there is no surprise that he is loyal to the big money (despite the phony claim of small contributors) that put him in office.
Published on Thursday, June 21, 2012 by TomDispatch.com
As details of his administration’s global war against terrorists, insurgents, and hostile warlords have become more widely known — a war that involves a mélange of drone attacks, covert operations, and presidentially selected assassinations — President Obama has been compared to President George W. Bush in his appetite for military action. “As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign,” Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, wrote at Foreign Policy, “Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.”
When it comes to international energy politics, however, it is not Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been providing the role model for the president. As recent events have demonstrated, Obama’s energy policies globally bear an eerie likeness to Cheney’s, especially in the way he has engaged in the geopolitics of oil as part of an American global struggle for future dominance among the major powers.
More than any of the other top officials of the Bush administration — many with oil-company backgrounds — Cheney focused on the role of energy in global power politics. From 1995 to 2000, he served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a major supplier of services to the oil industry. Soon after taking office as vice president he was asked by Bush to devise a new national energy strategy that has largely governed U.S. policy ever since.
Early on, Cheney concluded that the global supply of energy was not growing fast enough to satisfy rising world demand, and that securing control over the world’s remaining oil and natural gas supplies would therefore be an essential task for any state seeking to acquire or retain a paramount position globally. He similarly grasped that a nation’s rise to prominence could be thwarted by being denied access to essential energy supplies. As coal was to the architects of the British empire, oil was for Cheney — a critical resource over which it would sometimes be necessary to go to war.
More than any of his peers, Cheney articulated such views on the importance of energy to national wealth and power. “Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature,” he told an audience at an industry conference in London in 1999. “We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality.”
Cheney’s reference to the 1990-1991 Gulf War is particularly revealing. During that conflict, he was the secretary of defense and so supervised the American war effort. But while his boss, President George H.W. Bush, played down the role of oil in the fight against Iraq, Cheney made no secret of his belief that energy geopolitics lay at the heart of the matter. “Once [Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses,” Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked to justify the administration’s decision to intervene, “he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy.”
This would be exactly the message he delivered in 2002, as the second President Bush girded himself for the invasion of Iraq. Were Saddam Hussein successful in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Cheney told a group of veterans that August 25th, “[he] could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.”
For Cheney, the geopolitics of oil lay at the core of international relations, largely determining the rise and fall of nations. From this, it followed that any steps, including war and environmental devastation, were justified so long as they enhanced America’s power at the expense of its rivals.
Through his speeches, Congressional testimony, and actions in office, it is possible to reconstruct the geopolitical blueprint that Cheney followed in his career as a top White House strategist — a blueprint that President Obama, eerily enough, now appears to be implementing, despite the many risks involved.
That blueprint consists of four key features:
1. Promote domestic oil and gas production at any cost to reduce America’s dependence on unfriendly foreign suppliers, thereby increasing Washington’s freedom of action.
2. Keep control over the oil flow from the Persian Gulf (even if the U.S. gets an ever-diminishing share of its own oil supplies from the region) in order to retain an “economic stranglehold” over other major oil importers.
3. Dominate the sea lanes of Asia, so as to control the flow of oil and other raw materials to America’s potential economic rivals, China and Japan.
4. Promote energy “diversification” in Europe, especially through increased reliance on oil and natural gas supplies from the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin, in order to reduce Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas, along with the political influence this brings Moscow.
The first objective, increased reliance on domestic oil and gas, was highlighted in National Energy Policy, the energy strategy Cheney devised for the president in May 2001 in close consultation with representatives of the oil giants. Although mostly known for its advocacy of increased drilling on federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cheney Report (as it came to be known) largely focused on the threat of growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil suppliers and the need to achieve greater “energy security” through a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead program of accelerated exploitation of domestic energy supplies.
“A primary goal of the National Energy Policy is to add supply from diverse sources,” the report declared. “This means domestic oil, gas, and coal. It also means hydropower and nuclear power.” The plan also called for a concerted drive to increase U.S. reliance on friendly sources of energy in the Western hemisphere, especially Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.
The second objective, control over the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, was, for Cheney, the principal reason for both the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although before that invasion, the president and other top officials focused on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, his human rights record, and the need to bring democracy to Iraq, Cheney never wavered in his belief that the basic goal was to ensure that Washington would control the Middle Eastern oil jugular.
After Saddam’s ouster and the occupation of Iraq began, Cheney was especially outspoken in his insistence that neighboring Iran be prevented, by force of arms if need be, from challenging American preeminence in the Gulf. “We’ll keep the sea lanes open,” he declared from the deck of an aircraft carrier during maneuvers off the coast of Iran in May 2007. “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”
Cheney also focused in a major way on ensuring control over the sea lanes from the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf (out of which 35% of the world’s tradable oil flows each day) across the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca, and into the South and East China Seas. To this day, these maritime corridors remain essential for the economic survival of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, bringing oil and other raw materials to their industries and carrying manufactured goods to their markets abroad. By maintaining U.S. control over these vital conduits, Cheney sought to guarantee the loyalty of America’s key Asian allies and constrain the rise of China. In pursuit of these classic geopolitical objectives, he pushed for an enhanced U.S. naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the establishment of a network of military alliances linking Japan, Australia, and India, all aimed at containing China.
Finally, Cheney sought to rein in America’s other major great-power rival, Russia. While his boss, George W. Bush, spoke of the potential for cooperation with Moscow, Cheney, still an energy cold warrior, viewed Russia as a geopolitical competitor and sought every opportunity to diminish its power and influence. He particularly feared that Europe’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas could undermine its resolve to resist aggressive Russian moves in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
To counter this trend, Cheney tried to persuade the Europeans to get more of their energy from the Caspian Sea basin by building new pipelines to that region via Georgia and Turkey. The idea was to bypass Russia by persuading Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to export their gas through these conduits, not those owned by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled monopoly. When Georgia came under attack from Russian forces in August 2008, after Georgian troops shelled the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia, Cheney was the first senior U.S. official to visit Tbilisi, bringing a promise of $1 billion in reconstruction assistance, as well as an offer of fast-track entry into NATO. France and Germany blocked the move, fearing Moscow might respond with actions that could destabilize Europe.
Obama as Cheney
This four-part geopolitical blueprint, relentlessly pursued by Cheney while vice president, is now being implemented in every respect by President Obama.
When it comes to the pursuit of enhanced energy independence, Obama has embraced the ultra-nationalistic orientation of the 2001 Cheney report, with its call for increased reliance on domestic and Western Hemisphere oil and natural gas — no matter the dangers of drilling in environmentally fragile offshore areas or the use of hazardous techniques like hydro-fracking. In recent speeches, he has boasted of his administration’s efforts to facilitate increased oil and gas drilling at home and promised to speed drilling in new locations, including offshore Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
“Over the last three years,” he boasted in his January State of the Union address, “we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years… Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.” He spoke with particular enthusiasm about the extraction of natural gas via fracking from shale deposits: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”
Obama has also voiced his desire to increase U.S. reliance on Western Hemisphere energy, thereby diminishing its dependence on unreliable and unfriendly suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. In March 2011, with the Arab Spring gaining momentum, he traveled to Brazil for five days of trade talks, a geopolitical energy pivot noted at the time. In the eyes of many observers, Obama’s focus on Brazil was inextricably linked to that country’s emergence as a major oil producer, thanks to new discoveries in the “pre-salt” fields off its coast in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, discoveries that could help the U.S. wean itself off Middle Eastern oil but could also turn out to be pollution nightmares. Although environmentalists have warned of the risks of drilling in the pre-salt fields, where a Deepwater Horizon-like blowout is an ever-present danger, Obama has made no secret of his geopolitical priorities. “By some estimates, the oil you recently discovered off the shores of Brazil could amount to twice the reserves we have in the United States,” he told Brazilian business leaders in that country’s capital. “When you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”
At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will retain its role as the ultimate guardian of the Persian Gulf sea lanes. Even while trumpeting the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, he has insisted that the United States will bolster its air, naval, and special operations forces in the Gulf region, so as to remain the preeminent military power there. “Back to the future,” is how Major General Karl R. Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, described the new posture, referring to a time before the Iraq War when the U.S. exercised dominance in the region mainly through its air and naval superiority.
While less conspicuous than “boots on the ground,” the expanded air and naval presence will be kept strong enough to overpower any conceivable adversary. “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared last October. Such a build-up has in fact been accentuated, in preparation either for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should Obama conclude that negotiations to curb Iranian enrichment activities have reached a dead end, or to clear the Strait of Hormuz, if the Iranians carry out threats to block oil shipping there in retaliation for the even harsher economic sanctions due to be imposed after July 1st.
Like Cheney, Obama also seeks to ensure U.S. control over the vital sea lanes extending from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea. This is, in fact, the heart of Obama’s much publicized policy “pivot” to Asia and his new military doctrine, first revealed in a speech to the Australian Parliament on November 17th. “As we plan and budget for the future,” he declared, “we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.” A major priority of this effort, he indicated, would be enhanced “maritime security,” especially in the South China Sea.
Central to the Obama plan — like that advanced by Dick Cheney in 2007 — is the construction of a network of bases and alliances encircling China, the globe’s rising power, in an arc stretching from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the southeast and thence to India in the southwest. When describing this effort in Canberra, Obama revealed that he had just concluded an agreement with the Australian government to establish a new U.S. military basing facility at Darwin on the country’s northern coast, near the South China Sea. He also spoke of the ultimate goal of U.S. geopolitics: a region-embracing coalition of anti-Chinese states that would include India. “We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia,” both in growing ties with local powers like Australia and “in our welcome of India as it ‘looks east’ and plays a larger role as an Asian power.”
As anyone who follows Asian affairs is aware, a strategy aimed at encircling China — especially one intended to incorporate India into America’s existing Asian alliance system — is certain to produce alarm and pushback from Beijing. “I don’t think they’re going to be very happy,” said Mark Valencia, a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Asian Research, speaking of China’s reaction. “I’m not optimistic in the long run as to how this is going to wind up.”
Finally, Obama has followed in Cheney’s footsteps in his efforts to reduce Russia’s influence in Europe and Central Asia by promoting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia and Turkey to Europe. On June 5th, at the Caspian Oil and Gas Conference in Baku, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan read a message from Obama promising Washington’s support for a proposed Trans-Anatolia gas pipeline, a conduit designed to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan across Georgia and Turkey to Europe — bypassing Russia, naturally. At the same time, Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Georgia, just as Cheney had, to reaffirm U.S. support and offer increased U.S. military aid. As during the Bush-Cheney era, these moves are bound to be seen in Moscow as part of a calculated drive to lessen Russia’s influence in the region — and so are certain to elicit a hostile response.
In virtually every respect, then, when it comes to energy geopolitics the Obama administration continues to carry out the strategic blueprint pioneered by Dick Cheney during the two Bush administrations. What explains this surprising behavior? Assuming that it doesn’t represent a literal effort to replicate Cheney’s thinking — and there’s no evidence of that — it clearly represents the triumph of imperial geopolitics (and hidebound thinking) over ideology, principle, or even simple openness to new ideas.
When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world — and the first time around was anything but a success — it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become. At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest — in the form of assured energy supplies — may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad.
In addition, Obama and his advisers are no doubt influenced by talk of a new “golden age” of North American oil and gas, made possible by the exploitation of shale deposits and other unconventional — and often dirty — energy resources. According to projections given by the Department of Energy, U.S. reliance on imported energy is likely to decline in the years ahead (though there is a domestic price to be paid for such “independence”), while China’s will only rise — a seeming geopolitical advantage for the United States that Obama appears to relish.
It is easy enough to grasp the appeal of such energy geopolitics for White House strategists, especially given the woeful state of the U.S. economy and the declining utility of other instruments of state power. And if you are prepared to overlook the growing environmental risks of reliance on offshore oil, shale gas, and other unconventional forms of energy, rising U.S. energy output conveys certain geopolitical advantages. But as history suggests, engaging in aggressive global geopolitical confrontations with other determined, well-armed players usually leads to friction, crisis, war, and disaster.
In this regard, Cheney’s geopolitical maneuvering led us into two costly Middle Eastern wars while heightening tensions with both China and Russia. President Obama claims he seeks to build a more peaceful world, but copying the Cheney energy blueprint is bound to produce the exact opposite.
Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, has just recently been published. His other books include: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum. A documentary version of that book is available from the Media Education Foundation.